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Junior Colleagues Research and Education Joining Forces:

Introducing the Austrian Research Program "proVISION: Precaution for Nature and Society"

bridges vol. 12, December 2006 / Feature Article

by Marie Céline Loibl and Karolina Begusch-Pfefferkorn


The Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (BMBWK) has introduced the research program proVISION : Precaution for Nature and Society to promote research on sustainable development. proVISION is one of the measures taken to implement the Austrian Strategy for Research on Sustainable Development (FORNE , Web site in German). This strategy is supported by the Austrian Council for Research and Technology Development as well as two other ministries (the Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology ; the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management) and should ensure coherent structuring of the national research activities.

proVISION deals with the interrelationships between climate change, spatial development, and quality of life. It focuses on the ecological and socioeconomic aspects of sustainable development. The research projects investigate functions and services of ecosystems with regard to their impact on societal procedures. proVISION requires the scientists involved to get in contact with society.

Among proVISION's several research principles, transdisciplinarity is undoubtedly the most important one. Transdisciplinarity means that non-scientists have to be involved in the production of scientific knowledge. One of the ways we consider essential to realizing transdisciplinarity is the collaboration of schools and other educational institutions with proVISION projects. Thus, collaboration of research and education constitutes another of the program's major principles: Each proVISION project has to collaborate with educational partners. The political framework is given by the "UN-Decade of Education on Sustainable Development" (2005-2014).

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} proVISION_pic1_smallOne of proVISION's programmatic objectives is to stimulate very close, research-based collaboration with education that exceeds the temporary access to research infrastructure that occurs in university labs or courses. The funding guidelines of the program explicitly commit all research projects to involve undergraduates in the role of junior colleagues who will actively participate in the research process and contribute relevant additional expertise. The concept of collaboration is research-oriented in the sense that pupils are guided and assisted by the researchers in jointly reflecting on the research objectives, analyzing problems, and drawing conclusions about sustainable futures and needs for action. Two examples might illustrate this type of cooperation between schools and research institutions:

The research project "Optima Lobau " analyzes user conflicts in flood plains of the Danube near Vienna. These flood plains are not only very precious for their ecological aspects and flood prevention, but they also serve as a beautiful nearby recreation area for Vienna.
Young people from 16 to 18 participate in this project - studying the functions of this complex ecosystem, creating a quiz to be used in biology courses, and developing an elaborate PowerPoint presentation for the whole school.
In addition to these more content-focused activities, the young people gained close insights into everyday working conditions in universities and reflected on their experiences throughout the collaboration process with the research team. One important joint experience was that the time and energy that they eventually invested was much higher on both sides than had originally been calculated. At the same time, the pupils as well as the researchers were very surprised how enriching and motivating the collaboration process turned out to be. Through their integration into the research process, the young people experienced the effectiveness of self-directed learning processes and teamwork, and in presenting the project to a broader audience, they acquired advanced communication competencies. Both skills are of the utmost importance in a lifelong learning society and in a rapidly changing world of work.

proVISION_pic2_small The second example illustrates how collaboration with young children from 9 to 10 years old can enrich not only the children but also the researchers involved. The project "future.scapes " analyzes the effects of global change in agrarian, tourist, and urban regions in Austria and develops strategies for coping with negative impacts. School classes from three regions participate in the process of scenario-building by developing positive and negative visions for their regions. All children contribute individual sets of four images for special scenario books they produce for their regions: They take actual photos choosing individual motifs they consider significant for illustrating the present situation, and collect old photos fromproVISION_historic_square_small their families, neighbours, friends, the community administrations, or local museums. In addition to these photos, they draw pictures of their personal negative and positive visions for the region. The photos and the pictures are used to create card games and animated cartoons that illustrate the succession of historic, actual, and potential future states using a simple technique they can operate themselves. Stories on their visions - written and read by the children - will comment on the cartoons and DVDs, and booklets of these stories will supplement the card games. These will be produced in greater number and used as regionally validated teaching material.
The researchers profit by experiencing creative stimulation for the process of scenario-building and by gaining insight into the life quality concepts of the future generation who should, in fact, implement the research results.

Both examples illustrate the specific approach to research-education partnerships fostered in Austria. The background for the high priority of this programmatic objective in proVISION is the idea that regular collaboration between schools and research institutions can be a powerful stimulus within a general modernization program of the education system. A declared funding policy of proVISION is to encourage a variety of experimental collaborative models and to identify effective approaches which could be realized on a broader basis.

The experiences of proVISION will be systematically evaluated and discussed within an international network of comparable initiatives coordinated by Austria and funded by the European Commission. Together with partners from Switzerland, Italy, Great Britain, Lithuania, Slovenia, the Netherlands, and Germany, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture will develop concepts for effectively interlinking educational and research matters on a structural level.


About the authors: Karolina Begusch-Pfefferkorn is a research program coordinator at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Marie Céline Loibl coordinates the initiative, ResearchEducationCooperation, at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. {/access}

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