Etäkoulu Kulkuri

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Etäkoulu Kulkuri

Kulkuri (”Tramp”) is a distance school for Finnish children living abroad. In the distance school they study together with students from other counties. The main subject is Finnish language, but if needed, students can complete the whole comprehensive school syllabus.

Finnish language is very important to children living abroad so it needs to be taken care of. In Kulkuri on can study either by eLearning or correspondence course. In eLearning one studies together with other students living all around the world. Correspondence course is ideal if the student wants to start at chosen time and proceed in personal speed. If the student lives in a place where there is no international school, it is also possible to complete the whole comprehensive school syllabus in Kulkuri.

Number of students at Kulkuri

situation 3.10.2011

Student group Amount Notice
students all together about 400 students Number of students varies according to families leaving Finland or returning to Finland during the year.
students 14-21 years 143 students Some students study only online, some both online and distance learning, some only one and some several courses.

Students live all around the world, approximately in 75 different countries

Background and history of Etäkoulu Kulkuri

Kulkuri (Distance school “Tramp”) is a distance school for Finnish children living abroad

Majority of Kulkuri´s students come from families temporarily living abroad. One of student´s parents is working abroad in a Finnish company, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or as a missionary worker. The spouse and children move abroad with the employee. Most of the children go to a local or international school while living abroad, but with Kulkuri they can maintain the Finnish language skills and make it easier to return to Finnish school later on.

Some of the students are born abroad and living there permanently. For these students Kulkuri is an excellent way to maintain connections to Finland and the Finnish language and culture.

First there was a comprehensive school for Finnish expatriate

The present Etäkoulu Kulkuri was founded in 1975 from the initiative of wives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs officers. It became a part of Kansanvalistusseura, KVS Foundation which is the oldest adult education organization in Finland and had already an existing distance school for adults. The school´s name at that point was Ulkosuomalaisten lasten kotiperuskoulu (A home school for Finnish expatriate).

At first distance education was offered as correspondence courses. Students received a material package containing a book, exercises, instructions and examinations. Each student studied at his/hers own pace and sent exercises and examinations to the teacher. Teachers corrected and commented tasks and send feedback back to the student.

Traditional post was used until 2000. At that point Kotiperuskoulu started eLearning tests together with a distance learning service provider maintained by the city of Jyväskylä.

School goes to internet and changes name to Kulkuri

eLearning was started in 2000. After the first cooperation with Jyväskylä´s partner and its good results it was decided to take into service Opit learning environment in 2003. The traditional paper materials still stayed as choice along the new eLearning material.

In 2009 the National Board of Education financed a project aiming to build a new eLearing platform, Kulkuri. The first project year was used to establish available learning environments, compare them to the existing one and to each other by certain criteria. After comparisons Peda.net environment was chosen and in the second project year (2010) it was piloted with one 3rd and one 7th grade groups in a Finnish language distance learning course.

During the year of 2010 changes spread to whole school. In May 2011 the school also introduced its new name, Etäkoulu Kulkuri. At the same time general curriculum and syllabus for Finnish language were published and the visual appearance and web site were renewed as well.

Where do we stand today?

First school year as Kulkuri

The school year 2011-2012 is the first active year as Etäkoulu Kulkuri. It is also the first year when Peda.net learning environment is used in all courses and all grades. The first school year and the third project year is still a lot about collecting data and experiences, searching for new operation models and implementing good practices.

Only after this term and autumn can we reliably show

  • how the new learning environment functions with large amounts of students
  • what type of exercises work best for the students and for the teachers
  • what kind of teaching methods prove to be usable
  • which are the best methods to use
  • what kind of methods and exercises best motivate the students to study

The experiences of the pilot year 2010 are already widely used in both teacher educations as well as in creating new online courses.

