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On this page you will find interviews from:
Espoo Adult Learning Centre
Omnia Vocational School

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The student gets to shine at an online cooking course

Taru Kekkonen has interviewed Suvianna Ahvenainen and two of her online students

Juureksia vadilla.

Suvianna Ahvenainen is a teacher who believes in online teaching and learning. According to her, online environments provide freedom and enable learning moments – also when learning manual skills such as cooking.

Suvianna has been working at Omnia, Espoo Adult Learning Centre for just over a year now, and she is responsible for online courses in home economics. At the Adult Learning Centre , all online teaching is distance teaching in real time through Zoom. Suvianna says that even in her subject, online teaching is here to stay also after the pandemic. Students appreciate that they don’t have to leave their homes and that they can operate in their familiar kitchens using their own familiar tools. From Omnia’s perspective, one advantage of the online platform is also that it can accommodate 20 students, whereas the teaching kitchen only fits 12.

The goal is to make the learner succeed

According to Suvianna, a successful online course starts with planning. It’s essential to consider which foods and recipes are suitable for online teaching. For example, is it sensible to have the student buy a whole salmon for cleaning and filleting a fish? It’s important to manage the schedule so that the student can progress from one phase to another at the same pace with the teacher. In Zoom, they’re asked to raise a thumb when each is ready to move forward. Verbalizing manual skills is essential. It’s important to teach, not just demonstrate. The goal is not to bolster the teacher’s own personal brand or expertise. The teaching session is not the teacher’s own show but the aim is to make the student succeed and shine in their own kitchen. It’s also essential to provide students with good instructions in advance. Recipes, shopping lists, and descriptions of the work stages are sent well in advance, and students could be asked, for example, to peel the potatoes before the teaching session.

Show, illustrate, and verbalize

Unfortunately, only a few students keep their cameras on while cooking, so the teacher can’t intervene and give guidance as effectively as in face-to-face classes. Thus, online teaching requires even better and clearer demonstration and illustration. Scheduling within the teaching session is sometimes challenging, as students have different ovens, for example, and thus cooking times vary. Refining taste also poses a challenge when unable to taste the students’ products. Therefore, as a teacher, Suvianna tries to describe and verbalize as precisely as possible what she tastes.

Suvianna’s tips for colleagues

  • Plan, plan, and plan. Make detailed lesson plans, consider rhythm, interaction, and camera angles. Create good instructions and send them to students on time in advance.
  • Keep in mind that the goal is to provide students with successful experiences. That’s what we are here for!
  • Participate in various online courses as a student yourself.

«Although face-to-face learning is now possible, I definitely want to continue online. It fits better into my everyday life and schedule

For this blog post, we interviewed two avid students of online courses who have participated Suvianna’s courses. Online courses seem to suit them well, as they constantly have bookings for new courses on their calendars. We wanted to find out what it is that makes cooking on online courses so fascinating and effective.

«I’m not a kitchen prodigy; I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself

Both of our students discovered online courses of Espoo Adult Education Centre during the pandemic – «when everything else went online, too» – and stuck with it. The transition to online learning happened simultaneously in both work and hobbies. Nowadays, they occasionally also attend face-to-face classes, but the convenience and distance-independent nature of online learning make it easier to fit the hobby into their daily lives.

Interaction adds value to online learning

According to our students, interaction, the experience of community, feeling of belonging and learning together are as important online as they are in face-to-face teaching. These aspects distinguish online learning from reading books or watching YouTube videos. Even in a short, just a few-hour course, a safe and communal atmosphere can be created during the initial introduction round, where everyone opens their microphones and shares their expectations for the course. It’s also good to agree on interaction rules. The threshold for asking questions lowers when there’s an agreement on how technology is used and how to proceed together. In online courses that are arranged by Espoo Adult Education Centre, it’s noticeable that even though there are several teachers teaching the same subject, they have consistent practices. Our students haven’t recognized such common pedagogical practices in online courses offered by other providers of liberal adult education.

According to our students, challenges mainly arise if the technology or equipment isn’t in order. Preparation in advance helps with this. You need to ensure that the microphone works and that there’s enough power. The teacher also needs to master the technology, cameras, camera angles, and equipment. The teacher can also inform the group that this is their first online course, and they’re still learning. Such honesty and openness create understanding and bring humanity to the online environment.

