Foreign language anxiety

Written by the Kontula-Gårdbacka Group

I thought about what I was going to say the whole bus ride. I even looked some words up on Google translate and jotted down some notes. I walked into the classroom, my palms were sweating, and my heart was beating extra hard. I really wanted to turn around and leave, or spend the lecture hiding under a desk. I went through these feelings every week because we had to speak in Swedish during the group work and I am not very comfortable speaking in this language. It seemed to come so easily to everyone else and I felt so alone in my distress. I was afraid if I told the instructor they would tell me I could not be in the course and I really needed the credits. 

(Photo: University of Helsinki Material Bank)

The above vignette is an illustrative example of the feelings and sensations someone might experience when feeling anxiety about speaking a particular language.

It is relatively common to suffer some nervousness when speaking or writing foreign language. However, this can escalate to the level of a phobia, Xenoglossophobia, when individuals suffer persistent and debilitating feelings of anxiety, nervousness and worry using the foreign language (Malik et al. 2020). This might affect their cognitive skills and could lead to unwanted developments such as avoidance of speaking in the foreign language or misunderstandings between group members about the reluctance to speak.

Thus, Xenoglossophobia hampers the studying of foreign languages, but could also weaken a team and group in other ways. In today’s globalized world, communication and cooperation skills are essential to an individuals’ career prospects, as well as to international businesses overall. Therefore, it is crucial to highlight the possible ‘mental blocks’ that individuals could be experiencing and further investigate possible solutions.

The academic community is accustomed to using English as the lingua franca or language of communication. To the point that in teaching it is often considered the standard. However, anyone in the community may still actually be afraid to speak another language, but it can be difficult to express this fear. Maybe a student who stays quietly on a course is too scared to speak in English or a native English-speaking colleague is afraid to speak Finnish because it feels distressing.

Authentic communication becomes problematic because the speaker may experience an inability to express themselves in the way they want in another language. Awareness of this limitation makes the fear of speaking a foreign language special (Horwitz, Horwitz & Cope 1986).

The literature suggests that an atmosphere that allows mistakes and encourages individuals to participate in the discussions are effective at decreasing anxiety. Thus, a positive atmosphere that supports self-confidence and allows one to experiment to speak and write foreign language is highly recommended in the universities (Gregersen & Horwitz 2002; Malik et al. 2020).

Teachers’ have a central role in creating an atmosphere of trust among students in and out of the classroom. The teacher can foster this atmosphere through the use of small “tools,” for example by giving formative positive feedback, and encouraging the learner to use the language that helps to easy the anxiety. Flexibility, patience, and kindness can go a long way in helping the University community face the potential barriers to developing a freely multilingual environment. Language use and creating an open and anxiety- free environment is particularly important as this topic so directly intersects emotions and learning, and we must remain aware that these are interconnected.


Gregersen, T., & Horwitz, E. K. (2002). Language learning and perfectionism: Anxious and non‐anxious language learners’ reactions to their own oral performance. The Modern Language Journal, 86(4), 562-570. Retrieved from

Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. The Modern language journal, 70(2), 125-132. Retrieved from

Malik, S., Qin, H., Asif, M., & Muhammad Khan, S. (2020). An Investigation of Xenoglossophobia among Chinese Postgraduates. European Online Journal Of Natural And Social Sciences, 9(1), pp. 104-120. Retrieved from


All equal in workload?

Written by the group YA2-IntegratingEquality
Anne Duplouy, Juha Eskelinen, Riikka Keto-Timonen, and Hanna Koivula


The University of Helsinki aims at being an equitable environment, where diversity is safely expressed, represented, recognize and promoted. Most of the permanent staff has a workplan for 1612 hours per year. However, within this workplan our research, teaching and administrative tasks are distributed in various ways that may not always be equitable. The limits of the University staffs’ language skills, but also the lack of opportunities for acquiring or improving them, provide an excellent example on the difficulty faced by institutions to divide tasks in an equitable manner, while still responding to language policies, international competition pressures, and student’s expectations. Indeed, the student’s language proficiency plays an important role for their ability to succeed and deepen their understanding of the subject studied (see e.g. Crossley et al. 2017).

The language policy at the University of Helsinki (UH 2014) states that the native students in master programmes may attend teaching in a language their teacher is fluent in (Finnish, English or Swedish), but nevertheless may have the right to request examinations and other study-related assignments in either of the official languages of Finland: Finnish or Swedish (UH 2015: 12).  Similarly, the same language policy states that a person with no skills in Finnish or Swedish can’t serve any administrative duties, which would require such competence. Altogether, this may challenge the division of workloads within different units, and between levels within each unit, as the limits in the language skills of the staffs will drive their choices and contributions to diverse tasks.


Unequal Teaching Workloads

The multi-language aspect of an institution can be a challenge to its staff’s time allocation, as, for example, creating study assignments in two or more languages can increase the workload for the teacher. Although the teaching load can be covered equitably between staffs with different language skills, the language policy implies that the assessment of the students, for example, may fall predominantly on the Finnish/Swedish native speaker(s). In addition to increasing the teaching load of Finnish speaking staff, this might also lead to different cohorts of students being graded by different teachers (even potentially by teachers who might not be involved in the course itself) only based on the language the students have chosen for their exam. Such practice might appear as unfair for the students, and the teachers.

The students heavily rely on the teacher’s language skills when they learn to express themselves scientifically and produce assignments, reports and thesis. Most teachers and supervisors are specialists of their research field, but not necessary of the language in which they are communicating it. In combination with university’s emphasis to high quality of the language (UH 2015:50) in research and teaching outputs (e.g. research papers and academic theses), a teacher devoted to the profession may in some cases feel burdened by the language requirements. Improving student’s communication skills could be a workload to re-distribute to language professionals, rather than to the staffs that are native in the chosen languages, or on any supervisor who would like to focus on the science rather than the grammar of a text.

