One Affects All: Finland, Student Perceptions, and an Egalitarian System

A society’s attitude toward school is hard to consign to one particular factor. Amanda Ripley’s book, The Smartest Kids in the World, reveals that in Finland, students care about school, and caring is a widely accepted social norm. Elina, a Finnish exchange student studying in the U.S., remarks, “Not much is demanded of U.S. students… [but in Finland,] you really have to study. You have to prove that you know it” (Ripley, 100). Schools have high standards, and most students respect them. Students’ attitudes toward schools are determined by how much schools expect of them and the extent to which students accept these conditions.

Schools are, or at least stand for, places where one’s potential can flourish. Ripley’s study reveals that in Finland, students take potentiality seriously. They accept the system. Indicative of a perception in which there’s a clear justice, Ripley recounts the following exchange. Kim, an American student studying abroad in Finland, asks her [Finnish] colleagues: “What makes you work hard in school?” to which they respond, “It’s school…How else will I graduate and go to university and get a good job?” (Ripley, 98). From this response, one can see a connectedness between school, effort, and the work world. A believable message students receive is that it’s possible to succeed. There’s a clarity in how the system works. It interacts with the students and the students interact with it.

If, however, studies have revealed that family, home culture, teacher quality, socioeconomic status, school ranking, peer environment, and individual drive are determinants of a student’s performance in school, then how can we fit the notion that motivation is partly positive student perception and school system? We can’t. There are a number of cases suggesting otherwise; we still have not been able to fit them altogether.

We can however take away from Finland and the complexity of data that the idea of a system [made up of physical, social, economic, and ideological attributes] exist; variables, like the capacity to care, are dynamically tied to something  all-encompassing. Policies in education, healthcare, government, and homes will affect students’ attitudes toward school. To those interested in education policy in the States, we probably have to sacrifice the speed with which we get things done with the actual long-term effects of our actions — a long-term gain.

Encouraging Students to Speak Out

Can you think of an instance in which you saw a reversal of power in the name of democracy? The writer Paulo Freire, whose book The Pedagogy of the Oppressed is commonly drawn upon in the field of education, alludes to this frequent occurrence as he comments, “But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or ‘sub-oppressors.’ The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped” (para. 8). Conditions that remain unchecked — beyond the individuals ruling — can perpetuate oppression. Freedom, as Freire will claim many times, demands a new way of life. Maintaining a society in which everyone is empowered will require being uncomfortable at times. For all citizens, the willingness to be uncomfortable may include the responsibility of speaking out against bad practices when you see them performed. “Things are the way are” is no longer a valid response. As such, the first step to realizing your power as an equal is recognizing situations in which you are told to respect the power; the second step is using your right to speak out with the knowledge that you are providing the potential for a better world.

The notion of “taking your place” is a complex one because it can have some truth when in the right context. Many mindfulness experts will speak about acceptance being the key to an easy life. Sometimes, letting things play out as they are is the best approach. It will always remain constant that a respect for another person’s life and freedoms should be observed. But, as those with the upper hand may use their power excessively, there can be opportunities to speak out in protest to bring about further justice.

Unfair working conditions  do not have to be accepted. Sometimes, garnering attention to the issue is enough. Other times, writing to the organization in request for change may at least spark the possibility of future change down the road.

In the classroom, the opportunity to protest can bring about positive social change. A curriculum applying Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed conceptual framework by means of dialogue, as Freire advocates for, would give students opportunities to interact with the world and remind students that they can change the world. For an activity, students could have a choice in what organizations, issues, and ideas they will examine. They can be graded not so much for the knowledge they gain about the topic as for how they engage with it. Ideally, students will never have to hear “that’s the way things are.”  What distinguishes the workplace, common room, and classroom as a liberated society is that students have a role in change. A liberated classroom space would allow students to have, as it would for Freire’s conception of the oppressed, “the freedom to create and to construct, to wonder and to venture. Such freedom requires that the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or a well-fed cog in the machine…” (para. 87). Students must accordingly be put in positions where they can offer new knowledge. Being able to do so requires as much liberty in discussion as possible. The student’s function becomes not only to follow assignments but to become an involved member of society: in the classroom and out.

Fostering Mentorships through Social Media

The role of an educator often involves mentoring students. When class ends, social media can help keep the professional mentor-mentee relationship going in a way that allows for the mentor and mentee to keep talking and still embrace that the class, and many of the responsibilities, have ended.

Social media opens up the space for professional relationships. It provides tools for communication.  And while it’s been used to advertise jobs, it also has been used to create informative, interesting, and fun content, which is healthy for readers and content-creators alike.

