Report on pedagogical expertise

 

1. Teaching philosophy

My twenty years of experience as a university instructor has been a pleasure and a privilege. Teaching in higher education means being constantly in contact with young and challenging people. Pedagogy is a natural and indispensable dimension of scientific research, in which the companionship of living people complements that of distant and dead thinkers transmitted through texts and images.

ECCI is an acronym invented by me from the terms ‘enterprising’, ‘critical’, ‘courageous’ and ‘innovative’. As teaching also means educating, these are the attributes I encourage the students to develop so that in future they will be competitive, educated adults. Rather than a teacher handing down knowledge, I consider myself a mentor with the duty to help students to search for information, to treat it critically, and also to approach the surrounding reality critically. Teaching is for me an interactive event, a dialogue between me and the students, in which I also learn from the information the students bring to class. In my lessons, I substitute dialogue for monologue, discussion for lecturing. It is nevertheless impossible to search for information about a topic without knowing it exists. The teacher’s duty is thus to introduce students to a subject in a way that motivates them to look for more information. Teaching must be planned so that students’ activity as researchers is emphasised. A lecture may be in the mode of traditional contact teaching, in which the common meetings serve to reflect upon the learned knowledge, discuss it and analyse it; or it may serve to introduce the next topic. The appropriate use of information and communication technologies, for instance in so-called blended courses which take place partly online, supports students’ independent work and facilitates the sharing of learning outcomes. Continuous evaluation based on students’ written presentations and oral exercises emphasises learning as process, unlike a traditional exam that often only reveals the passive incorporation of information.

Perhaps the best example of how I have put this philosophy into practice is my on-line course about Italian history and society. Each week I distributed a short written introduction to a topic (for instance a historical period like the 15th century, or a societal question, like the role of the Church in contemporary Italy). Students were expected to research information by themselves in order to be able to answer questions related to the topic. They were also expected to comment on at least one answer given by another student that week. The method develops the capacity to search for information, to approach it critically and to present it. Furthermore, the experience of receiving comments from other students clarifies the importance of positive reinforcement in the learning process; and commenting on others’ answers fosters the capacity to give positive feedback. Assessment in this course was based on continuous evaluation of students’ written answers, which were all visible to the entire class.

As for making the students ‘courageous’, the latest cohort of first-year students in the literature course wrote blog posts which have been publicly available on my website since last winter. Please see: https://marjaharmanmaa.com.

New knowledge is built on previously acquired knowledge, by complementing and deepening it. In asserting this, I refer not only to the scaffolding relationship between basic and advanced (or first and fourth year) studies, but also to the learning of details. For instance, if the next topic of the literature course is Romanticism, students need to familiarise with it as a general concept before the lesson in order to be able to discuss it more specifically.

Each student is nevertheless a different and individual learner. According to this common truism teaching should be organised in a way that it meets each learner’s particular needs as well as possible. Here I especially refer to the development of learning outside the seminar hours through the use of learning diaries, essay assignments, self-paced exams and other flexible ways to demonstrate learning achievements. Despite the attention that has been given to these solo modes, for some, lectures remain the most suitable environment for learning, as they may find the support of the group of vital importance, and rely on the continuous evaluation of progress that is available.   Others might prefer learning alone and demonstrating the results with an exam or other exercise. A combination of on-line teaching and exams also enables distance learning, which is an important option to maintain diversity and fairness.

The curriculum and learning methods should be discussed with students, as they are ultimately the best evaluators of the meaningfulness of the goals and methods. From 1998 to 2007, when I was the head of the Italian language unit at the Language Centre, we held a feedback session with students during the spring in which they participated in the development of the Italian curriculum, including choice of courses, content, methods and testing.

 

2. Previous teaching experience

My experience in university teaching of Italian language and culture is long and varied. I began teaching at the Language Centre of the University of Helsinki in 1996 as part-time instructor in Italian. I became the primary lecturer in Italian in 1998, and was university lecturer (senior lecturer) in Italian from 2003 to 2016. During that period, I was the only person in the Italian unit in permanent employment, which is why my duties included administration and development of the Italian curriculum until a reorganisation of the unit in 2007.

My teaching experience at the university includes Italian language courses at all levels (A1-B2) and in different aspects (basic course, advanced course, grammar, text comprehension, critical reading); as well as Italian literature and culture courses. I have also been responsible for exams and essays in Italian culture and opera at the former Renvall Institute (the area studies unit of the University of Helsinki). I have given both scientific and public lectures, and lecture series on Italian culture and literature in Finland and abroad, including Italian universities (Ca ‘Foscari, Venice; Università della Calabria, Cosenza), as well as the University of Cambridge, Clare Hall College, and the University of St. Andrew’s. I served as unofficial tutor for students at Clare Hall College, Cambridge, during my residence there. In spring 2012, I participated in the Erasmus teacher exchange programme, visiting the University of Kent, UK, in April; my activities established the exchange programme with the University of Kent. I also participated in research seminars of Italian at the University of Cambridge and University College of London in 2009, and at the University of Kent in 2012.

