A Pakistani in Narva: “I’m Grateful to Estonia”

Yar Muhammad came to Estonia because of his doctoral studies six years ago, but the reason why he rooted down is more remarkable. “I received a good education in Estonia and I want to give something back”, the Pakistani says. He’s currently working as an IT lecturer at the University of Tartu Narva College.

Yar Muhammad chose to work in the border town (Narva is located on the Estonian-Russian border) because there was no tradition of teaching IT in Narva before. “I used to teach in Tartu – a big, international city with lots of possibilities. Moving to Narva was a hard decision to make, but I feel excited to participate in the development of a new curriculum, creating something new and developing it further”.

Yar Muhammad taking a break between lectures. Photo credit: Matti Kämärä

A Mixture of Three Languages

IT has been taught for two years in Narva, and it is the most international programme there. Muhammad joined the staff last autumn.

“This IT programme is made up of courses that are taught in Russian, Estonian, and English, and of course this has its own difficulties. On the other hand, it’s beneficial because the graduates are going to work globally, not just in Narva or in Estonia. When one of the working teams is located in Estonia, another in Russia, and the third one is in the US, you must be able to communicate with everyone. The curriculum is more attractive this way and different from the competition. Students learn both technological and communicative skills; it increases their hireability”.

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Escaping Modernity at Winter School in Kääriku

Before the winter school “Biopower and Semiotics of the Body” in Kääriku, I had never really deeply considered such a theory, always having focused on the wider world of international relations and political science. Having just recently developed an interest in semiotics due to my friends in the programme here, I decided that I should at least try to understand the discipline more completely. As for biopower and biopolitics, I had nothing more than a cursory understanding from scanning articles on Wikipedia – nonetheless, I found the concepts completely fascinating and needed to know more. Setting out from Tartu’s bus station with a couple of close friends from here at the university, I had absolutely no expectations for the coming week because I had absolutely no idea what to expect in the first place.

Participants of the winter school “Biopower and Semiotics of the Body”, organised by the Johann Skytte Institute of Political Studies. Photo credit: Olena Solohub

Biopolitics primarily concerns the regulation of the human body, and in some cases, of the mind as well. Ironically, the experience at the winter school gave all the participants an opportunity to free ourselves from that very regulation of work and traditional academic environment in the cool embrace of Estonian foothills that surround Kääriku. Through the study of biopolitics in such an environment, we could discuss the regulation of humans while unregulating ourselves, connecting with other people from disparate cultures, continents, and backgrounds. Together, hailing from Estonia, Russia, the United States, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, and Taiwan and coming from disciplines ranging from political science and semiotics to law, economics, and medicine, we forged new understandings and connections all by coming together in the heart of the Estonian wilderness.

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Stefan Zaric: Introducing Estonian Art History in Serbia

Stefan Zaric, a young man from Serbia, spent a semester as an exchange student at the University of Tartu. Now he is conducting his master’s thesis about 20th century fashion design and its connections to fine arts and culture in general at the University of Belgrade.

Stefan Zaric. Photo from a personal archive.

First of all, tell us how you heard about Estonia and about the University of Tartu?

As the discipline of art history is not highly modernized in Serbia, my MA thesis mentor suggested I seek programmes that would enhance my research in art and fashion. We checked out several opportunities offered to Serbian students, which are very limited, as Serbia is not a member of the EU, and Estonia was one of them. Even though the programme in art history at the University of Tartu was in Estonian, I decided to come and take classes from the semiotics department, as that is very famous at my faculty, and those classes actually proved crucial to understanding theoretical aspects needed for my thesis.

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Should the Public Have a Say in Science? A Philosophy Of Science View

Traditionally, philosophy of science has not shown much interest in the social side of science. What Is This Thing Called Science?, a popular philosophy of science textbook also used at the University of Tartu, is an example. It discusses the relationship between evidence and theory, the development of scientific knowledge, and the relation of theories to reality; it does not discuss social aspects of science much and the place of science in society at all.

This situation, however, has been changing. Philip Kitcher is one of the most important philosophers in the turn towards analysing social dimensions of science.