Burdened by administrative workload or willing to do more

Administrative work related to teaching and committee memberships, often accrue to people who are proficient in Finnish, especially in study programs that are in Finnish. Due to these various administrative tasks, Finnish speakers may feel that they have less time for research compared to their international colleagues. This is poised to increase the sense of inequality, as research merits play ‘the’ key role in the advancement of any academic careers. At the same time, international staff members may feel they are excluded from participating in administrative tasks due to the language used. Regardless of the situation, García-Gallego et al. (2015) have suggested that if a teacher has administrative duties but is not compensated by reduction in teaching load, the quality of the teaching may also deteriorate.

The university of Helsinki encourages its staff to use the three languages in a relaxed way. However, this can often mean that most of the discussion is conducted in one language only. This is perhaps not the most relaxing situation for staff members without adequate language skills, as the most important points might go unnoticed or unsaid. While we researchers may think that changing the administrative language to English could be the best option, the situation is not so straightforward, as it might be more challenging for some staff members to communicate and attend meetings in English and some of the administrative documentations still need to be produced in Finnish and Swedish for the students.

What can we do to fight unequal workload?

There is an obvious need for the international staff to learn the national language(s). However, this on itself can represent an extra workload as it comes in addition to the teaching/research tasks already covered by this person. The acquisition of new language skills is time and energy consuming and often not rewarded. Especially in Finland, the national language is considered one of the most difficult to learn. It is not enough to motivate hours away from family/hobbies/research towards language learning by later promising better integration and better shared administrative tasks (instead of the aimed teaching or research duties).

We suggest:

1) Teachers! Communicate early with your students about your own language skill limitations. Discuss whether this will suit the students’ skills, and if not question their needs. This way you may plan, prepare and get support at an early and maybe less busy time.

2) International researchers! Difficulties in participating in discussion and decision-making in joint meetings and events can interfere with your integration! If you don’t have the time to follow language courses offered by the University, find a keen colleague and practice the language around a coffee rather than in long administrative meeting situations.

3) Institution! Sharing administrative work equally is not easy. As a first step, it would be important for units to clearly agree on the languages to be used in different situations, and to enforce it! Thus, it would be more transparent for everyone what duties people with various language skills can take care of. Then, it might be time to implement rewards. Rewarding staff for improving their language skills however requires resources! But the trade-off with equitable workloads on all staff might be worth, as the satisfaction at work is sure to increase.



Crossley, S., Barnes, T., Lynch, C., & McNamara, D. S. (2017). Linking Language to Math Success in an On-Line Course. International Educational Data Mining Society.

García-Gallego, A., Georgantzís, N., Martín-Montaner, J. & Pérez-Amaral, T. (2015) (How) Do research and administrative duties affect university professors’ teaching? Applied Economics 47: 4868-4883.

UH 2014. University of Helsinki Language Policy. University of Helsinki. [Available at]

UH 2015. Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki. The Board of the University of Helsinki. [Available at]

The Challenges of Internationalization; Inequality and Miscommunication

Written by the group Anonymous Dinosaurs
Risto Koivula, Ganapati Sahoo, Karmen Kapp, Kaarina Aitamurto


Internationalization of higher education and research has certainly enhanced the skills of students and faculties and improved the academic quality of the universities. However, it has also been associated with challenges and risks both on the level of institutions and individuals (Egron-Polak 2014). In this blog text, we address two such challenges and try to provide some solutions.

Inequality as a Challenge for Institutions

Many universities perceive internationalization as a substantial revenue generation mechanism rather than meaningful exchange of academic, humanistic and cultural values. In the process, universities may fall prey to the unnecessary, sometimes unfair, competition instead of productive collaboration. Commodification or commercialization of education may result in functioning of universities as mere degree mills where quality and integrity are at risk of being compromised (Egron-Polak 2014). Therefore, another rising concern in internationalization of higher education is the lack of jurisdiction at home countries over the regulation of the quality of the international programs.

The rise of inequality and marginalization of financially weaker ones in academic world are important concerns as the majority of the international opportunities are accessible only to students with a sound financial background (Huang and Daizen, 2018).

As the universities seek to enhance their reputation through international activities, there is a toll on the other priorities of interest for the academic community. Over emphasis on the fee-paying international students, over use of English in academic activities and incorporation of corporate culture  does not serve the original goal of internationalization to enable students to function as global citizens with sensitivity towards other nations, cultures, languages, and most importantly to different sections of the society (Bedenlier 2015).

Universities from the rich countries are in an advantageous position to benefit considerably more in comparison to their counterparts in developing economies (Huang and Daizen, 2018), and this inequality has even been termed as academic imperialism or academic colonization. Loss of national identity and brain drain pose serious risks to underdeveloped nations. It can also be asked whether developing areas are able to benefit from the research that is done in richer countries.

Acknowledging these challenges and overcoming them will truly enable institutions to reap the real benefits of internationalization while respecting the true spirit of it.

Miscommunication in International Communities: A Challenge or an Opportunity?

A researcher was giving a talk in a conference taking place in Africa. In Western countries, owls are a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. Therefore, the researcher ended his presentation with a “Thank you”-slide and a photo where owls were sitting in a row. When showing the slide, most of the conference guests from Africa became very serious and astonished.

Owls by Jeff Moore

(Photo by Jeff Moore)

After the presentation, it was told to the researcher, that in this particular area of Africa, owl is the symbol of evilness and bad spirits.

In conversations between two individuals, there is always the risk of misunderstanding. This is even more so when the conversation takes place in a multinational research group where the members represent different disciplines and belong to different levels in work hierarchy. Speaking the language (nowadays English instead of Latin in the academic world), mastering the concepts of different disciplines and their unique codes of interaction can easily cause inequalities in the conversation and distort the group dynamics.

