Starting from our basic assumptions and aims, we identified three basic directions of methodological innovation which we regarded most adequate: the first is concerning course content, the second (and perhaps, most important) is related to the introduction of problem-centered teaching and learning, while the third refers to cross-border team-teaching as an element of novelty to be tested during the delivery of our course.
a. Selection of course topics. Course content design
is focusing on setting up of unitary criteria and conceptual framework for
the understanding, interpretation and teaching of regionalism and regional
policies both in the EU Member and
course topics which resulted from our discussions were carefully selected so as
to reflect as much as possible the structure of contemporary scholarship, as
well as of the intellectual and political debates concerning the roles and
functions of regions, regionalism and regional policies in the emerging united
The implementation of problem-centered teaching and learning was regarded, from multiple considerations, as being central for achieving our aims. Dealing with social problems in policy research terms presupposes from the very start (from the problem-definition stage) an interdisciplinary approach and clearly has important region-centered dimension/connotations. The fundamental social factors and key stakeholders from local, regional and national levels are involved and should be taken into account both in the definition of the problem and during the search for possible solutions.
While implementing our course, we conceived problem-centered approach as a creative-innovative method of teaching and learning, which is very well suited to equip students not only with theoretical and empirical knowledge, but also with the ability to design research strategies, to use methods of data collection, analysis and interpretation. The fundamental idea behind the concept of problem-centered learning as we understood and utilized it in our methodological scheme was to do our best to replace passive reception of knowledge (through lecturing and memorizing) with a focus on active methods : discussions in the classroom, problem raising (by students or by lecturer), problem-selecting (together by students and lecturer) and problem solving (through group work and subsequent debate, homework, discussing policy research papers and case studies, student projects )
In a fast changing social environment problem-centered learning can be regarded as a very appropriate way to effectively link theory, research and social practice. The basic transferable skills to be developed during the course included the ability to analyze and interpret complex, contradictory and quickly changing social contexts; as well as the capability of students to effectively link theory, research and social practice. In this way, in our course design ad implementation, the problem-solving method appeared organically linked to two other fundamental concepts of innovative learning, namely, learning by discovery and participative learning.
During classroom-discussions we focused on basic - seemingly contradictory - contemporary developments such as localization-globalization; regionalism-integration; homogenization-diversification etc. The lecturers raised problems such as how to overcome differences in the level of economic development, how to deal with the lack of legal harmonization, or with cultural differences. Students have been asked to offer solutions.
For example, lecture nr. 9 Local identity and regionalism, provided students with the opportunity to discuss the way cultural identity and its political manifestations relate to economic interest in the life of local communities. During the discussions, it has been emphasised that in order to build up effective links, social actors involved in regional cooperation should be well aware of the cultural profile of the regions and of their constitutive local communities. From their day to day experience, students who live in multi-cultural communities are well aware of the strong connection between one’s cultural identity and his/her ability to defend and promote his/her interests. This provided a good starting point for the ensuing debate. The main question raised was: how can cross-border co-operation overcome culturally rooted inequality and discrimination and transform cultural diversity from an obstacle into a tool of regional development?
In the same time, defining social problems, researching problems and devising problem solving strategies also implies basic elements of active learning, namely: learning by experiencing, learning by discovery, and learning by applying knowledge and skills in practice. Among the many teaching situations where active learning was employed, we would like to mention here just one example, Lecture 10 The ethnic dimension of regionalism in East-Central Europe, where the discussion centered on the concept of “divided communities”. It is a fact well known and experienced in daily life by students, that in many localities of the region lives more than one ethnic group, and the relationship between them is not always non-problematic. During the class, students shared their ideas concerning the way how to bring ethnic groups closer and how to involve them in local economic development and cross-cultural community building. It was agreed that the next step would be to bring down such ideas to the different local contexts and devise specific, concrete solutions at local community level.
C. cross-border team teaching
the interdisciplinary character of Regional
Studies and its basic approach strongly linked to the practical
political issues raised by the emerging regional development in the border
areas, the academics involved in this co-operative project thought that
cross-border team teaching would be particularly suitable in this case. That is
why it was agreed that the course would be offered simultaneously at the
In the same time, cross-border teaching also includes, beyond the student learning objectives, an important component of international cross-border academic co-operation. In this respect, the project was oriented towards the development of a shared understanding of the concept of regionalism and the elaboration of an adequate theoretical and methodological framework of teaching and research in the field of Regional Studies, in view of the advancing enlargement of the European Union.
Following this objective, in the course design planning stage the participating academics from the two partner universities made a considerable effort to draw up a unitary theoretical and methodological vision. During the teaching process, this unitary vision served then as a basis for developing a regional way of thinking which is transgressing state borders. Cross-border team teaching appeared, from this perspective, as an opportunity for students and teachers alike to share each others experience and have an exchange of views, in order to harmonize their theoretical and methodological outlook and get closer to each other their perceptions of the current social context.