Diverse Talent Workshop Can Enhance Dialogical Skills and Ethical Competence in Higher Education

Teksti | Riikka Mulder , Manne Pyykkö , Leena Kuosmanen

Laurea University of Applied Sciences is a Finnish Higher Education Institute (HE), comprising of about 10 000 students from over seventy different countries. In other words, Laurea has an enormous pool of Finnish and international talents, who can share their knowledge and experiences using dialogical skills.

illustration, students.
Photo by Jarko Hänninen

Diversity competence is a concept related to cultural sensitivity that refers to the willingness, ability and sensitivity required to understand people with diverse backgrounds. (Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare 2023. )

The Diverse Talent Workshops (DTW) were organized as a pilot for Degree Programme of Social Services students and the Degree Programme of Nursing students at Laurea Tikkurila in 2023 that have English as tuition language. The aim of the workshop was to improve dialogical skills and cultural competence in a diverse studying and working environment. In other words, how could we share expertise and what to learn from students. There were 110 students who participated the workshops in classrooms. The workshop is in the line and supporting the aims of the Pedagogical Programme 2023-2025 of Laurea. The authors of this article are specialists in Laurea’s Student Wellbeing Team.

The topics of the two-hour workshop

  1. Orientation: Dialogical Skills
  2. Lecture: Nursing: Cultural Competence Steps or Social Services: Psychology of Diversity
  3. Activity in teams: Discuss and share findings on Laurea’s Ethical Guidelines and A Safer Space
  4. Free Word Anonymous. Students writing their comment or a question on a piece of paper.
  5. Panel Discussion

With the help from DTW, we aim to remind students of their rights in Finland. The Non-discrimination Act (1325/2014) entered into force at the beginning of 2015 and its purpose is to promote equality and prevent discrimination as well as to enhance the protection provided by law to those who have been discriminated against. (Ministry of Justistice Finland N.D.)

The Key Findings on the Workshop

In the end of the Diverse Talent Workshop sessions, anonymous feedback was collected from 110 students on a paper about the workshop content, ideas that they wanted to share with us and their fellow students as well as ask questions. We answered most of the questions raised with the feedback in the end of the workshop session and some questions were taken forward for appropriate person in Laurea. From the feedback raised five themes, which are presented below.

In general, we learned from the students, that this workshop developed the feeling of belongingness and team skills in the class. They gained professional attention from us and felt they were heard, hence there was time to share experiences and view them from different perspectives in the given context. According to the feedback, the experience on learning at HE is polarized into positive and negative perspectives, there area students who are content and students who are struggling with their studies and living. There are some critical spots in the beginning and during the education. Furthermore, the focus is that the workshop should be targeted for the first-year students, because both students and workplaces are missing vital knowledge on ethical skills in a diverse community. During the pilot, most third-year students are conducting their work placements and graduating at different paces. And, therefore, they are unable to participate the workshop.

Adaptation to Higher Education and the Starting Level Competence

Social inclusion promotes wellbeing and reduces exclusion and inequality. Discrimination at different levels of society hampers the integration of immigrants. Discrimination also prevents other linguistic and cultural minorities from being included in society and enjoying equality. (Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, 2023)

Some students have been studying in Finland for years, so they know the Finnish system better than the students who are new to the Finnish higher education system. Some students also have a long time since their prior studies and for some, this is the first higher education.

The starting level competences such as students’ professional skills, academic skills and the language skills in English and Finnish vary.

According to the feedback, studying and time management is balancing between studies and other life, are polarized. In most feedbacks, the work and family, was seen positive and manageable. In the other hand, balancing time between studying, supporting family, and economic issues are mentioned negative. Some of the students’ experienced heavy workload and the above-mentioned factors accumulated on the shoulders of some students.

Laurea Wellbeing Services are free of charge services and included in the studies. The services are for students who need support in academic issues, such as learning problems, and help in personal or group counselling, career planning and support, and in mental wellbeing.

Laurea’s Library Services provide personal and group guidance on information search techniques, and on the accessibility services, in Finnish and English. Their data bases provide reliable material such as articles and literature.

Teaching Methods and The Study Rules

Students prefer more hands-on workshops over large loads of theory in the classroom. They learn better by doing and practising the required skills in real life set ups, utilizing the Learning by Developing (LbD) philosophy. According to the students, it is very tiring to listen and concentrate on the topic in a big class. Sometimes it is too noisy, and it is disturbing, when students come late, and when they leave early.

Too much theory. There are 42 students in the class, and that is too much when all students are together.

Students brought up an idea, that students could have a digital pre-exam or test your knowledge quizzes, after every study entity. The purpose would be to test the knowledge in general, or in advance before the real exam. It could serve as personal positive feedback and take away some exam anxiety and release tension.

