The implementation of new information technologies in the FAST Area Studies Program at the University of
Tampere since 1992 offers a successful model for how:
- teaching and learning can be enhanced;
- student motivation and performance can be increased;
- cooperation between academic study in the classroom and the realities
of professional working life can be developed;
- and life-long learning habits established;
- while reducing the overall cost of providing instructional materials.
Further, success has been achieved in a Humanities-based program
in which over 90% of the students are female, two sectors of
Finnish higher education which have often been stereotyped as having least
exploited computer-based learning resources.
However, our experience has also revealed certain problematics which
may arise when implementing new technologies. These concern the equal
opportunity of teaching staff to be able to use and deploy these
technologies, and of university students to take advantage of them. They
also raise the larger question of how to create a new, positive,
supporting environment to encourage the implementation of innovative
learning technologies throughout Finnish higher education.
FAST Program Overview (Top)
The FAST Area Studies Program has provided since 1992 a minor
degree option tailored to the needs of translators, interpreters,
philologists, social scientists and others who seek competence in
intercultural area studies focusing on the national cultures of the United
States, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, and Finland in their
international English-language contexts.
The program is based on an examination and comparison of the languages
and literatures of the United States and United Kingdom as the
cornerstones of world English, the socioeconomic, cultural, political and
educational institutions by which the U.S. and U.K. are known, and the
mass communications structures and technologies through which the peoples
of both nations convey information worldwide in the English language.
The program is primarily for Tampere University students of translation
and interpretation, who require expert knowledge in intercultural dynamics
of the English language, but it is also open to other Tampere University
students who have an interest in the broad interdisciplinary nature and
topical appeal of the FAST curriculum.
Objectives for the Program's Technology Orientation
The FAST program has had a strong technology orientation since its
founding in 1992. The objective was to provide a continuous learning
environment in which:
- an extensive array of teaching and reference materials would be
available to students on-demand;
- selected student papers could be published electronically as
benchmarks and models for others to build on, as well as examples of
achievement in their own right;
- telematically-mediated lifelong-learning skills and habits would be
ingrained in students through their training for and involvement in the
- interactive connections for greater teaching and research 'realism'
would be established via the on-line resources between the students in our
Department and our graduates and other professional translators in working
- these same on-line resources and academic-workplace connections would
also lead to a growth in continuing education of our former graduates and
a recruiting tool for new and better-prepared incoming students, while the
on-line materials themselves would become a 'lifelong-learning resource'
for our graduates and others elsewhere who found value in their free
access to our resources;
- international cooperation involving the Program and its host
department would be expanded, with additional study, research, and
training opportunities thus accruing.
The primary technologies used are e-mail (both individual and
list-based) and the World-Wide Web (Gopher from 1992-1996). Starting in
September 1998 resources will expand to include internet-based
videoconferencing for individual, course and project work.
Student Preparation For On-Line Activity (Top)
Since basic telematic skills are required to fully participate in the
FAST curriculum, the PP3D course on "Digital
Literacy and and Academic Knowledge Management" is provided for all
students in addition to regular FAST courses in
American, British, Irish and
Finnish area studies. Completion of this course is compulsory for all
English Translation students (some FAST courses are required in the
English Translation curriculum). PP3D is offered each term; it is
recommended that students complete it at the beginning of their studies.
Each student receives a full-service internet account when starting
studies at Tampere University. This account is accessible via high-speed
LAN connections from all university computers and via modem or other
remote login from elsewhere (home, for example). The PP3D course trains
students in basic use of the full range of e-mail and telematic skills,
including 'survival UNIX', the PINE mailer (the only full-service student
option via university computers, though many students use Outlook Express,
Eudora and other POP or IMAP mailers from their home computers), FTP, file
conversion and transfer procedures, the formatting of electronic
documents, 'netiquette', and how to search for, print, download, edit, and
otherwise process web-based information. Students also learn the
fundamentals of html coding, and how to design and produce their own web
documents [NB: the PP3D syllabus evolves with each iteration,
corresponding to ICT development and changing expectations for academic
The PP3D course is taught as a series of practical, interactive
demonstrations during the first six weeks of each term. Detailed
reference material is available in the course web directory, and during
their learning phase students may consult the instructor extensively, via
e-mail and in person. The course is completed via a personal examination
with the teacher in which the student demonstrates selected procedures
from a list of required telematic skills.