Jaana Eigi, the author of the article, suggests that the public representatives may sometimes have local knowledge and experience that will enrich or even correct experts’ knowledge. Photo from a personal archive.

Kitcher’s first arguments focused on the division of labour in the scientific community. If researchers were only interested in having a problem solved, they would all choose the same most promising approach. However, such unanimity is not the most beneficial for community — a more secure way would be to divide efforts between different approaches. Kitcher argued that such a division of effort is in fact common because researchers are also interested in priority. If an alternative approach is less popular, a researcher may choose it because the chances of being the first to succeed are higher there. Kitcher thus showed that it is important to pay attention to what happens on the community level in science.

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Will Estonia Soon Have a Climate Similar to Northern Scotland?

Changes in climate are something you can literally put your hands on in Estonia. Just take a walk in the forest – you will see young oak trees there. This means that for a couple of decades now our winters have been so mild that an oak can easily grow here. Another sign of climate change is the fact that our great-grandparents could ski in March and April, while we can just make jokes about unsuitable sporting weather all year long. In fact, the climate has been warming particularly drastically on the east coast of the Baltic Sea. While global air temperature has risen about 0.8° C in 140 years, the average rise in Estonia has been 2° C during the last half of the century.

The physics behind climate change is actually really simple: when the chemical composition of a gas changes, the same happens to its radiation properties. Humankind is changing the gas composition of the atmosphere right now by burning fossil fuels and chopping down forests. Greenhouse gases released into the air do not allow heat to dissipate into space, continuously increasing the temperature on Earth. Estonia is shamefully among the top 20 countries by the amount of greenhouse gases per capita issued into air annually, the reasons being our oil shale industry and extremely fast motorisation.

Currently, humankind is changing the gas composition of the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and chopping down forests. This leads to a rise in the temperature on Earth. Photo credit: Barb Henry / Flickr Creative Commons

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The Gates of Educational Technology and the Challenges of Our Time

A few days ago I was at the airport waiting for my connecting flight back to Estonia when I saw a group of men gathered around a sort of big pod, which had a strong resemblance – at least from a distance – to a totemic object. Initially, I thought that they were smoking. They all had their heads down on the pod as if they were putting out their cigarettes, which I knew could not be the case. As I drew closer, I saw that they were not holding a cigarette in their hand but a smartphone, and that the pod did not provide an ash bin but plugs for charging their electronic devices. I whipped out my iPod touch, captured the moment and, since there was a good Internet connection, in a few seconds the scene was uploaded to social media with the caption “the four horsemen of the e-apocalypse”. Ironically, I could have joined the four gentlemen, when one hour later the battery of my device came to a sudden death.

Curiously enough, this episode was in stark contrast to the one that I had experienced exactly one day before. I was attending a European project meeting in Athens. We were in a school and right after the kick-off we were given a username and password to the local Wi-Fi network. We were also told that access to Facebook and other social media websites was blocked, and the same applied to mobile phone signals. That was the policy there. We indeed complied. The school was not led by a bunch of crazy Luddites, though, as we found out during a tour around the school a few hours later, during which we could see the rather impressive equipment available to students and teachers for the science classes.

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The Internet of Things Lab Has the Scent of the Future Around It

Imagine that you’re driving home from work and at the same time your car informs the heating system that you will be home soon. Then the heating turns on. Or imagine a world where the refrigerator recognises a missing food product and adds it to the shopping list. These are only some examples of how objects will communicate in the future and make people’s lives more comfortable.

Internet of things. Photo credit: jefferb / Pixabay Creative Commons

In order to test these possibilities, the University of Tartu and Telia Eesti opened Estonia’s first internet of things lab in March 2016. It is a unique laboratory which is furnished as a smart home and a smart office. The lab uses a network of devices which include electronics, software, sensors and network connection. The devices gather and exchange information which enables a situation where devices are able to act in certain situations on their own, or in other words, be smart. In Janury 2017, Telia Eesti gave 920 devices to the lab in order to help researchers to broaden their research horizons and develop the field.

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