On how I learned I am privileged
When I first read the scenario for Topic 2, I was somewhat puzzled by the following question: “How do I get support from my colleagues and how do I introduce the idea to my students?” How is that even a problem? Why wouldn’t my colleagues support me? I know that if they can spare the time, they will gladly help me. And what about the students? Why would it bother them?
I knew I was missing something important but it’s only when I talked with other members of PBL13 that I realised that the question made a lot more sense to them. As it turns out, how online teaching and open contents are perceived in a given country depends on cultural, economical and institutional factors. In Finland, the context is ideal for online courses, open or not, to be welcome and even encouraged.
With a population of 5,5 million inhabitants, mostly concentrated around the capital region in the south, Finland is almost as big as Germany. This probably explains why historically Finns have been early adopters of technological means of communication. In fact, Internet access is even a legal right since 2010! Higher education is free in Finland, and there are currently 14 universities and 23 universities of applied sciences (or “polytechnics”). The government has recently reformed the structural “landscape” of higher education, organising mergers (there used to be 20 universities) to increase competitivity, and then reduced its funding in a very controversial decision. For Finnish universities, cooperation through online teaching is a matter of survival. This is especially true for languages. Many Language Centres throughout the country have been forced to reduce their offer significantly and some languages, like Italian, aren’t taught anywhere anymore. I am currently taking part in a multi-million euro project aiming at reinforcing the availability of language courses in higher education institutions all around the country, through online teaching. The idea is that if a person studying at the university of Oulu wants to take Portuguese lessons, they can freely enroll into the ones provided online by the university of Tampere. This goal can only be achieved if we openly share our ressources.
In general, Finns have a very positive attitude towards technology and it is also true in education. In my university, we are constantly encouraged to try new things and there are entire services dedicated to video production, editing, programming, streaming, even VR and Augmented Reality! I would say that the typical concern of a teacher who would like to start developing online content is not about finding support, but about how overwhelming this buzzing activity can be. It is even possible they might feel pressured into making their teaching more blended and more open.
I’m a bit embarrased to admit I never considered how students who pay thousands of euros per year to get access to higher education might resent seeing the same contents available for free online. It also never occured to me that in some cultures, what is free is perceived as low quality and what is taught online as second-rate. Finally, I tend to forget how in some countries access to the internet is still difficult for at least part of the population.
I now understand how challenging it must be to come out as being in favour of open education, or even online teaching, in an academic environment that is generally hostile to the idea. Once more, this course has contributed to widening my perspective and encouraged me to consider things from a variety of points of view, and I’m grateful for that.