In multicultural groups, the difficulties can become multiplied due to the nonverbal communications, which is a big part human communications but can be interpreted completely wrong (Hussain 2018). Overcoming these problems requires competence in intercultural communication (Khazar 2018). This means the ability to recognize the risks of misunderstanding that are caused by the differences in speech, behavior, and body language but also the willingness to modify the one’s speech and behavior according to the situation.

Equal conversation events are necessity for research group to meet its targets, which, in the best case are set by the group but at least, are known and accepted to all group members. To achieve this, all members should feel safe in the conversation and that they and their ideas are accepted equally. This requires active participation and willingness to accept differences between the people and the difficulties that these brings to the conversations. However, overcoming such challenges can also be important learning experiences.

Tips for intercultural communications

  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Don’t ask yes/no questions
  • Be aware of nonverbal communication
  • Avoid idioms, be prepared to explain jokes that do not translate easily


Shafaat Hussain, International Journal of Media, Journalism and Mass Communications (IJMJMC) Volume 4, Issue 2, 2018, PP 44-49

Miramar Khazar, Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences Volume 21 № 1 2018, 68-82 (The advantages and disadvantages of body language in Intercultural communication)

Egron-Polak, E. Internationalization of Higher Education: Converging or Diverging Trends?. International Higher Education, Volume 76, 2014, pp. 7-9.

Huang F., Daizen, T. The benefits and risks of HE internatiobalization. University World News, 2018 (

Bedenlier, S., Zawaki-Richter, O. (2015). Internalization of Higher Education and the Impacts on Academic Faculty Members. Research in Comparative & International Education, 10(2), 185-201.

Is being international problematic for sustainability?

by team INSUS – Internationalising Sustainability


This blog entry primarily touches upon the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs;

Sustainablity goals

Joint master programmes and international projects as a source of emissions

Apart from being a massive industry, business travel and tourism – also in the form of e.g. conferences and symposia globally – form a vivid part of researcher and student academic life and professional development. Face to face is the most engaging way for collaboration and meaningful discussions, but travel, in particular air travel, creates emissions. Often, due to lack of time or lack of funds, the choice of transport are still airplanes. However, the overall impact on e.g. biodiversity of different modes of travel is not completely straightforward, and for instance train travel (high-speed rails in particular) should be considered also in terms of the whole infrastructure needed for its construction and maintenance (Cornet, Dudley & Banister, 2018).

Recently, joint masters programmes have become increasingly common. For example, the Erasmus Mundus programmes have funded and continue funding prestigious double degrees, where students spend a part of their studies at different universities. These programmes aim to further the integration of European higher education (Papatsiba, 2014), but also necessitate travel between sites involved. As joined programs have been created for the goals of integration and cooperation, the sustainability of the modes of work have rarely been addressed.

Certain kinds of technological, digital solutions are needed to make joint programmes and inter-university learning modules communicatively meaningful and authentic. For instance, one member of our team has an EU-funded, EIT project where learning modules in circular economy are created and shared between technical universities in 5 European countries. Already at the planning phases of the project in 2018, the intent was to find new ways that enable student interaction without the (obviously hard-to-fulfill) need to fly between the participating countries, north and south. As part of the solution, Virtual and Mixed Realities (VR, MR) were considered (Sandström et al., 2020). However, even in a situation where multi-player VR is nowadays possible as such, the resources required for setting it up for the course purposes are often lacking or scarce.

Recently, some foundations have started to give grants to support the extra costs of sustainable modes of travel, but is travel always necessary? It is not simple deciding what the solution in terms of travel during a course should be.

Being international locally

The University of Helsinki includes over twenty foreign languages in the BA degree programs. In this regard, the Department of Languages could be viewed as a small whole world within a university in Helsinki, as teaching a variety of languages used by both large and tiny populations in all the continents. Learning a foreign language brings its culture and society to the learner’s mind, so that the education may yield a global citizen who is capable to handle sustainability issues in a multicultural context, being active online at home, with more communicative attitude. Lack of communication, especially on global level, could cause prejudice which might be developed to form a nationalism. Cliffon & Haigh (2018) states that “education helps learners recognize that humans are stronger and happier when they work together.” Foreign language education at a local institute may enhance international cooperation and collaboration, interdependence, diversity, cultural tolerance, etc. by equipping the learners with linguistic and socio-cultural capacity.

The value of local knowledge and traditions

As such, sustainability is often perceived as being universal for any country setting. In practice, the definition is sufficiently open to be flexibly adopted to the local needs and contexts.  The challenge is to integrate and translate this flexibility into education, especially in the joint master’s programmes, where students are exposed to the teaching from multiple country settings. Often, the dominant view of sustainability is the vision inspired by Western standards of living, corresponding challenges of wealthier lifestyles and solutions via more sustainable production of more sustainable goods. But in many locations around the world aside technology and product innovations, there exist many everyday practices inspired by the local environment, traditional knowledge and frugal thinking. For example, Vergara et al. (2016) measure the informal traditional reuse of textiles in Bogota, Colombia and estimate it to be much more efficient in terms of reduced GHG emissions as compared to formal recycling or landfilling. Learning about such local practices is equally valuable for advancing sustainability, and learning about them is of great importance not only for promoting environmental sustainability, but also supporting the cultural dimension of sustainability, and contributing to social equity by considering how these traditional practices could be integrated to national economies.

Consider the international programme as a change maker?

One way of approaching the teaching and learning modules is to use three perspectives: systemic, socio-cultural, and longevity. The module could be seen a process and an outcome – a product. Transforming the modules and, eventually, the programme so that it is based on not only user-centric but planet-centric principles, can be achieved through certain steps. The content of the steps can be negotiated locally and glocally, and used as learning tasks in the programme.

Some guidelines towards planet-centric outcomes and processes might be the following (see

  • Align the programme goals, where possible, with the SDGs
  • Design the goals with the institutions involved, in a planet-centric way
  • Test and iterate the approaches to improve the programme over time
  • Evaluate and create a road map for the micro goals, making progress visible and understandable

Setting actionable, accessible and understandable micro goals whose fulfillment can be measured and evaluated makes the task more feasible. The action points should also be geared toward building and communicating a vision for sustainability, the core elements of which are embedded in the participating organisations’ strategies and missions. Internationalising sustainability starts with the participants, the owners of the intellectual property of the learning modules.


