When Walls Talk

From corridor whispers and plenty of questions about the coming Saudi Arabian educators, the course finally began at the University of Tampere with two distinct language groups – a lower language level and an upper intermediate level of English. From June to August 2017, twenty Saudi Arabian teachers were involved in an English language training programme in order to strengthen their linguistic skills before starting the “Building Leadership through Immersion” programme at the University of Tampere. The themes for the course were provided by the Education Department, as the Edu Department would later be revisiting these same themes. From this perspective, and as far as possible for the lower language level, this language training course, was in fact a Language for Specific Purpose course, with a strong focus on pedagogy.

This transnational programme was held at different universities in Finland and all materials, resources and activities were created, adapted and/or developed by the language teachers in the three campuses that participated in this project. As in any other teaching context, lessons were designed to meet the linguistic needs of course participants as well as their preferred learning activities.

The three months of teaching were quite intensive with all participants very engaged in a variety of language activities: vocabulary development, discussions, group work, pair work, oral presentations, poster presentations, mini research projects, blogging, teaching narratives, written reflections and of course, games which focused on language while related to the pedagogical topics of the week.  Assessment tasks were also part of the course, from oral presentations to writing professional emails, thus reflecting how the English language was being used in an educational context.

Like on many courses, there was a moodle, which served to share content and discussion boards. However, a LMS does not give learners ownership and so, each participant had their own digital portfolio as well. While F2F classes were filled with discussions and debates, poster design and training games (among other activities), these narratives of learning were also included in their ePortfolios. Unlike the LMS, their ePortfolios provided the much needed sense of ownership. Here was the space where they could keep articles, which were of more interest to them, digital artifacts that they created throughout the course, (for example, their blogs and other digital creations), their weekly learning reflections and even traces of their participation in the LMS discussions. These discussions were significant for two main reasons: on the one hand, reflecting critically on one’s learning takes time and practice, and with time, the quality of reflections develops into something more tangible and significant for the learner to look back to and reflect further. On the other hand, it is through shared reflections and discussion that knowledge is constructed and given meaning, a shared meaning and not only an imposition of another educational system for PD purposes. The selected ePortfolio platform also included collaborative features, i.e. sharing and sending messages, by which participants could communicate and comment.

Day by day and with the passing of the weeks, a learning community was established, with male and female participants contributing towards their own course, fine tuning their own professional insights while working together and balancing new and different approaches in the field of education.

Novelties? Many, as was to be expected. However, it is in the creation rather than imitation of educational systems and thought that real change can be introduced. These need to be closely related to trainees’ teaching context.

It is when learners take ownership of their learning, whether through their presentations, mini research projects, their narratives of teaching and learning, all reflected and visible in their ePortfolios, that one can say, yes! Walls do not whisper learning – they talk!

Images (below) from Group 1 – (Daniela Coelho’s group):

By course Tutors:

Ana Cristina Pratas and Daniela Coelho