FAST instructors thus have a direct, clear knowledge of student
telematics skill levels, the type of connectivity they have at university
and home, the type of equipment they use, and the type of problems they
have encountered. Details reported in this paper are based on the
experience of the PP3D course, combined with the instructor's knowledge of
how students have employed their skills in academic courses of the
program. The reporting focuses on overall student and teacher experience
with the FAST program, as distinct from individual course, student
or staff experiences.
E-Mail Lists and Individual E-Mail (Top)
Most FAST courses have their own class
e-mail lists. Presently these lists operate under 'listserv' software
via the Tampere University Computer Center [between 1992-1998, 'listproc'
was used, before Tampere University installed 'listserv'']. List
subscription is also freely available to the public outside Tampere
University, and some lists have a sizeable national and international
There is also a list for the FAST program overall (FAST-L);
prior to 2000 one also existed for translation terminology questions
(TRAN-Q). TRAN-Q was used for the exchange of questions among working
translators in Finland and abroad, and was also a link between
professional working life and translation students in the Department.
Course list names are in the form "USA1-L@uta.fi" (for the USA-1
'Introduction to American English' course, for example). All students are
expected to subscribe to the respective course list while they are taking
the course. While there is no compulsion for students to subscribe (they
subscribe themselves, as opposed to 'being subscribed' by the instructor),
virtually all students join the course lists. Indeed, while they are also
free to unsubscribe upon completing the course, many remain on the lists
and continue to participate even years later.
Course lists are used by the instructor to relay announcements, updates
on class scheduling, exams, and notices of the posting of new
instructional materials in the website; to distribute electronic articles
relevant to class lectures or discussion, and to respond to issues raised
in previous classes where answers required the consultation of outside
sources, among other things.
Students may also freely post questions and comments to the list and
participate in group discussion on course topics. However, student
activity thus far has been minimal, perhaps due to the fact that students
are in close daily personal contact with each other in any case, so the
class lists are not needed for general group discussion.
However, students also use e-mail extensively with each other on a
private basis (even concerning class issues) and there is also a
substantial and growing volume of e-mail traffic between individual
students and the instructor concerning course issues.
Increased Learning Individualization, But Also Increased Teacher Workloads
Thus, while students have so far not used the class lists for general
discussion, they very actively use e-mail to follow up directly with the
instructor on class discussion, papers and projects on which they are
working, clarification of references in reading materials, etc. While
this is resulting in more 'individualization' of the learning experience,
and a more 'self-paced mode of learning' (to quote these often-cited
'benefits' of new educational technologies), it also rapidly adds to the
work loads of the instructors.
Calculations for one 1998 course showed a fivefold increase in teacher
time for e-mail responses to class issues compared to the year previously,
and for some of the students the amount of personal counseling was more
than tenfold greater, approaching the time requirement of an entire
individualized course in its own right.
The reason for this increase would seem to be the ease of communicating
with the new technologies, combined with a greater sense of personal
involvement with learning via the technologies, and the feeling that
student-teacher relationships are somehow more 'personal' as a result of
more frequent communication. A further factor may be the relatively small
number of students in our department and the fact that we have always
known students personally, have used first names with each other, and have
encouraged close interactivity between students and staff as the only
practical way of learning the profession of translation and interpretation
However, despite the learning benefits which may have accrued from this
example, there are clearly human limits to the increase of such personal
contact between teachers and students, leaving aside such considerations
as 'standard work requirements' (what is the definition of teacher 'office
hours' when consultations are electronic rather than physical) or union or
administrative viewpoints on this issue (do teachers need to be physically
present if teaching and consultation can be conducted remotely).
The greatly-larger time requirement of 'personalized continuous
learning' which is thus made possible is but one of many issues in the
successful employment of new educational technologies where the new type
of educational interaction that emerges is beneficial as such, but may
ultimately be untenable in human terms.
