Romanian Experience

Simona Elena Bernat, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

 

“The ideas about designing a course, […] the manner of initiating research and service learning with the students will help me a great deal.”

“[The workshop helped me] …very much in all areas: in teaching itself, in the relationship with students, in scientific research and, not last but not least, in the personal development.”

  “… redesign the syllabi, change methods of teaching, research in my doctoral studies, the relationship with my colleagues.”

“For me, the School was a spiritual gain and a professional challenge.”

[Higher Education workshop participants, Babes Bolyai, University, Cluj, Romania]

 

It is a struggle for theorists to find the appropriate “label” for today's period of time, with all of the complex social-economic changes that are taking place now, especially in South-Eastern Europe. Some of the theorists have called the period that we are passing through "postmodernism”, so we will use this term to establish the link between the evolution of society and education.

A Romanian educational expert, Sorin Cristea, wrote in 1994 that the educational ideal of postmodern society is the “open personality”. Those members of society that will be educated to this end will have three qualities: creativity, autonomy , and responsibility (Cristea, 1994).

Creativity enables a person to adapt to the requirements of a society that is constantly changing. The pace and rhythm of change is rising continuously; as Gaston Berger put it, “Things are changing fast, they are changing very fast and, most of all, they are changing faster and faster”. Anyone living in this era must have the ability to master information, and also to make sense of it, evaluate it, put what is worthwhile to use.

Autonomy is manifest in a person's capacity to develop take independent actions for the sake of his or her own life. But of all three, responsibility may be the most difficult to develop. In the case of Romania, our society is still finding its way toward democracy. The students we educate will live in a different society from the one we have now, and it is our duty to prepare them appropriately, to guide them through the process of civic literacy. As Kurt Meredith (2002) wrote in The Thinking Classroom, the relationship between schools and democracy seems to be mediated by two interconnected forces: freedom and responsibility. The educational system will not be able to turn out responsible citizens unless its teachers have learnt for themselves, and can teach their students what liberty means: that is, unless they can demonstrate   “the freedom to assume responsibility” (Meredith, 2002).

All these ideas will remain at the level of wonderful words that will nurture our dream of a perfect society, or they can be materialized in concrete goals of the educational system undergoing reform in Eastern European countries. Who can make the final decision in this issue?   There are many factors that influence the fate of reform, and the University – like a fortress – is one of the most important. The important question here is this: are contemporary universities prepared for this role? Moreover, is the contemporary University prepared to define its own role, to set its own goals?

Romanian universities in general, and “Babes-Bolyai” University in particular, are trying to adapt their structure and strategies to a new paradigm: the “client-centered university”.   This orientation is closely related to the idea of entrepreneurial universities, which are able to develop economic policies for themselves. A client-centered university is one that responds to the needs of the community that it belongs to.

This goal of becoming a “client-centered university” may be reached through different means:

•  continuous growth in the quality of the academic teaching-learning process;

•  the development of new fields of study that respond to the requirements of the labor market;

•  the adjustment of academic structures to accommodate all types of students, i.e. multicultural education, integrated education, etc.;

•  redefinition of universities as service suppliers for communities;

•  active involvement in adult education.

The main client of the University is the student. The number of youths that choose to attend higher education is growing, and the growth will be a permanent condition. The future will bring us more students, and these students will have more varied backgrounds and needs than the ones we educated in the past. In order to cater to these needs, the University has to ensure a high quality of pre-service training for its faculty, and also access to in-service training. In our view, both pre-service and in-service training will call into play three interrelated approaches in the teaching-learning process:

  • training in university-level pedagogy and teaching methodology,
  • developing lifelong learning skills, and
  • service learning.

Faculty development in the field of university pedagogy and teaching methodology is a recent development in Romanian universities. There are different models of faculty development, most of them proposed by North-American universities, such as Harvard University, the University of Nevada Reno, the University of Northern Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, etc. Some models were outlined by Charles Temple, within the framework of Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking in Higher Education: Strategies for Use Across the Curriculum project. Temple (2001) suggested that universities might choose between three models of delivering faculty development: A   workshop series (consisting of three or four workshops spaced throughout the year), locally organized seminars of briefer duration, or summer/winter schools that might last ten days or more.

