Kari Hoppu says that his students are gifted, but also show signs of a short attention span
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Kari Hoppu, a Professor of Business law and Deputy Head of the Department of Accounting. In terms of education, I have a Doctor of Science (Economics and Business Administration), Licentiate of Laws and Master of Laws Trained on the Bench. Extensive training is useful because teaching business law in the School of Business is closely linked to business sciences. I’m also an authorised legal counsellor, so I have the right to represent clients in a court of law. In order to maintain contact with practical business life, I act as legal counsel and handle business law cases in court.
I started as a professor in 2005, first on a fixed-term basis and then permanently since 2009. During 2002–2009, I was also legal secretary for the chancellor of the Helsinki School of Economics. One of my tasks involved presenting all professor appointments to the chancellor.
I began studying in Helsinki School of Economics in 1982 and I‘ve been here ever since, either as a student or as an employee. After graduating from law school, I spent a couple of years as a lawyer in a financing company but I was still a student at the School of Business at that time. In fact, when I started as an assistant in the School of Economics at the beginning of 1988 I intended to complete my studies and then return to business life with a double degree. However, I ended up staying and I’ve been very happy here.
Professor Matti Rudanko, Professor Petri Kuoppamäki, who specialises in competition law, and Assistant Professor of Tax Law Tomi Viitala also work in the business law subject area.
In your opinion, what is good teaching and what are the challenges of teaching?
A teaching style has to suit the teacher’s personality. I think good teaching ability is mostly natural. Teachers are communicators of information whose task is to organise things in an interesting manner so that the target audience understands it. Teaching is a comprehensive performance, not just speaking. A teacher needs charisma. Students won’t listen if the presentation style is dull. This doesn’t mean that we have to turn somersaults, but teachers do have to present their information in an interesting format, for example, by using practical cases. This also inspires discussion. Teaching should be based on research, but it also needs to be sufficiently linked to practical business life. All in all, I think that teaching at the School of Business is at quite a high level right now.
The challenge associated with teaching today is the fact that students don’t read as much as earlier. The hectic nature of the Internet culture also has an impact on our courses. However, it’s impossible to teach law using only cases. At some point, all students have to read the rules of law and this is the challenge facing us today. The fact that students have difficulty observing set schedules is another sign of today’s hectic lifestyle. A student may drop out of a seminar after noticing that it doesn’t fit into their schedule after all. This rarely happened 10 years ago. However, our students are very gifted, so if they are prepared to do the necessary work the end result is excellent.
How have you developed the teaching at Aalto?
I learn from student feedback. This means that I use the feedback as the basis for considering what went well and what could be improved. However, if I don’t change my way of working there is always a good reason and I explain this to the students. It would also be important to get the feedback as soon as a course ends, when l can still remember the course well. Now it only comes later, when I’m already teaching other courses.
Courses have to be updated each year and the pace of change in the current legislation is so intensive that it takes a lot of work to keep up. I also try to change the course topics or emphasise different areas each year in order to keep myself fresh. Trials also provide good practical material for courses.
According to our vision, we are building a sustainable society driven by innovation and entrepreneurship. How is this visible in teaching your subject?
I follow the Aalto strategy closely, and this is also reflected in our teaching. Sustainable development is a central theme in our teaching. With regard to ecological sustainability, various environmental responsibilities have been a prominent part of our courses. We have also developed a separate environmental law course for master’s studies during the next academic year. Social sustainability is a part of nearly all our courses. These issues, which include equality, protection of the weaker party, working conditions and corporate social responsibility, are addressed in contract law, corporate law, employment law and taxation courses.
Entrepreneurship is one of the focus areas in our subject. In the future, the majority of our students will work in an entrepreneurial manner, which means selling their work to several different clients. This will make their legal position very different from that of an employee. They will need to know how to make agreements to sell their work, choose a company form for their activities, as well as understand corporate taxation and social security for entrepreneurs. These are topics that we emphasise in our courses. Our aim in the future is to develop a separate course on entrepreneurial law that is offered to the entire university.
Law courses related to innovations deal with the legal protection of intangible business assets, such as intellectual property rights, trademarks, patents, utility models and network addresses.
Where do you get strength and inspiration for your teaching work?
From the students. It’s a privilege to be able to select the best young people to the School of Business and to teach them. I have also taught a lot in business life, but even in that respect our students are really good at learning and they quickly grasp how to ask the right questions. My deceased father, who was a professor, said that it’s a privilege to work with young people. When I was young, I didn’t really know what he meant but now I understand it very well.
I get my strength from nature. We have a holiday home in Ruka, and I travel there whenever I can. I went there eight times last winter. I have an office there, so I can work normally. Over the years, I’ve gradually switched more to cross country skiing and spend less time on the slopes. I really love to get outside and ski for two or three hours. I stop now and then to admire the beauty of nature and listen to the silence. The down side is that I rarely bother to ski on the crowed trails in Helsinki, although we live right next to them.
We go boating in the summer. A month spent travelling around the Archipelago Sea always gives me enough energy to teach during the academic year. The nature in our archipelago is a great treasure and source of wonder. In particular, the outer archipelago in particular is incredibly rugged but still so beautiful. Finland is a great country with plenty of clean and varied nature for recreation. I hope that we can live in a way that ensures that this opportunity is also available for future generations!
Professor Kari Hoppu has been named Teacher of the Year in the School of Business three times. The winner is selected by the students, and Kari Hoppu received his latest award in 2016.