Learning Digital Technology in International Teams with CLIL

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This article describes a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) pilot at Karelia University of Applied Sciences with two first-year courses: an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) course focusing on the essentials of digital technology, and an intercultural communication course centered on working in international teams. The pedagogical team comprised an ICT content teacher and an English language and communication teacher specializing in the field of engineering. The courses started in late October 2023. The duration of the Working in International Teams course (2 ECTS credits) and the CLIL pilot was eight weeks, concluding in a Closing Seminar in December 2023. After this, the course Digital Technology Essentials (5 ECTS credits) continued until May 2024.


The process of integrating CLIL into the courses started with preliminary discussions and brainstorming during spring 2023 and continued in autumn 2023. The CLIL tasks for the pilot were intentionally designed to offer students opportunities for developing both their team-working and language skills, all while gaining essential knowledge and understanding of digital technology.

After finalizing the CLIL tasks, we developed specific assignments and established the assessment criteria. While most lectures were independently planned and conducted, we prepared certain lectures related to the CLIL tasks as a team. Additionally, a form for CLIL method student survey was designed and created to gather valuable insights from students regarding their experiences concerning this CLIL pilot.   

Introduction of the CLIL implementation with CLIL parameters

Next, we will describe our pilot through the CLIL parameters that are presented by Ball, Kelly, and Clegg (2015). A similar approach has been used to describe another CLIL4ALL pilot, that can be viewed from here.

Sequence: During the CLIL integration, students were required to keep a weekly learning diary. Every two to three weeks there was a new CLIL group task, handling each course topic that would sum up preceding weekly topics. At the end of the CLIL integration, the students participated in a significant collaboration task, which was to give presentations within the same multicultural groups they collaborated with throughout the weeks. The students prepared and gave an in-depth presentation on a topic previously covered in the Digital Technology Essentials course.

Concept and Task > Language: In their learning diaries, students were for example asked to summarize key takeaways of each week’s lectures in the Digital Technology Essentials course. In addition, students were asked to reflect on their observations related to their personal communication and team communication skills in their intercultural groups while they worked on the given tasks of both courses. This way, students had the opportunity to practice English while simultaneously learning essential knowledge of digital technology, including its methods and fundamental concepts that formed the basis for their developing professional know-how.

During the lectures of Digital Technology Essentials, students used English for learning the key terms and concepts of digital technology, and in applying them in small practical tasks. During the Working in International Teams course, the students gained insights into the basic aspects of intercultural communication skills and team dynamics. Moreover, they had the opportunity for guidance on their written and spoken communication skills, as well as presentation language and skills for the closing seminar.

Guided multimedia input: As some of the students were able to take part in the course only virtually, bothcourses were implemented as blended learning and hybrid teaching. The students who had already been able to arrive in Finland and Joensuu attended the lessons in-person. The dynamic influx of the students to the on campus group in Joensuu posed a continuous challenge. With each passing week, new students joined, altering the classroom compositions and necessitating ongoing adjustments, clarifications, repetition of instructions and minor team adjustments. However, as the number of the 1st-year students was closer to 60, there was a clear need for hybrid and online groups throughout the piloting period. Therefore, the lectures and workshops took place both remotely and in classrooms.

The closing seminar, comprising students’ presentations as part of their CLIL team assignment, consisted of two parts within one day. The first part took place in person on campus, enabling remote students to follow the seminar virtually. The second part was organized online, allowing virtual teams to deliver their presentations. The audience in the second part consisted basically of online students only.  

Instructions for the learning diary and for the presentation were given both through written instructions in Moodle and through verbal instructions provided during the lectures.

Key language: Based on the feedback questionnaire, students had at least nine different mother tongues (Figure 1). As English is the official language of the degree programme, it was used for all communication. All students were expected to actively write their personal learning diaries in English and take part in the team assignments and closing seminar. In their informal communication, students seemed to use mainly English due to their quite different language backgrounds and multicultural nature of the groups.

