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A shared understanding of concepts is part of digital solutions

Those working in education and teaching use their own vernacular, which is understood best by those who work in the field. No matter what the field, the vernacular we use affects our operating environment when we share information with other actors and develop digital services.

On occasion, experts in education and teaching either use the same term to talk about different things or use a different term to talk about the same concept. For example, even though we use terms used both in higher education and everyday life, such as ‘course’, one person thinks of it as a course unit and another as a method of completing a study unit. 

Either way, these kinds of situations can easily lead to misunderstandings and problems. In the worst case scenario, such misunderstandings or problems might not come to light until, for example, we have developed a technical solution for transferring data between different information systems. It is therefore important that we try to use uniform concepts. We also need to discuss and agree on how we understand the concepts we use and the relationships between them.

What is the aim of the OKSA glossary work?

The work done by the OKSA glossary division   aims to support the semantic interoperability of information systems. According to the TEPA Term Bank, semantic interoperability means that information systems can combine information received from different sources and process it in a way that preserves the meaning of the information. 

The aim of the glossary work is also to lay a foundation for information architecture. In addition, the glossary creates links between legislation and knowledge production. It also facilitates person-to-person communication by providing commonly agreed definitions of concepts and terminology recommendations. Experts from the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Finnish National Agency for Education, Statistics Finland, Finnish Terminology Centre, higher education institutions and CSC contribute to the work of the OKSA division.

What kind of problems can arise without a shared understanding of concepts?

For example, the semantic interoperability of the terms study unit and course will not be realised unless the matter is addressed. The third edition of the OKSA glossary states that, in higher education institutions, the term course can be used to refer to either the concept of study unit or the concept of implementing a course unit  (the example below has been slightly modified):

study unit;
~ course (1) <higher education institutions >
Definition: a part of a specific study module, field of competence, subject or content that is completed separately and for which the scope and objectives have been defined  

course unit;
course (2)
Definition: a study unit organised by an educational actor at a certain time and place  

In addition, the following is stated in OKSA:
“In some universities, the term ‘course’ refers only to the ways in which a study unit is completed, wherein the student participates in contact teaching (such as lectures or exercises). Other ways of completing a study unit may include independent study, writing an essay and taking an exam.” 

CSC’s Higher Education Cross-Institutional Study Service transfers information between the study information systems of higher education institutions. Without any more in-depth discussion of the above concepts, at least three different types of information could be available through the Higher Education Cross-Institutional Study Service as described above. One higher education institution may send information on study units, one on the implementation of  course units  and one only on the methods used to complete a study unit. 

Even if the Higher Education Cross-Institutional Study Service was able to receive different information technically, this information would not be commensurate with each other. At least for those who use the information, it would result in uncertainty and confusion. Semantic interoperability is also one of the key issues in the services provided by the Digivisio 2030 project.

Use the OKSA glossary!

Glossary work is needed for situations such as those discussed above. This work is done by the OKSA division for education and teaching. The results of the division’s work are freely available to all those working in education and teaching, and are also expected to be used by all actors. So, now would be a good time to start working smarter, not harder – use the OKSA glossary!

The author is secretary and specialist with the OKSA division Riina Keto-Tokoi, of CSC’s Support Services for Education and Training.

OKSA glossary

Published versions of the OKSA glossary

OKSA glossary division (in Finnish)

Feedback and suggestions for the OKSA division