Cliffon & Haigh 2018: Internationalisation of the curriculum comes of age –

Cornet, Y., Dudley, G., Banister, D., 2018. High speed rail: Implications for carbon emissions and biodiversity. Case Stud. Transp. Policy 6 (3), 376–390.

Papatsiba, V. Policy Goals of European Integration and Competitiveness in Academic Collaborations: An Examination of Joint Master’s and Erasmus Mundus Programmes. High Educ Policy 27, 43–64 (2014).

Sandström, N., Nevgi, A., Betten, T., Balkenende, A.R., Danese, P., Danese, Graf, R., Grönman, K., Holopainen, J. & Olsen, S.I. (2020). Excellence in education requires excellence in collaboration: learning modules in circular economy as platforms for transdisciplinary learning. A paper accepted to be presented at the 10th Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD2020), University of Cork, Ireland.

Vergara, S.E., Damgaard, A., Gomez, D., 2016. The Efficiency of Informality: Quantifying GHG Reductions from Informal Recycling in Colombia. Journal of Industrial Ecology 20 (1), 107-119.


Online sources

Planet-Centric design:

United Nations Sustainable Development:


Tech rocks! Digital tools in online teaching support international collaboration

Written by the group International Collaboration for Online Education (ICOE)


As we stated in a previous blog entry titled Making the best out of it! International collaboration for online teaching in pandemic times, “online teaching and studies have become a new normal during the pandemic times”. While online teaching has happened even before, the sheer number of online courses now exploded. A logical consequence of this development has been that the need for and interest in digital tools to support online teaching has accelerated. This blog entry thus build on the previous one mentioned above, and focuses on digital tools to support online teaching, in international collaboration and beyond. We present and briefly discuss four exemplary digital tools/mediums: podcasts, shared online whiteboards (focus Flinga), tools to activate students and create interaction (focus Kahoot!) and educational video games.

The increasing popularity of podcasts has made its mark also in the academic world. As a popular medium, podcasts offer a novel way for scholars to reach broader publics and popularize their research. “You can take your research to ordinary people, not just specialists, and it can be a way to make knowledge transmission more dialogic,” Zachary Davis, a scholar and a podcast producer, notes in a recent interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education. Yet, podcasts can be also a useful medium of teaching in higher education. They can be especially suitable in fields such as humanities and social sciences, as Davis points out, where audio can help students to concentrate on argumentation and narrative, and where visual elements can in fact be a distraction.

As a medium, podcasts share many of the benefits of more traditional audial education, such as lectures or class discussions. Indeed, many of the same pedagogical rules of thumb that apply to lectures also apply to podcasts. As a recent German study showcased, for instance, the teacher’s enthusiasm in reading a podcast recording was directly connected to students’ learning outcomes. A podcast with a more enthusiastic teacher’s voice helped to engage students better than a podcast with an overtly neutral tone. While podcasts have many benefits over traditional lectures, such as their accessibility, of course, they cannot replace the embodied experience of contact learning. Podcasts are a great educational supplement, as Davis notes in the Chronicle interview, but students still need the experience of reading and discussing together in a shared physical space.

To promote whole-class discussion and interaction, shared online whiteboards such as Flinga ( or Google Jamboard ( are useful. Flinga and Jamboard are free, easily accessible and easy to use, meaning that the students’ attention is focused on the task and not on the application. Online whiteboards allow students to post their ideas, examples, questions and feedback, and for instance to link and sort related contents together. According to Ludvigsen et al (2019), the application of a collaborative whiteboard during classes promoted an active engagement and encouraged students to ask more questions. Online whiteboards are informal platforms and can be accessed anonymously, which further encourages students to contribute, particularly those who might be hesitant otherwise (Ludvigsen et al. 2019). From a teacher’s perspective, the use of a collaborative whiteboard can potentially change how students and teachers interact and how students’ ideas interact with each other (Ludvigsen et al. 2019). However, as the whiteboard collaboration takes place in real-time, it might be challenging to manage the numerous perspectives and to facilitate the categorization of different ideas. Furthermore, teachers need to be open to unpredictable happenings and prepared to react to content they disagree with and that are outside the learning goals (Ludvigsen et al. 2019).

Interaction between students and teachers as well as activation of students are seen as vital parts of teaching (e.g., Lindblom-Ylänne and Nevgi 2009). And it is especially important now as many teachers and students  work remotely. Based on earlier experiences which have been confirmed by the COVID-19-pandemic, teachers can be supported by tools to activate students and create interaction during online teaching. Applications like Kahoot! ( offer various ways to activate students by creating quizzes around the current topic and allow the students to act like they were participants in game-shows. With this kind of quizzes, it is for example possible to pre-assess the knowledge of students. Also, they can be useed as online tests during and after teaching sessions. Adding something extra to traditional or online lectures with such game-based applications could probably foster students’ engagement and improve their learning experience in general (Licorish et al. 2018).

Of course, commonly used learning platforms such as Moodle also offer similar kinds of tools, which can be used if all students come from the same university. However, in international cooperation, maybe more universal applications, which are not bound to any specific institution or user account, could work better. Possibly the biggest limitation of the available applications is that many have free versions (e.g. Kahoot!, Crowdsignal) or offer free trials (e.g. ProProfs), but the more advanced versions need to be purchased. This might limit their usability especially in larger online courses. On the other hand, the full version prices seem to be relatively low, and could thus be seen as a small and reasonable investment to make studying more interesting and fun for the course participants.

