Ilona Södervik

Climate change and biodiversity loss are examples of so-called wicked problems that experts of life sciences, educated in universities, will strive to solve. Wicked problem means a tricky problem, the handling of which requires, for example: understanding of simultaneous complex processes with their interrelations; discovering of new perspectives; and both generating and evaluating novel and creative alternative solutions. At the same time, we live in the middle of information overload and both scientific and pseudo knowledge is available in our society more than ever before. Hence, on the way towards expertise, students need to learn to constantly critically weigh the veracity and relevance of complex knowledge of their field, but remain flexible and willing to revise and recreate mental models in the light of new scientific evidence. Higher education needs to support this type of critical but creative expertise, which is often described as adaptive expertise. This, however, requires deeper understanding of the nature of different learning and teaching processes.

In my dissertation (University of Turku, 2016) and as a postdoctoral researcher (University of Helsinki, 2017–2020) I have investigated the development of expertise during university studies using a multi-methodological approach in the context of life sciences. Currently, I am working as a senior lecturer at the Centre of University Pedagogics at the University of Helsinki; I am also leading a research project funded by the University of Helsinki (Cultivating Expertise in Learning of Life Sciences, CELLS). In the project, we aim to better understand factors central for university students’ learning, in order to be able to develop teaching and learning that would support adaptive expertise. We study the development of conceptual understanding using a longitudinal approach and utilize various research methods such as eye-tracking. I also teach university pedagogics, mainly in the Viikki campus of life sciences, where I supervise bachelor, master and doctoral theses mainly related to topics of learning in life sciences.