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Background

The Universities of Girona and Eastern Finland (previous the University of Joensuu) have co-operated actively since 2001. At first, this co-operation concerned geography department staff that used Erasmus teacher exchange grants, but in 2007 this co-operation was enlarged to include a common landscape course (one week in Girona and one week in Joensuu, students paid their own expenses). In 2009 the University of Prešov, Slovakia joined the project and in spring 2010 this co-operation developed into a full Erasmus IP-course: The Faces of Landscape - North Karelia, the Prešov Region and Catalonia (funding through the Spanish partner). The course (2010-12) focussed on different viewpoints and definitions of the concept of landscape. On the practical level, the study groups focussed on landscape elements and their change over time.

The project will continue to build upon this solid co-operation between the Universities of Girona and Eastern Finland, and introducing Adam Mickiewicz University from Poznan, Poland as the third partner. The contact person from Adam Mickiewicz University is a specialist in the field of landscape ecology, which suits perfectly to the existing combination of regional and geographical information systems (GIS) -based landscape research (University of Girona) and cultural-orientated landscape research (University of Eastern Finland). Together these three primary landscape orientations will ensure a high-quality course for students.

It is essential to highlight how a single course as this may create also other opportunities for co-operation, especially in the form of student Erasmus exchange. Practice has shown that this kind of intensive course lowers student reluctance to participate in longer exchange periods at the partner universities.

Subject-related objectives and learning outcomes

The course aims to strengthen students’ knowledge of the ways of using the concept of landscape as a theoretical tool in research, focusing on geographical border questions. Special attention will be paid to the use of methods from both landscape ecology and cultural landscape studies, and including a regional-geographical perspective (including the use of Geographical Information Systems – GIS) that will create a unified landscape course. After the course students will have a better understanding of the complexity of the concept of landscape and better facility to study different landscapes. The students also will have a vision of how the concept of landscape can be used as a tool of the local, regional and national environmental and land use planning and governance in different countries, and the importance of national borders in creating these special landscapes.

Amongst the instructors the course facilitates the sharing of discipline-specific and methodological viewpoints and also pedagogical experiences.

Already the planning process of the course has been prolific for the instructors. Different ways to define the concept of landscape and different ways to use and work with landscape have led to vibrant written correspondence and discussions on the field of landscape geography. During the actual proposed course the instructors will have meetings also with other staff members from the host institutions, encouraging further academic exchanges. New geographical topics, methodologies and techniques will be presented and, ideally, new research projects will be created. The course will also transfer innovative pedagogical practices that can lead to improvements in the quality of teaching and supervision both in individual institutions and at the national level too.

The course aims to increase and strengthen students’ capacities as young geographers.

The course aims to motivate and encourage these students to use the concept of landscape as a fundamental geographical concept in their studies. One of the long-term goals of the course is that at least some of the participating students will write their eventual Master’s theses on subjects related to the course themes. In such instances, these students will strengthen their place in both national and also the European landscape researcher communities.

Transversal competencies

In addition to the above-mentioned geographical and educational goals, the proposed course will enable students to study in multi-cultural learning groups where they can strengthen their skills of functioning in an international environment, something that is increasingly required at the European level. At the same, teamwork skills, cross-cultural understanding and also language skills will strengthen. The official language of the course will be English. The students will be divided into study groups of 4-5 students, in which a maximum of two persons from the same university will work together. All the students will be accommodated together and the students of the host university will organise an unofficial social and cultural programme for free time. Overall, this will lead to a situation in which the students will use English almost all of the time during the course. Finally, in addition to the above-mentioned skills, participating students will be socialising in a lively atmosphere that will, ideally, promote the formation of life-long friendships (later supported through existing social media).

Innovative character
In particular, the University of Eastern Finland is well known as a key research institute of European borders, and this is reflected in the university’s strategic plan that names border research as a university-wide area of focus. Border research has developed from a variety of approaches, including economics, regional policy, cultural identities, transport and communications, etc., but landscape border research has been largely ignored. The course will combine two geographical traditions; that of (European) border research and that of landscape research.

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