Video games are increasingly complex, interactive virtual worlds which, among other things, can be used for transmitting information or knowledge about certain subjects. Especially educational games do so in a very conscious and straightforward way. They are developed specifically to either teach or, in a more subtle way, to draw attention to and offer background knowledge on certain topics. Quite a number of studies speak about the additional benefit of the immersion and emotional factors of educational games which they offer as additional value in education as compared to traditional teaching. Educational video games and their research and development have thrived as an academic field in the past ten years. Mishra and Foster (2007) in the possibly first comprehensive publication on the subject make five still today relevant claims for using games for learning purposes: development of cognitive, practical, physiological and social skills and motivation. Game-based learning and utilizing game-based environments for teaching have since been increasingly discussed. Sometimes we find the term “edutainment” which was introduced by Michael and Chen (2006) who examine specifically educational games development and games as edutainment. Increasingly, also academic events worldwide are bringing together scholars from the disciplines of technology and education. Among other things, many aim for establishing dialogues with the business sectors.

Let us briefly present an example for educational games, from our own context. Grounded in the wish to extend the benefits of educational games to South Asian Studies, a member of this group initiated a collaboration with an Indian game development studio, with Flying Robot in Kolkata. With funding from the University of Helsinki digiloikka initiative and the University of Helsinki Faculty of Arts Future Development Fund, we set out to develop an educational game introducing selected core aspects of Indian culture and society by taking the arguably most popular Indian festival Durgapuja as a content example. This game is targeted at university students with little or no background knowledge on the subject yet; that is, it is designed as an introduction to contemporary Indian culture and society. In the open access game The Durga Puja Mystery, the player is subjected to educational tasks and investigative puzzles gradually informing about Durga Puja. During the game, the player collects various items, including reference books, texts, images and objects, that can help with the investigation and play a key part in winning the game. Simultaneously and as characteristic for educational games, these items introduce various key themes related to Durga Puja, and support the player in their educational and academic quest. They are selected with the aim to transmit information about and inspire further interest in Indian culture at large.



Alvarez, M. (2020) The Podcast University. Available at, accessed 22 October 2020.

Licorish, S. A., Owen, H. E., Daniel, B. and George, J. L. (2018) Students’ perception of Kahoot!’s influence on teaching and learning. RPTEL 13, 9. Available at, accessed 22 October 2020.

Lindblom-Ylänne, S. and Nevgi, A. (2009). Yliopisto-opettajan käsikirja. Helsinki: WSOYpro.

Ludvigsen, K., Ness, I. J., & Timmis, S. (2019). Writing on the wall: How the use of technology can open dialogical spaces in lectures. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 34, 100559.

König, L. (2020) Podcasts in higher education: Teacher enthusiasm increases students’ excitement, interest, enjoyment, and learning motivation. Educational Studies,

Towards joint degrees

Written by the group Punavihreät, 22.10.2020


The University of Helsinki is active in international networking and in establishing new international partnerships, which is showcased by UH’s membership in several international associations and alliances ( Through the international networking, UH aims to provide and produce high-quality research and teaching as well as strengthen its global reputation.

Among these partnerships, UNA Europa, an alliance of eight European universities funded by EU, is a true pilot project that has just started to test its first models of joint Bachelor degrees and Doctorate program in selected focus areas. Although joint degree programs can be seen as an expected continuation of exchange and mobility programs (Knight, 2011), for example joint European Bachelor degrees are rare. However, the number of international collaborative programs is increasing.

What are the reasons for the scarcity of the international joint degrees? Typically, the costs connected to the planning and running of the joint programs are higher than those of the ordinary programs, and ensuring long-term funding may be difficult. Development of a common curriculum also needs careful planning especially in the early stages of the process to be able to successfully implement joint programs. Several critical aspects that must be considered and decided include for example pedagogical considerations, intended learning outcomes, teaching methods, evaluation criteria and collection of feedback (JOIMAN Network, 2012).

There are also other challenges related to the joint programs. In practice, building a joint degree can face many legal issues, such as national regulations that prevent a university to confer a degree with a foreign institution (Knight, 2011). In addition, a joint degree may not be recognized by the host countries if the degree certificate contains names of several institutions. These uncertainties are not attractive from the students’ point of view and raise a question about who would be willing to be “a test case” when new joint degrees are piloted?

This also reflects back on the university rankings and degrees that are recognized as prestige. For academic institutions, the joint programs may be a way to increase their reputation and ranking by collaborating with institutions that have equal or greater status (Knight, 2011). The institutional benefits of the joint programs also include development of curriculum, exchange of teachers and researchers, and access to expertise and networks of the partner institutions. However, quality assurance, from its definition to execution and measurement, is another major challenge to tackle in organizing international joint programs (Zheng, 2017).

High standards of teaching and learning needs to be ensured when the partners involved in the joint program do not have a common native language. Is English the only choice for the common language or would it be possible to use other languages? In any case, the language requirements and possibility to improve language proficiency level of both teachers and students need to be agreed by each partner (Knight, 2011).

How students can then benefit from the joint programs? A joint program can be completed in the same time period as an individual program in one institution, and the students have an advantage to belong to academic communities of two or more institutions. It is also expected that the language skills of the students will be improved, through which their communication skills, employability and understanding of other culture increases.

Coming years will show us if the currently piloted joint programs will be successful. It can be expected that long-standing collaboration between different institutions help in building and making joint degrees and curricula a reality, thus highlighting the importance of institutional level international networking. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a rapid curriculum and pedagogical developments in digital learning environments (Crawford et al., 2020). As the internationalization in higher education should become more inclusive and less elitist by not focusing predominantly on mobility, but more on the curriculum and learning outcomes (Stronkhorst, 2005), this “new normal” may also open up new avenues for the development of the joint degrees.



Crawford J, Butler-Henderson K, Rudolph J, Malkawi B, Glowatz M, Burton R, Magni P, Lam S. COVID-19: 20 countries’ higher education intra-period digital pedagogy responses. Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching. 2020. 3:1-20.

JOIMAN Network. Guide to developing and running joint programmes at Bachelor and Master’s level. Bologna. 2012.

