Conversations on online learning

Episode 1. Susanna Kohonen

December 14, 2020 DSP Episode 1
Conversations on online learning
Episode 1. Susanna Kohonen
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Conversations on Online Learning, a podcast in which we discuss online learning and how to support it.  

In each episode, we’ll ask our featured guest to share their own particular area of expertise and experiences related to online learning, and we’ll discuss how this has informed their understanding and practice. We’ll also ask our guests to share their advice on teaching and supporting learning online.  This episode's guest is Dr Susanna Kohonen.

Dr Susanna Kohonen 

Susanna’s blog 

Susanna’s recommendations:  


Sean Michael Morris 

Jesse Stommel 

Stommel, J., Friend, C., Morris, S.M., (2020) Critical Digital Pedagogy: A Collection, Pressbooks 

Maha Bali 

Equity Unbound 


Find out more about the Digital Support Partnership at Edinburgh Napier University and read our 12 Principles for Preparing for Online Learning and Teaching

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License​​​​

Louise Drumm (LD): hello i'm louise drumm and welcome to conversations in online learning a podcast in which we discuss online learning and how to support it in each episode we'll ask our featured guests to share their own particular area of expertise and experiences relating to online learning and we'll discuss how this has informed their understanding and practice we'll also ask our guests to share their advice on teaching and supporting learning online our guest today is doctor susanna cohoneu susanna is a lecturer in academic english at the university of eastern finland and joins us today from yo enzo welcome susanna it's lovely to have you here today 


Susanna Kohonen (SK): thank you so much louise thank you so much for the invitation this is so amazing that we connect through twitter and things like that and then we get to have interviews and talk to each other and create podcasts it's great thanks 


LD: well thanks for taking the time to speak to us today and we're really excited to to speak to you too so would you mind telling us a little bit about what you do where you are and and how you came to do what you do 


SK: sure okay so i'm a lecturer in academic english or english for academic purposes and also legal english and and all sorts of english here at the university of eastern finland and the town is called Joensuu i've been here now for 16 years and it's great it's a small town but before that i did live for a while in the uk and also in france doing my masters and phd languages intercultural communication that's sort of my study background english for academic purposes it's really great in finland all degree students have to study academic english so what we do is we have a university of about oh i don't know how many students we now have 8 000 or so into towns two campuses and they all have to take english courses too so that's what i'm doing and of course since march it's been all online with the coverage but i have to say i was already an online teacher to a great extent even before that about 80 of my courses were fully online or blended so we met every now and then with students too on campus but we don't do that now 


LD: so maybe tell us a little bit about pre-COVID what was what was your online learning experience and your online teaching experience 


SK: okay so um my story is that i never really wanted to become a fully online teacher from my own pedagogical background i i'm a full believer in interaction social interaction and learning in interaction and through interaction and i believe or used to believe that the best way and the only fruitful way to do it is face to face in on ground so in the same classroom areas for example but so due to various reasons at the university we started having more and more online teaching it became the strategy to some extent at the university and so of course you know we have to change and adapt and we have to transform our teaching uh identities too every now and then which is good when you've been in the business for 16 years and so i found it challenging i didn't want to do it at first as i said but once i got into it and looking into it and studying more on the topic i even started to you know find that i have a place in here too and i can you know use my background experiences also online and it doesn't sort of diminish my being a teacher as i first felt actually 


LD: and that's really interesting because what you're what you're talking about there i think is about the relationships that's inherent within teaching between the teacher and the learner and their learner and each and other learners so and how did you find how did you navigate your way through being able to reconcile or those different beliefs that you had about being in person being on the ground with your learners how did you reconcile that within a in an online setting?


SK: yeah yeah louise that's that's the big question there i'm i'm still sort of i think i'm still in the process my aim or my desire was to think of ways in which to include things i've learned in drama education which is also something that i've done a bit and then thinking about how how on earth could i combine embodied and holistic approaches to the online virtual surroundings and environment so it was um i'm still sort of learning more and more about it and i believe i got the the best oh to me the most useful support i found was in online communities such as people i managed to somehow find on twitter for example and then elsewhere on the internet through their websites and their blogs and um you know just reinvent what it meant to be what it means to be a teacher all together so it's a i'm not sure i'm not sure if i'm still there but it's the human element and and human interaction human contact so really just talking to one another uh interacting as you know one person to another with the students finally now i'm i'm also if i may use the expression starting to see light at the at the end of the tunnel because at first i was really i was even thinking i was i wanted to quit uh about five years ago when i when i sort of realized that i was going to be an almost a fully online teacher soon so i said to myself no i said to myself there has to be a way that i can still experience that i can do what i enjoy doing with students even online and also online i am missing though the you know the on ground the on campus on site part a lot and i'm looking forward to the the time when we can have a bit more of that too 


