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Quality work in our daily lives: developing teaching by encountering students and co-operating with businesses

Published on 3.2.2023
Tampere University
Veli-Pekka Pyrhönen.
University Instructor Veli-Pekka Pyrhönen. (Photograph: Terhi Yliniemi)
Tampere University is currently preparing for an audit of its quality management system. The audit will be carried out by the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre FINEEC in spring 2023. This series of articles, Quality in our daily life, describes how quality management is reflected in our daily actions and in the work of members of the University community. For Veli-Pekka Pyrhönen, who received the Good Teacher award in 2021, encountering students and fluent interaction with them are prerequisites for the well-being of the community and the quality of its operations. An understanding of the environment where students work, and the impact of their skills, is generated through collaboration with the business life.

When University Instructor Veli-Pekka Pyrhönen, a teacher of automation technology, is asked how quality is reflected in his everyday life, he responds verbosely. He describes himself as a life-long learner who participates in the development of the university community in addition to his duties as a teacher and researcher. Developing teaching, pedagogy and his own expertise is part of everyday life. Pyrhönen finds guiding the students’ learning and being actively present in the student interface to be very significant.

“I want to offer students capacities to keep learning more, provide them with skills that will help them to cope in working life and introduce them to using scientific methods to solve technological challenges,” Pyrhönen says.

For him, quality at Tampere University means a certain demand for esteem.

“Experiences of esteem emerge if education is genuinely of a high quality, is research-based and of high scientific level, challenges thinking, and is appreciated by the students,” Pyrhönen explains.

Feedback as a development tool and professional skill

When listening to Pyrhönen, one is convinced of the significance of students’ feedback. He says that teachers should engage in close interaction with their students because that is a way of getting feedback on difficult issues that helps to improve the support for learning. In addition, in discussions with student associations and meetings with teacher tutors also enable teachers to get to know their students and introduce people to each other.

“It is a genuine and caring interaction if you can get close to the students and their feelings,” Pyrhönen says.

He thinks giving feedback is an essential professional skill.

“No matter what your workplace is, there will always be feedback and you must also receive it. Feedback skills are part of both professional growth and growth as a person,” Pyrhönen points out.

From the teacher's point of view, feedback given after the course is not always easy to gauge. For example, if a student thinks a course was not successful, the teacher should know which aspects were unsuccessful. Another aspect worth thinking about is whether there is room for improvement in the teacher’s work, which is why it is important to coach students to give feedback. Processing feedback under the teacher’s guidance improves students’ commitment to give feedback.

Experiments, business co-operation and sharing know-how

When asked about the culture of experimentation, Pyrhönen says: “It is also about improving credibility that you have something new in your back pocket.”

Experimentation was the impetus behind, for example, the studyfication of bachelor’s theses at companies. When students who are working write their bachelor’s theses at businesses, the topics have genuine working life relevance, and the work runs smoothly. At the same time, teachers get an insight into where students are working and what they are doing. At the master's level, a pilot programme with a couple of companies is being run to combine studying and working in a way that the work does not interfere with the students’ academic progress.

According to Pyrhönen, companies are interested in co-operation which is rewarding for both parties. Through co-operation with businesses, teachers get an idea of whether the graduates have the required know-how to succeed in working life. Co-operation also highlights the impact of education.

“The best cases are those where the student acquires new knowledge and skills during the studies that the company does not already have. For example, something is developed right down to productisation,” Pyrhönen mentions.

Tampere University’s internal co-operation and communication are also important. Pyrhönen sees various development groups and bodies as useful for sharing good practices. In his busiest years, he was involved in more than a dozen groups.

“An octopus has many tentacles meaning the participants are often involved in many things and information is quickly spread in different directions,” he says.

Pyrhönen believes that both successful and not so successful ideas are meant to be shared. He also emphasises the importance of sharing both new ideas and ideas that are still in the pipeline.

“Someone should have the courage to make the invisible into the imperfect, which can then be refined and improved over time,” he sums up.

International networks help to grasp future trends and, at their best, give new ideas and the latest research results to the education interface.

Preparing for the audit with an open mind

Tampere University’s quality management system will be audited by the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre FINEEC in spring 2023. Pyrhönen is looking forward to it with a positive attitude – he expects the audit to provide external feedback.

“These evaluations are good because you learn something new from what someone else tells you,” he says.

Having acted as an evaluator himself, Pyrhönen also has experience of audits from the other side of the table. He has found FINEEC's processes to be smooth and of high quality, which makes him believe that quality issues will be regarded in sufficient breadth. He encourages the university community to prepare for the audit and interviews open-mindedly.

“You should go to the interviews with an open mind and tell it like it is. Identify your strengths and areas for improvement. It is a sign of good quality and advanced thinking to also be able to communicate areas for improvement,” Pyrhönen advises.

Text: Piia Tienhaara and Terhi Yliniemi