By Altti Lagstedt
I held a presentation at the Smart City Mindtrek, where I talked about “Digitalizing teaching and learning processes in emerging markets”. There I discussed our innovative expert-oriented approach to develop meaningful information systems.
I attended the Smart City Mindtrek conference in Tampere (28.–30.1.2020) representing Eduix Ltd. and Haaga-Helia UAS, and it was very inspiring to hear about the latest trends and technological solutions related to smart cities. I held a presentation in the “Edtech and Global markets”-track about “Digitalizing teaching and learning processes in emerging markets”. On the one hand, I discussed points that are rather general in nature and widely applicable in digitizing education processes. On the other hand, I clarified some specific ideas of the cooperation between Eduix Ltd. and Haaga-Helia UAS. Here I briefly highlight my contributions to the event.
It is important to understand that the objectives of information systems (IS) are different than they were a couple of years ago. The possibilities of utilizing IS in different business areas have grown remarkably, and even traditionally non-IT areas are using different kinds of IS to digitize their processes. The diversity of users and client organizations (and especially the diversity of their skills) has grown considerably as well. In addition, the development methods and approaches have changed, not to mention the technological revamping.
Therefore, nowadays the old software selling processes do not automatically guarantee success: customers are not waiting for new software, they are waiting for digitalized, enhanced processes, done with valid methods and with the most suitable technology. This does not mean that developers have to follow every latest fad, but they have to be aware of different alternative approaches and be able to select the most suitable way to proceed case-specifically. Understanding the case, i.e. a process to be developed, its context and the roles and the natures of the actors of the process is an essential asset for developers. Maybe ten years ago it was possible to underrate the peculiarities of a specific situation, but not anymore: “off-the-shelf products” do not suit all digitalization cases.
When discussing digitalization in the education environment, we must understand that teachers are the key players. And teachers’ work is by definition expert work. In the classroom, teachers are responsible for organizing processes at the most optimal level suited to the situation, with high flexibility and adaptability. Changing contexts, exceptional cases, and different kinds of learners make teachers’ work a very heterogeneous task – and in some extent difficult to predict.
Therefore, it is not realistic nor fruitful to expect a teacher to strictly follow an exact workflow time after time. Teachers’ work has to be understood as expert work and IS should not be an obstacle to experts to reach their full potential. Experts need the control of his/her work, and all related IS should be perceived by them as useful assets – instead of an extra burden on top of everything else that must be done. In order for software developers in education to succeed in such cases, more expert-oriented approaches to digitalization are needed.
What our cooperation project emphasises is that experts should be included in the software development processes. The idea is not a novel one, but in practice it is highly underrated. Considering that, we have developed an innovative approach that balances top-down and bottom-up processes. We discuss what data is really meaningful to be collected and analysed. We go beyond just automating existing processes to avoid the risk that the developed IS brings extra work for experts and no benefits for the users. To be successful, a clear vision is needed from the beginning. And when the change is made, it must be beneficial for all parties, especially to the key players.
Digitalization can be a tool for progress, but software must not be the excuse or scapegoat for badly designed changes.