Structure of online courses

Each teacher has a personal approach when planning and carrying out an online course. Here are some examples:

  • Finnish courses for lower level of comprehensive school are based on the curriculum and textbooks. In addition to those teachers also prepare tasks of their own: listening exercises, videos, writing exercises, fill-in-exercises and other competition exercises. Teachers also use other materials in the net and use external links to different sources.
  • Finnish courses for upper level of comprehensive school: curriculum is the base of course content. Courses are divided into themes rather than following textbooks. Existing exercise books are not used but instead teachers create exercises by themselves and use external links to network exercises.
  • In Swedish courses there is a repeating format according which the exercises are divided to periods. Plenty of audio files are used, teachers create exercises and uses external links. Textbook guides students along the course. The students also your exercise books and blogs.
  • History and social study courses are based on themes. Each course contains several themes on different historical events. Courses include a lot of information seeking and reporting to personal blogs. In some courses students can also choose a character to use when advancing from one course to another - this enables students to look at history for example from a lord of the manor´s or peasant´s point of view.
  • The visual arts courses are based on research work: light, colors, designs, photographing, video and multimedia. Students work also at home using colors, pictures, pen and paper. Even if it is an eLearning course, everything is not done on computer. Students take photographs of their personal work and send them to the teacher. They can also make videos and attach them to the personal blog.

Strengths and challenges of distance school Kulkuri

The strengths include

  • eLearning platform is reliable all over the world and with different equipment
  • professional teachers and support for them
  • syllabus is based on national curriculum
  • active and enthusiastic students and active parents
  • successful web pages, cheerful appearance
  • the school character, Jakke pilot, and his cat Katrina

The challenges include

  • desynchronized study times, it is difficult but not impossible to arrange synchronized study times
  • students are from different age groups and have different technical skills: parents also need to have basic skills in ICT
  • students have long school days in their local / international school
  • students need to finish also local school exercises
  • personal study times vary, each student or family chooses the adequate time for studies - these can vary from a few hours a week to only a few hours a month
  • each student advances in their own pace
  • parents need to be active

Results

Data on eLearning experiences from teachers, students and parents have been collected since 2003. Naturally the new environment has been surveyed only this year and with pilots last year. During the pilot year there were monthly questionnaires for students on the new learning environment, exercises and task. These results were exploited when planning this year´s courses.

  • Pilot students did not have any difficulties to continue their studies in the new learning environment
  • Many of the “old” students felt that the new learning environment is both better and functioning better
  • Some of the “old” students felt that is was difficult to start using the new environment
  • Some students who has used the old environment for a year or two felt the new environment was an improvement
  • Some students who has used the old environment for a year or two felt the new environment was difficult

Opinions vary a lot, as can be seen. During the ongoing school year more experiences will be collected from students and parent. The focus is on technical functioning, exercises and task as well as on course structures.

Two of the teachers have experience on the environment from the piloting; six teachers had little or no experience with this environment before this autumn. Feedback from the teachers is both positive and developing. Compared to the previous environment the new one is more flexible and adaptable and teachers have a significant role on how the courses appear.

Lessons learnt

From 2009 on a lot has been learnt.

  1. Targets need to be clarified from the start: compare selection, plan well, ask “stupid” questions
  2. Changes take time: teachers and students need to be taken in consideration; teachers need time to implement new things; students value visibility good and easy to use environment; complexity kills motivation; new tools and functions can be taken into action when the environment has become familiar and navigation is easy
  3. Instructions are vital: enough instructions - not too much though: clear instructions: videos and multimedia
  4. Open or closed school?: open content: information security: compromises - school is open for students and teachers but closed from the outsiders
  5. Parents´ role is important: parents need to be committed to support children; parents need to guide their children with eLearning; support, discussions and networking with parents must be taken care of

Today and tomorrow

From a teachers and developers point of view eLearning is interesting and inspires constantly to develop the challenging work. At Kulkuri there are several development projects going on along the basic education function. All eLearning teachers participate in development.

Five essential development projects are:

  • creating a syllabus or learning path for ICT and social media tools
  • modifying personal study plans to dynamic tools that support best students, parents and teachers
  • problem based learning and phenomenon based learning
  • maintaining, developing and strengthening teacher skills
  • making students´ work visible, for example by publishing a school´s online magazine

Co-operation and networks

Etäkoulu Kulkuri

  • works closely together with Peda.net -school network
  • belongs to several networks and projects developing social media and distance learning
  • follows the distance and eLearning field on internet and magazines
  • participates in trainings and conferences

School is interested in social media, distance and eLearning as well as in different technical solutions that can be exploited in eLearning. Pedagogy of eLearning and PLE solutions in teaching are also areas of interest.

School has several partners, such as: Kansanvalistusseuran Etäopisto and Oriveden opisto, Otavan Opiston Nettilukio, Suomi-koulujen tuki ry., Kesälukioseura, Kauko - suomalainen nettipulpetti and TutorHouse.

Links

  • Etäkoulu Kulkuri website: [1]
  • The school: [2]
  • Facebook: [3]