Finnish Cyber Diplomacy with a Child’s View

Article of the month

Helsinki, 1 January, 2006 — Finnish Cyber Diplomacy with a Child’s View

Foreign services around the world target decision-makers in their respective host countries when they set out to reach the goal of relation-building. Political diplomacy focuses on exchange, legislature, business and consular services. Public diplomacy aims at promoting a country's interests through culture, media and entertainment. Children, however, have not traditionally been a target of either type of diplomatic effort. No more!

Though the recent phenomenon of transparency through Web sites has presented the work of diplomats to larger audiences, even Web contents are not meant for or designed with children in mind. Yet children are important decision-makers, which advertisers have know full and well for a long time. Children have access to varied forms of information and technology, and they heavily influence family choices.

Project Finland: Making a Difference

Some years ago, the media office at the Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C. saw the potential and possibilities of investing time and effort on children as a novel target group for building relations and international understanding. This was the beginning of Project Finland, a fun and interactive Web site designed with middle school-aged Americans in mind.

The launch of the site was highly successful. In fact, the White House and the U.S. Ministry for Education endorse the site, and the media, including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, raved about the exciting and innovative teaching tool. Project Finland won two international awards and has proved transferability by having already been translated into German and Japanese.

The main goal of Project Finland is to help create aware, competent and responsible global citizens. A more general aim of the site is to educate and inform children about Finland, its nature, culture and social life, and to invite them to compare the similarities and differences between the countries. Project Finland is not just a window to Finland but to the world outside U.S. borders as well.

The development of quality learning tools for children necessitates a multi-disciplinary perspective in various phases of design. From its inception, the development of the Project Finland Web site has been an inspiring collaborative effort shared by the Finnish Embassy and WallflowerMedia, a web design company based in New York City.

Their effort is well described by designer Stephanie Owens: “The more we read and learned about Finnish environmental policy and civic rights, the more we realized that what is missing from many sites targeting young U.S. kids is a way for them to engage with their world and family in a way that was not primarily market driven.”

In the fall of 2004, the collaborative group - consisting of the designer and press counselor Kristiina Helenius, who created the content - was expanded to include a Finnish research group that focused on the user-centered design of game-based learning environments.

The design of Project Finland can be characterized as a user-centered participatory process. First, the project idea began as an attempt to find effective ways to reach young audiences to share information about Finland. But not just any information. The authors wanted to engage the children intellectually by looking for solutions in cutting-edge fields such as high technology, bioenergy, water, the education system and physical fitness. Secondly, the user-centered design process means that feedback and the user experiences of children and teachers have been gathered by utilizing multiple methods (e.g. usability analysis, embedded feedback, interviews, observation). The collected data has provided valuable insights for further development of the user-interface and contents of the Web site.

User Experiences

The quality and effectiveness of a learning technology, such as the Project Finland Web site, can best be evaluated by capturing user experiences and by evaluating its impact on learning and success regarding issues of sustainability and transferability, and in addition, from the received recognition of its meaning.

In the Educator’s Corner section of the site, 603 people answered a feedback questionnaire during 2004. Respondents were teachers (23%), students (14%), teacher aides (4%), librarians (5%) and people representing other parties (54%). Altogether, 77 percent of the people from school environments worked in public schools. The most general use of the site was to study geography and world politics, as reported by 45 percent of the respondents.

In the spring of 2005, a pilot study was conducted in Finland regarding the use of Project Finland as part of school curriculum. The study involved four Finnish teachers and 57 students 12-13 years old. Teachers expressed that Project Finland could also be utilized in Finnish schools to support learning in different subjects (e.g. biology, geography) and in English studies. Students disclosed that they learned mostly English, but also learned facts about Finland and made interesting comparisons between the United States and Finland. They expressed that the quiz and the text helped their learning most. They also admitted that collecting badges and Moomin videos were very motivating. Teachers thought that Project Finland could be developed as a meeting place for students and teachers from Finland, the United States and other countries. They believed that Project Finland could help make dynamic connections between schools, teachers and students.