Exam is an effective way to learn and deepen gained knowledge. There are different ways to organize an exam: an individual written exam, in a team, an oral exam, students planning their exam questions, demonstration of the competence in a real work-like environment and combining different exam methods. The exam methods are discussed with the teachers in their team in order to find a mutual understanding on the learning methods in reference to competence development requirements.

There had been some misunderstandings in communication about what to do as well as what was done and discussed in the class. According to the students, the study rules and how to respect the teachers and others was unclear now. Professional and polite language and how to use it in higher education is essential, and therefore it is an important topic to discuss further.

The code of conduct and the study rules are made together with students in the beginning of the studies and workshops. The aim is to respect participants and for the participants to commit to the rules in different learning environment. The study groups that had not discussed and decided the study rules, have had more issues in communication style.

Inadequate Language and Culture Skills

English language skills between teachers differ. Some teachers are clear and fluent, whilst some are less so. It is hard for the students to maintain interest when the teacher is struggling with the English language in the class. Furthermore, English is a polite language. Finnish is more a straight-forward and “blunt” and it can sound rude at times. The language and communication issues play a big part in the class. We would like Laurea to encourage the teachers to utilize the language education available for Laurea teachers. We would also recommend that Laurea would provide cultural knowledge education for its teaching staff. However, the teachers working with the English taught programmes also have responsibility to further educate themselves in language and cultural issues that are important for their work.

The level of English language in the exam questions was seen inadequate. There have been language and grammar mistakes that have led to misunderstanding the questions. That has been frustrating to students. This issue has been brought to the attention of the consortium which has created and provided the said exams. There has been continuous development and correction of the clarity of the exam questions.
There are students who are struggling with their Finnish language. They feel that the Finnish lessons provided, are not enough for them to learn adequate professional language skill. They need and want more Finnish studies and studies in Finnish at Laurea. In Laurea we have designed clear language learning paths that are considering the requirements of the degree programme’s professional language requirements. There is a challenge to have large enough study groups so that the planned language studies could be implemented. We are constantly looking for solutions.

Sharing the Workload in Study Teams

Students like teamwork, no doubt about it. However, there are challenges in sharing the workload evenly between the team members and keeping up with the schedules at times.

Students appreciate of having a choice and alternative learning methods between teamwork and independent reporting or other study implementations. Teamwork times suitable for all are sometimes difficult to organize. Independent reporting according to one’s schedule helps in that.

Students emphasize an idea about alternative learning methods. The main aim for students is to learn, and having different alternatives in learning increases the freedom of choice and there for mental wellbeing.

There are students who say they are very satisfied and “happy” with their studies. Some students say they started their studies highly motivated. Unfortunately, some are disappointed and frustrated due to heavy workload, Finnish language, and academic requirements.

It is important to hear how students are managing with their studies. In the motivation curve, it is commonly known that the study motivation may drop in late autumn. That is because the “romantic honeymoon” is over and the reality hits. However, most often motivation will resurface in January when students return to the campus as experienced students knowing the learning environments and fellow students plus other people in Laurea. There can be a stronger feeling of belongingness to Laurea then.

We recommend students to contact Laurea Wellbeing Services when there are learning challenges or mental wellbeing issues. When students have second thoughts about their study choice at Laurea, then the right person to contact is Personal Tutor Teacher and Head of Students Affairs.

Unfairness at Work Placement

Diversity and non-discrimination in working life and society in general have a positive effect on employment of immigrants and a country’s ability to attract skilled labour, international students, and investments (Integration 2021).

Inappropriate treatment occurs on the streets, in services and at workplaces (Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare 2023). Unfortunately, some Laurea’s students have experienced that they have been treated inappropriately, have been insulted verbally, or have experienced threats or harassment, at work placement.

Diverse Talent Workshop is one way to educate students to be aware of and defend their rights at workplaces and in their other activities.


To promote the feeling of inclusion at Laurea and to have fluent access both online and contact studies in the beginning of the studies is incredibly important. To get and stay on the wagon, not to fall off from it. The perception of belonging to a community that is meaningful to oneself and having the opportunity to influence one’s life and community. Inclusion is conditional on the person having access to adequate resources, the opportunity to make decisions about their life and maintain socially significant and important relationships. (Integration 2021.)

Diversity competence is thinking, action, and practices that are based on respecting and valuing other people regardless of their background or position. The key is to have the ability to recognize another person’s needs, not only their general human needs but also any needs arising from the other person being culturally different or part of a minority. The general objective is to reduce inequality and improve the position of minorities. (Integration 2021.)

Diverse Talent Workshop at HE is one way to conduct, promote and celebrate diverse cultures and what opportunities and strengths they can provide with them in higher education. Additionally, multi-sectoral co-operation between authorities in different branches of administration and other parties are ways and means to educate society about diversity.


URN http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi-fe2024031411241

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