Knight J. Doubts and Dilemmas with Double Degree Programs. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education. 2011. 8:297-312.

Stronkhorst R. Learning outcomes of international mobility at two Dutch institutions of higher education. Journal of Studies in International Education. 2005. 9:292-315.

Zheng G, Cai Y, Ma S. Towards an analytical framework for understanding the development of a quality assurance system in an international joint programme. European Journal of Higher Education. 2017. 7:243-260.

Internationalization drives the individuals and institutions to achieve their best

Written by the group Anonymous Dinosaurs
Risto Koivula, Ganapati Sahoo, Karmen Kapp, Kaarina Aitamurto


Internationalisation of higher education and research is a growing phenomenon with increasing global interdependence (de Wit, 2020). Integrating international languages and intercultural aspects into the teaching, research and services of the university has become not only necessary but also unavoidable to a certain degree. Even though internationalisation of higher education brings additional tasks for the existing systems, the benefits certainly outweigh the challenges. Keeping a positive approach to this process would help us achieve a leader position in current globalized society. Here we look at the benefits of internationalization from perspectives of development of personnel, research activities and cultural awareness in the community at the universities.


The thirst of knowledge and joy and excitement of finding something new has been a major driver for human evolution. Accepting the differences, e.g., in customs, tradition and appearance enables a safe place for interaction – essential for equal intercommunication.

Taking cultural differences into a daily life of a research group enriches thought patterns of solving problems and gives a variety of paths to fulfil the research goal.

Slow is faster – the slightly slower communication between groups members was in fact faster when examined in terms of meeting the research goals. Reasons for this may be found in communication strategies that favour interactive strategies (asking questions, self-disclosure) between intercultural communications since passive strategies (observation) (Berger, 1975)  may lead to false interpretation based to cultural differences, for example, different meanings of looking in the eyes during discourse.

No longer one can take things for granted when working in a multicultural environment. This puts one in a position where more thinking, i.e., time is consumed in the communication that in turn makes it more precise and usually allows more equality between the parties.

Knowing and sharing the common goal of the research group is of course the cornerstone of successful group dynamics. To understand and to affect these issues explicit communication is essential in creating an atmosphere of trust, self-assurance and equality, i.e., a perfect platform for success.


Present and future of scientific research heavily relies on collaboration among multiple international resources. In such a scenario, adapting to internationalization in a research work environment is as beneficial as it is essential.

Academic exchanges among universities and international collaborations strengthens the ties among countries. It provides international education experience to both domestic and foreign students and expands their academic mobility and enhances network building capability to establish future collaborations (Delgado-Marquez et al. 2011; Jibeen and Khan, 2015).

Internationalization is a key aspect in the development of the faculty and students at higher education institutes. While it attracts the best minds, resulting in a better educational environment and higher academic quality, it also partly opens up an additional revenue generation opportunity for the universities not only by running international degree programs but also because the international oriented staff is more likely to receive grants from different international funding programs (Bedenlier and Zawaki-Richter, 2015).

Internationalization of research groups enables members to have access to novel research materials such as articles, patents in diverse languages (Bedenlier and Zawaki-Richter, 2015). It also allows members to work in international laboratories, use data from different experimental facilities and most importantly, to join the effort in addressing problems of global interest.

In regular operations of the research groups the asset of many different working cultures at disposal is a significant advantage. Many situations generate different kinds of responses from which the best practices could be withdrawn.

Working in international groups facilitates students to improve their skills and perspectives, fosters them in growing as a scholar with wider vision and enables them to cater to the global needs and issues.

Culture and social life

In Universities, the lingua franca in international collectives is usually English (Lau and Lin, 2017; de Wit, 2020) and it can be asked whether academic communities often present a kind of bubbles, separate from the society.  However, having other international colleagues in the collective may provide peer support for learning the new language and for integrating to the new society (Bedenlier and Zawaki-Richter, 2015). Cultural diversity also creates an inclusive atmosphere where individuals feel that they are accepted as they are.

Working or studying abroad undoubtedly provides new perspectives for people, but so does working or studying in international collectives in one’s home country. These introduce people to alternative ways of thinking, interaction and doing things (Delgado-Marquez et al. 2011). Learning from other cultures and becoming familiar with new customs allows people to reflect their own habits, values and norms from a new angle. Thus, the international environment has a great potential to make one more open-minded and accustomed to adapt to different environments. In consequence, international collectives prepare students also for working abroad and for international careers.



de Wit, H. (2020). Internationalization of Higher Education. Journal of International Students, 10(1), i-iv. Retrieved from:

Lau K.; Lin, C.-Y. (2017). Internationalization of Higher Education and language Policy: the case of bilingual university in Taiwan. Higher Education, 74: 437-454. Retrieved from:

Bedenlier, S., Zawaki-Richter, O. (2015). Internalization of Higher Education and the Impacts on Academic Faculty Members. Research in Comparative & International Education, 10(2), 185-201. Retrieved from:

Jibeen, T.; Khan, M. A. (2015).  Internalization of Higher Education: Potential Benefits and Costs. International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, 4(4): 196-199. Retrieved from:

Delgado-Marquez, B. L.; Hurtado-Torres, N. E.; Bondar, Y. (2011). Internationalization of Higher Education: Theoretical and Empirical Investigation of Its Influence on University Institution Rankings”. In: “Globalisation and Internationalisation of Higher Education” [online monograph]. Revista e Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC). Vol. 8, No 2, pp. 265-284. Retrieved from:

Berger, C. R.; Calabrese, R. J. (1975). “Some Exploration in Initial Interaction and Beyond: Toward a Developmental Theory of Communication”. Human Communication Research. 1 (2): 99–112. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.1975.tb00258.x.

Are we still counting apples, not footprints?

By INSUS – Internationalizing Sustainability


Back in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro has produced a historical document – Agenda 21. This document was a first of its kind, an action plan and non-binding United Nations resolution for the governments around the world to promote sustainable development. Notably, it was the first international document to name education as an essential instrument for achieving sustainable development.