i really identify with with what you're saying in relation to um the aspects of developing ourselves as educators and how important it is to connect with other communities and i think i've learned so much as well from from the other communities that i've i've been part of and sometimes as a lurker sometimes not even terribly active but just that act of listening to other people talking about their teaching has been transformational and also the aspect that we don't stop you know we don't stop developing ourselves and i like that no that point you make that you're still working we're all oh yeah work a work in progress in regard to our our teaching so can you give any examples of any of the things that you found really helped you connect with your students online and what are the things that you you've set up or done and with them that's kind of helped bring that more um i i know you probably would be interested to hear a little bit more about your humanist approach your your bringing the humanity into online teaching and learning


SK: yes it's um i didn't really first of all at first i didn't have any sort of role models i felt that i didn't know how to do this at all but in the spring for example when it went in march april may fully online and i decided that with my students i didn't want to have any very you know very big groups online at the same time so i met with my students online in smaller groups so we were able to really talk and interact so i didn't really do a lot of um lecturing type at all so so it sort of changed uh towards uh what was also called maybe a flipped learning style so things to do online things to read on the lms things to study and then something to do with them something to write about them for the students and then we would have discussions uh short presentations and uh small group discussions but i yeah i really i what i missed was having some kind of a model someone too someone you know i could ask you know like how did you do this and so i did find uh for example the the digital pedagogy lab website and um the digipad twitter feed and uh lots of people there excellent professionals who are willing to share their expertise and their know-how such as Jesse Stommel and and Sean Michael Morris yeah just following their tweets and they were they were posting so good things into their blogs in march april may and also into twitter tweeting all sorts of tips all sorts of you know useful links um even models even you know things that might not work that were discussed there and tweeted about so it was it was so helpful i found it so helpful and i think that i couldn't have made it through uh we were almost in a lockdown in finland too at that point i wouldn't have really made it it was the kind of a breeze of fresh air so to say to to follow the tweets and the hashtags that i discovered ditch ped and so forth 


LD: so what happened in march was was sort of an emergency situation for most educators and um a lot of things have to happen with a sense of urgency and moving things online so when you and what is it about your subject area that made you choose those kinds of things to do those discussions those small groups what is it about the the teaching matter that lends itself that seem to lend itself towards those types of approaches?


SK: academic english and also what we do is academic and professional communication in our courses so i it's really a skills course rather than you know theory based lecturing it's about interaction it's about sharing your thoughts expressing yourself and it's english now for Finns it's a foreign language and we need to have that element of practice of spoken language too if i had changed my course into writing only a written work only course i i don't think it would have really mattered that much then to my students either so i believe it mattered to them more when we were able to really use the spoken element too there were some and plenty of technical issues though so but we did manage to have the small group discussions in the end it's a it's by the way it's a it's an interesting question here we cannot really assume that that students have the equipment necessarily or the wi-fi or the broadband available to them that they would need so sometimes we had to reschedule some sessions because of lack of yeah lack of really proper wi-fi connections 


LD: and i i think you bring up a very important point that them the the digital inequalities and digital poverty is certainly something that has surfaced for for many people that we wouldn't necessarily have have known about um as educators and institutions how do you approach teaching online with with care given that we know that there's there's problems um with access to technology or other things that are going on in in the world and into potentially our learners lives. What are the ways that you can you can sort of um reach out and show care to students in those circumstances online?


SK: yeah thank you for this question Louise this is this is really at the core of all of the things we do now um not just because of covet but i think it's the fully online element that sort of um increases the i don't know the sense of isolation or loneliness and i i believe there were there are some studies on how students experience fully online learning and it is about how to how to cope with the feeling isolated so i believe it's some something we need to do together with the students too so it's not just something we do to them or for them but with the students so i i believe very much in small groups and i believe in in um you know i teach sort of mature students too but then students in their early twenties or eighteen nineteen year olds too so you know when you talk to them and reason with them they all know how important it is to help each other and helping each other is kind of the the basis there that i use uh as an approach so a kind of community agreement that we make together that we are helping each other in small groups so i assign students to small groups at the start of the courses and they work within those same groups throughout the course so yeah meaningful connections for them with each other too so none of us can be kind of the only contact to all students we don't have enough resources or energy for that either necessarily so um yeah sort of somehow understanding that we are all together here now in this situation and i think it's also a part of working life skills really empathy and you know caring for each other so that you are not just there because you have to be there you are not working together because you have to work together but you are able to empathize and and show support too 


