To exist, education goes virtual

Irja Jefremoff from Ivalo teaches virtually already 5 years. The programmes she has used are iLink, Moodle and Adobe Connect. Lapland University of Applied Sciences uses iLink and Moodle in virtual courses since 2003

Virtual courses help people and schools in Northern Finland. Irja Jefremoff from Ivalo gives lectures in Sami culture and history.


Lecture about Pechenga areas history begins. I enter the classroom. I say hello to teacher and other students. But this is not an ordinary lecture. These are virtual studies. We say hello in chat and see each other on the computer screen.

The teacher sits in her workroom in Ivalo, Finland. One student sits at home in Tenerife, Spain. I take part to most of the lessons in my kitchen in Murmansk, Russia. Once I enter the classroom with my tablette in a hotel room in Kirkenes, Norway, because I had to travel there that week. Most of the students are in different towns of Lapland, Finland, like Inari, Tornio and Rovaniemi. Some of participants enter the classroom in southern part of Finland: for example town Lohja and village Rautalampi. We have total five lessons and 11 students in this course.

“We wanted to offer courses to all and also to small villages´people. So they can participate and they don´t have to travel hundreds of kilometers. There are economic and ecological reasons,” education planner Anu Uimaniemi from Civic College Revontuli-Opisto says to BarentsObserver.

In many cases people wouldn´t take part at all, if they should travel. To exist and to organize some courses at all, they need to go virtual. 

“Our education center has of course mostly traditional courses. But virtual studies are coming,” Uimaniemi thinks.

The minimum number of students is 5-7 people. If less, the course will not be held. Virtual courses make bigger markets for small and northern education centers. People, including teachers and specialists, can participate from any point of the globe, if they have computer or tablette and an internet.

And they will participate.

“The North is interesting,” Uimaniemi says.

Finnish adult education center Revontuliopisto uses Adobe Connect for virtual course. Here is Sari Pöyhönen from Murmansk with other students all around Finland and also one student from Spain taking part to virtual lecture about Pechenga areas history.

Virtual lecture, which I took part, is a course about Pechenga’s history. It was organized in April and May 2014 by Finnish educational establishment, adult education center Revontuli-Opisto, Northern Lights Civic College. Center includes municipalities of Enontekiö, Kittilä and Sodankylä civic colleges in Northern Finland. They began to organize virtual courses this year, in 2014. The Pechenga-course is their third virtual course. The other themes have been Spanish language and Genealogy.

“Civic colleges of Finland are not using virtual courses very much yet. But there has been long time virtual education in Lapland and Finland in comprehensive schools, in universities and other educational establishments like Sámi Education Institute in Inari,” Uimaniemi tells.

“Maybe Northern Finland is ahead of other parts of Finland in virtual education, because we have long distances between the towns and villages. Our civic college offices are far away from each other. From Enontekiö to Sodankylä it is about 300 kilometers,” Uimaniemi explains.

She is based in Sodankylä office. The head administration is in Kittilä. They use the same program not only for the lessons, but also for virtual meetings between the administration offices.

Virtual lessons make it possible to have more courses and more choice in educational program. For many students it is easy: they can stay at home but still listen to the lecturer online.

“I live 110 kilometers from Ivalo, in small Angeli village at the border of Finland and Norway. Virtual studies save my money and time from travelling,” says Kaija Tolonen, a student of Pechengas history.

“Virtual studies can make courses available for more students. It is doesn´t matter where you live,” Sirkka Nissi-Onnela from Lohja, Southern Finland says.

“Virtual lessons are pleasant. I can study and take part to a lecture wearing only pyjamas and having my hair rollers on,” says Merja Kotavuopio-Bossert from Tenerife.

Kotavuopio-Bossert wanted to know more about Pechenga areas history, because she has relatives from there. Her father-in-law was born in Pechenga and they visited there. She also studies Spanish virtually.

All of the students love and praise the virtual studies. One of my friends Katja Hietala from Kemi, Northern Finland fell in love with them:

This is my second year of virtual studies. I´ve studied Russian language for two years now and this year was first for German language.

But there are also negative sides.

“Virtual studying demands a lot more activeness from a student compared to the traditional studies,” Katja Hietala from Kemi thinks.

“You don´t get the same interaction with the teacher and other student in virtual course, than in traditional course and in a physical classroom. I think that kind of contact is important,” Lauri Ruotanen from Rautalampi, Southern Finland says. 

“You can´t change all the courses into the virtual lessons, but it is good to complete possibilities,” Kaija Tolonen thinks.

In northern Finland, in small village schools some lessons are held in the virtual basis. Already during many years, Finnish universities like Oulu and Lapland Universities and Lapland University of applied sciences use the newest techniques.

There are many programs to choose from. Northern Lights Civic College uses Adobe Connection. Other possibilities could be for example iLink and Moodle.

One virtual lecture about Pechenga history takes about 3,5 hours. In between students have a 15-20 minutes break. You are at home, so you can do homeworks, take care of your children, or for example have some air and take a walk at your yard. Irja Jefremoff likes to watch the birdlife and other animals visiting her yard in Ivalo.

“The programs differ a bit from each other. Every program does not have a bank for material. So student can´t go to take it there. The teacher needs to send it by e-mail, teacher of many virtual courses,” Irja Jefremoff from Ivalo says.

The program of Pechenga course seems and works almost like Skype. There can be maximum 99 students. The administrator sends the student link and password. Student downloads the program, gets in to the virtual classroom and sees the teacher, other students (if they want to show their faces in video) and the material like text and pictures. Teacher speaks, and student can comment and ask. You can do it by chat or by microphone. If you have other plans for that evening, the session can be recorded.

“Best thing is that virtual studying is not bound by time and place as traditional studying is. If you can´t attend some lecture as scheduled, you can listen it later,” Katja Hietala from Kemi says.

Good way to study and connect in far and a long distance area like Barents region.