The topic of this contribution was an educational project in study programme of Department of Geography, Faculty of Science, Masaryk University in Brno, the school year 2008/09. Teaching/learning the sustainability was based on joint deduction, induction and abduction in study groups emphasizing fieldwork in Deblín-town area, in the west of Brno-city. Supported by cooperation of university, basic school and Deblín-town community, among others in two public evening sessions. Public administrative body from the town of Tišnov, Department of environment and the management of Deblín-microregion also assisted in the project. With respect to Millenium Ecosystem Assessment the main stakeholders/actors were included for their important role in cultural landscape ecosystems sustainability. Strong social accent on children, youth, experts, public administration and adult public participation carried out community requirements. Studying environmental perception and participation, GIS technology application in the frame of multiple method in geographical research based on field survey and remote sensing data offered new knowledge. It was used, e.g. for revision of landscape protection, improving hydro-cycle for public benefit.
The educational project of the Geographical Institute at Masaryk University in Brno focused on landscape sustainability in the Deblin and Tišnov areas, and involved the university, primary school, the public authorities and the local community in strengthening environmental consciousness as well as practical steps towards improving the local environment – in this case significant landscape components natural landmarks and water circulation. Thereby it proved that, even in the absence of a Local Agenda 21 movement, it is possible to improve landscape sustainability.
The team of authors led by A. Hynek has been engaged in project training, focused on urban-rural relationships emphasizing sustainability and safety of the area/landscape/region, on a long-term basis. These questions are dealt with in the courses Z0131 Sustainability (autumn semester) and 0132 Urban and Rural Studies (spring semester). The possibilities of project training were tested mainly in the region of South Moravia, drawing on physical and social geographical research in the village of Pouzdřany and striving for sustainability and safety of the village of Klentnice. This was followed by a workshop open to the public.
The research carried out by the team of authors cooperating with the students crossed the borders of the South Moravian Region to cover parts of adjacent regions and countries, benefiting from international co-operation (Hynek et al. 2007, 2008).
The team has been working on the project entitled The Sustainability of the Deblín Area since September 2008.
Sustainability of the Deblín area
This project enriches the model of project training by the cooperation with pupils of the local primary school as bearers of internal knowledge and ties in the locality.
An innovative approach is the equal partnership between the primary school and university. Pupils help the students at the Department of Geography identify the structure and functioning of the community, while cooperation with the university develops their skills and exposes them to a new, more distanced, outsider perspective on their locality.
The common approach to sustainability aims to involve people living in this area, or influencing it in different ways. The pupils´ activities help to make the inhabitants of the region interested in their environment and develops their perceptivity and responsibility to the principles of sustainability, or motivate them to participate in the project.
The project covers the area round Deblín, delimited with respect to the Deblín Municipalities Alliance, the integrated transport connections, historical and contemporary ties to the nodal municipality/village of Deblín and local natural features (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1 Delimitation of the area of interest, geopetrically transformed satellite picture in natural coloures (RGB 3 2 1), May 24th 2001
The project provides a unique chance for the school pupils and university students to participate in the community practice and, step by step, present and discuss the results with the representatives of public administration and local authorities, aiming to influence decision-makers and shareholders towards a sustainable approach to regional development.
The educational project is focused on studying (researching) the Deblín area and the detailed knowledge (cognition) of the local environment. An inside understanding of community problems from local citizens perspectives was identified as a key approach.
The emphasis is put on identifying the problems of development, environmental security, and solutions being proposed locally from the region, while being related to the wider regional community. The environmental shape of the research is based on distinguishing natural and cultural landscape ecosystems in the form of the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment (Alcamo et al. 2003).
The community research was aimed at the environmental perception, views (also through mental maps) and the behaviour/activities of local residents, students and visitors.
The socio-political aspect of the research was focused on the environmental practice, skills, experience and relationships between public services (state administration and municipal government), local communities and the private sector.
ESPECT/TODS, a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods
The methodological basis of the research is the concept of ESPECT/TODS (A. Hynek, N. Hynek, 2007a) which enables studying the components of social reality both in an integrated way and separately, in terms of spatiality and the emergence of power.
We are entering an unknown locality where important actors come to the fore or are identified, disclosing interconnecting networks.
ESPECT/TODS includes 6 pillars of environmental sustainability/security:Economy, Society, Politics, Ecology, Culture, and Technology. We can say that the pillars are determinants functioning in the socio-cultural system. Each pillar must be regarded as a product of other systems operations. The interaction of factors developing in the area under research is not well-balanced or neutral. According to M. Foucault, the dominating factors which may cause heterotopia have spatial effects.
The essence of heterotopia is represented by the nucleus of the hexagon encompassing the spatio-temporal dimension of superiority and inferiority (Fig. 2). The innovation of this model is the usage of Foucault´s concept of bio-politics.
The team of authors uses qualitative research approaches for locality studies, also giving attention to quantitative data which have the potential for deepening their understanding of the socially constructed reality. The complementarity of these approaches leads to equally complimentary results.
