ThingLink’s Finnish team continues to grow as Henri Pennanen joins the team to lead new content production initiatives for education and workforce development. We’ve had the pleasure to collaborate with Henri already in several projects that involved virtual tour and course creation for teacher training and skills development, and are very happy about him now joining ThingLink full time! In this interview, we asked Henri about teacher training; its current challenges and opportunities.
Q: You have previously worked as a K-12 teacher, a principal, and a teacher trainer. What are the most common questions teachers have about online learning?
HP: When teachers were suddenly forced to transition their classes into online learning environments, the only pedagogic model they could refer to is based on the traditional classroom setup. The challenge is that anyone who tries to repeat the traditional model online quickly realizes that it's not going to work, or at least it’s not repeatable as such. After this realization, the most common questions that come to mind are:
- How can I make online learning more engaging and meaningful?
- How do I create an authentic connection with my students?
- What kind of methods can I use?
- What tools should I use?
- How can I differentiate learning for different students?
- How can I create opportunities for learners to show their academic progress in more versatile ways?
These past two years when I’ve helped both teachers and companies to create online learning materials has been an eye-opening experience. I’ve realized that businesses are facing the same kind of challenges as schools; there's a growing demand for online workforce development programs, training, upskilling, and re-skilling. Similar to schools, the challenge is how to design engaging, contextual, and pedagogically solid online training material and find resources to produce it. Combining my background as a teacher with my experience from content production has opened up new and exciting opportunities to help both companies and schools in these matters.
Q: What kind of tools and skills do you need for creating visually engaging learning experiences?
HP: There are a dozen ways to represent information visually and anyone with basic computer skills and time can create a visual online experience. When it comes to creating pedagogically meaningful, engaging online learning experiences, it is good to remember this is a new area for most classroom teachers and even if we have now been practicing this for a year, teachers need more support and upskilling. Even if the content creation process itself is not difficult, it's extremely difficult to try to figure this all out alone.
First, it is important to have a basic understanding of learning theories, teaching methods and how they apply to an online environment. This includes being able to point out the most important learning objectives and create a series of learning tasks for learners.
Second, you need skills to create and edit visual content, also from scratch. This can be anything from pictures to videos, charts to infographics. You have to differentiate what kind of learning content, or what part of it, is best delivered visually, and what by some other means.
Third, you need to understand how you represent the visual information you've created in an online setting. How you structure your materials, how to create learning paths, organize navigation, secure that it works on all devices, etc.
Finally, you need a platform to deliver the content. There are many platforms, apps, and LMS's to do this, but I honestly think that when it comes to visual learning solutions, ThingLink is the most versatile one. When you can combine pictures, video, text, animation, embedded content, and basically whatever you can imagine into one visual representation, you’ve got yourself a new visual media type, accessible with a simple link.
How much time on average it takes to create a virtual tour, can you give some examples of projects you have done?
This really depends on the scale and desired quality of the project. For DIY projects, you can just grab a camera, take a few shots, upload them in ThingLink, and create a few tags. This shouldn't take more than a few hours but the quality is not ideal.
Typical high-quality content production includes the planning phase with the client, meetings, and collecting project-related material such as texts, charts, images, etc. Then there are 1-2 shooting days at the location (often 360° and drone shots too), post-processing of the images and videos, and of course, turning everything into a virtual tour in ThingLink.
Every step of the way is done through discussion with a client and modifications are done along the way. These projects typically take a few weeks to be finished, depending on the scale and the amount of content. The virtualization of HSY's underground facilities in Finland is one example of this kind of project. If the virtual tour content is about upskilling or re-skilling or otherwise pedagogically more in-depth, the planning, curating, and creating content takes longer.
Another project I worked with was creating a virtual exhibition of the work of visual arts students at the Savonlinna's upper secondary School of Arts and Music. This project was quite straightforward and it only tooks us a couple of days to finish!
What areas or segments are you most interested to work on at ThingLink?
HP: I will be responsible for various types of content production initiatives at ThingLink, and one of the areas that I’m really excited about is new forms of teacher training. We are currently developing professional development courses for our partners in India using in-context, interactive learning modules that align with the National Education Policy (NEP), and the feedback so far has been very positive and encouraging. In my new role, I will continue this work in collaboration with experts from Finnish teacher training schools.
Personally, I've enjoyed tremendously working with teachers and companies, arranging webinars and teacher training courses. In general, I would say that Thinglink at the core is about giving everybody a chance to be creative. There is no steep learning curve, so I encourage anyone to give it a try. If you need any help, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or the ThingLink Education group on Facebook!