I have taught in a variety of contact modes, including lectures and seminars, structured blended courses that included class meetings as well as e-learning, and full online courses. My most preferred methods of assessment are continuous evaluation or final exams, depending on the nature of the course and students’ preferences. My teaching is supplemented with autonomous learning modules that I have developed.

I earned the first PhD in Italian Philology to be awarded by a Finnish university. When I was writing my doctoral dissertation in the 1990s, I was the only postgraduate student in the country, and there was no doctoral training in the Italian language. Nor am I aware that any has been organised in recent years. During my doctoral and early career years, I regularly presented at national research seminars (only for the doctoral students) on Romance languages, cultural history and general history. I also participated in the international research seminar for the doctoral students of the Academy of Fine Arts held at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in 2001.

 

3. Pedagogical skills

I have acquired and refined my pedagogical skills through twenty years of teaching experience at the University of Helsinki. I have continued to develop my skills by actively participating in trainings of the university community, including seminars on development of teaching at the University of Helsinki Language Centre from 1999 to 2015; a course on on-line pedagogy, named ope.fi (6 ECTS) organised by the Centre for Educational Technology at the University of Helsinki; and the requisite training in specific technologies such as Moodle. I also regularly attend teaching workshops and seminars organised at international conferences. The last of these was the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) in Toronto in 2015, which hosted several workshops and seminars on e-learning in particular.

 

4. Ability to use and develop learning materials

When I started as lecturer at the Language Centre in 1998, I was the only full-time and permanent teacher in the Italian unit. I was therefore responsible for organising and developing the Italian curriculum from then until 2007 when the unit was reorganised. In the beginning the existing material for teaching Italian was poor, and for several courses there was no material at all. In order to start and develop the Italian curriculum I had to create appropriate learning material for the part-time teachers as well. During this development period, I led two three-year projects related to the development of teaching of Italian language, both funded by the University of Helsinki:

 –                 Development of learning material in Italian (2000-2002)

–                 Development of e-learning in Italian (2003-2005)

Thus, I have experience preparing learning materials at the Language Centre both for my personal use and for the whole Italian unit, consisting only of part-time teachers, as well as for students’ autonomous learning. The learning material I have done has been pioneering; for example, previously there were no lecture slides (transparencies) available for teaching at all. I was among the first to introduce online teaching, together with some teachers of English and Swedish. Finally, when I started as a lecturer in 1998, there was only one Italian grammar in Finnish, the Lyhyt italian kielioppi (Short Italian Grammar) which was far too superficial for university teaching, so I also produced reference grammars at levels 0-B1 CEFR.

Materials developed by me alone for the Italian unit at Language Centre, University of Helsinki:

  • 191 slides for teaching grammar in the elementary Italian course (41 531 characters, CEFR A1)
  • 55 pages of grammatical exercises for the elementary Italian course (59 385 characters,) CEFR A1)
  • 25 pages of grammatical exercises for students’ autonomous learning (characters, CEFR A1)
  • 96 pages of reference material on Italian grammar for the elementary courses (63 664 charcters, CEFR A1)
  • 93 slides for grammar teaching for the intermediate Italian course (41 445 characters, CEFR A2)
  • 20 slides of communication exercises for the intermediate Italian course (10 816 characters, CEFR A2)
  • 80 pages of grammar exercises for the intermediate Italian course (112 526 characters, CEFR A2)
  • 81 pages of reference material on Italian grammar for the intermediate course (75 143 characters, CEFR A2)

Materials prepared by me alone for my own teaching:

  • 184 pages of reference material on the Italian normative grammar for the grammar course (226 105 characters, CEFR B1). This material is available online for free on my personal web page: https://marjaharmanmaa.com (Opetus – Teaching -> Italian kielioppi)
  • 75 pages of grammatical exercises for the grammar course (106 789 characters, CEFR B1). This material is available online for free on my personal web page: https://marjaharmanmaa.com (Opetus – Teaching -> Italian kielioppi)
  • 132 slides for teaching grammar in the grammar course (55 108 characters, CEFR B1)
  • 140 pages of theory explanations and exercises for the text comprehension course (CEFR B1)
  • 50 pages of theory explanations, edited texts and exercises for the Italian literature course (Alcune pagine della letteratura dell’Italia unita / Selected literature of unified Italy, 1860-1945) (CEFR B2)
  • 35 pages of theory explanations and exercises for the course in critical reading of news (CEFR B2)
  • Approximately 550 slides and edited texts from the middle ages till the 19th century and exercises for the course in Italian literature, first level (Department of Modern Languages, University of Helsinki, 2016-2017)
  • Numerous PowerPoint slide decks about the Italian literature, culture, history and politics in Italian, Finnish and English supporting lectures I have presented in different courses and other venues in Finland and abroad. The slides for the course on the history of Venice are on my personal web page: https://marjaharmanmaa.com (Opetus – Teaching -> Venetsian historia – The history of Venice)

 

Other teaching materials:

Together with colleagues I have edited three books in Finnish that have been (or still are being) used in Finnish universities. The books are:

