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Pre-test of Transform4Europe cooperation – guest lectures of Prof. Tullia Catalan from the University of Trieste

25.01.2021 - 15:47 update 13.07.2021 - 14:49
Editors: AJS
Tags: people

Prof. Tullia Catalan works at the University of Trieste (Italy), one of the partners of the University of Silesia in Transform4Europe alliance. During the first meetings, when the concept of common European university project was being developed, she got to know Assoc. Prof. Małgorzata Myśliwiec, Professor of the University of Silesia, and Assoc. Prof. Tomasz Pietrzykowski, Professor of the University of Silesia. As a result of joint discussions, the Italian researcher was invited to the University of Silesia.

Prof. Tullia Catalan offered to give a monographic lecture on the analysis and comparison of Upper Adriatic and Upper Silesia from the perspective of public history („Public History and Border Regions. Collective Memories in the Upper Adriatic and Silesia”). In the meantime, the coronavirus pandemic broke out around the world, and had a significant impact e.g. on the operation of universities. Therefore, the classes were held entirely online.

‘Although the monographic lecture was not organised under Transform4Europe, our alliance was the source of it. Due to the difficult situation that the whole world found itself in, we were able to test an important kind of cooperation based only on distance learning. Therefore, I would like to share my observations. There are many challenges for us’, commented the scientist from the University of Trieste.

We encourage you to read the interview with Prof. Tullia Catalan, in which she tells e.g. about the similarities and differences in running classes in Italy and Poland during the pandemic, and about building relationships with students in this difficult time.

Dr Małgorzata Kłoskowicz: Professor, you are the author of a monographic lecture on the border regions of Upper Adriatic and Upper Silesia, prepared for students of political science at the University of Silesia. I must admit that this is rather an unusual “geographic” connection…

Prof. Tullia Catalan: I’m a historian, employee of the University of Trieste. I specialise in Jewish studies, racism-related phenomena and ethnic minorities, especially in the context of border regions. While we were working in a wider, international group, I had the pleasure to meet Prof. Małgorzata Myśliwiec and Prof. Tomasz Pietrzykowski from the University of Silesia. We talked about our scientific interests. They found that the subject I focus on could be interesting for students of the Polish university. This is why they invited me to cooperate. I agreed and prepared a series of meetings on comparing border regions and collective memories of inhabitants of Upper Adriatic and Upper Silesia. Let me also add that there had been no pandemic at that point. I thought that I’d be able to come to Poland, to Katowice. I was hoping to get to know the city, its buildings, museums, monuments and streets with students, to read the urban space from the perspective of public history, which is very close to me. The later events changed the plan a lot, but I did not give up the cooperation. We decided to test the form of lectures fully based on the distance learning rules.

M.K.: So can we talk about the similarities and differences in running classes with students in Trieste and in Katowice from the perspective of challenges that occurred during the coronavirus pandemic?

T.C.: I think that our students got used to working with using various mobile devices and apps. However, they are active mainly in the area related to spending free time nicely. When they meet during an online lecture or classes, nobody wants to show their face or speak. I’m sometimes under the impression that I talk to a black screen, I only see initials or avatars, and I’m not sure if anyone listens to what I say. This is something that Polish and Italian students have in common.

There is, however, one significant difference that I want to highlight.

In Italy I had the possibility to meet my students directly, which was of key importance for building our relationships. I know what they look like, and we got to know one another a bit. Then it was easier for me to address them directly during online classes. I knew their names and remembered their faces. Unfortunately, I did not have this possibility in Poland, because the lecture was delivered during the winter semester of the academic year in progress, when all classes were carried out online. Please imagine that I was giving the lecture without seeing the faces or hearing the voice of my audience. It’s very difficult to build any relationship between the lecturer and students in such conditions.

M.K.: Why are students so unwilling to show their faces or speak during a lecture or classes?

T.C.: There are many reasons for that. At the University of Trieste all online meetings are recorded. This is why young people are not willing to comment on the subject of classes. They do not want to publish their image either. I do understand this argument, although it does not apply to Polish students, whose classes are not recorded. I think that some of them do not want to show their houses or flats. Many of them also say that they have technical problems with the Internet connection, and with video cameras switched on, there may be disruptions that make the meetings difficult. This is also true.

The English language is definitely a barrier. If my Italian students don’t want to speak in their native language, then why would Polish students want to speak a foreign one… I don’t know what their level of English is. I try to speak slowly, use presentations to help me, and I’m not a native speaker of English. I believe that they understand what I say to them. However, there is something that makes them silent.

M.K.: What does it mean for our future joint actions under Transform4Europe project?

T.C.: The last few months were for us a valuable lesson for us in the context of designing common directions for the future within Transform4Europe, which, to a large extent, will be conducted online. When the pandemic is over, I would suggest organising at least one direct meeting of the lecturer with students, as far as this is possible, so that we have the opportunity to get to know one another. This will really make it easier to conduct distance classes and lectures later on.

I would also consider introducing the obligation for students participating in classes to turn their online cameras on. We may try to provide them with technical support to avoid problems with Internet connection.

Moreover, we should apply certain methods to activate students, so that they want to talk, especially in a foreign language. Let me add that Transform4Europe will allow both employees and students to develop their language competencies. I cannot imagine a whole semester of silence.

Let’s talk to students and develop solutions together. This is one of inherent Transform4Europe elements, and my recommendation.

M.K.: Transform4Europe also means the possibility of strong cooperation with the region…

T.C.: What I teach students in Italy is mainly public history. This scientific discipline enables us to look at the regions surrounding us through historic monuments, street names, museums, monuments, public holidays, festivals etc. I study the way the community inhabiting a specific area represents itself. This is a very interesting research area. We would like the university graduates not only to work as teachers or journalists, but also to act as advisors in local and national units that have a real impact on shaping the future of their region and country. Such activities are intended to strengthen Transform4Europe alliance.

In the first question you pointed to the unusual “geographic” connection of the regions that do not have a lot in common at first sight. I look at them from the perspective of historic and social changes. This is why I can notice various similarities, which have become the subject of my monographic lecture. In particular, these are border regions, although the very notion of “border” can be understood broadly. It is not only about the geographic meaning, but also the social one – invisible, more difficult to capture, concerning the identity, ideology, nationalisms, coexistence of creeds, multilingualism, migrations etc. This is all stored in the memory of city inhabitants, its physical presence, in the buildings and monuments that either still exist or were “wiped out”, demolished, moved. If we know the past, we may better understand the presence and design the future.

It is precisely in such border regions that the leader of our consortium, Saarland University, noticed a unique opportunity, which we will try to use precisely within Transform4Europe project.

This special type of cooperation is mainly intended to develop the skills and competencies of students, open-minded people, who will use their knowledge in practice in the future. They will work in different institutions. They will be experts. Many of my Italian students are convinced that what we have achieved in our country, for example in the context of the existing rights, will last forever. Well, it won’t. The history may change, and we should be aware of it.

I also think that students from various European countries don’t know anything about one another. Transform4Europe project opens up the possibility for my students to see what studies look like across Europe, not only in Italy. We will definitely have to find a way to get them interested in this subject, to make them want to meet young people from other countries. It won’t be easy. I think that this is another challenge out of multiple challenges faced by all European Universities, including our, Transform4Europe.

I will be pleased to travel not only to Spain or Germany, but also to Tallinn, Vilnius, Kaunas, and obviously to Katowice, when it is finally possible. Then we will meet again, this time without a microphone or video camera.

M.K.: I’m also looking forward to it. Thank you for the interview.

Prof. Tullia Catalan

Prof. Tullia Catalan from the University of Trieste

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