“Babes-Bolyai” University chose the third model and organized in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, between the 4th and 17th of August, 2002 a summer school for university faculty with the title, “Cooperation and Interdisciplinarity in Higher Education”.

The participants in the Summer School came from ten Romanian universities (“Babes-Bolyai” University Cluj, Al. I. Cuza University, Iasi, the universities of Bucharest, Galati, Brasov, Sibiu, Oradea, Alba-Iulia, Suceava, and Arad). They attended two week-long courses: Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum and The interdisciplinary approach of the content of education and team-teaching . The young academics learned about cooperative learning, critical thinking, course design, service learning, interdisciplinarity, team-teaching, university pedagogy and leading student scientific research. As a result of their participation in the Summer School, the teachers involved will publish a collective volume, entitled “Cooperation and interdisciplinarity in Higher Education”, which will contain articles, studies and a collections of the syllabi designed during the summer courses.

The participants learned valuable lessons about syllabus design. The model proposed in the summer school (see the article elsewhere in this volume) is built around five phases: problem-setting, introduction of methods, content-sharing, guided practice, and extended inquiry (Temple, 2001). This model of course design differs from traditional approaches in its emphasis on student needs. The methodology of teaching the course, attendance policy, assignments are clearly set out in the course syllabus, so every student in the course knows from the beginning the requirements of the teacher. That is why the faculties considered this model of designing a course for active learning a valuable acquisition at the Summer School and some of their comments demonstrate their appreciation:

 

“I understood that a course is an offer and the necessity and utility of that course must be strongly argued, even if the course is compulsory. That is the right attitude toward the students.”

“To find reasons, acceptable justifications for the others is very hard, but this is necessary.”

“This modality of curriculum design reorganized my entire system of teaching.”

Participants at the end of the Summer School gave the four answers that appear at the top of this article. The question was, “To what extent do you think that what you learned/discussed here will help you in your professional activity?” Most of the answers were similar to those four. The respondents reported that they were helped to meet the most pressing needs of Romanian teachers with regard to professional development: how to design courses that promote active learning, ideas for reshaping the teacher-student relationship, way to foster more cooperation among teachers, and suggestions for initiating and leading student research.

An important gain for many faculties was the rediscovery of the challenges of the teaching profession, when moves beyond the guise of teacher or student and values the human being. The participants' responses suggest that at least some university faculty are ready to make changes in their professional activity and development.

 

“I will certainly design interactive activities in a much easier and confident manner.”

“My attitude will change from a teacher centered orientation to a student-centered one.”

“I will share my own experiences with my colleagues.”

“I will change my syllabus, the strategies, the instruments and the forms of activities' organization.”

“I will be more reflexive on the subject-matter that I teach.”

“I will experiment the RWCT methods.”

“I hope to obtain real activity and participation of the students to my classes.”

“Maybe my classes will become more dynamic, more interactive and more centered on students' needs.”

“I will fight with even more confidence against different types of   needs. I will organize even better the activities with the students, so their positive or negative results will present real proofs of how my work is perceived inside the educational system.”

“I intend to implement active learning in military higher education. Now I have more perspectives   to exercise in my teaching.”

“I will offer my course this fall in the manner that I was taught to this workshop. I will change parts of the content and I will use the RWCT strategies that I didn't use before.”

“I changed my attitude towards professors training.”

“I will introduce an elective course on RWCT strategies at the Pedagogical College where I'm teaching.”

“Now the framework for cooperation with professors that teach related subject-matters is set-up.”

As a consequence of this Summer School, the professors involved decided to organize a discussions group on the web. The e-mail is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   This group intend to support those teachers that wants to improve their teaching and to develop researches on teaching.

“Babes-Bolyai” University create a Center for Faculty Development, that will be inaugurate on October, 2002. The aim is to identify those standards that will ensure the quality of teaching, to enhance researches on educational sciences field and to respond more efficient to the community requests.

 


References:

Cristea, S. (1994) – Fundamentele pedagogice ale reformei învăţământului , E.D.P., Bucuresti;

Meredith, K.S. (2002) – Freedom, Responsibility and Democratic Schools, Thinking Classroom , 2/2002;

Temple, C. (2001) – Reading and Writing or critical Thinking in Higher Education: Strategies for Use Across the Curriculum, Open Society Institute, New York, RWCT project