The ultimate hope of Agenda 21 was to achieve global sustainable development by the 21st century. Today, 28 years later, we are facing a planetary crisis, whereby global warming is no longer avoidable. The new goal is to find ways to keep it under 2°C.

Education for sustainable development has expanded tremendously in scale and availability in every country of the world. But it is still possible to enter a university and graduate with a degree without having taken a single course devoted to sustainability. On September 25th 2020 in a Sustainability in Education workshop by UNIFI – the network of Finnish universities – a vice-rector of the University of Helsinki has proposed that each course of any university should have sustainability integrated into it.

This suggestion has far-reaching implications and concerns virtually every university teacher. In this blog post, we go on to examine how teachers of different disciplines feel about it. We use three lenses to the topic: sustainability science, physics, and foreign languages.

Sustainability science 

Teaching sustainability can be both inspiring and dispiriting. It is inspiring when you notice that students of different disciplines start making sense of sustainability in their own way: they may ask provocative questions and may sometimes make hopeful/less statements, as their reflection process continues. But it is dispiriting to observe how some students perceive sustainability as yet another “add-on”, a side affair next to their core studies. What would it take to convince that sustainability is indeed relevant to all of us? In addition to the great speeches, the art of subtle messages can be very convincing (Stroebe 2012). In math we could start learning about calculating footprints. In physics, we could learn about the speed of oil spreading in sea water, and in veterinary science – what health effects it would mean for the sea animals. In accounting, we could learn about emission credits. We could start by challenging every university teacher to design a task in their course using sustainability as the background context. And when it starts to “seep” through every course, it will become the new normal.


Sustainability definitely links to physics. Physics deals with the environment, the climate and technology. Physics is needed to find solutions to sustainability issues, and many physics students specialize in matters related to the environment. Certainly, all students need to be aware of the sustainability of their choices: how they travel, what they buy, and this concerns their actions in their studies also. Also, using environmental examples can make physics seem more important for non-major students (Busch, 2010).

But physics also covers topics which do not have links to sustainability. For example, take a course on quantum mechanics. The topic is what quanta do, the tools: pen and paper. The learning goals are to be able to understand quantum mechanics on an introductory level – for example up to a treatment of a hydrogen atom. How should we approach sustainability there? Tell students to restrict their air travel, or tell them to think about the problems of cobalt mining? It does not link to quantum mechanics, and hence feels artificial. Whenever the topic is relevant, it should be used in calculation exercises and reading materials. But when there is a course where, for example, a carbon dioxide molecule is too big a system, integrating sustainability in the course content is not productive for learning. We should look at curricula rather than individual courses.

Foreign languages 

Any language use for communication must be culturally and socially appropriate, and the social-linguistic competence is a crucial element in international contacts; therefore, the development of socio-linguistic ability in a foreign language, parallels the socio-cultural development of language users, engaging them in international sustainability issues with more communicative attitude and eventually contributes to their sustainable development. Accordingly, it is necessary to regard foreign language education as making people understand each other better across cultures. All knowledge is transmitted via languages through generations and across communities. Due to globalization, the role of foreign languages, combining linguistic and socio-cultural aspects, emerges more important to understand the international environment, as means of human sustainability.

Sustainability can be seen as actions. Strong sustainability has benefited from work integrating social and cultural measures and values to for instance planning work (Axelsson et al., 2013). This also has to do with awareness in relation to sustainability, a framework developed as sustainability consciousness by for instance Gericke and colleagues (2019). The question is: How can we promote sustainable solutions also socially and culturally so that sustainability becomes a part of the process, not only a measurable  add-on outcome in itself?



Axelsson, R., Angelstam, P., Degerman, E., Teitelbaum, S., Andersson, K., Elbakidze, M., & Drotz, M. K. (2013). Social and cultural sustainability: Criteria, indicators, verifier variables for measurement and maps for visualization to support planning. Ambio, 42(2), 215-228.

Gericke, N., Boeve‐de Pauw, J., Berglund, T., & Olsson, D. (2019). The Sustainability Consciousness Questionnaire: The theoretical development and empirical validation of an evaluation instrument for stakeholders working with sustainable development. Sustainable Development, 27(1), 35-49.

Busch, H.C. (2010) Using Environmental Science as a Motivational Tool to Teach Physics to Non‐science Majors, The Physics Teacher 48:9, 578-581

Stroebe, W. (2012). The Subtle Power of Hidden Messages. Scientific American Mind 23 (2), 46-51.

Tomaz Zygmunt (2016) Language Education for Sustainable Development, Discourse and Communication for Sustainable Education, vol.7, no.1: 112-124

Words don’t come easy: Experiences of Multilingual Communication

Written by the group Kontula-Gårdsbacka Team



University of Helsinki Material Bank

Language use is a central element to include personnel and students in the teaching and research in a multilingual university. In my own multilingual context (Swedish, Finnish, English, Danish), there are many examples of using different languages, although the use of multilingualism is not always acknowledged. This blog post will give a small example of how to include a variety of languages in daily communication, for example with colleagues.

It is possible to communicate, orally and in writing, with several colleagues in several languages. However, for multilingual communication to succeed one must agree in advance on the communication language. For example, one could agree to speak Finnish in-person, while e-mails are in Swedish and  co-writing is in English. Or we could speak our own languages when we meet, but written communication is only in one language. Mobilising our colleagues and students’ lingual resources seems evident as a part of university pedagogy.

In addition, this lingual flexibility is an asset for the University of Helsinki, and supports integration of  more international staff and students (Language Policy of the University of Helsinki, 2014).  It should be noted that questions of global citizenship (Clifford & Haigh, 2018) and theoretical considerations on global education (e.g. McGaha, 2017) are always interwoven in highly specific local contexts and can change across cultures.

