University Lecturer Susanna Kohonen
I am Susanna and I work at the UEF Language Centre where I teach Academic English and Legal English. I am a qualified teacher and a drama instructor, with a strong interest in intercultural communication.
Several years ago I understood and accepted the fact that my work as a teacher would never be what it used to be. It took me a long time to reconsider whether I wanted to continue working as a teacher. As I chose to do so, I then had to re-calibrate my perception on what it means to be a teacher. Namely, about 80% of my courses had to be re-designed and transformed into online courses.
For me, it was a rocky road. As someone who firmly believes and promotes learning-in-interaction, learning-by-doing, as well as experiential learning, which I thought could properly take place only when people actually (physically) meet each other and work together. To me, it seemed impossible to achieve these aims in virtual and digital learning environments.
So my teaching experience turned into sitting alone in front of my computer screen. My neck and shoulders didn’t like it, my wrists didn’t like it, my lower back didn’t like it. Most of all, my mind didn’t like it.
In all our digital endeavours, we should never forget the fact that we are all human beings, and it is other human beings we are reaching out to and communicating with. Since 2011, my vision and a seemingly paradoxical aim has been to intertwine and integrate participatory, experiential learning methods into digital learning environments. My aim has been and still is to enable relevant and meaningful encounters and experiences that further form into holistic learning processes.
The past summer, I participated in Digital Pedagogy Lab. COVID19 forced DigPedLab, too, into a fully online event. As much as it would have been wonderful to meet on-ground and talk with the people who were leading the workshops and teaching the courses there, as well as the other participants, we made the most of the fully online environment.
If I remember correctly, the Lab had about 500 participants from 20 different time zones. I couldn’t but admire the way the entire online event had been organised and coordinated. And we had some great, extremely meaningful discussions synchronously and asynchronously, as well as opportunities to network online. Thank you so much, Sean Michael Morris, Jesse Stommel, and the team!
Without such experiences of real encounters, meaningfulness, care, and empathy, I don’t think I could go on in the fully online environment. How could I therefore expect it to be any different for my students or my colleagues?
The most empowering student feedback I have ever received is this: ”During the course, the themes that were studied, working life, and life as a whole were interconnected.”
I think I will make a cross-stitch project of this student feedback and hang it above my desk. I so often feel that I fail, but sometimes I succeed, too.
Susanna’s blog on (online) teaching