Our students’ tips for online teachers

  • Explain in advance how the teaching session will be structured and in what order the dishes will be prepared.
  • Remember to ask frequently if everyone has reached the same point. Give everyone time and restrain the overly loud or talkative ones.
  • Be clear, stick to what’s in the recipe, don’t speculate or ramble.
  • Use two cameras, show, and verbalize your actions all the time.
  • Take three online courses on different topics and pick the best tips for your own teaching.

Our students’ tips for other online learners

  • Prepare. Read the instructions carefully, get the supplies, and set up the tools and dishes in advance.
  • Think about what you want to do and learn in the course. Be kind to yourself. Prepare only part of the dishes if you don’t have time for all of them.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask if something doesn’t work, if you don’t know what or how to do next, or if you are lagging behind.

«Start with the learning objectives and your online course will be successful» 

Teacher Marja-Leena Lakkala and student Janne Siira were interviewed by Taru Kekkonen

Marja-Leena Lakkala works as a vocational school teacher at Omnia, Finland. In an interview carried out in September 2023 she shared her experience and opinions on what makes an online course successful. 

Marja-Leena has been designing and teaching online courses since 2018. She is currently teaching adult students who take the whole three-year program of vocational qualification in business and administration online. Only the on-the-job periods including competence demonstrations take place in physical environments.

Marja-Leena mentions clear learning objectives, relevant and up-to-date content, online communication and collaboration between the students, personalized learning paths for adults with prior knowledge, flexibility, teacher presence and recording the online lessons as key factors to a successful online course.

Marja-Leena emphasizes that it is worthwhile to take time to plan carefully how to spend the rare real-time meetings with the students. In her experience it pays off to spend a lot of that time on communication and collaboration using for example break-out rooms and other methods to strengthen community and teamwork among students. She also uses a lot of videos, texts, discussion forums, quizzes, H5P activities and other tools to activate the students. Lectures are always recorded, and according to the log data the students also come back to the recordings.

When asked about any challenges and pitfalls, Marja-Leena mentions the lack of time and resources to continuously develop the content of the course. Also, the heterogeneous group of students forces the teacher to look for ways to support the individuals. Some students already have a lot of experience and knowledge about the subject to be studied and for others it can be a totally new topic. Some are used to working and studying in online environments while others have more technical issues. When teaching online, it is more difficult to notice who needs support from the teacher. The students might also lack the courage to ask for help from the teacher. To overcome these challenges, Marja-Leena is constantly and actively collecting and utilizing feedback from the students to develop the course further. She is also offering one-to-one online time for students that need it most.

And what do students think of a successful online course?

Student Janne Siira wanted to share his experience and thoughts with us. Janne is an adult career changer and is studying for his second degree. He had experience with some parts of the university of applied sciences degree online, so he was not a complete novice in online studies when he started his online business and administration studies.

Janne appreciates a sufficient amount of real-time online teaching and recorded teaching sessions in his online business studies. He says they replace traditional classroom teaching. Clear learning assignments and instructions are also important. The student needs to know what to do and what is expected of him. Janne also appreciates the opportunity to ask the teacher for help by email, phone, or chat. Getting feedback along the way encourages him to move forward in his studies. Janne thanks his teachers for being easily approachable. According to Janne, they show that they want to interact with the student and they have made it easy to contact them.

When asked about the challenges of online learning, Janne has to think for a moment: “It’s hard to come up with challenges when this online degree is so well implemented.” Janne mentions the importance of the teachers’ support and presence several times, but he has not found his fellow students or the student community very important. According to his experience, working in small groups in Teams breakout rooms has not felt very natural. Independent problem solving plays therefore an important role, but “fortunately there is a phone and email to contact teachers whenever needed.”

Marja-Leena’s pro tips for colleagues who are designing online courses:

  • First, forget about the learning material, activities and assignments and start with the learning objectives instead. After having decided on the objectives, it is much easier to understand how to implement them.
  • Shift your focus to the students and their needs.
  • Try to implement teacher presence throughout the course – not only when being online with your students but also while they are studying independently.
  • Let quality criteria and a process/model of creating an online course lead your work (if such are available in your school)
  • Don’t forget to activate co-operation between the students.

Janne’s tips for other online learners:

  • Schedule your own studies! This is really important – and the skill of scheduling develops along the way.
  • Familiarize yourself with the tasks carefully! Read the learning assignment instructions carefully and to the end before you start doing anything.
  • Take advantage of real-time teaching or watch the recordings, take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions in real-time.
  • If you get stuck, ask for help in time!

And finally, Janne’s tips for online teachers:

  • Design clear learning assignments and create unambiguous instructions.
  • Be easily accessible.
  • Schedule discussion times for guidance.

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