Peer group online versus classroom meetings – experiences from Finland

The spring 2020 was exceptional due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, the Finnish government ordered most educational institutions to transfer from normal classroom teaching to online teaching in a very short timeline. The EME project group and the peer group tutors decided to organize online EME peer group meetings in Tampere.

Online peer group tutoring for vocational students

Tampere Adult Education Centre TAKK already had positive experiences from online teaching in integration training courses. The peer group at TAKK consisted of students studying Home Help, Cleaning and Medical Equipment Maintenance. The group is going to qualify for one of these fields within one year.

The peer group tutors were motivated and willing to start online tutoring although they didn´t have much experience in it. After some technical challenges the meetings succeeded rather well. The online platform Teams was familiar to the students as it was already used to study vocational topics online at TAKK.

There were altogether 14 students online, and even more would have been interested in joining. However, to enable the sharing of one´s experiences about working life and learning from others, it wasn´t possible to recruit more students.

Altogether there were 9 meetings: 5 online tutoring and 4 face-to-face meetings (after 1st June 2020 it was again allowed in Finland).

Technical challenges and possibilities

  • Technical difficulties took at times a lot of time to solve.
  • Some exercises worked better if they were given as homework beforehand so that the participants had time to prepare. Even then, some exercises took double the time compared to a classroom setting.
  • Google Forms worked well especially for inquiries and reading comprehension exercises.
  • There are lots of useful YouTube videos about practical workplace learning for various occupations. They can also be used to teach everyday occupational and professional language. 
  • Creating smaller sub-groups was easy and worked well in Teams. In general, working in sub-groups might be more comfortable and it is easier to encourage people to talk and share their opinions and experiences in a smaller group.

Tutors’ and participants’ experiences

  • Tutors were unsure whether the participants understood what they were asked to do each time – they might have felt ashamed to ask the tutor to repeat the instructions multiple times.
  • Tutoring online was a good opportunity for the tutors to learn new methods and test various kinds of exercises to see which of them are adjustable for online purposes. 
  • Tutors needed to allocate more time both in planning the program of the meetings and implementing the exercises online than in a classroom setting.
  • Tutors felt it was difficult to get feedback from the participants. It was possible to discuss together or write in the chat but it wasn´t very convenient.
  • Tutors commented that without uninterrupted video connection it was rather difficult to get to know the participants: who they were, what their expectations, skills and needs were in relation to Finnish language skills and peer group working.

All in all, it took three online meetings before the tutors got a clearer picture of the participants. In June 2020 as they got together in a classroom for the first time at TAKK, the tutors felt that there was a whole new group in front of them and that they needed to start over again. On the other hand, it was useful for the whole group to compare their experiences in a mixed course consisting of online and face-to-face meetings. 

To summarize the course, most of the participants thought some of the themes can be tutored online but most of them can be learnt more efficiently if you can ask and react spontaneously in traditional classroom tutoring. In the future, the tutors would like to plan peer group meetings consisting of both online and face-to-face meetings.

From face-to-face actions to online coaching for rehabilitative work actions customers

Comparing online and classroom experiences

Comparing online and classroom experiences

At Silta-Valmennus Association the EME peer group was conducted for rehabilitative work actions customers. The EME peer group met three times in a classroom until the face-to-face activities were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the online group meetings started, most participants (6 of 9) joined.

Technical challenges and possibilities

  • Already before the pandemic, the group had formed a WhatsApp group, so this tool could be used flexibly in the online coaching. Assignments were given through the application as links, pictures, voice messages and text messages.
  • The tutors planned the schedule and content for the online group meetings beforehand and were also in tight collaboration about the division of work and scheduling during these meetings. 
  • A squad consisting of one tutor and three participants would call 1-2 video calls during the online group meetings. Everyone could see each other while the discussion was going on. The group calls created a good interactional addition to fill in the lack of face-to-face interaction. Also, individual guidance could be managed through the video calls.

Tutors’ and participants’ experiences

  • Starting the online coaching was made easier by the fact that the participants and tutors already knew each other. They had done exercises of recognizing skills together so these themes could be successfully deepened and utilized during the online coaching.
  • Tutoring online group meetings was intense in a new way and much more tutor-guided compared to the face-to-face group meeting. In the online group there was no possibility to utilize the topics and phenomena arising from the face-to-face interaction. 
  • In face-to-face group meetings there were some especially talkative participants. Sometimes the tutor had to limit their input to allow other participants to also have a say. Since it was possible in the online coaching to dispense turns for speaking more equally no one could dominate the group discussion. Small group video calls allowed everyone to voice their own opinion and take part in the discussion more equally. 
  • The differences in language proficiency were clearly visible during the online coaching. Two participants had a poor knowledge of Finnish and they were often given extra guidance to finish the tasks. Despite the extra guidance, tutors were sometimes worried whether these participants understood the assignment and how much they learned from it.
  • Planning the online group program, preparing it and utilizing the digital tools for enabling it took more time compared to planning face-to face group meetings. Even still there were situations where the links would not work as expected.

Face-to-face peer group meeting
Meeting face-to-face again
At the end of the day, the online group meetings went very well and the feedback was rather good. Participating from home was made very easy and only required a smart phone and the WhatsApp application. The attendance during the online coaching group was 100 %.

Tarja Liljeroos, Tampere Adult Education Centre (TAKK)
Katri Mäkinen, Silta-Valmennus Association