The FAST Website (Top)
The Program's most visible and extensively-used resource is the FAST website at
<https://www.uta.fi/FAST>. This website includes numerous
subdirectories which provide study and research materials for each course
in the FAST curriculum. By autumn 1998 the website will comprise
nearly 1000 files covering 18 academic courses and related activities. The
FAST website has its own search engine (PicoSearch) and a usage
statistics tool (Analog), updated nightly. The website is used by both
FAST students and a wide international audience; April 1998
statistics reported 1377 average daily successful page requests from 2169
distinct internet hosts (with hundreds of separate accesses daily from
Tampere University computers alone, seven days a week, and nearly 24 hours
The website success is perhaps the more remarkable since its present
structure will be only one year old in August 1998. From 1992-96 on-line
archiving was via gopher technology at the Center for Scientific
Computing in Espoo. Starting in 1996 gopher materials were gradually
transferred to an initial website at CSC, and in summer 1997 all CSC
materials were moved to a new website at Tampere University. With the
move came a substantial revision of previous materials and significant
expansion of new materials.
There are three main areas of web content:
Additional to these are resources related to conferences and outreach activities, as well as publications
and other projects or materials related to the FAST program.
- schedules and instructional and reference materials for different
- student project papers under the various courses; and
- general reference materials (on-line glossaries, maps, links to other
Traditional 'Face-to-Face' Emphasis, But Changing... (Top)
Although technologies are well-integrated and used by the FAST
curriculum, it is important to note that their primary use is presently to
supplement traditional lectures, discussions, practical courses (such as
AV3F public speaking and AV5B liaison interpreting), and other face-to-face guidance based on human interaction.
However, using new technologies as such may result in structural
change. One example in our case [a trival example technologically, but
significant both 'as such' and for its abililty to be understood by
administrators] is that the budget savings we have achieved
on former photocopy costs alone (combined with general university budget
reductions that have reduced flexibility in the use of departmental
monies) has ironically resulted in a situation where the curriculum could
not afford to return to the previous mode of teaching if on-line
technologies were not employed. The program depends for its survival,
assuming that we wish to expand activity or that budget cutbacks are
likely to continue, not only on using technology but on continually
increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of our technological
Also, there may be other expectations for expansion of the program on
the basis of the available technologies. For example, while our
'distance-education' technologies have thus far been used mainly to
enhance instruction for on-site students, they easily make possible the
tuition of remote students, who can already access all on-line course
resources. In the present climate of budget reductions and need for more
cost-effective student 'processing', the demand to admit 'distance
education students' will likely soon emerge as an issue.
International Recognition and Cooperative Partners
Another 'issue' which directly follows from the use of on-line
technologies is the growing volume of requests from universities and
consortia abroad for international partnerships, joint projects, and
cooperative efforts. The FAST program is fairly well-known in
Europe and North America as a result of its on-line resources
particularly in fields like American vs British English and U.S. Popular
Culture and involvement in various European Humanities and
international education organizations.
For example, FAST is one of 102 European members (the only
Finnish 'Core-A-1' member) of ACO*HUM, a SOCRATES Thematic Network
in 'Advanced Computing in the Humanities'. It also works with the
electronic networking and telematics training activities of EAIE, the European Association for
Active academic websites often attract proposals for cooperative
ventures. While this may seem positive and desirable, the issue involved
here, just as with the related issue above of the FAST program
having become dependent on technology for its survival, is whether the
program will have the resources to benefit from these proposals.
Currently, although cooperation proposals arrive almost weekly, virtually
all must be turned down, no matter how useful their promise may seem to be
to the Program, Department, or our larger involvement in the University.
There is no staff time to handle the additional work, no room to
accommodate extra students or scholars, no money to pay various fees,
often no resources to cooperate even in basic ways.
This problem is not limited to the FAST Program. Throughout
Finnish higher education, in the current cost-cutting climate, funding
does not seem to exist for even basic purchase of updated computer
equipment, investment in staff training in the use of this equipment,
release time or other credit for the production of on-line teaching and
research material, or any of the other fundamental pre-requisites for
programs to continue not to mention improve high-quality provision
of university-level teaching and research.
