Over the past years, Finland has become a centre of excellence in the field of education and students from the country excel in international study assessments. Educators from different countries, including Malta, have been visiting the country to observe the practices that are making its educational system so successful and Finnish educators and practitioners have also started to promote their ideas and educational resources in other countries.
One of these educators is Riku Alkio, founder and CEO of Seppo Finland, a company considered a worldwide leader in the gamification of learning and outside educational activities. Alkio and his colleagues are striving to create a new kind of pedagogy that combines social learning and versatile ways of using mobile technology.
During a recent visit to Finland I met a number of Finnish educators, including Alkio, with whom I discussed a range of topics.
Alkio has been working as a teacher for 20 years in the Kallio Upper Secondary school in Helsinki. During these years he has been involved in many ICT-related projects in the school context and also at the municipal and national level with the National Agency for Education. After setting up Seppo Finland he travelled extensively to other countries to promote new ways of teaching and learning.
Asked to comment on current major developments in the Finnish education system, Alkio said that Finland launched its new national curriculum for basic education two years ago. “In the new curriculum there is a lot of emphasis on the integration of subjects. In Finland we call it phenomenal-based learning, which aims to give students a broad picture of real-world phenomena. In practice, it means that students participate in many multidisciplinary projects during the school year.”
He also stressed that the Finnish education system gives a lot of freedom to students but at the same time they are expected to take responsibility for their own studies. One of the major issues in Finland at the moment is the concept of the digitalisation of education, which is rapidly changing the role of teachers. The role of teachers is being transformed from an authoritarian one to a facilitator and organiser of learning. Alkio said this is the main reason why teachers need ongoing professional development sessions and training on how to use technology to modernise their teaching in a pedagogically sound way.
Games make students more engaged and help them to perform better
I also discussed with Alkio what he considers to be the secrets of the Finnish system of education. “Finland is considered to have the best trained teachers in the world. In Finnish schools there is respect for the child and respect for the teacher not only from the students but from society in general. That is definitely one of our strengths. Some experts are afraid that technology will change that relationship but I’m sure that using technological solutions in a correct manner will enrich the ways we communicate. I think we should mix the old and new methods of teaching and never lose the sensitive and important relationship between the teacher and student. We Finns are really good at respecting that bond,” said Alkio.
The origins of Seppo Finland can be traced back to 2011 when Alkio and colleagues of his took a group of students to Rome for a week on an exchange visit. At the start of the project the teachers encouraged the students to come up with new ideas to make the week in Rome as interesting as possible. “Two student groups decided to create a game there. We were totally excited about the idea. They designed the first edition of a game called ‘Amazing Race Church’ and it was a huge success. I have never seen the students so excited about learning. After that game experience we realised there was something about games in general that truly engage people. That’s how it all began,” explained Alkio.
Fast forward to today, and one can find Seppo game users in about 40 countries, including Malta. Alkio adds: “Our product works in different cultures and supports all types of curriculum. And it’s not just kids who enjoy playing Seppo games. We have also users in universities and other adult and postsecondary institutions. With Seppo it’s really easy to motivate and engage students of all ages.”
Alkio believes that more and more learning will happen outside of the classroom, and accordingly outside activities and gamification activities will become increasingly important for students. Alkio and his colleagues also believe that by adding physical movement into the school day, students’ brains will work more effectively and their concentration will increase.
“Learning will move to different environments like virtual reality, augmented reality or different physical environments. With our solution, teachers can use their local environment as a pedagogical playground in an easy and a safe way.
“Games are really good to activate and motivate students. We are helping teachers to use game mechanics such as points, badges, levels and goal setting in their teaching. It’s a proven fact that games make students more engaged and help them to perform better. We are bringing informal ways of learning to a formal setting like school. That’s what makes Seppo so unique,” Alkio said.
Seppo is a web-based solution which enables teachers to create and share educational games. It combines gamification, team work and pedagogical use of mobile technology. Teachers can create a game based on any physical environment such as a school yard, park, museum or city centre. Students can also play the game in the classroom and the teacher can monitor the game online.
Alkio said that Seppo is designed to be a simple and easy tool for any teacher to use. “Based on the feedback we constantly get from the teachers I think that we have succeeded quite well. One doesn’t need to have any special IT skills to create a game – there are only three buttons that are used to create a game.”
Alkio and his colleagues’ mission is to help teachers to find new and innovative ways to teach. Over the past months he and his Finnish colleagues had the opportunity to train teachers in different countries by using Seppo. He said he really enjoys meeting teachers from different countries. “It has been amazing to listen to their ideas of the new way of learning and discuss with other educators about how to motivate students in this digital era,” he said.
One doesn’t need to have any special IT skills to create a game
“I was really pleased to see that Seppo works in diverse countries such as Hong Kong, India, Brazil, Colombia, and of course also in European countries like Malta. We have Seppo users at all school levels and recently we have started to get customers also from the corporate training market.
“There is a lot of talk about gamification but there are not so many good solutions that are able to add value to training sessions. I’m happy that we can help our users to provide engagement and joy to learning. Next year we shall also be organising a workshop for Maltese teachers even in Malta.”
Seppo Finland’s vision is to be the leading educational gamification platform globally. “There are many quiz types of tools available but if you are looking for a tool that encourages people to create and contribute by using gamification then Seppo is the right solution,” said Alkio.
Kenneth Vella is headmaster of Mater Boni Consilii St Joseph School, Paola, a member of the committee of the Malta Society for Educational Administration and Management, a member of the board of studies of the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism and the international representative of Learning Scoop Finland.
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