Erasmus+ cooperation partnerships develop digital rehabilitation and the pedagogy of digital storytelling 

Experiences Higher education Erasmus+ Erasmus+ for higher education Coronavirus Digitalisation Education development
The DIRENE project coordinated by Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences (Jamk) developed an open online course in digital rehabilitation and formed an understanding of what digital rehabilitation actually is. The LEARN&CHANGE project of Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in turn created a pedagogical model for digital storytelling. 
Projektiryhmä seisoo hymyillen rivissä portaikossa.
The project team of DIRENE convened for a team meeting in Majorca in November 2021.

As a result of the exceptional situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a need to develop different digital solutions to support teaching was identified in the higher education sector. In addition to their utilisation of digitalisation, what the Erasmus+ strategic partnerships DIRENE (“Competences for the new era of user-driven digital rehabilitation”) and LEARN&CHANGE (“Learn to Change - Collaborative Digital Storytelling for Sustainable Change”) have in common is their shared aim to create something permanent and effective to be used in teaching in the higher education institutions.  

Some of the ideas of the projects had already been discussed in the institutions over a longer period of time and the pandemic opened up the opportunity for their development in the form of projects. In 2020, an extra application round for Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships was opened to grant support to projects that developed digitalisation in higher education as part of the EU’s measures for recovering from the COVID-19 crisis. Both projects received funding from this round of funding.   

COVID-19 left millions of people without rehabilitation  

The DIRENE project was created to as a response to the high demand for digital rehabilitation as a result of the restrictive measures caused by the pandemic.

When COVID-19 hit, millions of people were left without rehabilitation because the rehabilitation sector had no expertise in digital solutions, no knowledge of how they could be used in rehabilitation and no tools for doing it. As a result of the COVID-19 restrictions, rehabilitation professionals in Finland and across the world were also deprived of their source of income when they had to cancel customer visits that had already been agreed, says Kaisa Lällä, the project manager of DIRENE.  

DIRENE focused especially on strengthening the competence of bachelor’s students so that new professionals would have better competences for responding to changing situations. However, the main output of the project was a massive open online course (MOOC), which will be used as part of the study units in bachelor’s degrees also after the end of the project.  

The project started by identifying the key competence needs and areas of expertise that a professional needs in order to be able to use digital solutions in their work. In addition, an understanding of the entire phenomenon was formed: digital rehabilitation can mean any digital or technological tool or solution used either by a client or a professional as a part of the rehabilitation process.   

DIRENE has had a significant impact on the development of digital rehabilitation. It has laid the basis for almost all the development of digital rehabilitation carried out at Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences. Many projects at Jamk are based directly on the work conducted in DIRENE. At the moment, there is cooperation, for example, with East Africa, where a great need for the opportunities provided by digital rehabilitation has been identified. The demand for digital rehabilitation is particularly great in areas with a poor availability of services.   

Higher education institutions have room for digital storytelling and other participatory teaching methods

When the COVID-19 pandemic had forced higher education institutions to undertake distance learning, a demand for interesting pedagogical methods and materials aimed at supporting learning arose in educational institutions. People at Haaga-Helia had already understood what kind of opportunities the utilisation of digital storytelling in teaching can provide. The LEARN&CHANGE project opened up an opportunity for more long-term pedagogical development.   

In earlier experiments on digital storytelling, teaching was often linked to the theme of sustainable development. Haaga-Helia had also made the observation that sustainable development as a topic was a very strong source of inspiration for young people. These were important reasons for tying digital storytelling with sustainable development in this project.   

The main output of the LEARN&CHANGE project was a five-step process for digital storytelling:   

  1. Research and understanding the audience 
  2. Planning the concept 
  3. Manuscript and visual storytelling 
  4. Digital production 
  5. Publishing and interaction 

In addition, the project produced a digital toolbox and training modules. The material produced in the project has been compiled on the Learn to Change website, where it is freely available, and the higher education institutions use it in their teaching.   

According to Tanja Vesala-Varttala, the project manager of LEARN&CHANGE, time will soon be ripe for a new pedagogical approach in higher education institutions:

This kind of pedagogical activity seems to be becoming popular. In European conferences, people from across the world have been very interested in what we have to offer.

Young people are frying sausages on an open fire by the sea.
The Loviisa project that was part of the LEARN&CHANGE project promoted awareness of the city's ecologically sustainable services. The students fried vegetarian sausages on a field trip.

The greatest moments of success in the LEARN&CHANGE project were experienced when the competence and skills of students and teachers developed. In the project, students produced stories as videos, podcasts and digital portfolios and reflected on their learning in learning diaries.  

Students’ sustainability competence developed and their capacity for critical reflection progressed amazingly in this project. Students wrote learning diaries in all of the digital storytelling projects of the pilot. The diaries demonstrate in a wonderful way what they learned at the different stages of the digital storytelling process, Vesala-Varttala explains.  

Impact from a strategic need, correctly targeted measures and internationalisation  

The impact of the project and establishing the work as a permanent practice were already an important part of the DIRENE and LEARN&CHANGE projects in the planning stage. From the very beginning, the outputs of both projects were designed to be used on certain courses targeted at degree students. An important factor in disseminating the results of the DIRENE project was also that the key persons of the project were able to introduce the results of the project into practice in their own organisations.   

According to the project manager of the LEARN&CHANGE project, it is sensible to plan the project activities from the perspective of more long-term strategic needs.   

I would encourage everyone who is interested in project activities to think about what you really need as support for your own work. I would begin to consider the matter from the point of view of a more long-term strategic need and goal. All the ideas that I have begun to develop into a project are such that I would try them even without major funding, Vesala-Varttala says.   

International cooperation may provide a broader understanding of the phenomenon that is being developed and diversify expertise in the project. Jamk encouraged to do the project on a large scale and internationally. In the DIRENE project, having a group of experts as multidisciplinary as possible participating in the development work was considered valuable.  

In addition to us, there were partners from four different countries in the project. It gave an entirely different dimension to what we were doing. We were able to examine the same phenomenon in different cultures and operating environments of rehabilitation. We are dealing with very different matters when it comes to what kind of digital capacities societies have. The project opened up this phenomenon a great deal, describes Kaisa Lällä, the project manager of DIRENE.  

Businesses, whose role in combatting climate change must not be underestimated, were also closely involved in the LEARN&CHANGE project.  

Companies and higher education institutions have a lot of power and resources to make a change, and if they joined their forces on a large scale, there would already be a lot of potential for a change. It should start now, it's time to take action, Vesala-Varttala emphasises.   

Competences for the new era of user-driven digital rehabilitation (DIRENE) -project

  • Project type: Erasmus+ strategic partnerships for higher education
  • Project duration: 1.4.2021-31.3.2023
  • Coordinator: Jamk University of Applied Sciences
  • Partners: St. Poelten University of Applied Sciences (Austria), Hochschule für Gesundheit University of Applied Sciences (Germany), University of West Attica (Greece) ja University of the Balearic Islands (Spain)
  • Funding267 565 €

Learn to Change - Collaborative Digital Storytelling for Sustainable Change (LEARN&CHANGE) -project

  • Project type: Erasmus+ strategic partnerships for higher education
  • Project duration: 1.3.2021-28.2.2023
  • Coordinator: Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
  • Partners: Budapest Business School BBS (Hungary), Polytechnic Institute of Castelo Branco IPCB (Portugal), University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, UCT, School of Business (Czech Republic) ja Saxion University of Applied Sciences (The Netherlands)
  • Funding256 979 €