Financing and 'Support' (Top)
All FAST telematics activities are currently unbudgeted voluntary
work, with the exception of the PP3D course being part of the regular
teaching load of one instructor, and an occasional one hour of release
time weekly from the 'required teaching load' if one section of a
multiple-group course does not form.
While the 'voluntary' nature of the work provides a certain freedom of
experimentation, it is also problematic for guaranteed continuation of the
activities, as noted above, as the volume of work and its costs (in both
financial and human terms) steadily increases.
Within the Department of Translation Studies, FAST telematics
activities have been authorized largely by such comments as 'you can do
anything you want to do as long as it's your responsibility, it doesn't
bother the rest of us, and it doesn't cost us anything'. Such
'support' of educational technology innovation often comes from persons
who are aware that these activities may be the main international public
relations vehicle for the Department, as well as being popular among
current students and a 'recruiting' factor for new students (some of whom
are already coming into the Department having used FAST on-line
resources while they were in senior secondary school, at work, or at other
institutions, and who applied to our Department in part because they found
our activity and resources appealing and had not found an equivalent
In the Department's defense, it could be said that such an attitude is
not unusual elsewhere either, especially in Humanities or other curricula
which have not traditionally had an emphasis on using technology.
According to a 1996
DEPLOY project report commissioned by the Confederation of
European Rectors' Associations, throughout Europe university staff
attitudes toward new technologies are largely 'unenlightened', ranging
from indifference toward what others are doing (as long as it doesn't
concern oneself) to fear that the real meaning of ICT in higher education
will be yet more work being expected of staff, or worse yet, that staff
would be replaced by technology. As such, the 'incentive to learn' the
use of new technologies may be seen by many staff rather as an incentive
to weave the rope that would be used to hang them.
In sum, the combination of chronic equipment shortages, lack of proper
training, and lack of time to invest in software innovation or the
production of on-line materials, together with the generally
'unenlightened', indifferent, or even negatively-inclined attitudes of
staff toward the employment of new technologies in their teaching and
research, results in a less-than-optimum structural foundation on which to
innovate or develop. In our case this is perhaps the more remarkable since
we are a department in which computers have been used routinely for well
over a decade [since 1984], telematics competence having long been
required in the professions for which we train students.
Structural Problematics (Top)
In the emerging transition from traditional to ICT-based teaching, the
importance of seemingly-trivial differences between 'the way things have
always been done' and how ICT might require them to be done differently
must not be underestimated. In other words, how does the emergence of new
information technologies conflict with traditional rules and procedures of
university bureaucracy and administration?
A simple example is one we encountered with department budgeting. From
1992 through summer 1997, while all FAST on-line resources had been
at CSC, we had enjoyed them free of charge. When the website moved to
Tampere University, expanded, and added search and statistics tools,
charges were levied by the Computer Center for webspace exceeding 10MB.
The bill came to me. I took it to the Department for reimbursement. A
minor crisis emerged. There had never been such a charge in the Humanities
Faculty. Indeed few people in the administration seemed to know what
'webspace' was or how such a thing (if it existed) could be charged for.
The entire concept and terminology was foreign, not to mention absent from
While the bill was less than FIM2000.00 for the whole year, there was
no budget line for such an item. Therefore it could not be paid. First
it was claimed that I should pay it: if the webspace was for voluntary
work for courses individual teachers taught, then those teachers should
pay for the webspace they consumed. It should not be a charge the
Department should pay, but rather similar to purchasing a book a teacher
might use to prepare for a course. Eventually the Department paid the sum
from the photocopy budget (there was still a budget line for the copy
machine) after it was shown that the savings in photocopy costs for one
course alone whose teaching materials were now web-based exceeded the
total annual charge for the entire website.
