Research into Learning and Teaching: Approaches and Reflections

Pedagogic Statement by Docent, Dr Eleni Berki, June 2019

Learning can happen anywhere; it just has different forms. Learning can take place formally e.g. in organized state education, non-formally e.g. in places like work, home and informally e.g. accidentally (Berki and Valtanen, 2013; Valtanen et al. 2014). Moreover, lifelong learning can happen all the time. Throughout my 30+ years of learning and teaching experiences in Higher Education (HE) and elsewhere, I consider that socio-constructivism, as expressed in Kant and Vygotsky, and meta-cognition are key teaching components for advancing deep learning, understanding, analytical skills (Georgiadou and Berki, 1997) and critical knowledge acquisition in Software Engineering (SE), Information Systems (IS) and Computer Science (CS).

Additionally, SE is a problem solving activity. Being such from its very nature, Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and its SE variation of Project-Based Learning seem to be the most suitable pedagogical innovations to synthesize (Shapiro & Berki, 1999), acquire and advance SE knowledge (Raptopoulou, Berki et al., 2012). Examples of such innovative teaching and learning approaches and their successful application can be found in my pedagogical publications; e.g. a recent successful experience was the application of PBL in a course of Open Source and Software Quality (Valtanen, Berki et al., 2013) combined with student-facilitator double-loop feedback mechanisms.

SE, IS and CS are interdisciplinary fields, and their scientific teaching requires pedagogic approaches for deep learning and manifold (= critical, creative, reflective and caring) thinking (Valtanen, Berki et al. 2008; Kampylis & Berki, 2014) within a flexible learner-centred process and self-organised learning (SOL) in a breathing, problem-focused educational curriculum (Berki & Valtanen, 2007). This is vital in order to design and build quality in the life-long learning and teaching processes, especially since HE faces the demands for internationalisation and knowledge export in global competitive markets. These factors, in turn, demand from the future knowledge workers to acquire practical knowledge, thinking skills and utilitarian expertise that are easily comparable and transferable, local and international at the same time (Valtanen, Berki et al. 2009; 2011; 2012). This is the reason that the current popular strategy outlined by the Bologna Process in HE institutes of European Union (EU) is in favour of learning outcomes.

Self-reflecting on personal evaluations of outcome-centred academic curricula for software engineering (Berki & Georgiadou, 2001) showed that the latter support curriculum functionality and facilitate comparative approaches of knowledge among academics and practitioners worldwide, e.g. in different communities-of-practice. Such curricula, however, cannot fully demonstrate holistic and strategic points of view, supported, for instance, through the learning aims and objectives approach (as expressed in Bloom’s classic work on taxonomy of educational objectives), and have mostly shaped subject-based learning. Neither they emphasise problem solving as a key competency for the future. However, all life is problem solving (!), according to philosopher Carl Popper. In addition, according to the seminal researchers of pedagogy Ference Marton and Roger Säljö, there are notable qualitative differences regarding the achievement of understanding and deep learning by focusing on the outcome and the process.

Defining learning outcomes of academic courses favours work-based learning (WBL) and productizes i) HE courses for marketing and ii) knowledge workers by making them comparable to other competitive workers in local and global economies. However, WBL cannot always be effective and natural and it is different from problem-based learning (Valtanen, Berki et al., 2011). A natural learning process, for Software Engineering discipline in particular, apart from focusing on problem-solving, should also empower the learners to aim at social transformation. Such learner-originated and -oriented approach is Paulo Freire’s radical education paradigm and critical pedagogy. The latter, without strictly obeying to WBL principles, can provide a research-based education for equal opportunities and social inclusion through HE curricula re-design through conscientious thinking. This approach was originated and successfully adopted once in Brazil’s rising knowledge-shaped economy. Additionally, contextual learning e.g. of security (see Mystakidis, Berki et al., 2017/2018) or open source software quality (Valtanen, Berki, et al. 2013) can provide enriched problem-focused education models with successful results for the learners and the HE institutes. I have evidenced the lifelong learning–for-all effectiveness of the previous especially in supervising MSc theses within a wide range of industrial application domains.

A fruitful approach towards effective, conscientious learning that creates and promotes a knowledge based economy (Berki, Kaarilahti, Ruuskanen, 2005) and work-life balance (WLB) (Berki & Cobb-Payton, 2005), should include:

  • Considerations for knowledge creation and innovation management within a personal and organizational learning framework;
  • integrated research and teaching for learners’ empowerment;
  • fostering of problem-focused education;
  • manifold, that is critical, creative, reflective and caring (=ethical) thinking;
  • professional learning aims and strategic objectives for social transformation;
  • multidisciplinary and multicultural learner-centred and self-expressed outcomes;
  • the fundamental values of equal opportunities, justice, acceptance and tolerance that are realized through ethical teaching and critical learning …

Moreover, a quality assurance process that should further overview and regulate the efficiency and effectiveness of such learning and teaching processes should encourage: (i) self-evaluation and self-expression, (ii) constructive double loop feedback mechanisms for quality improvements, (iii) different thinking, learning (Berki &Valtanen, 2007) and teaching styles (Georgiadou & Berki, 1996; 1997), (iv) resource-based learning (Georgiadou, Hatzipanagos & Berki, 2004) approaches, (v) sensible time management, (vi) safe learning environment and (vii) work-life balance (Berki & Cobb-Payton, 2005). I have further recommended the previous items as part of my evaluation feedback given upon Higher Education quality evaluation expert visits in other EU countries’ design curricula.

Time consuming quality assurance procedures and meaningless quality measurements still remain an obstacle to achieve effective, flexible learning processes, quality lifelong learning, collaborative knowledge construction (Georgiadou, Siakas, Berki, 2006) and work-life quality in HE. Academic institutes, as learning organizations themselves, need to realize a) Total Quality Management (TQM) approaches – quality for all stakeholders involved in knowledge creation, and b) inclusion of under-privileged groups such as ethnic and gender minorities of the society in learning and research opportunities (Berki, 2005). Creativity and innovation through equal opportunities, combined with openness and tolerance for socio-cultural differences (Berki et al., 2010; Kandel, Berki et al. 2017) can become a significant competitive advantage for Software Engineering curricula and HE institutes in contextual that will strive for excellence through social transformation in multicultural and multilingual societies and in the global educational markets.

In times of crises, like the one humanity currently faces, Bertrand Russell’s quote “more important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given” reflects a need for a change from formal, institutional education and also consider informal education types if they are more effective. For instance, edutainment combined with problem-based learning and professional role (including ethnic, gender, disabled and other) playing with question-asking could also be used as a powerful and more natural source of multidisciplinary learning (Valtanen, Berki et al., 2011) that promotes diversity, empowers minorities and teaches thinking for tolerance and equal opportunities policies. Different culture-based thinking (Berki et al., 2017; Cobb-Payton & Berki, 2019), role models (see e.g. Canas-Bajo et al., 2015; Tiainen & Berki, 2017) and different thinking and teaching styles (Berki & Valtanen, 2007) should be taken into consideration for lifelong learning in diverse culture societies and for sustainable knowledge-based economy strategies.

NOTE: All the references in the above text are originated from my investigations to my personal teaching and learning practices; they comprise my own published research in learning and teaching. Most of them are included in the list of my personal publications and can also be found (abstract, link, or attached document) from my Google Scholar or ResearchGate profiles, following the links below:

1) Google Scholar Profile of Eleni Berki: https://scholar.google.se/citations?hl=en&user=NfaoD60AAAAJ&view_op=list_works&sortby=pubdate

2) ResearchGate Profile of Eleni Berki: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Eleni_Berki

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