Some people have two Twitter and two Facebook accounts – a personal and professional one. This is one option for those who would really like to draw the line.

Others use one account for all connections.

And some people consider one platform (FB) for personal contacts and other platforms (i.e. LinkedIn) for professional contacts. It depends on what is most effective to the user.

Email is given less consideration, but it carries equal weight as a social media tool. Compared to Facebook or LinkedIn, the words on the page stand out.

Forbes Magazine has a great article by Jacquelyn Smith on maintaining connections, and that the mentor’s intentions are what are most important to creating a positive dynamic. In mentor-mentee relationships, Smith emphasizes that both parties are learning from each other, so all actions should revolve around that aspect. Being connected on social media certainly demonstrates availability if the mentee can afford such time.

To reiterate, the ability to successfully navigate the mentor-mentee professional relationship will involve all goals lining up.  For the professor, the role of being a good professor will naturally come first. This should likewise be the case for students.

Social Media as a Valuable Information Source

Is social media a worthwhile source to draw information from?

What sources to use for a research project depends on your research question. For primary research, social media analytics can provide valuable insights.

Some psychologists are already using it for archival analysis, and their reasons for embarking on such analyses and considering these posts as valuable resources underscore that first-person writing is rare. Our digital profiles accordingly present part of a picture.

Writer Maria Konnikova from the New Yorker has a great article on social media serving as an online diary of our lives in which she highlights that social media succeeds in providing a historical timeline of our lives.

She remarks that this “timeline” can explicitly provide data on sentiments – what we value, what annoys us, what scares us, what we hope for.

Implicitly, our social media history can provide data on behaviors – how active or inactive we are on these platforms, how we interact with others, what we search for, etc.

And from the information we put about ourselves, the question comes up on whether the bits of us we provide identify what we already are or who we hope to be. The information about ourselves we list such as hometown, age, gender, religious preference, political beliefs, and favorite quotes may reveal an identity we are striving to be. It may also come from a position of wanting to be accepted.

More often than not, social media posts will probably reveal  our efforts to look good, since social media is public, historical, and open to various interpretations. We can control the timing of our posts and we can even edit if something goes wrong. Nevertheless, even if social media depicts a favorable picture of us, which is one aspect of who we are, we can still learn something from that.

Google Classroom as an Alternative to Blackboard

For some educators, Google Classroom may be exactly what they have been looking for in terms of organization and social connectivity. What is Google Classroom, you may ask? If you are familiar with Blackboard and Facebook, Google Classroom is the hybrid of these two platforms. Through a clean and easy to navigate site, Google Classroom provides one space where educators can post assignments, provide grades, and field questions from students.

The ability to interact with students is what makes Google Classroom a social medium.

It is also very transparent, meaning that the educator can see when students are working on their assignments, how many students are working on their assignments, and how many students turn them in. In turn, the student can view the teacher’s edits.

I was introduced to Google Classroom by a middle school teacher working at a gifted school. After she showed me all the features, I thought: “Wow, I could totally see my university professors and classmates being happy to use this.” It is so content-friendly, any moderator of a group can use it.

Some educators are trying to enhance the learning experience by providing the class with an opportunity to contribute outside of the classroom via Facebook. There are mixed reviews about this practice. On the one hand, research suggests that you are more likely to contribute to platforms with a strong emphasis on personal identity. On the other hand, Facebook can get clunky with comments fast. This dilemma is why Google Classroom may be a better alternative for Blackboard and Facebook users alike.

How to Use Twitter in Different Kinds of Classrooms

It may be easy to imagine Twitter in a social media class, but would Twitter be an effective way to gain critical thinking skills in every academic subject? While it certainly depends on the professor’s preferences and teaching style, school environment, students etc., Twitter has the potential to be compatible in the academic classroom. Here is a list of ideas on how to incorporate Twitter for a variety of academic subjects, mostly for high school classrooms:

Philosophy: To supplement in-depth readings and discussions of philosophical texts, assign students to:

Mathematics: To those who love math, there are many math educators active on Twitter who post about computer programs, business, achievements, math problems, and puzzles. Assign students to:

  • Connect students to BestCollegeOnline.com’s link to 50 math-related Twitter feeds.
  • Graph their Tweet stats.

Literature: The beauty of literature is the study of how words matter. Since tweets have a limit of 140 characters, Twitter users are challenged to make an impact with their words, hashtags, and punctuation. Accordingly, professors can assign students to: 

  • Write a poem.
  • Create a fictional Twitter profile for a character in a book the class is currently reading.
  • Find examples of books, plays, and poems referenced into modern movies, TV shows, and ads.

More examples here.

And now here is a video on what social media can be. Can you think of an instance of when social media embodies the traits I describe?!