Yet the controversy over 'who should pay for what' still exists in
1998, exacerbated by general technological ignorance of what is being paid
for, what it is used for, or why it is important on the one hand; and by
the general strains of university budget cuts on the other. Many similar
and still more serious problems are likely to occur in the next few years
as the transition from old toward the deployment of new technologies
Student Attitudes and General Benefits (in brief)
FAST students are positive about the web resources. They
appreciate the convenience of having greatly expanded course resources at
hand 24 hours, and being able to print or edit only those materials they
personally need, vs. the kilos of paper copy they had to deal with in the
Students are also positive toward having their own (selected) work
archived on-line. They seem to devote more time to projects they know may
be selected for the website, and projects are usually completed with more
care and detail than previously.
The academic level of FAST course projects is also rising, as
students are able to build on the foundation of past work which is easily
available via the website. Students also seem to gain increased
self-esteem by having their work published on-line, visible for all to
see, and receiving compliments on it even from students and instructors
Indeed one of the most significant benefits of the website has been the
increase in student self-esteem. While the Department has always had
outstanding students, gifted in language from the day of admission, the
intense cross-cultural linguistic demands of professional translation and
interpretation at levels which exceed the abilities of many
university-educated native speakers of English had frequently
resulted in students soon becoming frustrated at what they felt was their
own inability in English. Perspective was lacking.
Suddenly, the web provides a perspective. Teachers in higher education
institutions in Britain and America have written to congratulate students
on their work, and to ask permission to use on-line papers as part of the
teaching material for their courses. One wished to publish several papers
in a textbook on American English for British students, and inquired about
copyright and royalty payments. An Italian publisher wished to use two
student short stories from the website in an anthology of young Finnish
writers. An educational website in Seoul wrote to ask permission to
translate papers into Korean for beginning language students there.
The effect of such feedback none of it anticipated
has been to give students a tremendous boost in self-confidence, which in
turn seems to be resulting in a more ambitious level and higher quality of
Further, on-line resources are also used by working translators, whose
comments and suggestions provide greater interactivity to course teaching
and to student awareness of the practical reality of their future
profession than was ever possible before.
Recommendations Based on Our Experience
Several recommendations have been noted above, and there is an extensive
listing in Reference #1 below. With many of these, it would be easy
and not inaccurate to say that the answer to the problems of
implementing new learning technologies in higher education is money.
Funding is desperately needed to provide adequate computing capability
for virtually all university teaching and research staff. More money is
needed for software as well. But it is not just hardware and software;
much of what has already been purchased is largely wasted, or used
inadequately or ineffectively, or simply not used at all by people who
don't know how to use it or don't know why they should. Money is also
needed to train teachers and researchers in how to use effectively what
they already have, and beyond this, how to create their own interactive
Likewise, funding is needed to update and greatly increase the public
computer facilities available to university students. Due in part to
inadequate funding for such computers, two disparities are already
emerging with our students, nearly all of whom have their own computers.
Many of the students' own computers are better (faster processors,
multimedia-equipped, newer software) than the public student computers at
the university. Pedagogical problems emerge. The PP3D course can only
teach software which is available to all students on the public university
computers, not the infinite variety of options students may have at home.
However, if the university cannot upgrade its computers from Windows 3.1,
and students at home almost all have Windows 95 or NT Workstation 4
and use the newer software which only runs on these systems
issues clearly emerge for the relevance and motivation of
A related point is the disparity in equal opportunity in a
technologically-intensive environment between students who can afford
faster computers and newer software at home over students who can only
rely on the outdated equipment and limited user time currently available
on university computers. The situation is rapidly developing where
students who can afford their own (better) equipment are much more
advantaged in their study and research. The implications of this situation
are profoundly disturbing.
'Digital Literacy' Enlightenment is Desperately Needed
However, money is not the only issue. The
immediate, major obstacle to be overcome is the general lack of
enlightenment of politicians, administrators, teachers and researchers
alike of the urgency and importance of new communications technologies in
education. It must be understood why new technologies are so increasingly
important. It must come to be self-evident that all academics should be
able to use technology effectively in their work. It is essential that an
encouraging environment be created to support technological innovation
throughout higher education.
With this, great things may be possible. Without it, higher education
in Finland will simply not be able to compete in the international arena.