May 18, 2015

Nordtouch created Flinga to get everyone on (black)board

Nordtouch’s Flinga makes smart devices useful in the classroom. Flinga functions as a communal blackboard, onto which all pupils can log in using their personal smart devices.
Nordtouch’s Flinga makes smart devices useful in the classroom. Flinga functions as a communal blackboard, onto which all pupils can log in using their personal smart devices.
ISTOCK.COM/STEVE DEBENPORT

Nordtouch wants to get smart devices out of students’ pockets and make them useful with its mobile application Flinga. Initially the aim was to provide schools with technology, but now Flinga is seen as a tool for exporting Finnish expertise in education.

Sometimes technology gives teachers a hard time. Pupils and students focus on social media and gaming instead of teaching.

Does it make sense to actually encourage the young to get their phones out?

”If we think about the world the young live in, it’s hard to see schools as isolated islands. It’s important to learn to take advantage of technology to support learning and skills needed in the labour market,” says Ilari Raja, CEO of Nordtouch.

Nordtouch’s Flinga makes smart devices useful in the classroom. Flinga functions as a communal blackboard, onto which all pupils can log in using their personal smart devices.

”Flinga makes learning a shared activity. The teacher isn’t just preaching and pupils listening, but they can together add questions, photos, comments and whatnot onto Flinga,” Raja describes.

The idea is BYOD; bring your own device. Because students log into the workspace created by the teacher from their personal smart device, the schools don’t need to invest in getting a device per student. By purchasing a few, not everyone needs to own a smartphone or a tablet.

”It’s like physical education classes: if you’ve not got a pair of skis, the school will lend you some.”

Participation as a part of learning

Both Raja and the other founder of Nordtouch, Joni Mertoniemi, studied at Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. For his final thesis, Raja was innovating technical solutions in learning spaces at a time when tablets were becoming a part of teaching.

Raja was wondering how to make devices used for teaching interact. That’s how the prototype of Flinga saw daylight.

The Department of Teacher Education at the University of Helsinki got excited about the idea. Raja says that the university is an important partner for Nordtouch.

“We call the university our pedagogical backbone,” he says laughingly.

Collaborating with the university made Nordtouch want to improve pedagogical skills, too. Flinga doesn’t only offer tools for expanding the ways of teaching, but also creates new teaching methods.

”Methods that encourage participation and activeness are exactly what’s needed in teaching. At first we were purely a software firm, but now I hope we’ll grow into an educational expert.”

All ideas on one screen

”If we think about the world the young live in, it’s hard to see schools as isolated islands. It’s important to learn to take advantage of technology to support learning and skills needed in the labour market,” says Ilari Raja, CEO of Nordtouch.

”If we think about the world the young live in, it’s hard to see schools as isolated islands. It’s important to learn to take advantage of technology to support learning and skills needed in the labour market,” says Ilari Raja, CEO of Nordtouch.

Nordtouch

Flinga has been designed to suit all levels of education. So far the small company has focused on marketing the application to universities and polytechnics.

”We just haven’t had enough legs to run through institutions of primary and secondary education,” says Raja.

One way of reaching out to, for example, primary schools is to cooperate with publishers. Flinga is already a part of some digital learning materials and their learning environments.

The biggest challenge is to get teachers excited about tools like Flinga. Raja points out that although teachers are creative and innovative, technical devices can sometimes be deemed suspicious.

”Even if the teacher used similar methods in the analogical world, technology can be seen as something compulsory or evil. Applying it needs an adjustment period.”

Raja doesn’t think the enthusiasm of the students and pupils is an issue, because for them technology is so familiar to begin with.

On a digital whiteboard the teacher can make sure everyone is involved. Raja believes that Flinga activates the shy ones sitting in the back.

”Flinga revolves around the thoughts and ideas of the students. If someone doesn’t have the courage to open his or her mouth, maybe they are brave enough to “fling” their idea and then notice how their ideas are worth sharing, too.”

Making Finland famous with education technology

Currently the two founders work at Nordtouch full-time. Sales and marketing expertise comes from an investor.

The aim is to head to the world, particularly to Europe and Asia. Nordtouch has presence in Singapore and London.

With Flinga, Raja wants to export Finnish knowhow in education. Even if the team will never have its own education specialist, cooperation will be kept tight.

“Flinga will soon get a pedagogical module, from which teachers can get support to develop activating teaching methods and making use of the application.”

Finland’s reputation as a textbook example of education is beneficial to Nordtouch. Raja thinks Finland could use the reputation to its advantage a whole lot more than it’s doing now.

”Finland’s got what it takes to be in the forefront of education technology, because we’ve got plenty of knowledge in both education and technology like mobile applications. Well commercialised product packages would help us make education an exportable product.”

Text: Anne Salomäki

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