Staff and Students from AHEH project partners were delighted to visit Finland to take part in a pilot training study trip.  The trip included visits to the Design Factory and Urban Mill at Aalto University as well as the Ship Festival at Kotka.  The Ship Festival is an international festival of entrepreneurship including mentoring support and live pitches to a jury of investors.

The study trip provided many teaching and learning opportunities for staff and students.

PhD Student, Steven Whitehill of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David reflects upon the experience below…

As an Arts graduate, the AHEH Finland trip offered a chance to meet with other Arts and Humanities students both from the UK and partner countries.  It was also a chance to see comparable institutions to my own.  It was interesting to see that, collectively, we all study how to address and solve similar problems in art, design and engineering, but that there are differences in how we do it. At the Design Factory Aalto University, for example, there was a far greater emphasis on cross-discipline working and collaboration.  The facilities and organisational structures are set up explicitly to engender an environment where co-creation and co-operation is the norm – a simple but good example is the central communal kitchen where casual interactions, conversations and meetings can happen spontaneously.  Another example is the prominent open provision of staff photos and contact details with the implicit invitation for staff and students alike to make direct contact; the central aim being to remove as many barriers as possible to solving the problems at hand.

The Ship Festival at Kotka focussed on entrepreneurs and its main event was the ‘pitching competition’.  Spending time listening and watching these gave a good opportunity to see objectively how ideas can be successfully distilled and summarised (or not) so as to be comprehensible to a general audience unfamiliar with their technical details. Seeing a large number in succession provided a chance to really see how the subtleties of presentation and communication skills can make a decisive difference in conveying an idea or persuading an audience.  Visual aspects such as imagery and text on slides, or the style of clothes worn by the presenter can make an important difference, and there is a fine line between attracting attention by standing out, and the audience being distracted and therefore missing the message.  It’s obvious to say that the language used is important – avoiding jargon, acronyms and technical terms is key, but also less obvious aspects such as using emotive or empathetic words and phrases, such as ‘imagine’ or ‘a life half lived’ often seemed to cut through and make more of a direct connection with the audience which is critical given the very short time for each pitch. The idea too, that this style of event and presentation might favour a particular type of person or personality is also worth considering; perhaps more competitive, assertive, confident, dominant or ebullient people do better. Those people who don’t have these qualities might be at a disadvantage despite their ideas being equally worthy.

Aside from the formal programme of the trip, the chance to experience a different city, its people and culture shouldn’t be underestimated in importance. Experiencing a new place in all its richness, is difficult to quantify in terms of measurable tangible benefits, but those benefits are emphatically real; food, architecture, art – all provide reference points for a rich and expansive knowledge base which is critical to developing and nurturing the creative thinking and reasoning skills needed in Arts and Humanities subjects.