Learning together

“VuoLearning was ground-breaking... ahead of its time” - Interview with Kimmo Vehkalahti from the University of Helsinki

Quynh Nguyen & John Cacafranca 04.12.2017

We recently caught up with a passionate user of VuoLearning, Kimmo Vehkalahti. Kimmo has been working at the University of Helsinki in various duties for the past 20+ years. Currently he works as a University Lecturer at the Centre for Research Methods at the Faculty of Social Sciences. He teaches thousands of students a year, both in the University of Helsinki and elsewhere through ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ (MOOCs), specialising in Statistics and Data Science. Kimmo is a Founding Fellow of the Teachers’ Academy of the University of Helsinki. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to tell us how and why VuoLearning has revolutionised the way he teaches.

Read the full interview below. Thanks so much to Kimmo for spending time to answer our questions!

Image: Aino Huovio

Can you tell us about your work with the University and how you use the VuoLearning product?

The University of Helsinki is the leading University in Finland and one of the best in the world. I’m a statistician and I work within all the campuses of the University of Helsinki, but I’m mainly based at the city centre campus where my office is. The university has around 35,000 students and I teach thousands myself annually, not only through the university, but also through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). I’ve been creating MOOCs in a close co-operation with our Open University since 2015 and I am convinced that the MOOCs are very important globally for open education.

MOOCs are where I have been using the VuoLearning product, especially in my Introduction to Social Statistics course which is in Finnish. I use VuoLearning to share materials, because I think that PDF files are old fashioned; I don’t have paper exams anymore, as everything is now digitalised. VuoLearning was an essential part of the digitalisation process that began in 2015.

Introduction to Open Data Science is my newest MOOC. Open Data and Open Science are huge terms that shake the world. Data Science is asynonym for the happy marriage of Statistics and Computer Science. To analyse data from all (im)possible sources, processes and streams in our society and world we need both. The data revolution has changed and will change everything. I keep saying to my students that “no matter what your discipline is or is going to be, we shall all be data scientists”, and I am serious. What I am extremely happy about is that VuoLearning has been a part of this story from the very beginning. To be precise, they started a bit before I started my first MOOC, which was a lucky coincidence, indeed.

You mentioned you use VuoLearning to convert PDF files. Can you expand on that?

Yes, that was the starting point. I had prepared and shared my course materials for several years in PDF form using Survo + LaTeX and, yeah, the PDFs were nice but then I met Johanna (the CEO of VuoLearning). Johanna thought that PDFs were old fashioned– they aren’t mobile friendly, they’re used to print from your computer onto paper or to view on your PC or laptop. Nowadays, we’re living in a mobile world so everything should work on mobile devices. VuoLearning was ground-breaking and I think they were a bit ahead of their time 3 years ago when they started.

Johanna showed me one of the early dev versions of their product, and I must say I was quite amazed and excited. So, in April 2015 I decided to give them the sources of my course materials as a test bench for building up their product. Skilfully and quickly they converted my LaTeX documents to a mobile form (at that time they didn’t convert PDFs – yet). All this happened before I had even thought about any MOOCs. When I started my first MOOC in August 2015, I realised I need the VuoLearning platform to jump straight to the next level of open learning.

Did you ever receive any feedback from your students regarding VuoLearning?

Of course, from the very beginning. Sometimes they use the VuoLearning feedback form found within the content, whilst other times they give me feedback face-to-face or through other channels. My MOOCs are available to everyone, not only University of Helsinki students. I have a wide age range with my students; from as low as 10 up to 80+ years – life-long learning in action! As a statistician, I love variation in all possible forms, it’s great for co-learning. Through out the years I’ve received all sorts of useful, constructive comments and suggestions. They have helped me to develop my courses and VuoLearning to develop their product (win-win). Generally, younger students tend to find the technology easy while some older students might express their preference to use paper.

With VuoLearning I can actually get the best of both worlds, but the mobile version is the primary solution.

Do you have any comments regarding the customer service VuoLearning provides to their customers?

Yes, it’s always very fast. I mostly use VuoLearning’s own feedback system and I just write, “Hey! I’m in a workshop with my students and this thing seems not to work. Can you do something about it?”. And usually within the same workshop (often immediately!) I’ll get a response saying it will be taken care of. It may sound minor, but actually it’s extremely important to have this quick response. In many other services the typical problem is that you never know whether anyone is listening, but I know that VuoLearning is interested in their customers and willing to think about any problems or suggestions concerning their product. That makes me feel that my feedback is valuable. Feedback becomes “feelback”. (And they will also resolve any problems sooner or later…usually sooner!)

How do you think VuoLearning has helped your students?

I think many students take it for granted now. They are focused on learning the topics of the course and not necessarily thinking, “Hey, this is a great product”. Perhaps, the realisation will come later when they enroll to such courses where they should choose between printing on paper or reading PDFs on their mobile phones.


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