Showcasing technologies ranging from spider silk stretching to VR trips through space and talks from inspiring speakers, the event made it clear that technology is for everyone.
Technology looking for the makers of tomorrow
‘In school, I never saw technology and engineering studies as any kind of option for me. I had the preconceived idea that technology is only about machines. I was more interested in people, so I turned to education studies’, explains Maria Clavert, who has a doctorate in education and is now a professor of practice in sceducation at Aalto University. She has since realised that people and technology are not an either/or proposition. Nor can technology really be developed unless one understands the end user, i.e. the person.
Technology is gaining ground in all fields, and Finland increasingly needs high tech experts who are at the top of their field. At the same time, the value of mathematics and natural science subjects in the eyes of young people has long been in decline. Few are interested in mathematics or physics.
Technology experts will be needed in the future, however, to address the challenges and issues facing society. ‘The pool of experts also needs to become more diverse. We need young people with different backgrounds, views and experiences. I highly recommend technology studies to girls and boys who want to affect the course of global development’, Clavert explains.
In her work, Clavert is involved in influencing the study path decisions of students, from elementary school to university studies, as well as in developing education in the technology fields. Establishing the professorship of practice in technology education was made possible by a donation from Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation. The five-year professorship is located administratively under the Aalto School of Engineering’s Design Factory, a multidisciplinary research and learning environment for product development.
According to PISA studies, Finnish girls are second best in the world in the maths and natural sciences. Despite this, they tend not to apply for technology studies; only a fifth of MSc graduates in engineering are women. ‘As Finland’s largest university of technology, Aalto bears its responsibility for that the potential of these young people does not go untapped. The more multifaceted and diverse the community we have developing the products and services of the future, the better the solutions we will have,’ says development manager Marja Niemi of the Aalto University School of Science.
One way to influence young people is to clear up some common misconceptions. Technology is not studied only for technology’s sake: many different kinds of skills are needed in the field. Teaching in primary school can already influence how young people think about their own possibilities for pursuing studies. Greater understanding about technology education can also be offered to high school teachers on questions such as: How should natural science subjects be presented in the classroom? What are the practical applications of math? What can be achieved with physics?‘
Young people often make choices based on the associations they get from adults concerning different fields. Adults may unwittingly persuade young code crackers and moped tinkerers to enter engineering studies, while steering mathematically gifted girls away from math and towards other alternatives. It is this kind of thinking we are trying to change,’ Clavert explains.
‘We are also trying to raise awareness of what impact technology can have. Technology can provide solutions for almost any formidable challenge in the world. Many young people are conscious agents of change and have the vision and the will to do good things, such as finding ways to rein in climate change,’ reports Niemi.
Teaching beyond borders
To keep Finland’s talent for innovation high, universities must look at their own teaching. Clavert wants to invest in the development of the core courses in Aalto and take full advantage of the opportunities for the multidisciplinarity that the university offers.‘
One goal of my work is to identify best practices for teaching. We already have a number of courses where problem-solving, application of knowledge and crossdisciplinary collaborative teaching is coming together quite nicely. A good example is Sähköpaja (electro-shop), a course that combines entrepreneurialism with user-centeredness’, reports Clavert.
The aim is to bring teachers from different fields together to plan the teaching. Instead of breaking down basic education into narrow areas for courses, the bigger entities can be worked on together, focussing more on the application of practical knowledge.
Inspiring activities for children and young people
Aalto University is raising awareness of its research and education in science and technology in a number of ways. The first-ever Shaking Up Tech event was held in Otaniemi on the International Day of the Girl, 11 October 2018, bringing to campus some 200 female high-schoolers from all over Finland. In 2019 the event was also organised in Lappeenranta and Tampere bringing in about 450 participants altogether. The students seek inspiration and knowledge about technology studies. että tietoa tekniikan opiskelusta.
The event was well-received and served as a pilot for a more extensive project of the university, aimed at encouraging young women to take up technology studies. Shake Up Tech will be a recurring event in the years ahead.
Aalto University Junior, for its part, is bringing technology teaching to the daily lives of children and young people of all ages, through various kinds of courses, clubs, camps and study visits – as a source of inspiration, a support for teaching and for one’s own enjoyment. Aalto University Junior seeks out enquiring minds and fosters the urge to experiment as part of the LUMA Centre Finland network.
Text: Marjukka Puolakka
In the Shaking up Tech event at Aalto University on 11 October 2018, high school students met women who rule the world of technology. Especially the inspirational talks made a strong impression on the students.