  • Marja Härmänmaa and Markku Mattila (eds): Uusi uljas ihminen, eli modernin pimeä puoli [The Brave New Man, or the Dark Side of Modernity]. Atena, Jyväskylä 1998 (280 pages).
  • Marja Härmänmaa and Timo Vihavainen (eds.): Kivettyneet ihanteet? Klassismin nousu maailmansotien välisessä Euroopassa [Petrified Ideals? The Raise of Classicism in Interwar Europe]. Atena, Jyväskylä 2000 (444 pages).
  • Marja Härmänmaa and Markku Mattila (eds.): Anarkismi, avantgarde, terrorismi – muutamia strategioita järjestyksen sotkemiseksi [Anarchism, Avant-garde and Terrorism – Some Strategies to Disturb Order]. Gaudeamus (Helsinki University Press), Helsinki 2007 (310 pages).

My doctoral dissertation (Un patriota che sfidò la decadenza. F.T. Marinetti e l’idea dell’uomo nuovo fascista, 1929-1944. Academia scientiarum Fennica, Helsinki 2000, 379 pages) has been used in teaching in several Italian universities.

I have prepared the following interactive online courses:

  • Cicerone – a course in Italian standard grammar
  • L’Italia ieri e oggi – an introduction to Italian history and society
  • Letteratura I – a history of Italian literature, designed as a blended course consisting partly of online exercises

Learning material develops best when it is used by different persons, with developments and refinements fed back to other users. For this reason, I have also shared the materials for my grammar and the text comprehension courses with my colleagues at the Language Centre and Open University. Student feedback has also been extremely valuable, even crucial; and for this reason, I had my grammar materials proofread by a student who worked as copywriter.

According to student feedback, some of which is public and visible on the intranet of the University of Helsinki, WebOodi, I can affirm that that students have been extremely satisfied with my courses, teaching, methods and the material I have prepared. Their satisfaction also comes out in the references that I have from the University of Helsinki.

 

5. Other teaching merits

I collect student feedback regularly throughout the course, and it can be either oral or written, depending on the group size. For some years starting in 2007, and again in 2016-2017, it was possible to collect the final feedback of the courses electronically on University of Helsinki intranet, WebOodi, where it remains visible. Unusually, I start collecting “feedback” at the beginning of a course, aiming to identify students’ interests, their learning objectives and the best practices for the group. In large groups, I redirect the written pre-course “feedback” to students for their comment on it, so that they can understand how many different opinions there can be. From continuous oral feedback during the course, I aim to verify with the group how things are going, which methods and material they are finding the most suitable, and what should be done differently. With the electronic final feedback, the students have the opportunity to express personal opinions regarding the course, and give suggestions for developing it. Except for the final course evaluation, I discuss all feedback with students. The explicit purpose of collecting feedback is to improve courses in terms of the learning methods, methodology, material and content, ways of demonstrating learning achievements (exam, essay, oral presentation), ways of evaluating learning (grades, accepted / rejected), ways of teaching students to study, and giving guidance to students to support their individual study. Furthermore, giving and analysing feedback also serves to make the students reflect on their learning and activity.

I continuously develop my professional expertise and skills by spending several months a year in Italy doing research, and by annually attending international conferences (details are available in the university research website TUHAT). As described above (section 3), I also have undertaken courses and seminars in learning and teaching at the University of Helsinki, including annual seminars on teaching development at the Language Centre and specialised courses in online pedagogy from the Educational technology centre.

In the fall of 2010, I participated in the development of the curriculum of the entire Language Centre, which was implemented in 2011. In 2012, I gave a lecture in the Language Centre’s seminar on e-learning titled “Cyborgs and Language Studies: e-learning in response to pedagogical challenges posed by the new generation”. I have also presented on teaching critical reading in the national conference of the Finnish Association for Applied Linguistics (AFinLA), as well as in a popular article published in language teachers’ journal TEMPUS and a scientific article in AFinLA yearbook. (Details of these publications are available in the university research website TUHAT).

As I was for almost 20 years the only full-time and permanent teacher in the Italian language unit at the Language Centre, I was in charge of developing and managing my unit right from the beginning of my lectureship in 1998 until the reorganization in 2007. I built it up from a few courses to a complete Italian programme (20-25 credits) with options in critical reading and other specialised topics. During that period, our language unit held regular informal meetings about teaching and built a sense of itself as a unit.

I introduced a number of teaching elements to the Italian unit at Language Centre that had not been used previously, including academic writing, intercultural communication, critical reading, e-learning, self-study and out-of-classroom learning. In order to develop the students’ out-of-classroom learning and sense of community, I founded the Italian Language Students’ Association, Italian Posse, at the beginning of the 2000s. The organisation belonged to HYY (Student Union of the University of Helsinki).

In 2004, I helped launch the founding of the Multidisciplinary Italian Studies programme at the former Renvall Institute (the area studies unit at the University of Helsinki), from my initiative. I have further supported the Renvall Institute study program by providing and marking exam and essay assessments on Italian culture and opera.