Sustainability as a core value at Kasavuori School

Summary

Finland may be regarded as a world leader in education, but we are restlessly transforming education itself. We would like to involve Eden participants in this very practical journey. The example school is the widely recognized Kasavuori School, a participant in 2010 Eden.

We will demonstrate the following:

  • The new concept of sustainability — which is not about reducing energy consumption (which we do) but the actual mindset of the student. Significant amounts of carbon will be saved by our graduates and their families over their lifetimes as they will live life more efficiently than the present generation
  • The transformation of pedagogy and curriculum to achieve this
  • The role of ICT, or as we prefer to think of it, ubi-technology, ubiquitous, effortless and invisible
  • The unique ways we manage suppliers and partners to develop new solutions
  • How we have practically eliminated license fees and other extraneous costs
  • The ways we communicate with and enroll parents and the community in our purpose and methods
  • And, the lessons learned — where we have made mistakes and underachieved, and what we have learned.

The most efficient way to further sustainability is the students’ awareness and to change the way they conduct their lives and careers in the future. We believe participants will take away very tangible, practical examples of our methods, which they can evaluate and possibly put into practice in their own schools.

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Education as a whole will play a key role in the transition of the society to achieve sustainability. Dr. Steven Sterling in “Education for Sustainability” argues that education itself must be transformed if it is to be transforming.

Visions and plans for sustainability in education are not in short supply, but implementation and examples of concrete steps and best practice are. Here we will explain the concrete steps we have taken to change the pedagogy, paid attention to learners’ future needs, developed ICT and managed the school more economically, ecologically and sustainably in an era of economic constraint. We will show how we have been able to fit seemingly disparate and competing goals together in a way that has resulted in sustainable development in learning.

Dream School vision, philosophy and view on learning

The focal point and the center of all Dream School activity is the learner. The learners are our students as well as our staff. Learning environments must be models of sustainability. Kasavuori Dream School core values reflect economical, ecological, cultural and social sustainability.

The school has to have the ability and the will to plan and shape the future and it needs a clear understanding that the choices made by the school have an impact on the future.  Schools need to increase students’ motivation to live sustainably. When this kind of learning becomes reality the school is on the right track. After all, the purpose of learning is the ability to control one’s own life and to live a good life in a changing world.

We believe it is important to combine emotions with the learning process. Feelings give our experiences meaning and value. We forget things we do not care about. An emotional tie with the subject and sensory experiences while learning help us internalize, retain and understand the core of the information.

Learning and instruction in the Dream School are seen from the future point of view, bearing in mind life skills and knowledge the adult of the future needs. Those who are skilled will move where there is demand for their expertise. The need for special experts and multi skilled people will increase. The importance of networking, mastering collective competence and interaction skills will increase.  Media skills are significant in surviving in ubiquitous society. In the more complicated world the importance of leading a balanced life and the skill to control one’s everyday life will increase. Working life requires continuous maintaining and developing of knowledge and skill, lifelong learning.

Thus, we believe the school has to look to the future, and it can and should look more like its students. Tools and technologies learners use at home are used and available at school. Dream School platform has made a variety of these resources easily accessible in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.

When our learners have access to reliable, easy to use tools and the freedom to create they discover new, creative ways to learn. Technology is ideally embedded in every day learning and sometimes it is nearly invisible.

Development and dissemination of the Dream School platform

Schools have had to adapt to “best-effort” tools and services developed for or by companies that do not fully understand the specific needs of learners and the learning community as a whole. The result has been a collection of expensive, poorly functioning systems that have limited lifespan. The Dream School has been able to reverse this trend by designing and creating tools and services in collaboration with partners starting from the needs and desires of the users.

First, it was important to ensure there was an economical and environmentally friendly way to guarantee the learners access to a sufficient number of work stations that are reliable and easy to use. The technology itself has no value — it has to serve the learner and make sustainable development as the ultimate goal. We are putting “old” machines to perfectly good use, and new uses. Even the way hardware and software are configured can save energy and prolong utilization. For example, we have used what is now called “the cloud” for many years to reduce costs of support. We prevent needless idling of computers through a collective shut down of the computers and other IT equipment at a certain hour. These “low-tech” methods pay huge dividends, because the students observe and learn about the underlying principles.

Our service provider’s open source based system extends usage of computers by several years

Because the Dream School ICT is almost exclusively based on open source web-based services, the community’s money is spent on good service and use of creative open source tools instead of licence fees.

From the technical solutions the Dream School has now moved on to design and development of services that are all based on user needs, superbly functional and easily accessible through a single sign in. Dream School has reached a position where our IT reputation attracts partners who want to build tools in collaboration with us. In the process the developers perfect their products and increase their know how of the educational field. This improves their chances for success elsewhere. This  collaboration and multiple  mutual advantages ultimately benefit the learner. In other words it is a  win-win-win situation.

As opposed to schools which buy best-effort solutions from a commercial marketplace, our school has its own vector, and with its partners can now decide which technologies to adopt and how they should be adapted and developed to serve the learning and teaching best. Reliability and ease of use are the best guarantee of creative and active use of any technology.

The Dream School intranet platform: Open-source, allowing 3rd parties to create learning and teaching applications

Today’s students live in a virtual world that is equally real and familiar for them as the physical reality they live in. The school cannot alienate itself from the lives of its students, and needs to be present in their virtual world. The teacher can and must be one of the collaborators and equal learners in the virtual world. The use of web based tools and learning materials also frees the teacher’s time to work with students individually.

