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,

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.

The topics of the group works

The participants of the university pedagogy course YA2 Internationalisation and collaborative environment in higher education (5 cr) will write blog posts as a part of their group work.

A total of 31 academics participates in the course and they work in seven groups for deepening their knowledge and understanding of the challenges of internationalisation, multilingualism and diversity in higher education. At the first ZOOM -meeting 15th September, the groups have agreed the name for their group and selected the following topics / themes for their further study:

The benefits of cultural diversity to group dynamics and research output is studied by the group Anonymous Dinosaurs.

Homogenious diversity – Formal or informal perspectives and practices in groupwork is studied by the group The Kontula-Gårdsbacka Team.

Internationalizing education at UH – why? is studied by the group Punavihreät.

Ryhmätyön mahdollisuudet ja haasteet kansainvälisessä oppimisympäristössä – teemaa tutkii ryhmä Rennosti kolmella kielellä.

International collaboration for online education is researched by the group ICOE – International Collaboration for Online Education.

The group YA2-IntegratingEquality decided to investigate following topics:  (1) Equal in the teaching work load, and (2) Integrating internationalization in teaching: pros & cons.

The group INSUS: Internationalizing sustainability has decided to focus on the following research question: What challenges does the international environment propose to sustainability education?

The blog posts will be published in language chosen by the group. The first posts will be published at beginning of October 2020.