Great student satisfaction with LAS Winter Courses!

The launch phase of the EPICUR courses was a great success. The Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) offer started at the end of 2020 and has been well received by students from all our partner universities, many of whom have embarked on the EPICUR adventure by enrolling in one or more courses. Now that the semester is over, it is time to look back. One thing is certain, our students have grown from this experience. Since December, students from different fields of study and several EPICUR countries have completed the first series of pilot courses and have expressed their recommendation for the transnational concept.  

For many of them, the international aspect of the courses was a real added value and allowed them to discover new ways of learning. Jürgen, a student from the University of BOKU, took the “Mediated Modeling for Sustainability” course, given jointly by the University of BOKU and the University of Freiburg. He is enthusiastic about his experience with EPICUR and particularly appreciated the opportunity to network beyond Austria and train English as a working language and considers the fact that EPICUR is bringing together teachers from different universities a “big win for students”. Ariane and Christina, two of his fellow students, confirm that one of their main motivations for joining an EPICUR course was the international environment it offered. For Christina, it was a unique opportunity to ‘study abroad’ in times of COVID-19: “It definitely felt like an international exchange! It was a very pleasant experience, especially during this time with Covid-19 around, and I highly recommend it!”. Indeed, for many students, the covid has actually made it easier to participate in EPICUR courses. This is the case for Maria-Evangelina, who is taking her usual courses online and thus had “no needs to transfer”.  

The first semester courses were therefore a success for EPICUR and provide a good omen for our brand-new Languages and LAS courses, launched in early March.  

Feedback from EPICUR students for course Mediated Modeling for Sustainability:  

What was your primary motivation for applying for this EPICUR course?
Christina: My primary motivation for applying was my interest in Sustainability and the international aspect of the EPICUR courses.  

Maria-Evangelia: I have heard before about conceptual maps and I found them a really helpful tool for modeling- simplify problems. Although my knowledge was limited in a manual mode. I wanted to extend it by using a tool that has more abilities.  

Jürgen: My motivation for this course was first the topic because normally at BOKU we model quantities and not qualitative especially in the topics where I am interested like Water Management or Biodiversity. Another important point was the international setting, students from different university with different backgrounds.   

Ariane: My interest in qualitative modelling. Learn new methods and approaches. Participate at an international lecture held in English.   

Did the course fulfill the expectations you had?  
Christina: I believe that this course exceeded my expectations with all the new tools I’ve learnt how to use.  

Maria-Evangelia: Yes completely. I have been introduced to multiple tools that i can use not just for modelling but also for collaborative work in distance. 

Jürgen: Yes, I learned a lot of new things and can they include in my studying field. 

Ariane: Yes, the course fulfilled my expectations, although it was not so international as expected as there were a lot of students from Freiburg. Further the “BOKU-thinking” was strongly present in each lecture, which was not exactly “new” for a BOKU student. 

What are you studying at your home university? Was the course very different compared to other courses from your study track? If yes, in which regard and how did you experience these differences?
Christina: I’m a student from School of Forestry and Natural Environment. This course was different compared to other courses from my school, in the way of active participation and the form of the final essay.  

Maria-Evangelia: I am doing my Master in environmental education and in my thesis i am focusing on local history as a tool for a more sustainable way of living. The lessons weren’t really different from what I am used to here since both are consisting of small groups of people that are really interactive. 

Jürgen: I study Environment and Bio-Resources Management at BOKU in Vienna. The use of a lot of different tools was different to my normal courses. For me it was an inspiration to implement them in the future also for me in the editing of other courses.  

Ariane: Study Program: Environment and Bio-Resources Management. One difference was that the course was held in English. Otherwise maybe the participatory group findings, but we had that also in a few seminars. One difference is maybe that we could chose the topic of our work based on the personal research interest, which differences a bit from previous courses where we always could choose our topic, but it was from previous selected topic or “directions”. However, I want to point out that it is not so easy to select a research interest, as it is often not so clear for each student. 

Was it easy to fit the EPICUR course to your course schedule from your home university?  
Christina: Yes, it was easy at first, but during my exams the schedule didn’t work for me.  

Maria-Evangelia: I find the schedule of EPICUR lessons really demanding with 3 lessons per week (i would prefer 2/per week) but due to the time difference and the online courses (no need to transfer) it wasn’t a problem for me to stick to schedule.  

Jürgen: Yes, it was easy. One reason maybe was Covid-19 because also all my other courses were online. 

Ariane: Yes, as I am only writing my thesis. 

How was it for you to experience this virtual mobility? Did it feel like an international exchange?
Christina: It definitely felt like an international exchange! It was a very pleasant experience, especially during this time with Covid-19 around, and I highly recommend it!  

Maria-Evangelia: I loved the whole experience but it didn’t felt like international exchange because i didn’t have the chance of living the whole experience (living in a different country etc.) 

Jürgen: It was a nice experience but don’t feel as an international exchange. An international exchange for me includes also meet cultural aspects, enjoy free time in another country or enjoy local bars.  

Ariane: I would not say that it felt like an international exchange. Maybe because everything is online cause to Covid-19? I would however suggest incorporating an actual mobility, if that is somehow manageable (health and financially). 

If courses wouldn’t take place online anyway due to Corona, would you still participate in an online EPICUR course? Why or why not?  
Christina: I would still participate if my schedule allowed me to.  

Maria-Evangelia: Yes, no matter what I was interested in this topic and i liked the opportunity to see how other universities work. 

Jürgen: Yes and No. No, because then it is maybe a normal course like other course at my university maybe without the international participants. Yes, because EPICUR brings maybe some teachers from others university at BOKU and from my experience that is a big win for the students. 

Ariane: I think yes, if the topic lies in my research interest. And maybe it is also interesting to have an online course. The difficulty could be that after Corona everybody is ”bored” from online courses and prefers to have face-to-face courses. Another problem what I perceive is that the courses are not incorporated in our curricula. There were 5 places for the course (for BOKU students it said on the webpage) and we are only two (and that maybe due to our role in the student’s union).   

Do you have any further comments?  
Christina: The methodology of this course has enlightened me with new ways of constructing systems and models, with the consistency from participating to the course throughout these 2 months I can say that I have broaded my way of thinking towards complex problems and their depiction. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have participated to this course because it gave me tools and knowledge of truly interesting information. 

Maria-Evangelia: Thank you for your availability and of being always so helpful. As a final comment I think I would have preferred to working individually for our final work.  

Jürgen: Thank you very much for the big support inside the course. It is not normal in courses at BOKU that three persons like Stefanie, Andreas and Bert are every time open for questions  

Ariane: I only wanted to suggest to not ask a IELTS certificate for course participation. I do not know what the intention is behind it, but I know at least one student which will not/ cannot participate in any EPICUR courses because of this certificate. From my point of view the English level was good in our course. And I did not research it, but I do not know how the certification of languages is possible in times of Corona? (At least for me it is difficult: I want to take since last March/April my Italian-certificate).  

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