Designing Digital Higher Education: Case Aalto Online
Tomi Kauppinen 1 , Yulia Guseva 1 , Sara Gottshalk 1 , Lauri Malmi 1
1 Aalto
Online Learning, Aalto University, Finland,
Online Learning, Blended Learning, Higher Education, Case Study, Learning Experience

1. Summary
In this paper we report about a model and experiences in designing digital higher education. Our case
is Aalto Online Learning—an Aalto University wide strategic initiative for educational development.
Since the kickstart in year 2016 our activities have been to create online and blended learning
experience designs, related learning materials and media, and as its foremost ambition to transform
and improve educational setting and structures of the university and beyond. Instead of starting from
a single platform or technology with all of its constraints, Aalto Online Learning starts from ideas to
improve learning, and selects or develops a design to bring the idea to reality in an agile and
collaborative activity. We have evaluated the whole process—from the call for idea proposals to
funding, design, development and dissemination at courses—via nine consecutive rounds from early
2016 to early 2020. To overcome identified challenges in each round we have clarified the model,
introduced new training and production approaches, and identified and ran online learning theme
groups and development actions of needed tooling and platforms. The model has been used to identify
learning improvement ideas and to develop them to solutions for over 200 courses at Aalto University.

2. Learning to co-create in collaboration with peers
Students seek for digital materials and tools to support them learning in a lifelong learning fashion
where they can easily access contents both within courses and beyond. At the same time educators at
universities and trainers in companies wish to learn how to create those contents, and use tools and
platforms to edit and share them. The problem our society is facing is thus two-fold: 1) how to train
the educators/trainers and also 2) how to help learners to learn to learn. We argue that it is necessary
to substantially design digital higher education and understand what range of approaches are there to
use and employ, and share training models and learning experience designs widely for others to learn
from. In this paper we aim to do exactly that, and to improve learning at scale.
Figure 1 shows an overview of different approaches we have identified as learning related activities
in Aalto Online Learning, the case study for this paper. For instance, there are a number of ways to
represent information and knowledge for learners. However, for instance the production of
professional videos requires a model to be followed. A video production model should include training,
pre-production, recording, post-production and sharing (Guseva and Kauppinen, 2018).
Similar designs are needed for all different categories, for student inquiry, knowledge testing,
knowledge application, reflection/documentation and feedback. Sometimes they can also be
creatively combined, like in the case of the dynamic and visual self-assessment tool (see Kivimäki et
al., 2018) or playable concepts (Kultima et al., 2020). In this paper we also report about the course
design formats, assessment types and ways for automating course tasks and activities.

Our conclusion is that it is vital to identify the range of online approaches and systematically provide
learning experience designs to all of them, and to create a community and network of practice to use
those designs. In the case of Aalto Online Learning and its over 200 pilots 1 the range is quite full, from
virtual reality to online textbooks and automatic assessment and from educational videos to serious
games, or from online social interaction to location-based storytelling with augmented reality.

Figure 1 What kind of activities should support learners online, and improve learning?

Guseva, Y. and Kauppinen, T. (2018). Learning in the Era of Online Videos: How to Improve
Teachers' Competencies of Producing Educational Videos. In proceedings of the 4th International
Conference on Higher Education Advances (HEAd'18), Valencia, Spain.
Kivimäki, V. Pesonen, J., Romanoff, J., Remes, H. and Kauppinen, T. (2018). Supporting
understanding of students' learning via visual self-assessment. In Proceedings of EUNIS 2018 -
Coming of Age in the Digital World, Paris, France.
Kultima, A., Lassheikki, C., Park, S. and Kauppinen, T. (2020). Playable Concepts: Exploring
Embedded Games for Education, Communication and Illustration. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2020
conference, the Digital Games Research Association, Tampere, Finland. (in press)
Kauppinen, T. and Malmi, L. (2017). Aalto Online Learning - a pathway to reforming education at the
Aalto University. In Proceedings of EUNIS 23rd Annual Congress (EUNIS2017) - Shaping the Digital
Future of Universities, Münster, Germany.


Tomi Kauppinen is a project leader and docent at the Aalto University School
of Science in Finland. He holds a habilitation (2014) in geoinformatics from
the University of Muenster in Germany, and a title of docent (2014) and a
Ph.D. (2010) in media technology from the Aalto University, and M.Sc. (2004)
in computer science from the University of Helsinki. From April 2014 to
September 2014 he was appointed as the Cognitive Systems Substitute
Professor at the University of Bremen in Germany, and since 2015 he is a
Privatdozent in geoinformatics at the University of Muenster. His passion is to
create, study and teach information visualization, spatial thinking, cognitive
systems/artificial intelligence & blended learning design. Since 2016 Tomi is the project lead of the
Aalto University wide strategic development initiative, Aalto Online Learning, which covers activities
ranging from blended learning to fully online textbooks and exercices, and from video production to
online social interaction, from artificial intelligence- based recommendations and assessment to
interactive visual simulations, and from augmented/virtual reality to games and gamification. Tomi
hosts the podcast. Contact:

Yulia Guseva is an online course producer at Aalto University. Yulia leads the
video production theme group of Aalto Online Learning to advance and offer
training and productions for our educators. Yulia holds a Master of Science in
Economics and Business Administration from Universite Paris 12 - Val de
Marney. Contact:

Sara Gottschalk is a Learning Experience Designer at Aalto University and a
Junior Consultant at Leapfrog Projects. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in
Digital Media / Interactive Media Design from University of Applied Sciences
Darmstadt, and a Master of Arts degree in Collaborative and Industrial Design,
with a minor in Creative Sustainability, from Aalto University. Sara is passionate
about understanding human nature and applying the insights she finds into her
design and project management work. With study and work experience from
Germany, USA, Morocco, Kenya, Uganda and Finland, she is keen on utilising
design and technology as tools for contributing to the sustainable development
of our societies, as well as empowering people to make use of their highest
potential. Topics that sometimes keep her awake at night revolve around
learning, behaviour and systems change, and social and environmental impact.


Lauri Malmi a professor of computer science at Aalto University. His main
research area is computing education research, where he is leading Learning +
Technology research group (LeTech). The main focus of the group has been
development and evaluation of advanced learning environments and learning
tools for programming education, e.g., tools for automatic assessment and
feedback, and program and algorithm simulation and visualization. Malmi’s
additional research interests include as well as use of gamified approaches and
educational technologies to support the teaching and learning process.
Malmi has been leading the national Center of Excellence in Education at Helsinki
University of Technology in 2001-2006. He has chaired Koli Calling, international
conference in computing education research in 2004 and 2008, and he is a
frequent PC member in several other computing education research
conferences. He is a member of the editorial board in IEEE Transactions of
Learning Technologies, ACM Inroads and Informatics in Education. He is also a board member of SEFI
Engineering Education Research working group and Nordic Network in Engineering Education. He has
been leading several international doctoral consortia in computing education research and he has
continuous interest in improving research training in computing and engineering education research.

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