What could be done to strengthen communality in schools? And how to make students become increasingly more involved in the development of school activities? The Collective School and Innovative Services initiative was created to find answers to these questions. Parents of the students as well as organisations outside schools are also welcome to join in the project.

The Collective School and Innovative Services initiative consists of separate sub-projects in the cities of Helsinki, Turku and Lappeenranta. The projects have their own focal points, but they are joined together in their vision to promote collectivity in schools and making students more involved in the development in their schools’ operations. The projects aim to develop digital services for which the students themselves can produce content. The project contributes also to the media education of students. The joint initiative is coordinated by Forum Virium Helsinki.

”Apart from the students and teachers, there are also other members in a school community, such as health nurses. By using digital solutions, their services could be brought closer to the students”, ponders Project Coordinator Teemu Ruohonen from the City of Helsinki Education Department’s Media Center, together with Project Manager Minna Torppa from Forum Virium Helsinki.

From a wider perspective, the community also includes parents of the students and other actors who mostly offer extracurricular activities, such as sports or hobby clubs. ”We want to bring all these different interest groups together to help develop a healthier school environment”, the Helsinki project leaders define.

Involvement is in the key role

”Earlier, we were just given the final result. Now, we have been able to take part in the process and see how the end product comes into being.”

This is how a student describes his experiments with an earlier Collective School initiative, which was used to outline the themes now under work, and to create a committed digital community at the Porolahti School in the Helsinki suburb of Roihuvuori. ”Apart from developing services and concepts, the initiative aims at modelling a process that would help create these services in schools, together with students”, Ruohonen and Torppa add.

Promoting communal methods and getting students involved are both tasks written into the National Board of Education’s core curriculum for basic education. The reformed Child Welfare Act also includes a welfare plan for children and youth, which guides the municipalities towards including children, adolescents and young adults more in their decision making processes.

”We’re trying to gain experience on what student involvement means in practice. Digital services offer us new possibilities; for example, channels through which the quieter students dare to speak out more often”, states Ruohonen.

Three cities as launching pads

In the Lappeenranta initiative, the goal is to produce a digital environment for airing the school community news. ”Apart from the goals of student involvement and media education, the environment also acts as a communication channel between the school, the parents and various interest groups”, narrates Timo Kainulainen, Manager of the Saimaa Media Center. The Lappeenranta pilot also includes 3D techniques, and utilising enhanced reality techniques, which combine real and virtual environments, at Lappee Primary School.

The City of Turku thinks along similar lines. “We are developing an Internet communications channel for children and adolescents. Through this channel, schools and kindergartens can communicate with each other and the surrounding community about their everyday life”, relates Executive Director Jouni Paakkinen from Turku’s TOP Center (Computers In Education). According to him, this will be one of the methods to increase the spirit of collectivity within the City’s education department, which has recently experienced an overhaul as the school administrative services from pre-schools to colleges were all organised under one roof. The schools taking part in the Turku area sub-project are Luostarivuori, Raunistula and Wäinö Aaltonen primary school.

In Helsinki, the first design workshops were organised at the pilot schools during the spring. Service testing will begin after summer. The pilot schools in this sub-project are Porolahti, Sophie Mannerheim and Torpparinmäki.

An innovation tool developed during the Idealinko project, will be added to the service package for further research into its usability within the target group of children and adolescents. Through Idealinko, they get to create, vote and execute their own and other participants’ ideas. During the spring, the students in the pilot schools also get to take part in planning their schools’ operations for the next semester.

”The production of these services will be based on the needs of the school communities”, Teemu Ruohonen and Minna Torppa emphasise. ”We also warmly welcome aboard all parents, organisations and societies who are interested in these themes.”

>> The Collective School and Innovative Services initiative blog (in Finnish)

The Collective School and Innovative Services initiatives are carried out from 2012 through 2013. The services are developed and tested in pilot schools in three cities; in Helsinki, the sub-project is coordinated by the City of Helsinki’s Education Department’s Media Center and Forum Virium Helsinki; in Lappeenranta, the Saimaa Media Center coordinates the sub-project; and in Turku, with the City’s TOP Center in charge. The Helsinki projects are part of the Design Capital of the Year program.

Forum Virium Helsinki is in charge of the overall management for the initiative. European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has been funding the initiative together with the cities involved.

Text: Maija Jokiniemi