We're Just Getting Started: A New Collaboration for Students of Finnish
The University of Minnesota is one of only a handful of universities in the country to offer courses in Finnish. University students can take up to six semesters of Finnish language study—all taught by senior lecturer Daniel Karvonen—with the support of a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) from Finland. In the past, Karvonen, who also teaches a linguistics course each semester, was unable to offer classes related to Finland’s culture, history, or literature. This left his students with few on-campus options for deepening their Finnish studies until a new partnership with the University of Wisconsin, Madison offered new opportunities for students from both institutions.
Karvonen, who specializes in the language side of Finnish, has teamed up with University of Wisconsin, Madison professor Tom DuBois, who specializes in Finnish culture. Together, they are able to offer their students a wider variety of courses and also reach more students who are interested in the subjects they teach.
Karvonen describes it as “the idea of using the person who is an expert in a topic and having them spread it out far and wide, so each person isn’t trying to do everything—they’re doing what they do best and then sharing it with other people.” Students at both universities are thrilled about the new, wider availability of courses being offered. “It’s been great for the students because otherwise they weren’t getting very much of this content, and now they get it from someone who is really an expert,” Karvonen says.
This fall, one of DuBois’ language students connected to Karvonen's classroom to take an intermediate Finnish course not offered in Madison. Students from Madison also enrolled in a special course on Finland’s history (taught entirely in Finnish for students with at least two years’ worth of language study) that was being offered at the University of Minnesota in spring 2015 by Matti Jutila, who taught in the political science department through the Government of Finland/David and Nancy Speer Visiting Professorship.
In spring 2014, University of Minnesota students were able to take DuBois' course on Sámi culture, which was also shared with the Ohio State University, and a course on the Finnish epic Kalevala the following year. In spring 2016, DuBois even taught from the Twin Cities campus for a week, connecting to his students back in Wisconsin via the CourseShare system.
CourseShare is a collaborative framework among Big Ten universities that allows them to offer classes to students at other schools within the network. Using the video conferencing software WebEx (similar to Skype), the instructors are able to virtually connect their classrooms to other institutions. Students are able to ask questions and fully interact with students in the sister classroom as if they were actually there.
Karvonen envisions utilizing this technology to create a virtual Finnish department that stretches across the country. It would take advantage of the talent and expertise harbored in each university’s Finnish program, enriching the courses available to students from each school and connecting instructors with students who are passionate about Finnish studies.