Polishing the PSP process in ECGS

In ECGS digiloikka, the ROUTE-project, our focus is on making clear paths.

Paths that enable our students enjoy their time in ECGS (Environmental Change and Global Sustainability Msc programme) and paths that form clear structures all the way from the very first days of orientation week, to planning and finalizing a Master’s Thesis in ECGS. All this is done with keeping in mind, and taking advantage of, current projects and developments of University of Helsinki. Using new platforms, or improved old-ones, is one of the things we are looking into, and things like SISU, Oodikone and ePortfolio are just some the Steering Groupe of ROUTE has become familiar with.

Despite looking into multiple platforms and finding bunch of cool stuff, everything we do in ROUTE goes Process, not Platform first: making the most of developments regarding digital platforms, but not letting them define us. Behind each potential platform there is a person in the need of doing something.

One clear need and objective for ECGS is to help our students plan their studies and enable them graduating in their planned schedule. With this, Personal Study Plans (PSPs) play a major role. A PSP includes the content, scope and planned duration of studies and assists the student in clarifying his/her prior competences and objectives as well as possibilities within ECGS. During the ROUTE-project we have taken a close look at what are the possible bottlenecks of study planning, and through that, studying. Three (3) key challenges have been identified:

  1. Not getting relevant studies in the first study period after entering the programme: PSPs were previously started during the first study period, which unfortunately for some, meant that relevant or interesting courses were not noticed in time and were left out from the first study year.
  2. Students finding it hard to understand the structure of the programme: For a large programme like ECGS, weboodi was unable to present the programme structure in a meaningful way. Based on student and teacher feedback we needed new ways of presenting what it means to study in ECGS.
  3. PSP teachers and staff members needing more support in their work in guiding students: PSP teachers in ECGS are people with long experience and expertise in guiding PSPs. However, with an entirely new, multidisciplinary programme they were faced with entirely new, never before encountered questions. Knowing the possibilities within your own discipline was not enough anymore, but students questions involved getting acquainted with a multidisciplinary module-based programme. Asking a colleague in the next door did not always help either, as the person in charge may come from a different faculty or campus.

Based on these findings we have developed a new PSP-process for ECGS.

Step 1, Get familiar, starts already before a student enters the programme. This has meant taking a closer look at existing information sources as well creating new ones, such as the ECGS PSP Moodle page and improved programme-based welcome letters for our students.

Step 2, Make a plan, officially begins during orientation week through various events and most importantly through a common PSP workshop. This kick-start to study planning tackles all of the identified challenges. First, it enables students to make their preliminary choices already before study period 1, which means we do not ”loose” 1 out of 8 study periods of a 2-year Master’s programme. Second, it enables us to showcase the structure of the programme in different ways in multiple events and activities. During the orientation week we also introduce our students to the new study planning tool SISU. According to preliminary feedback, SISU shows the structure of the programme in a clear way and helps in study planning. Last but not least, the orientation week and its PSP workshop, enables us to gather together our PSP teachers and other staff members under one roof. This means that in addition to working with their assigned PSP teacher, the students have the possibility to visit other PSP teachers or staff members.

All of the things that are done during orientation week emphasize our approach of Process, not Platform first. This means that we do not treat platforms, in this case SISU or Moodle, as the answer to everything. On the contrary, we have identified that in a multidisciplinary and geographically spread programme like ECGS it is extremely  important to create possibilities for face-to-face interaction. Thus, in addition to taking into use new digital platforms we have for example implemented PSP workshops, increased encounters between our PSP teachers and introduced ECGS Morning Coffees as a venue for informal ways to meet others.

Step 3, Submit, means that despite the fact that a PSP is an ongoing process, not a fixed document, we expect all of our students to submit a PSP by a certain date to a certain place. This enables us to map our students visions regarding their studies and make sure we are providing enough help for students to make plans regarding their studies.

Step 4, Revise and Rethink, is aimed at emphasizing that personal study plans are not set in stone: aspirations change, life situations change and plans evolve. Students are encouraged to revisit their PSPs in regular intervals to see if previous plans are still valid. Reflecting aims and aspirations is also a big part of portfoliowork that has also been developed through ROUTE. (If you are interested in hearing more about portfolio developments, stay tuned for another blog post!)

Although we have made many steps towards a smoother path for our students and staff alike, we still have multiple plans on how we can make things even better. So if you are not that interested in the upcoming blogpost or collaboration regarding portfolios, perhaps talking about blogs, videos or developing a Master’s thesis process is something of your interest? If so, stay tuned for our next blogposts and don’t hesitate to be in touch to discuss ideas and possible synergies!


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