Interaction is the most important element of learning

Submitted on Thu, 06/14/2018 - 13:38
Jaakko Kauko, the recipient of the University of Tampere’s Teacher of the Year Award emphasises the importance of dialogue, challenges his students and does not talk about chairmen or statesmen
Jaakko Kauko/ Kuva: Jenni Toivonen
Students find Jaakko Kauko an inspiring teacher who knows how to encounter students as individuals.

Text: Milla Pyyny
Photographs: Jenni Toivonen

What makes a good teacher?

Jaakko Kauko, associate professor of education, does not have a ready response, but his students do.

Kauko received the University of Tampere’s annual Teacher of the Year Award in 2018. The University of Tampere Foundation grants the annual award on the basis of a proposal from the student union Tamy. The University’s student associations may propose a recipient for the award, and this year Mentor, the association of education and adult education students, issued the winning proposal.

Kauko started to work at the University of Tampere in the spring of 2016. He had studied political science at the University of Helsinki, written his doctoral dissertation on educational policy at the Department of Education, and spent several years aboard working as a researcher. He has held his current position of associate professor of education for two years.

“I have the best job in the world and I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. I am fortunate to be able to teach courses that are directly linked to my research,” Kauko says.

Jaakko Kauko/ Kuva: Jenni Toivonen
Jaakko Kauko has worked as a researcher in England, Portugal, Brazil and Scotland. His international research career continues in Tampere.


In a successful dialogue,
people challenge others and develop

Students find Kauko an inspiring teacher whose most significant characteristic is his ability to encounter students as individuals. The object of the praise is a little abashed by the feedback but notes that he always strives to teach on the level of the individual.

“The relationship between the teacher and the student is the most important element in learning, and the relationship must be interactive. To me, learning is crystallised in interaction and the diversity and challenges involved,” Kauko explains.

Challenging the students may be seen both in daily education and the supervision of theses. The challenges do not just go from teacher to student because students say Kauko is ready to contemplate out loud the surprising views the students present. Neither does he stubbornly stick to his own opinions.

The equal dialogue maintained by Kauko is also integrally associated with course feedback. Using feedback to develop teaching is important for both Kauko and the students.

“Students have the right to give and receive feedback, and teachers must be prepared to use it to change the way they teach,” Kauko points out.

Our language
shapes the world

Questions of equality and gender neutral terms are discussed in the lectures on education. According to Kauko, bypassing them in teaching would be a great injustice.

“The sociology of education has constantly identified processes where language use leads to the exclusion and discrimination of certain groups of people, and using gender-specific terms is a very good example,” Kauko says.

Awareness about gendered language use is reflected in lectures in connection with the choice of terms, and, for example, statesmen or chairmen are not mentioned in them. Kauko wants to make students aware that language has deeper meanings and consequences.

“I teach future kindergarten teachers, teachers, and education professionals who have wide-ranging expertise upon graduation. It is important that students understand the power of language and how it shapes the world around them,” he says.

Internationality in research
and lecture halls

Kauko has worked in research positions around the world. He has done research in England, Portugal, Brazil and Scotland and his international research work continues in Tampere.

Kauko leads the EduKnow research group with university lecturer Nelli Piattoeva. He links his international research activities to the supervision of students’ theses and doctoral dissertations, for which he receives praise from the students.

Internationality - this year’s theme of the award - is reflected in Kauko’s teaching. He strives to highlight genuine examples of international education policy in his lectures.

“Finnish educational policy is exposed to international trends. I offer students examples of how the Finnish system compares with the systems in other countries,” Kauko says.

According to Kauko, internationality is not sufficiently reflected in studies on the master’s level. However, internationalisation is being promoted through, for example, providing teaching in English. Attention has also been paid to this aspect in the Faculty’s ongoing curriculum reform.

Community is
the core of university

While there are many positive sides to the annual Teacher of the Year Award, Kauko mentions placing emphasis on individual achievement as a negative aspect. Instead, he would like to highlight the community spirit; at a university, everything happens with colleagues and students who form the community.

“The things I talk to my students about are based on both my own studies and those conducted by other researchers. What I say is based on the people I have met, listened to in conferences and whose studies I have read. In many courses, I also teach with others,” he notes.

According to Kauko, one of the challenges the University is facing is substituting collegial and professional decision-making by the top-down approach. The new operating culture also affects the way the university feels about itself as a community.

“In order to preserve the University’s long traditions, it must be a place for dialogue and equal encounters. It has to be a place that enables discussing different arguments transparently and safely,” Kauko says.