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Massive ABCs to Support Academic Development


Institution: University of Helsinki, Finland

Description: ABC was integrated to a university pedagogy course, Constructive Alignment in Course Design. Two implementations of a large-scale ABC are described in this case study.

Authors: Veera Kallunki and Sanna-Katja Parikka

Date: 20.11.2018 and 11.4.2019

Course details: In total, 150 participants developed their own courses during the workshops. There were participants from different faculties and degree programmes of the university, so the disciplines, course levels, their workloads and implementations varied a lot. Some of the courses were new and some of them were existing courses that were further designed during the workshop.

Case Study

This workshop was organized as a part of university pedagogy academic development study program course titled “UP 2.1 Constructive Alignment in Course Design” (5 ECTS), which focuses on course design at higher education. During this course, the participants design their own courses in phases, taking into account all stages of constructive alignment. The course is the second in a sequence of courses for pedagogical academic development provided for the University of Helsinki faculty and staff by the University’s Centre for University Teaching and Learning (HYPE), accounting for altogether 60 credits. The course intended learning objectives include:

After completing the course, the participants will be able to

  • discuss  the teaching–studying–learning process and the principle of constructive alignment in the design, implementation and evaluation of teaching
  • apply the principles of constructive alignment in planning of course curriculum  in their own field/discipline
  • choose  appropriate teaching and evaluation methods and take advantage of educational technology in a pedagogically justified manner in their teaching
  • justify their own pedagogical thinking, understand the ethics of teaching and be able to provide feedback on teaching and course curricula
  • discuss the idea of a curriculum, be familiar with the value basis for the policies set for the degree programme curricula at the University and have acquired the skills and knowledge necessary for participating in the drafting of degree programme and course curricula
  • identify the significance of didactics as an area of educational science, a field researching and developing discipline-specific teaching, studying and learning in higher education and as a theoretical basis for teachers’ professional knowledge and skills (Source: UP2.1 spring 2020)

This case study consists of two implementations of large-scale ABC workshops during the university pedagogy course, Constructive Alignment in Course Design. Altogether 150 participants who represented teaching staff from different faculties and degree programmes of University of Helsinki took part in these workshops. The first workshop was carried out in Finnish, where as the second one was bilingual event using both Finnish and English. The participants worked in small groups of 4-5 in the workshop.

The ABC workshop was integrated to the university pedagogy course in a phase where the course designing process was in the midpoint, so the visual storyboarding by ABC facilitated the discussions for the participants to put their ideas in order and focus on specific solutions in their lesson plans. In other words, the purpose of ABC is to facilitate discussion and development of elearning and teaching, selecting tools and activities. Moreover, an important goal in the workshop is to foster considerations of the impact as well as advantages/disadvantages in how elearning solutions and tools can make contact teaching more flexible and multifaceted. Embedded in the already existing pedagogical context during this academic development course that deals by and large with constructive alignment, the ABC workshop provides a practical add-on element to extend the discussions further into elearning tool selection and blended course design from the standpoint of specific pedagogical goals.

Context of Change

The Centre for University Teaching and Learning (HYPE) investigates learning and teaching across all faculties and disciplines at the University of Helsinki. Based on the high-quality research, the Centre supports degree programmes and faculties in the development of learning and teaching, and enhances pedagogical expertise among university staff members. The Centre collaborates extensively with national and international experts in research and development of teaching and learning in higher education. As one of its basic tasks, HYPE is to carry out the strategy of the university. According to the university’s strategy for 2017-2020, the digitalisation of learning environments has been in focus when supporting learners as active agents. This strategic theme has been implemented as a digital leap in every faculty of the university, and it has meant for example digitalizing and re-developing many university courses.

ABC Workshop Plan

The tree-hour workshops started by introducing the learning goals of the session, the pedagogy in the background of the ABC tool, and by introducing the cards. In addition, theoretical background from elearning best practices was introduced in the beginning with regards to creating interaction online. After that, the workshop continued in small groups through the visual storyboarding of the courses. Facilitators circulated among the participants helping, commenting and answering questions. In the last phase of the workshop, the course ideas were shared with other groups. At the very end, we also had a short concluding discussion about the workshop and elearning, based on questions that arose from the small group work.

The University of Helsinki Educational Technology Services provided elearning specialists as the main facilitators in these workshops. In addition, senior lecturers in university pedagogy participated in running the workshops.

Successes and Lessons Learned

Based on these workshop experiences, the ABC workshop seems to scale up surprisingly well. In these workshops, there were around 75 participants who formed 15 small groups. Because of the large number of small groups, we brought in five elearning specialists from the Educational Technology Services to help facilitate the discussions. This meant that during the small group work phase, each of the elearning specialist were to work with three specified small groups, joining their discussion in each table when suitable and/or when questions arose that they could help with. Furthermore, in the smaller ABC workshops we have held (typically around 4-20 participants), there is more time at the end per group to present and share their course. However, in a large workshop, we recommend dividing up the presentations so that for example two or three groups present their course design to each other, for example 10-15 minutes each. This is key for the large groups such as this. This provides enough time in the workshop plan per group to share ideas about their plan with colleagues from other groups, an important element of the ABC workshop concept at the University of Helsinki: to benchmark and share elearning best practices with colleagues. In other words, each group gets to present their design to a few other groups, and an elearning specialist is there to listen and answer/take note of questions during those smaller presentation groupings. At the very end of the workshop, however, we try to find time to recap the most pressing questions from the small group presentation discussions with the whole group, and to make sure the participants know where to find more information and trainings regarding their further questions on elearning.

Because of the massiveness of these workshops, it was tested to use laminated cards in the first workshop so as not to print out so many cards. As it can be seen from the tweet picture below, participants attached their ideas and plans by post-it notes to the cards. Also the golden and silver stars that are used to mark the formative or summative assessments on the course were attached to the post-it notes. However, the participants did not seem to like this method. Instead, they kept asking why can’t they write their ideas and plans directly to the cards. Thus the laminating was abandoned and replaced by the paper cards in the next workshop.

Throughout the process of implementing the ABC on the university pedagogy course it was pondered whether the workshop fits to the content of the course, and in which phase of the course should it be realised to best support the university pedagogy course. In the discussions with the senior lectures it was charted what are the possible overlapping areas of content in teaching. Above described two massive workshops represent the first phase of piloting when the ABC workshops were carried out in a long version in the middle of the university pedagogy course.


Utilizing the ABC cards as Pedagogical Elements in Elearning tool Infosession with the Academic Development


In the second phase, a lighter version of the ABC workshop was implemented on the same course in the context of introducing the digital tools that the University of Helsinki supports in teaching. In designing the workshop following steps were created (60 min.):

  • Describing the digital tools that the organisation supports in higher education.
  • Presenting the main pedagogical idea of the ABC workshop
  • Note: if in contact teaching, you can provide the cards. If in online teaching, we have provided the cards in a Flinga board and collected ideas there, too.


  • Small group work: Familiarizing with the pedagogical side of the ABC cards. Choosing one digital tool to focus on. Developing participants’ courses with the help of the following guiding questions:
    • Based on your card: How does the tool support the particular learning type on your ABC card? Does it? Why or why not? How would you apply this pedagogical tool in your own teaching to foster the learning type in the card?
    • What does the digital tool enable, in terms of the pedagogy and learning, that would not be possible in contact teaching, i.e. what is the advantage?
    • What kinds of activities would you design with the tool you were given? Describe a few activity types. What does the student do?
  • Concluding discussion: Sharing ideas

For a more full description of the lesson plan, please cf. the Finnish materials package on the ABC LD site.

Further Information


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