circular estonia

innovation in education and governance

Tallinn University Centre for Innovation in Education

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While in Estonia this February I was positively surprised to find how much is already happening there in the field of  innovation in education. I will write more about these findings soon but would like to first publish an interview I was honoured to do with Klemen Slabina from Tallinn University’s ‘Centre for Innovation in Education’(CIE) team. Klemen is a Slovenian national, trained as a sociology, philosophy and civics high school teacher, with international teaching experience. He is currently doing a PhD at Tallinn University and has been working for CIE for the last 2,5 years.

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Images courtesy of CIE

Tell me a bit about the Centre for Innovation in Education at Tallinn University (CIE at TU). Is it unique in Europe? What do you hope to achieve?

There was a need to develop an innovative learning environment for teacher training and education at TU. Today, our learning environment responds well to the habits of students considering the evolving digital learning culture and challenges the traditional teaching and learning methods. Equally important, our centre emerged out of a need to research and critically assesses the adopted teaching/learning methods and teachers’ social skills and to develop our competences in student-centred learning, one-to-one computing and hands-on approaches in teacher education studies. At CIE we are essentially challenging the settled educators’ mind-set, developing new approaches to learning and teaching.

Ultimately, CIE aims above academic excellence by ensuring that teachers and students foster compassion and reflection, and grow as responsible persons, who effect positive change in the face of 21st century challenges.

What is educational innovation and why is it needed?

Generally, educational innovation stands for introduction of new methods in teaching/learning (open learning environments, digital environments), effective classroom designs (flipped classroom, hands-on laboratories and workshops), redefined teachers’ and students’ roles in learning process. Educational innovation aims to raise the quality of learning experience and therefore enhances students’ emotional, intellectual and practical abilities. The need for educational innovation lies in the development of society, which we can trace through for example the change in students’ communication habits.

Shortly, and not non-problematically, educational innovation is locally contextualized, purposeful, need-based designed institutional action, which has structural consequences to the benefit of school culture, teaching and students’ development.

For example, a maths teacher, who uses a ‘smart board’ is not necessary an indication of educational innovation, if his colleagues and himself do not understand why a ‘smart board’ is needed, and if the usage of ICT tools at this school generally refers to button-play only. Crucially, to call something an educational innovation, we need to know not only who is involved and how s/he does it, but more importantly we need to understand why such action and not any other and we need to have a solid picture of where the particular action leads.

What does “student-centred” mean?

The student-centred approach in the organization of learning environments and teaching practice focuses on recognizing the student as an active agent in the process of knowledge creation, both in a particular lesson as well as in her/his lifelong learning process. In such a process students learn through constant practical engagement, are active in problem resolving, able to critically reflect on their own and other students’ actions, and grow as persons within the learned content.

The teacher in such a scenario usually takes on a role of a mentor, supervisor, and facilitator of learning, being aware that learning is not limited to or fully dependent on her/his classroom. Through this process, students and teachers develop a common responsibility towards the content of learning.

In the spirit of creating a discussion, I wonder how you would comment on Liz Coleman’s statement that “public interest has disappeared entirely from the academy.”[1] Do you agree?

While Coleman’s statement might describe well the conditions in educational systems, which follow the “Curriculum Tradition”, the need-based foundation of CIE indicates a different take on the subject in Estonia. CIE was established based on needs as they were and are identified in cooperation between Tallinn University and local school leaders and teachers. So one might argue it is a very “public” engagement with academia from the beginning. There was a need for research and development of the new approaches to learning, especially considering the digital turn in society and consequently in education, establishing compatibility of lifelong learning with the real needs of the labour market.

We are facing some huge challenges when it comes to climate change, economic stability, employment and so forth. What is the role of education in all of this, if at all?

The role of educational system in facing contemporary societal challenges is crucial, because every educational system is (or: would be good if it was) a reflection of societal needs in a particular moment of social development. Hence, all that occurs in society has an effect on education.

On the other hand, the generations that learn today, are going to design the future for us, and here lies the importance of every educational system:  to be reflexively open for all new that everyday life brings about, and yet not become ignorant of the paths the local society has walked already. Additionally, every educational system needs to see outside of itself and critically assess the scale of consequences that occur when introducing a practice form abroad to the established educational framework.

Thank you so much for the interview, Klemen!

You can read more about the centre and their facinating laboratories here:

http://www.tlu.ee/et/hik (in Estonian)

http://www.tlu.ee/en/centre-for-innovation-in-education (in English)

[1] http://blog.ted.com/2014/02/12/liz-coleman-on-why-higher-education-needs-to-embrace-messiness/

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