Finnish Schools, ICT and EduTalk radio

I was delighted to be invited to be interviewed on EduTalk radio by David Noble and John Johnston. Here is how they explained the programme to me:

Radio Edutalk is a weekly live online broadcast organised by myself, David Noble, a chartered teacher in Fife, and John Johnston, an ICT support officer in central Scotland.

Since 2009, the Edutalk project has enabled educationists to create, record and share educational audio. Almost five hundred audio contributions have been posted at

Radio Edutalk was launched towards the end of 2011. Shows have featured phone-ins, policy discussions between panelists contributing via telephone, and audio-only presentations by experts within various fields of education.

I wasn’t sure I would have much to contribute, but fortunately a slot available just after I was fresh back from Google Teacher Academy meant that I had plenty to talk about!

We discussed some wide ranging subjects, from the impact of CPD on learner outcomes to whether personal history and experience with ICT is a factor those teaching with ICT to feel confident and competent in doing so.

Of particular interest to me was the last question that David posed, asking me to comment on which area of ICT I may be able to make an impact on as a Newly Qualified Teacher next year. He cited a recent paper that looks at good practice of ICT use in Finnish schools.

Niemi, H., Kynaslahti, H., Vahtivuori-Hanninen, S., 2012. Towards ICT in everyday life in Finnish schools: seeking conditions for good practices. Learning, Media and Technology.1-15. DOI: (Taylor and Francis journal, likely to be pay-per-view. If you are a student or staff member and are off campus, look for the journal in your university e-journal library to see if you can get access for free).

Abstract: The article discusses how to strengthen educational use of information and communication technology (ICT) in Finnish schools. The conceptions and experiences of the successful integration of ICT in everyday school settings are reported. Participant observations in 20 schools in different parts of Finland were carried out, including discussions with principals and teachers. The results show that when promoting new technology and practices in schools, many components overlap and support each other. The following six main characteristics of successful integration were identified: (1) ICT included in strategic planning, as part of school culture, (2) teaching and learning methods facilitating participation and leading to empowerment, (3) flexible curriculums, (4) high investments in communication, (5) optimum leadership and management, and (6) teaching staff’s strong capacity and commitment. The research indicates that an open school culture allows staff to take risks when applying new technology, creates learning environments and empowers learners.

I chose ‘teaching and learning methods facilitating participation and leading to empowerment’ as an area I felt I could explore with my own class, thinking particularly in terms of individual involvement through tools such as wallwisher, or participation with a wider audience through blogging.

I followed up and read the paper. The Finnish education system is renowned for the high quality and standards it achieves, with very little variation in outcomes across different schools. In the UK we can only dream of a system where there is no national testing until children are at the end of the secondary schooling. The suggestions made from the research in this paper are that schools that have effective use of ICT, where ‘ ICT was used in a sustainable way with an aim to empower learning for all children in a school community and was not only a temporary project or owned by some individual teachers‘, had six characteristics of successful integration. If you could wave a magic wand, they are exactly the elements you would put in place:

(1) ICT included in strategic planning, as part of school culture

Schools had an effective overall vision of how to use ICT in their teaching and to engage with the wider community. A culture of sharing good practice was established and supported. The thing that surprised me here, was that this happened by teacher observation – going into a colleague’s classroom to learn how they taught with ICT. This wasn’t a system of communication or teachmeets or other ways of sharing, this was good solid observation and reflection.

(2) teaching and learning methods facilitating participation and leading to empowerment

A focus here was on ‘learner-centred knowledge creation methods and practices‘.

(3) flexible curriculums

Schools develop their own curriculum within the National Framework in Finland, here ICT was either a tool used within other subjects or in some cases a specific subject curriculum in it’s own right. Both were flexible and changed by teachers in response to their needs and their learner’s needs.

(4) high investments in communication

Promotion of internal and external communication – examples here were given os the use of blogs to communicate with the wider community and teachers sharing good practice with other schools.

(5) optimum leadership and management

Even this section on leadership discussed the view from the student perspective, but overall focussed on the need for commitment from the top and the enabling provision of infrastructure.

(6) teaching staff’s strong capacity and commitment

This followed from the overal culture and philosophy of the school and was evident in the sharing of good practice to promote a more homogenous approach to ICT across a whole school.

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