The importance of so called multiple method research (e.g. Tashakkori, Teddlie 1998, 2003; Fay, 2002), or using both qualitative and the quantitative methods, techniques and paradigms within one study has been on the increase since the year 2000 with reference to the above resources cited.
In this respect, it is important to mention the inspirational usage of abduction in geographical research. The essence of abduction consists in verification of the induction-deduction relationship through field survey (Holt-Jensen 2001).
Fig. 2 Concept of ESPECT & TODS (Hynek, Hynek 2007a)
Another concept applied is Actor-Network Theory (ANT) by Bruno Latour (2005). ANT is included among post-structuralistic approaches that, among other things, initiate new environmental discourses; as such, it has been increasingly used also in human geography. (e.g. Crang, Thrift 2000). ANT also deals with integration of nature and society, their hybridism and separation, live participants, or actors, and inanimate actants (Whatmore 2002, Murdoch 2006). Consequently, the research methodology is based not only on cooperation between geographical disciplines but also benefits from interdisciplinary cooperation with other, non-geographical sciences, such as ethnography, anthropology, sociology, philosophy or psychology; it can be carried out as a trans-disciplinary science.
The techniques of information gathering and assessment
The teaching process is based on creating research situations and application of the common solutions that the pupils, students and teachers work out together. The result is not known beforehand, the teachers only advantage over their students is their prior experience. The students and pupils advantage in this situation is more freedom in searching for solutions. As part of the project teaching, the pupils and students combine primary and secondary sources of information, plus field research and assessing the validity of the acquired information, using methodological triangulation.
The core of primary techniques is participant observation leading up to space-time identification (where/how things happen), structured or semi-structured interviews using, among others, the collection of 80 questions created by A. Hynek (2005) for the locality-locales-locuses study, applied by means of quota selection according to statistical data (age, sex, education, permanent address) and open discussion during public lectures.
Secondary techniques include content analysis of accessible resources (reports, documents, materials from museums, chronicles, bibliographic references and autobiographies, books, magazines, periodicals, internet sources, photographs, narratives and mental maps). The narrative approach facilitated the gaining of different perspectives and interpretations from the respondents. It was important to accept the local historic truth shaped in local residents´ minds which has a strong influence on current semantic structures.
The basis for studying the localities was also the qualitative, ethnographically oriented field research in the sense of “thick description“. This term was introduced by Clifford Geertz, who preferred a Weberian approach based on understanding socio-cultural phenomena. Fay (2002) even mentions different levels of thickness. The gradual role transition from observer to a community member role made it possible to identify special characteristics of the area and understand the actors points of view and mentalities.
The concept was fully completed by a member of the authors´ team who lived in the research area for more than a year. As a teacher he acquired a social status encompassing implicit expectations of the community members, recognizing local rules, standards, values, customs, laws and behavioural models. He was not burdened with local stereotypes, which enabled the uncovering of many layers of reality only partly visible or accessible for most visitors. In a simplified form, thick description can be characterized as a data collecting strategy that enables the analysis in wider relationships/connections, both political and cultural, on the basis of the description of local events. A currently proponent of this term in the field of human geographies is Cloke (et al. 2004, s. 308).
Qualitative research validity was verified by using the so called triangulation. Triangulation (also called “multiple method“) demands that the results are checked continuously and alterations or changes are made if necessary. During the project work triangulation was used as a method which leads to enriching and completing the research results.
Four types of triangulation were applied during the research: data-based, theoretical, methodological and the researchers´ triangulation.
3. Project teaching conception, aims of the project
In the educational sphere, the proposed model of project teaching (with a methodological basis and research methods) provides an application basis for verifying and exploiting theoretical knowledge and forming skills; during this process students validate, amend or disprove information gained from the available resources. Another important target is the practical application of sustainability principles and policy to concrete topics chosen according to their particular interest. Each of the topics is dealt with by a team of three or four students. They are encouraged to cooperate with students from other study groups and share the results and know-how. At the same time the students learn how to defend their results at public meetings, in published studies or at scientific conferences.
The project is of great benefit to primary school pupils as well. It contributes to developing their key competences; they learn how to obtain and critically evaluate information on the selected area, carry out the field verification, propose solutions, and present and argue for their solutions at public meetings (there was a marked improvement in students’ performance of other school subjects and marks they received). The benefits of the project can be expressed by one pupil’s statement: “I understand now what geography is, how I can use knowledge I have gained at school and understand which skills I still need to develop.“
Thereby the project stimulates personal development of students and pupils, encouraging them to become mature and responsible citizens who understand the needs of their neighbourhood and endeavour to contribute to its future development. Students and pupils are given a chance to participate in the outputs discussed with public administration and local authorities representatives, with a view to putting them into practice. More texts about didactic questions were published by Hynek and Hynek (2005), Svozil (2008) and Trávníček, Trojan (2008).
The main objective in terms of research is to enhance community solidarity and people´s concern about the town/village and its environment.
The project encourages and motivates local residents in different ways to participate not only in the project but also in other social activities. Pupils‘ activities were indispensable during the research at application level for the local community and important community actors.