The Dream School platform consists of several networked services that can be tailored according to each user according to his user privileges. Intranet increases all learners’ participation in school’s functions. Learners themselves and their individual learning paths and activities become more visible both at school and at home. The school can even, through the intranet, respond to the learner’s need of an adult also in the virtual world.

The Dream School platform provides services and communications tools for all learners and other staff at school.  All services are web based and designed starting from the users’ needs. Implementation of this service is possible in any municipality regardless of their IT system and equipment. The project combines various disconnected communications solutions (e-mail, electronic student services, learning platforms, chat rooms etc) to one single intranet service. It is possible to connect services from different companies and actors to the intranet because our systems largely use open source technology and open APIs and interfaces. Businesses that want to offer their services to educational institutions find non-standardized IT- system environment challenging. Dream School intranet solves these problems.

The service platform and the work done by the schools in Kauniainen can be used by other municipalities or offered as a service by firms, anyone who commits to the values of the Dream School. The model can easily be tailored to local needs and save cost. The Dream School platform is a group of cloud- based services that can be easily and economically taken into use by other schools and municipalities.

 

Ubiquitous access to the intranet

Learning Diary is a good example of a Dream School service that is available on the web for all users regardless of time and place.

It is an electronic portfolio, a place for the students to collect all materials created with net (cloud) based tools and can store picture- and word presentations, sound- and video files. It makes the learning path visible and sharing and collaboration with other learners easier. The diary also encourages the contact between home and school. The learning diary and the work is accessible at any time and anywhere where a there is access to the internet. Learners can collaborate and learn together and from each other. The diary can be used through the school years, and the goal is that the student can at the end refer to up to 9 years’ work. Prior projects and learning can be built upon, material can be used across the curriculum and it can serve as a source of knowledge and inspiration for others. We don’t know of another school enabling this.

For the teacher it is a one-stop collection of student assignments both graded and ungraded. In one screen the teacher can see assignments that wait commentary or grade – regardless of file type or mode of production. The Learning Diary is a unique way of allowing students to build on prior experiences. At the start of the project the teacher shares a tag with the students she or he creates in the diary. This tag contains the instructions for the assignment that can be, for example, a book report, a presentation, or an essay. The student does the work with a tool of his or her choice (not always the teacher’s choice) for example a blog, wiki, Google Docs, video, a sound file or any presentation software. The teacher can follow the students’ progress, he can comment and give suggestions during the process in order to improve learning and the result. When the work is ready the student attaches a link to his work in the learning diary, completes a self assessment and sends the teacher a request to assess the final work. The same project can be shared with several teachers when working with multi-disciplinary themes.

Research, development and partnerships. Yes, actual partnerships that others have studied

We work in Public Private Partnerships with a variety of small and medium sized, flexible and reputable companies.  We believe that long relationships and deep understanding of client needs benefit both parties so our contracts with our partners run for a minimum of 3 years. Opinsys is an example of such a partner. They deliver entire IT systems for educational environments (servers, computers, maintenance and development).

The Dream School concept as a whole and the ICT use in particular have been the focus of several independent studies. Below we have listed a few:

  • Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT)  studies the ecological and economical impact of our ICT model i.e.  energy savings and prolonging the lifespan of the equipment.
  • We are a pilot school in a research project organized by the Ministry of traffic and communications (Ubiquitous Information Society Advisory Board) that studies ICT use in the everyday life at school (OPTEK) with the view of increasing ICT use in education. The final report, National plan for ICT use in education, will be given to the next government.
  • Tampere University of Technology, Pori, Advanced Multimedia Center studies, among other things, the efficiency and motivating power of game design as a learning method. Our game editor allows learners to design Tetris based learning games without in-depth programming knowledge.

Conclusions

At Dream School we are not merely reacting to the changes in the society or waiting for the world to change. Instead the Dream School is an active change agent that in a goal oriented way takes concrete steps towards sustainable development in all areas of school life. It is important that all learners and other members of the learning community develop their own skills and knowledge on a continuous basis. The changing demands and continued rapid development necessitate a curious attitude, flexibility and life long learning. Continuous evolution of our systems is therefore an important part of our pedagogy.

Schools and education have to change if we want to accomplish a societal change on a large scale. We start with the student, who is the focal point in this change and also our most important “vehicle” for change in the future. The key impact Dream School has on sustainability and our most important asset in bringing about a change, is not reduced food- and paper waste or saved energy, but each and every student that passes through the Dream School. The most efficient way to further sustainability is the students’ awareness and to change the way they conduct their lives and careers in the future.

No student shall be left behind. We have a responsibility towards the individual as well as the society to offer each student skills, know-how and self reliance, tools for a good life and an opportunity to become a full and productive member of the society. In Dream School we give our learners tools for a good and balanced life.

Economical, ecological, cultural and social sustainability are at the core of the Dream School concept. Our multifaceted and active approach permeates our view of the student, learning and teaching,  development and use of technology, and all other aspects of school life.

Dream School is in the deepest sense future oriented, a genuinely learning and sustainable school that aims to meet the demands of today and tomorrow. The Dream School example proves that it is possible to fit together seemingly competing goals: economic viability, environmental quality, and social and cultural equity.

References:

  • Huckle John, Sterling Steven R, Education for Sustainability, Earthscan, May 1996
  • Ahola Kimmo, Tekes, “Suomen erikoislaksi sulautettu tietotekniikka”, article, Helsingin Sanomat, 23.08.2010 (Ubiquitous tecnology, Finnish specialty)
  • van Matre Steve, Earth education, a new beginning, The Institute for Earth Education, April 1990
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