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,

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.