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.
kristiina.helenius@formin.fi

Adjunct professor Marja Kankaanranta
Agora Center & Institute for Educational Research
University of Jyväskylä
Marja.Kankaanranta@ktl.jyu.fi

Researcher Elina Hämäläinen
Institute for Educational Research
University of Jyväskylä
elina.hamalainen@jyu.fi

Project Finland: www.projectfinland.org/


Previously published Articles of the Month:

2002-09 School in the Grips of Change - Media Education in Finland
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=8534

2002-10 Finns Work for e-Accessibility
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=8962

2002-11 The Finnish Model of Information Society
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=9989

2002-12 ”Silicon Valley is more than a place, its a state of mind”
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=10716

2003-01 Data Security Challenges
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=11199

2003-02 Lifelong Education in Upper Secondary Distance Learning Schools and Virtual Networks
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=12244

2003-03 Finnish Lapland - More than Meets the Eye
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=13208

2003-04 A Renewed Policy to Promote Innovation
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=13545

2003-05 ICT Standardization in Europe and Globally – CEN/ISSS’s Role
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=14315

2003-06 Public-Private-Partnership Works Well in Finland
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=15229

2003-07 Information Technology in Nicaragua - Finland Offers a Helping Hand
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=15848

2003-08 Victory Development Partnership Project - Personal and Virtual Rehabilitation for IT Employment
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=16924

2003-09 Young People and Wireless Future
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=18041

2003-10 Video Message Transmits Sign Language
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=17911

2003-11 Combatting Spam Requires Global Co-Operation
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=18707

2003-12 Saving the Earth from Anarchy by Eliminating the Weakest Link
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=19243

2004-01-01 Information Society Models and the New Everyday Life
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=19717

2004-02-01 Quo vadis, Finnish Virtual University?
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=20501

2004-03-01 The Finnish Virtual University: Connections with the Bologna Process?
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=21702

2004-04-01 "Look What I Say" - Unique Solution Enables Face-to-Face Communication for Speech Impaired
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=22694

2004-05-01 Changes to Copyright Law Heavily Debated
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=23338

2004-06-01 Finnish and Italian Technology in the Global Environment of the European Union: a Comparison of ICT Strategies in Education
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=24566

2004-07-01 A New Law Designed to Improve Data Protection in Electronic Communications
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2004-08-01 The Etno.Net Website for Practicing and Aspiring Folk Musicians Includes Recordings and Learning Material Packages
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2004-09-01 Status of Wireless Service Business Today
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2004-10-01 People Over Fifty in Finland as Users of Internet
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=28452

2004-11-01 Preparing for Mobile Phone Viruses
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2004-12-01 Distributed and Virtual Learning in Finland
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=30467

2005-01-01 Online Public Services for the Benefit of Citizens
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=31283

2005-02-01 Public-Private Partnership in Developing Information Society Skills
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=32623

2005-03-01 Finland Shows Example in Localization
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=33638


2005-04-01 The Individuals´ Awareness of the Right to Privacy
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=34385

2005-05-01 Children and the Internet – Towards a Balanced Concern
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=36130


2005-06-01 The Mobile Revolution: What's the Message?
e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=37305

2005-07-01 The Revolutionary Morfessor Method – Computer Learns Word Structure on Its Own
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=38559

2005-08-01 Switching from Analogue to Digital TV - All for the Benefit of the Consumer?
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=39404

2005-09-01 Computer Driving Licence to the Rescue!
www.e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=40488


2005-10-01 Innovative Pedagogical Practices in Technology-Enhanced Education – Finnish Perspective
e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=41844

2005-11-01 Reading with eBooks
e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=43197

2005-12-01 Electronic Invoicing Clauses in Finland and Elsewhere
e.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=44548

More information
http://www.projectfinland.org/
kristiina.helenius@formin.fi
Marja.Kankaanranta@ktl.jyu.fi
elina.hamalainen@jyu.fi