The job of a teacher in higher education is inevitably changing. To thrive in constant change, higher education must become an integral part of learning ecosystems. In Finland, Universities of applied sciences have already taken promising steps in integrating research, development and innovation activities into students’ learning. However, there is a need for broader change and teachers are key actors in making it.
Authentic learning in ecosystems
Learning in ecosystems goes beyond the traditional classroom and the higher education institution. In learning ecosystems the learners go outside the classroom and engage with private and public sector organisations in their cities, regions, and the wider society. Scharmer (2019) emphasizes that in learning ecosystems the city, the region, and the global ecosystem is the classroom, and the challenges of the world, and of societal transformation, are the curriculum.
In Scharmer’s (2019) view the transformation of higher education is both broadening the place of learning from individual to a whole system and deepening the different ways of individual knowing from learning by listening (head) to learning by doing (head and hand) and to learning by co-creating (heart, head and hand).
This transformation challenges the job of the teacher and the activities that the teacher needs to perform. The more the teacher moves from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from part to system level, and from surface to deep learning, the more this necessitates job crafting (see Demerouti 2014).
Crafting of tasks – from details to big picture
Job crafting refers to the teachers’ own proactive behavior in changing their tasks, their relationships and their mindset to improve the fit between the new nature of the job and their own needs, abilities, and preferences (Berg, Dutton, & Wrześniewski 2013).
According to our study, teachers find that they modify their tasks in many ways in learning ecosystems. In order to be able to work effectively, the teachers move from individual work and tasks to working together. They abandon precise teaching planning and preparation to focus more on shaping learning and providing learning opportunities in digital environments. From giving and evaluating separate small tasks, they move toward more comprehensive continuous guidance and assessment of competence.
The teachers shift emphasis from lecturing to listening, observing and being present for the students. Thus, feeling they can also support the development of the students’ self-reliance and creativity.
Crafting of relationships – trust pays off
How do the teachers shape their relationships with each other and with students and working life partners? The key finding was related to the fact that in authentic learning environments, students, teachers and working life partners are all learners.
The significance of trust is emphasized, particularly in the students’ ability to guide their own learning and solve real-life challenges. A teacher’s trust in oneself is found to be a prerequisite for extending trust to others.
Mutual cooperation among teachers increases joint development and sharing of expertise, thus, strengthening the common language and understanding. In relation to the students, the teachers feel that empowering the students as well as giving them space and responsibility is important. Teachers feel that the relationships with working life partners are more intense and long-lasting.
Crafting of thinking – acceptance of imperfection gives space
A shift in mindset has strengthened the transition from knowledge distributors to learning facilitators. The teachers view that their work is flexible and adaptive to the needs of collaboration, where the relevance of one’s own work is constantly modified. The experimental attitude also becomes important.
When learning moves to ecosystems, it is essential that uncertainty and unpredictability is enjoyed. According to the teachers, acceptance of imperfection and incompleteness, both in oneself and in others, genuinely gives room for new learning.
Crafting work to support co-creation and well-being
Learning ecosystems transform learning to be a process of co-creation that engages the heart, head and hand (Scharmer 2019). In this new environment, higher education teachers should consider how they fit in. By proactively changing their way of thinking, their tasks and relationships at work, teachers can increase their well-being and their experience of the work as meaningful and necessary.
In networked organisations, such as ours, different work tasks and relationships are interconnected. Work modification cannot be done solely from individual views, and a better result is achieved together. When adapting to the on-going transformation, having an open mind and heart is essential for including different points of view into the co-creation process. There is great value in setting aside time for joint sense-making and joint work crafting.
The authors have co-created pedagogical approach and practices to Design Factory based on their research. The research and development of the pedagogical approach continues in national and international educational development projects. This article is based on their publication Kunnari, I., Tuomela, V. & Jussila, J. 2021. Teacher-facilitators’ job-crafting: making meaning and relevance in authentic learning environments. International Journal of Management, Knowledge and Learning 10: 115–126.
Dr. Jari Jussila is working as Director of HAMK Design Factory and developer of pedagogical solutions at Häme University of Applied Sciences and RUN-EU Regional University Network – European University).
Dr. Irma Kunnari is working as Research Area Director at Haaga-Helia UAS, where she leads the Engaging Vocational Pedagogy research area and participates in the Ulysseus European University pedagogical development.
Berg, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Wrześniewski, A. 2013. Job crafting and meaningful work. In B.J Dik., Z.S. Byrne, & M.F. Steger (Eds.), Purpose and meaning in the workplace (pp. 81-104). American Psychological Association.
Demerouti, E. 2014. Design your own job through job crafting. European Psychologist, 19(4), 237–247.
Scharmer O. 2019. Vertical Literacy: Reimagining the 21st-Century University. Medium.