4. Developing the project
The sequence of the project is basically similar for primary school pupils and the students of the Geographical Institute. The differences are only in the approach which is driven by the different purposes of the University and primary school; the University strives for sophisticated methodologies and expert opinion, studying a selected area as an object with multiple facets. The primary school mainly participated in the project raise educational standards through partnership with the university. The common denominator is getting a deep overview of particular locality in the rural region.
The individual steps are linked and often blended together; further progress is influenced by the results of previous stages:
1. Mental mapping – a unique personal presentation of reality, used on a daily basis for spatial mobility and orientation which is evaluated and improved continually (Lynch 1960); mental maps were completed by guided interviews to enable their interpretation.
2. definition of the area linked to the results of mental mapping
3. collecting available data and controlled interviews with major actors
4. profiling the Deblín region as a place, land and landscape
5. making a list of major problem issues, examples of problem issues and their brief interpretation by team's solutions“
- Change in the structure of the economy and its impact on employment patterns over three generations (locally oriented issue addressed by pupils of Deblín primary school): Pupils from primary school understand the complex issue of temporal changes in the structure of employment in sectors of the national economy in the example of generational replacement in his/her own family. At the same time they pulled their parents and grandparents into the project and shaped their values and attitudes for future employability.
- Water management from the perspective of sustainable development (Subject to address specific issues of sustainable development in a broader context): Scarcity and pollution of water resources is commonly classified as a key limit of local development. Proposals concerning the negative impacts on the landscape (for example, erosion) and more efficient water management were publicly presented and debated at a meeting with township citizens. MU students were then approached by the neighboring village mayor to request expert consultation on management of water resources in the community.
- Significant landscape components (SLC) in Deblín cadastre (topic based on close collaboration with primary school and university students): University students tried to update the SLC database of the internal information system belonging to the Tišnov municipality’s Department of Environment. Groups of pupils and students work together on field research and try to find possible solutions to specific sustainability challenges. Joint work confirmed the great potential for sustainability of SLC and the multifunctional use of landscape, supporting biodiversity, ecological stability and preservation of historical landscape structures. Results of a joint survey were presented to local residents at a public presentation. Primary school pupils gained an understanding of the importance of sustainability for the Deblín region, understood the local countryside and gained experience in public speaking.
6. students and pupils meetings in the Deblín primary school premises and joint field work
7. generating outputs and public presentation of the results
8. joint excursions and identification of problems suggested by the general public and local or government authorities
9. seeking opportunities for financial and organizational backing for further cooperation.
Qualitatively oriented cooperation on the Deblín landscape project led to many findings (concerning to sustainability problems in Deblín area) and proposals for partial and comprehensive solutions (e.g. water management proposals, significant landscape component management etc.) as well as understanding and interpretation of the area from the perspective of local actors. The involvement of the primary school appears to be essential for sustainable development. The pupils gained an understanding of the principles of sustainability; and they applied the acquired deep knowledge of specific areas during fieldwork in their area. They learned to perceive the process of modifying the landscape and understand that they are part of the landscape and are responsible for making a positive, negative or neutral impact on their area. They discussed their observations and results with participating project members which provided space for giving feedback.
The exchange of views, while respecting the rules of debate, was part of the final public presentation in Deblín where the students and pupils shared their results from the project work with the public.
The pupils showed that with appropriate support they also have the capacity to initiate solutions. The pupils activities helped to arouse parents’ and local residents’ interest in their locality, develop their sensitivity to sustainability principles and stimulate their active participation in the project.
The project proved to be of fundamental importance for university students as well. While working with other participants they searched for unsustainable elements in an area unknown to them and proposed solutions based on common consensus.
This project exceeded the common concept of a two-semester workshop cumulating in an examination awarded by credits. Positive feedback (collected at the public presentation and discussion among academic supervisors) confirms the value of the project’s approach.
The students successfully applied their theoretical knowledge while working in cooperative multi-disciplinary teams that dealt with selected issues corresponding to their areas of interest.
The actual application of the results both on the ground and in the academic sphere proved to be an important motivational aspect of the project. Many students continue to work on the project individually in their free time. Establishing further links and cooperation with other subjects at the Geographical Institute would be very helpful for them. Therefore, besides the value of the completed research, the project has an added educational value as well.
The common approach to sustainability aims to involve the people living in this area, who influence it in different ways. The pupils´ activities helped to make the inhabitants of the town interested in their environment and develop their understanding and openness
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to the principles of sustainability, and in some cases to motivate them to participate in the project.
We are indebted to my many of our colleagues and students from Institute of Geography, Faculty of Science at Masaryk University for their support and participation in our research, especially to Martin Braun and Ondřej Šerý.
The project presented here receives increasing support from state authorities and the local government (through the Tišnov municipality). Feedback from the residents and participating institutions was crucial for the whole project and contributed to its further development – the local authority acknowledges and works with the identified significant landscape components in cooperation with Tišnov municipal administration and water cycle service project in the village of Vohančice and has also applied for grant from the European Union Operational Programme: Education for Competitiveness.