In autumn 2005, three schools participated in a pilot study in Washington D.C. Participating students had no previous knowledge of Finland, but even after only a half an hour of interaction with the Project Finland Web site, they reported learning some interesting facts. These brief experiences indicated that students could learn facts about Finland in a fun and motivating way. In addition, the teachers and students provided many insightful ideas for future development.

The pilot studies will be continued in the near future with more in-depth analysis of the effects of Project Finland on learning. However, we are already convinced of its capability to guide children in becoming users of technology in a natural and child-friendly way. We believe the site’s educational power comes from its motivational and enchanting way of engaging children.

Press Counselor Kristiina Helenius
Embassy of Finland
Washington, D.C.

Adjunct professor Marja Kankaanranta
Agora Center & Institute for Educational Research
University of Jyväskylä

Researcher Elina Hämäläinen
Institute for Educational Research
University of Jyväskylä

Project Finland:

Previously published Articles of the Month:

2002-09 School in the Grips of Change - Media Education in Finland

2002-10 Finns Work for e-Accessibility

2002-11 The Finnish Model of Information Society

2002-12 ”Silicon Valley is more than a place, its a state of mind”

2003-01 Data Security Challenges

2003-02 Lifelong Education in Upper Secondary Distance Learning Schools and Virtual Networks

2003-03 Finnish Lapland - More than Meets the Eye

2003-04 A Renewed Policy to Promote Innovation

2003-05 ICT Standardization in Europe and Globally – CEN/ISSS’s Role

2003-06 Public-Private-Partnership Works Well in Finland

2003-07 Information Technology in Nicaragua - Finland Offers a Helping Hand

2003-08 Victory Development Partnership Project - Personal and Virtual Rehabilitation for IT Employment

2003-09 Young People and Wireless Future

2003-10 Video Message Transmits Sign Language

2003-11 Combatting Spam Requires Global Co-Operation

2003-12 Saving the Earth from Anarchy by Eliminating the Weakest Link

2004-01-01 Information Society Models and the New Everyday Life

2004-02-01 Quo vadis, Finnish Virtual University?

2004-03-01 The Finnish Virtual University: Connections with the Bologna Process?

2004-04-01 "Look What I Say" - Unique Solution Enables Face-to-Face Communication for Speech Impaired

2004-05-01 Changes to Copyright Law Heavily Debated

2004-06-01 Finnish and Italian Technology in the Global Environment of the European Union: a Comparison of ICT Strategies in Education

2004-07-01 A New Law Designed to Improve Data Protection in Electronic Communications

2004-08-01 The Etno.Net Website for Practicing and Aspiring Folk Musicians Includes Recordings and Learning Material Packages

2004-09-01 Status of Wireless Service Business Today

2004-10-01 People Over Fifty in Finland as Users of Internet

2004-11-01 Preparing for Mobile Phone Viruses

2004-12-01 Distributed and Virtual Learning in Finland

2005-01-01 Online Public Services for the Benefit of Citizens

2005-02-01 Public-Private Partnership in Developing Information Society Skills

2005-03-01 Finland Shows Example in Localization

2005-04-01 The Individuals´ Awareness of the Right to Privacy

2005-05-01 Children and the Internet – Towards a Balanced Concern

2005-06-01 The Mobile Revolution: What's the Message?

2005-07-01 The Revolutionary Morfessor Method – Computer Learns Word Structure on Its Own

2005-08-01 Switching from Analogue to Digital TV - All for the Benefit of the Consumer?

2005-09-01 Computer Driving Licence to the Rescue!

2005-10-01 Innovative Pedagogical Practices in Technology-Enhanced Education – Finnish Perspective

2005-11-01 Reading with eBooks

2005-12-01 Electronic Invoicing Clauses in Finland and Elsewhere

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