Figure 1. Languages represented by the students

Instructions: We as the teachers of the courses discussed and prepared the instructions for the learning diaries and team assignments. Detailed written instructions were provided as part of the course in online platform Moodle in both the Digital Technology Essentials course and the Working in International Teams course. The instructions were also covered during the first lectures of both courses. During the courses, more detailed instructions were discussed, designed, and then consistently provided during the previous week before each upcoming CLIL task.

Interactions: The aim of the CLIL tasks was to foster discussions between students on key concepts and terminology of digital technology and provide them with opportunities to do so in multicultural teams. After formulating their own ideas, the students were instructed to engage in group discussions during which they were expected to present and compare their suggestions with those of their peers. During these discussions, students were expected to reach a consensus regarding the nature of key concepts and meanings of various key terms. The team discussions and assignments took often place in the Working in International Teams – course. Additionally, the students were expected to dedicate their own time outside of lectures to work on their team assignments.

Thinking: During the CLIL tasks, the students were continuously asked to identify the most relevant information from the lectures and course materials in order to produce their own summaries of the main takeaways. Then, as the students worked in their intercultural teams (both in-person and online), they needed to compare their own choices to those of their peers, and through informed joint decision process form common answers. These common answers were expected to be a synthesis of common elements found in team members’ individual summarizations.

Supported output: Guidance, requirements and instructions for the learning diary and group presentations were provided in both courses. It seemed that many international students were not familiar with the concept of a reflective learning diary where student’s own thoughts and learning processes are in the core of the diary entries and also become visible to the teacher. Therefore, encouragement, instructions, and repetition were needed throughout the course. Another reason for the need of continuous support and repetition was certainly with the influx of students, as understandably the students who participated in the classes online, missed some classes due to travelling to Finland.

Student feedback and Teachers’ observations concerning the pilot

We collected students’ feedback about the pilot throughaCLIL method student survey. The results indicated that 70-90% of the students felt that the Working in International Teams course improved their written and verbal language skills, as well as communication and team working skills. The questions concerning the course Digital Technology Essentials concentrated on students’ ability to gain understanding of the main digital technology topics and concepts. The results were very high, between 70% and 100%. The responses regarding how Digital Technology Essentials supported students’ learning of the English language showed similar outcomes. In the open feedback about the CLIL approach, the students seemed to find the approach of studying technical topics through multicultural teamwork fun and effective. This approach also seemed to help students to become more closely connected with each other, improving the group dynamics. This can be considered as an important outcome, given that the students were not particularly familiar with each other or with different cultural backgrounds, especially since part of the study group was on campus while others were participating virtually. 

Conclusions and future improvements

As teachers, we found the overall experience positive, while managing hybrid teaching and instructing new, arriving students consumed more resources than having fixed number of students in class and online. The integration itself, however, was considerably smooth, as we were able to find natural points of integration between these two courses. Based on the student feedback, these common activities did not come in the way of students’ learning of digital technology content or developing communication and team working skills in a foreign language. Instead, this CLIL approach seemed to provide a natural platform for new students from various background contexts to get to know each other.

One thing to consider in the future is whether the two courses could have a joint Moodle. At times, it was challenging to provide separate instructions on different parts of integrated CLIL tasks in two separate learning environments. This seemed to cause some confusion also among some of the students. Different durations of the courses were also a bit problematic for the integration, especially since the final CLIL task was a group presentation that marked the end of only one course. This issue was brought up also in the student feedback.

Additionally, it is essential to address the challenges of international students in understanding the concept of a reflective learning diary. This type of assignment requires students to delve into their own thoughts and learning experiences which may be a new experience for many students. Students will benefit from explicit guidelines that clarify the expectations of the learning diary content, depth, and the connection to the course materials. Model examples of reflective entries and questions to guide their thinking and writing process could also be useful and helpful.  

Altogether, the piloting was a positive experience for both us teachers and the students. Many students reported that their skills to understand the basics of intercultural communication and communicating within intercultural teams had significantly improved while working on topics directly related to their field of study.


Ball, P.,  Kelly, K,  and Clegg,  J. 2015.  Putting CLIL  into Practice. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.



Authors: Heidi Vartiainen & Seppo Nevalainen, Karelia University of Applied Sciences

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