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International CEPHEI project aims to build an e-learning platform that follows progress and tests knowledge

Universities face the constant challenge of providing up-to-date education that is also relevant to the world of work. For example Finnish companies need not only technical expertise acquired through academic studies, but also soft skills, such as interaction and teamwork skills, skills in remote and digital work, and an ability to learn new things, from their managers. All of these learning experiences are not necessarily provided in each study programme.

This was the one of the facts revealed from the survey regarding industry needs in Finland, made for the initial analysis of the CEPHEI project. This three-year project, headed by the Lappeenranta University of Technology School of Engineering Science and co-financed by the EU ERASMUS+ aims to create a new, easy to use and easily updatable online platform. The platform would offer educational contents based on the needs of industry.

"The openness of the platform is its biggest selling point", explains Project Coordinator, professor Leonid Chechurin.

"It, as well as its usability, make various factors possible, such as breaking the "traditional" "teacher-student" teaching duet. When businesses are part of this trinity, it gives them an opportunity for dialogue with students, create innovations and even finding experts and employees, suitable to their needs," says Chechurin.

Businesses can outsource their problems and have students solve them in e.g. hackathons.

"Studying becomes meaningful when its contents are based on real-life problems. In addition, this enables students to learn highly necessary interaction and digital skills."

CEPHEI is short for Cooperative E-learning Platform for Higher Education in Industrial Innovation. The name also roots from VV Cephei, third-biggest star known to man.

Digital learning provides teachers with data

The courses on the Cephei platform are, as a rule, digital. The materials should be also viewable on a mobile phone screen, which means that special attention must be paid to their visual layout and clarity.

"E-learning has previously consisted mainly of the dissemination of lecture notes and video recordings. We now aim much higher," outlines Chechurin.

The studies are based on genuine technology-mediated interaction. Different computer games, chats and feedback sessions between lectures create an experience of participative learning. As an example, Chechurin mentions the micro-teaching smart phone applications, which makes learning languages game-like and gives immediate feedback.

"Students become more motivated to complete courses when studying in game-based environment where they can track their process. But the most important motivator is understanding that the contents of the education are highly relevant for industrial needs and businesses."

For teachers, the online learning platform gives data presented as learning analytics, which can be utilised to develop teaching.

"Also teachers and professors must have an online presence. If you do not have an digital profile, you simply don't exist in the modern world," Chechurin points out.

Digitalisation strategy put to practice

In the CEPHEI project, nine universities from a total of six countries collaborate to achieve the target. The target is to use the e-learning platform to exchange teaching and courses between universities. Next, the platform will be developed further and the digital formulation of different courses and teaching will be made more coherent.

"The standards of the partner universities differ," explains Project Manager Iuliia Shnai.

The project will also require digitised material. Chechurin and Shnai, who is also a doctoral student, hope that LUT's teaching staff will embrace the experiment. Mere interest in e-learning is enough – unfamiliarity with technology applications is no obstacle.

"A wide range of user-friendly applications are available free of charge. We can create lecture material with little resources at the start. However, now when we aim to improve the quality of the content, good equipment and software are essential." states Shnai.

The project welcomes especially technology-driven industrial partners to help create educational contents.

"The overall goal is to engage at least a hundred partners from the industrial and corporate world. Hopefully we will soon be able to present them a demo of the future platform," Shnai says.