International students developing Language Centre learning environments

The Language Centre launched a new work concept in 2017 to engage international students in operational planning and development. The course assistant programme, which have brought international and local students together for the past four years, were expanded when the Support for Teaching and Learning Unit (OOTU), which coordinates the assistant activities, recruited its first assistants. Previously, course assistants have been involved in teaching, but now the students also participated in the provision of the Language Centre’s support and specialist services.

The OOTU assistants in spring 2017: Charlotte Laurent (left), Maximiliane Mittelstaedt and Mohsene Chelirem
The OOTU assistants (2017−2018): Zi Yu (left), Ignacio Valero Rodenas and Sina Timme

The recruitment of the OOTU assistants expanded the concept of course assistants to supporting and developing teaching and learning. The inclusion of international students in the planning of events and operations helps to implement the University’s strategic plan at the Language Centre by putting the focus on students. The OOTU assistants provide the staff with the important opportunity to cooperate with students, who, in turn, get a glimpse behind the scenes of not only teaching, but also planning and development. In their role as OOTU assistants, international students share their expertise and understanding with the academic community and offer their perspective on the planning of activities for students.

From among the students applying for the course assistantships, the Language Centre selected three enthusiastic international students for both the spring and autumn terms. The assistants included degree or exchange students from China, Germany, Spain, Italy and France, and represented various fields and faculties.

“For international students, the OOTU assistantships are a new form of engagement in the Language Centre’s activities. Cooperation with these talented and enthusiastic young people is fruitful and offers new perspectives on our pedagogical development work,” says Nina Sulonen, the Language Centre’s international affairs specialist, who heads the course assistant programme.

In 2017 the OOTU assistants participated in planning a video for the marketing of the assistant activities, organised events for local students and developed forms of support outside teaching. The students were also responsible for the Language Centre’s contribution to the KoeKampus event for upper secondary school pupils and gave a presentation on the engagement of students in the Language Centre’s development work at the Miniconference organised collaboratively by the language centres of Aalto University and the University of Helsinki. In addition, the OOTU assistants were involved in planning a series of multilingual workshops for all University of Helsinki students that will explore cultural phenomena from different perspectives.


The course assistant activities show international students that their skills and contribution are important. Listening to students and engaging them in the Language Centre’s activities is pedagogically important and highly rewarding for both the OOTU staff and students.

“The cooperation opportunities with students are practically endless. They have an incredible amount of ideas and skills. They give voice to those they represent and know what inspires students,” Nina Sulonen notes.

As OOTU assistants, international students develop their teamwork skills when working with experts and student groups. The variety of projects teaches them how to interact with different people and be creative in changing circumstances, and provides them with presentation skills.

“The engagement of international students in the Language Centre’s operations is highly rewarding in terms of professional growth. The students learn from seasoned professionals and can try out various ideas and activities as well as show initiative. All this takes place in a safe, supervised environment,” points out Sina Timme, one of the OOTU assistants.

Text: Nina Sulonen

Photos: Janne Niinivaara