Eastern Finland Distance Learning Network - Part of the national Distance Learning Project
We have a fairly long tradition of educational networking in Eastern Finland. In 1997 the National Board of Education in Finland and the Finnish Broadcasting Company, together with 12 educational institutes, started a development project funded by the EU for Upper Secondary Distance Education. The Eastern Finland Distance Learning Network was one of these networks where eight schools (Iisalmi, Joensuu, Kajaani, Kuopio, Mikkeli, Paltamo, Savonlinna and Varkaus) co-operated by developing e.g. common course offerings, materials and methods. The project was mainly funded by ESF. County governments, local communities and various interest groups from the economic life were also committed to partial financing of the project. There were about 2000 learners involved in the programme. Most of them from Eastern Finland but there were actually learners all around the country. During the three years about 200 exams were completed and over 11 000 distance learning courses were taken.
There was a strong need for this new way of completing upper secondary school courses. There was also a general agreement that the operational model and the experiences gained were worth putting to a wider use. In 2004 an Eastern Finland Educational Network (= BIGnet) was created. At the moment there are 69 schools involved. Networking is needed to improve diversity in education and to quarantee equal educational services. The challenges of the expanding network and developing it further can be met by means of regional individualization where present developers work as leaders spreading their know-how to groups of new parties. One of the aims of the BIGnet project 2004-2007 is to gather the expertise from smaller virtual school projects and other networking projects and put it to a wider use. The network increases educational opportunities for adults with the help of local e-learning centres. In collaboration with universities and partners necessary developing and support services are provided.
Eastern Finland Distance Learning Network today- Co-operation without limits
The distance learning project ended in 2004 but the successful co-operation between the eight schools continued. A versatile common course offerings is one of the most important objectives of the network Our course offerings cover over 300 courses, most of which are fully on-line. We also offer courses which can be studied at one’s own pace. A common web-site (www.itasuomenaikuislukioverkko.fi) is used for course enrolment, quidance and feedback.
The Eastern Finland Distance Learning Network aims for promoting general education, international contacts and entrepreneurship among learners. It provides the employed and the unemployed a means of completing the entire upper secondary school syllabus or just individual courses. Additionally, it is possible for them to achieve the matriculation exam. Distance learning offers a chance to study at one's own pace, irrespective of one's home region or the time of day or year. Co-operation within the educational network provides a diverse course offering where each individual student can choose courses according to his personal learning style irrespective of one's home institution. One of the main objectives is to increase co-operation between students, tutors, schools and working life.
Computer assisted learning is a vital part of our operations. ODL enables the creation of individual study schemes and counselling irrespective of one's home region. Study counselling in each subject is provided within an open and virtual learning environment (radio, TV, Internet, audio tapes, Email, learning platforms, phone, fax and traditional textbooks). The co-operative and telematic learning environment has changed the role of the traditional teacher. Working within this new culture focuses on networking, interaction, instruction and co-operation skills. Encouragement, motivating and supporting skills are a vital part of the tutor's daily work. The implementation and pedagogical utilization of distance learning require further training for teachers.
Flexible and individual distance learning increases equality in education and enables lifelong learning. The need for distance learning possibilities in a sparsely populated country such as Finland is great. The use of information and communication technologies for studying also increases the potential for creating distance employment opportunities outside the growth areas.