LD: i agree and i think um what you've outlined there and i i don't think necessarily everybody has uh is doing the same as you in relation to setting up small groups that are then continuous because i think what you're what you're doing there is you're being open about the circumstances of of what's happening but also the circumstances of learning and also highlighting for students the benefits of working together the benefits of peer learning the benefits of them feeding back to you as an educator about how things are going and that communication and i think that the danger with sometimes with technology is that we get in well it's perceived as broadcasting so that the students are are the passive recipients of something 


SK: right exactly yeah so what you're doing there is that you're actually it's not a contract but it's kind of ground rules that these are these are the things the way that we're going to be working um during this term and and these are the reasons for it it's that you will benefit in the long term you will develop these skills and you know working along students who may be in a different circumstance to you you learn so much from from the fact that the other students are on other different circumstances and these are life skills and they're really important 


LD: that's a great point there yeah it is yeah life skills that's the word yeah so maybe can you tell us a little bit about what technologies you use


SK:  okay sure yeah so well it's um zoom zoom is what i went into i also gave a try we we uh we also have teams we use the microsoft office and and all that so Teams is part of it but i found it too a little bit too complex for some of the students to manage for some reason at this point maybe they are not used to using it as much i'm not sure so otherwise we have moodle moodle is our lms i i'm not necessarily the greatest fan of moodle but that's that's the one we are using and i also incorporate other elements into it too every now and then i i like using padlets a lot for you know they are a great tool to jot down notes in small group work or even present through through a kind of shared wall well jamboard i suppose i could use that too but i haven't really done a lot with the google uh tools yet um maybe because well i just didn't start with them yet i need to go go to that direction at some point i'm sure because padlets also that the padlet you have to buy a license for it i think it's uh it's a pity that so many of these tools you have to pay for them once you start liking them you realize if you want to use more of them you have to pay and so yeah you have to make your own decisions whether you are going to pay or not but yes um moodle zoom and teams is going to be bigger and bigger i believe for us here at the university of eastern finland next year i'm sure even more 


LD:  so what did you do when you were planning? Maybe you could tell us about that the academic year for you when does it start and how many terms you are but how did you prepare for the term that you're currently in?


SK: right yes so uh over here in finland it's um the academic year is sort of from well we actually start working already in august i know for you it's the holiday month but then teaching starts september and it goes on until about the end of may and then we have a longer summer break there we already knew in june our academic director made a decision with his board that we are going to be in mostly in remote teaching for the entire semester of the autumn semester except for certain courses in chemistry and so forth lab work and now actually we are back in in a situation where we cannot have any contact teaching at the moment we are in a bit of a spread of the virus situation here but really we knew it from it it was really helpful that we knew it from june that we would be fully online at the start of september too so we were able to plan everything into fully online so i'm at a language center the language center here that deals with academic english and other academic languages that we have and and foreign languages in use and we have quite a heavy schedule as teachers so it's compared to faculty who is in departments they teach less we teach a bit more and so it's a bit of a balancing out of how we now manage all of this online uh and so we even we got into a kind of uh we had to do a bit of a shuffle in our teaching hours so that we would not do over were over time so that the the work that we do would remain within the boundaries of how much work we can or should be doing it's a bit of a juggle what kind of things did you have that you were doing face to face that you really thought okay how can we do that online what's what is the process yes it's the it's the interaction part and the speaking interaction social interaction communication we have swedish teachers teachers of of the finnish language of spoken communication written communication and so forth so the the problem is losing the spontaneous the space for spontaneous interaction which is essential sometimes in in when you're trying to learn to use a foreign language and then you lose the spontaneous element you know that you can just be in the classroom and say oh now let's change pairs and let's go into a small group over there and you go over there and then we come back together and have a debate or something so having to think all of these through and then how shall i do it online now some yeah zoom you can do breakout rooms you can try to have uh separate sessions with other groups or then presentations even debates sometimes but it's not the same exactly because we lose out all the body language and we lose out on the i don't know the immediacy of of human interaction so i know we all now work online and we can do it we can get things done online but i i'm still looking forward to the time when we can actually have some classroom time and more spontaneous interaction and when we are physically in the same room 


LD: i'm really looking forward to that too yeah so say you were talking to somebody who was in the process of preparing for teaching online and they had maybe they had some time to do it and or maybe they didn't but what would be what would be the things that you'd say i'd advise would be the priorities for them what they should what should they be thinking about?