While official language policies should be integrated into the everyday life of the language users, sometimes carefully crafted instructions can be stifling. In practice, it is often the shared conventions that shape the interaction. One particularly interesting phenomenon is how the first interaction with someone shapes the future communication if there is not further focused discussion on the subject.

Maybe you have had the experience that you tend to continue with a person in the same language you used when you first met.  It can be very difficult to change the language of your initial communication  – it can sometimes feel that communication in another language takes place with a different person.

The context and skill associated with a particular language can also shape one’s behaviour and personality in social interaction. Limited vocabulary can result in a sense of awkwardness that disappears immediately after switching to another language. A language used mostly in casual interactions can be very difficult to transfer to professional contexts. Shared sociocultural norms have an effect on individual expression (see Wang & Moskal, 2019).

Therefore, it takes an effort but is truly valuable to consciously experiment with different combinations of languages in various settings. Rather than allowing a lingual mismatch to cause awkward silences it should encourage us to establish more straightforward and comprehensive interaction with one another and embolden us to be freerer in mixing and matching the languages we use in certain situations.


It is not always easy to find a common language but definitely worth trying! (Creative Commons CC0)

Original Blog for International and Collaborative Environment Course: Kontula Gårdsbacka team


Clifford, J., Haigh, M. (2018). Internationalisation of the curriculum comes of age. University World News. 23 November 2018.

Language Policy of the University of Helsinki. (2014). Retrieved 1.10.2020 at

McGaha, J. (2017). Popular Culture & Globalization: Teacher Candidates’ Attitudes & Perceptions of Cultural & Ethnic Stereotypes. Multicultural Education. 2015. Fall. 32–37.

Wang, S., & Moskal, M. (2019). What is Wrong with Silence in Intercultural Classrooms? An Insight into International Students’ Integration at a UK University. Journal of Comparative and International Higher Education. 11, 52–58.

Making the best out of it! International collaboration for online teaching in pandemic times

Written by the group “International Collaboration for Online Education” (ICOE)


Online teaching and studies have become a new normal during the pandemic times. However, we saw developments regarding opportunities for online studies already before COVID-19 struck. Many universities offer courses, which nowadays can be taken online. For example, the University of Helsinki (as well as other universities) for some years already had several MOOC courses available for anyone to participate in. Universities have also collaborated both nationally and internationally to create education and learning platforms such as edX (, where universities and institutions offer MOOCs on various topics.

But, while MOOCs make teaching available for also others than registered university students, and while they have other positive effects, both pedagogically and technically, there are also limitations and difficulties with MOOCs (see, e.g., Korpela 2020). This is why MOOCs cannot and will not be the only option and solution when considering international online education in the future.

Just one of many other options is to create and consolidate international teaching support networks. Namely, the pandemic accelerated the exchange of – online – guest lectures within courses offered at various international universities. That is, as one possible answer to the new situation of teaching being shifted to online spaces almost everywhere around the world, and in the spirit of making the best out of an impairment, we now witness an increased sharing of teaching expertise, worldwide. It now seems easier and more sensible and common to invite colleagues from far away universities, to be part of one class and thus enrich the entire course. This international exposure paired with the possibility to interact with the foremost experts on a certain topic has been very well received by students so far.

The COVID-19 crisis also encouraged teachers to experiment with novel methods and media in their online teaching. Textual and visual educational media can be complemented, for instance, with educational audio. Recent years have seen the exponential growth of the podcast as a medium of information, entertainment and popular education, but it has made little headway in the halls of academia. Yet the COVID-19 crisis might just change that. In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, educational audio expert Zachary Davis notes that podcasts have many benefits over journal articles as a medium of exchanging ideas: “Podcasting offers us ways of sharing scholarly discourse and teaching that are more open, accessible, and emotionally engaging.” The medium might be especially useful in the social sciences and the humanities, where the traditional visuals of an online lecture might distract the student from concentrating on argumentation. Podcasts based on a conversation can also offer a learning experience that is more dialogic than watching a lecturer address absent listeners.

Universities also develop approaches to allow students to study at international universities in the future. One example is UNA Europa (, a collaboration of eight European universities to create an European inter-university (University of Helsinki joined in October 2019). In this way, it would be possible for students to take courses from the member universities without the need to do an exchange period, and even complete degrees from the UNA Europa University. The process towards this University of Future is still in progress, but it is possible for students from UNA Europa member universities to take courses at the University of Helsinki even now, see

Now that physical exchanges are cancelled, the University of Helsinki is encouraged to arrange virtual mobility (VM) options for its own students and to attract international ones. While planning virtual learning activities, the teachers should be aware of students’ expectations for VM. VM certainly fails to provide the same kind of rich and holistic experience compared to physical exchange, and the main motivations of students are linked to the topic of the course and the good reputation of the institution offering the course (Buiskool and Hudepohl 2020). However, many students also expect VM to provide exposure to intercultural experiences such as opportunities to learn and network with participants from another culture. Building courses that support intercultural learning and collaboration requires planning and cooperation between universities (Buiskool and Hudepohl 2020). For instance, it might be necessary to have teachers facilitating the group discussions, to allow a safe environment for the online learners to discuss and debate in virtual, real-time settings. In addition, there are many administrative aspects, such as registration and fees, timetable overlaps, recognition of the VM modules in degree programmes, technical support etc., that need to be addressed early in the process.

Overall, the current world situation will very likely accelerate the development of online studying possibilities, and encourage universities to further develop and increase cooperation networks, platforms and tools for studying and teaching, together.


Alvarez, Maximillian: “Podcast University”. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 30 April 2020 (

Buiskool, B.-J. and Hudepohl, M., 2020. Research for CULT Committee – Virtual formats versus physical mobility – Concomitant expertise for INI report. European Parliament, Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies, Brussels. (cited 8.10.2020) (cited 8.10.2020)

Korpela, M., 2020. Avointa ja ilmaista korkeakoulutusta kaikille? Aikuiskasvatus 40(2), 140-146.