FEED-BACK FROM THE LEARNING PROCESS:
CONCLUSIONS AND RECCOMENDATIONS
Our experience in delivering this course generally confirmed the validity of preliminary considerations and hypotheses which stood at the basis of the content-related and methodological choices we made. In the same time, the signals we collected from the teacher-student and student-student interactions related to the learning process offered us a large amount of empirical information which hopefully would help us in laying the directions for the improvement of our teaching approach. Below we shall summarize some of the main conclusions which we regard as highly relevant from this perspective:
1. Shifting the focus from lecturing to
discussion and group reflection made even clearer the differences of perception between students from
Basically, students from Hungary, while acknowledging the necessity and importance of regional development in the border areas, nevertheless expressed their concern that by the implementation of integrated development policies the more developed and prosperous sub-regions might loose economically in favor of the less developed territorial sub-units and that Romanian citizens looking for employment opportunities across the border might enter in competition with Hungarian citizens. By contrast, students from Romania insisted on the comparability of Austria-Hungary and Hungary-Romania border regions, arguing that in the process of European Union moving eastward, the border areas which are located in the geographical proximity of EU Member States should naturally benefit from their location. Romanian students emphasized exclusively the potential positive impact of the envisaged cross border regional development schemes, particularly in view of the possibility to attract European Union funds through promoting regional cross-border partnership.
Although we do not have clear-cut evidence as yet, there are reasons to believe that in medium-term such “malign” differences of perception are likely to be reduced. In discussing certain important issues (such as the increasing social polarisation; the intensification of migration in the border areas; the new demographic situation emerging under the influence of current economic changes and of the migratory phenomena; the transformation of legal and illegal segments of employment) students from Romania and students from Hungary already expressed basically similar views, and their opinions grew closer to each other as the result of debates. To speed up this process, it would be necessary to intensify student-exchanges and provide more opportunities for students in the two countries to act together and exchange views (interactive web–page, discussion forums, joint research projects etc.)
2. One important obstacle in this respect is the still prevailing strong value oriented component in students’ outlook which we could observe during the implementation of our course. To refer here to just one relevant example, while discussing about cross-border regions in East-Central Europe, students appealed to two terms rather often used in the everyday language and also in the media: “East” and “West”. As it became quickly clear, they were attaching certain value-centred elements to the significance of these concepts: according to their interpretation, “West” overwhelmingly means “well developed’, “positive”, with lots of perspectives and the direction towards everyone moves, while, by contrast, “ East” became a symbol of backwardness, of not being able or not willing to keep in pace with the changes.
This preference of many students – particularly of those coming from non-intellectual family background - for illegitimate generalisations and for adopting simplified perspectives on social reality in accordance with the predominant value judgements and stereotypes existing in the population views at local community level, acts as a serious impediment on the way of their familiarising with serious scientific methodology. In order to overcome this as much as possible, there would be a need for further immersing students in intensive empirical and comparative research, analysis and interpretation, so as to enable them to make a clear distinction between everyday-life conceptions and sociological discourse.
3. Our classroom activities also drawn attention to the fact that many students tend to conceive the idea of regionalization more as a political and ideological rhetoric rather than as a concept with practical significance. This way of thinking has its roots – according to the assessment we made – not just in the novelty of the “regional theme” for the pubic conscience, the lack o specific knowledge and the predominance of stereotypes, but also in the inadequate use of the idea of regional development by politicians and by the media. That is why, we consider important that in the future we lay an even stronger emphasize on “practical learning”, with all significant elements which this concept entails.
In this context, the presentation and classroom discussion of case studies and the elaboration by students of small practically oriented projects proved to be very effective methods which we shall continue. In selecting cases for study and problems to be answered through discussions student projects, it is necessary to take into consideration the necessity to equip students with the necessary tools to think both analytically and synthetically, and to develop all other policy oriented research skills. To enhance the efficiency of the learning process, our course portfolio web page should also become more interactive, to act as a discussion forum between teachers, students, and colleagues from other universities interested in methodological innovation. The outcome of teacher self-reflection, discussions and impressions during the teaching period should be written down on the spot, even in less elaborated form, in order to enhance learning from our own and each other’s experience and from mutual comments.
4. We came to the definite conclusion that in the future the preservation of classical division line and status-based separation between the roles traditionally assigned to students and teachers would be extremely counterproductive and this outdated practice should be abandoned. Our very strong general impression was that students (even not-so-performing students) generally welcomed the opportunity of “alternative learning”, including the alternative forms of assessment, where measuring students active involvement, social research and social practice oriented skills had an important role.
To sum up, for all the reasons outlined above, to the members of our teaching team and to our students alike, the experience of successfully forging a fully-fledged partnership - although it was not a completely new attempt in this regard - nevertheless it represented a breakthrough and a sort of revelation.