SK: ah this is this is a great question and i'm in the process of putting my thoughts together on that because as so as it so happens i just recently joined a team at my university where we are starting this kind of a mentoring or tutoring of colleagues to help them in this process so yeah this is a very timely question for me too what i emphasize is the the human interaction so even if you have a say if you have a group of 100 students then think about your aims thinking about your aims and thinking about how to possibly make a little bit of interaction happen there too and even if you can't do it all the time you can to some extent if you have a lecture you can use the chat areas or padlets or jamboards or other different software to to have some kind of an audience reaction to yours your speeches if you want to do them synchronously many of my colleagues in the spring that was the only thing they were able to do so they put everything online synchronously they would sort of give the lecture to the camera and the students would listen that's that's not necessarily the the most efficient way of doing it and it's also very energy consuming both to the teacher and the students but if you don't have any time or any resources to or any sort of help or support to to do anything else in an emergency that's what you have to do i suppose but now that we have some time to plan and prepare i would like to talk about first of all the aims and then what do you want to do with students do you want to have synchronous or elements do you need to have synchronous how should the synchronous happen does the synchronous have to be a lecture maybe you can do things asynchronously that are sort of the lecture part and then you can do something a bit more interactive when you are synchronously online are you with them all of all the hundred of them at the same time or do you perhaps can you you know divide them into smaller groups so it's a bit of creative thinking too so if you did something in one certain way when you were face to face on campus with the students it might not work at all or not that well exactly in that manner and in that way online so yeah thinking about the options and i think the biggest option there is what do you want to have synchronously what do you want to have asynchronously and why we really come now back to the basics the pedagogy of it all why do i do what i do why do i choose to have a synchronous session for what purposes and does it benefit students and how and maybe the students would benefit from having something just to read on their own asynchronously so we would maybe start along those lines it's a it's a different approach all together than than planning for an on-campus on-site session or or course or lecture 


LD: that's great advice susanna i i couldn't agree more i think you're spot on there it is you need to start from a different place you know you can't start from the same place do you have any any examples to share of um a moment where something happened online that you thought ah that wouldn't have happened in a face-to-face was there any unexpected benefit either you know something that a student said or some feedback you got or something that happened that you thought this is actually something a bit different


SK: yes this is also a good question i like your questions they're great yes maybe from one class i have legal english writing one of the courses a long a longer course that goes on from september to december and i had some really nice positive feedback just from a student uh just recently i made them do a lot of smaller writing tasks now and um i we usually used to have uh what i used to do was a longer essay or case brief or case analysis but now i change the approach from kind of the one major task to smaller tasks that are spread across the course throughout the course on a weekly basis and i said to myself well the students will probably now think that i just make them do too much work having to write something every week and i was so happy to hear uh to read the students email just this last week that they enjoyed it this person enjoyed it and that they felt that as i was able to then give them even tiny bit of feedback along the way a little bit of commenting every now and then on their writing and this person said i really felt that i improved throughout the course because of these weekly short reflection tasks in writing and i was like wow this is this is good because at some point the feedback you see i got was that there are too many things to write too many tasks to do and what's the point so i'm thinking hmm maybe i'm starting to to find now another kind of an approach now that we are fully online it's an it's a one-on-one approach but it does take time i it was a nice unexpected positive feedback that um yes that we even if we don't see each other on a weekly basis in classrooms we sort of see each other through the commenting of each other's work 


LD: it sounds by the sounds of it um what you were doing there is giving giving quite a nice structure for the students and they and the feedback you got that they that they were appreciating that because we can get a little bit lost in online learning and time the time of the day the day of the week the week of the year it's it's quite confusing so actually having very small discrete tasks sounds like a really great way of helping structure students that's well that's a great takeaway a great idea so before we before we finish up do you have any recommended resource um or any book a website somebody you follow that you think um if you if you uh follow up one thing from this podcast you should you should have take a look at this 


SK: yeah the ones that i already mentioned so DigPEd and then the twitter hashtag #DigPed. Jesse Stommel, Sean Michael Morris they just published critical digital pedagogy a reader so that's that's a great book and then i also found through i think it was through the ditch pad lab in the summer in august july august of of the summer there were so many names now to mention maybe just if i remember Maha Bali who is who is a great twitter person too um and i i've been following her equity unbound another website that she's also part of which is where they publish resources that it's open resources for teachers uh online resources for what to do online so zoom what to do on zoom what to do through different lms different tools how to make your courses more interactive and that that they give tips and and samples on that 


LD: thank you we can we'll we'll share the links and the hashtags uh within um the show notes for this podcast great finally where can people find you where can we follow you where can we read your work?


SK: ah i just started the first blog ever loit i'm here at the university of eastern finland i am on twitter so i tweet quite a bit and i retweet a lot too 


LD: susanna's twitter handle is @KohonenSusanna. that's wonderful well it just remains for me to say Susanna Kohonen thank you very much for joining us today and it's been lovely having a chat with you 


SK: thank you so much louise it was a pleasure this was so good for me too because i it took me forward in my own the place where i'm now my member of the team that's trying to help my colleagues so this is really helpful for me too thank you