Beaches, Temples, and Flying Proas: Reflections on Five Years of Efforts to Foster Learner-Centered Pedagogies at the University of Guam

Beaches, Temples, and Flying Proas: Reflections on Five Years of Efforts to Foster Learner-Centered Pedagogies at the University of Guam

Kirk Johnson (University of Guam, Guam), Heather Garrido (University of Guam, Guam), Alyssa Gordon (University of Guam, Guam), M. G. Remitera-Huavas (University of Guam, Guam), Artemia Perez (University of Guam, Guam) and Amber Uncangco (University of Guam, Guam)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4036-7.ch009
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Our mission at educators, teachers, professors, and yes, even guides and facilitators on the journey of knowledge and learning for students in higher education must be to strive each and every day to foster an environment within the classroom and even beyond its walls that seeks to empower the learners to take charge of their own learning and to endeavor to find approaches and strategies that most effectively contribute to the outcomes of stated learning objectives. In this chapter, the authors analyze five years of experience within the classroom setting in upper level sociology courses at the University of Guam. The experience centers around strategies and approaches in three broad areas of learner-centered pedagogy that include flipping the classroom, collaborative, and active learning approaches.
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Introduction, Background, And Context

The idea of placing the student at the center of the learning process is nothing new. In fact, one might argue that this perspective in higher education has been embraced in the 21st century by a large segment of academia, and that the old adage of the “sage on the stage” that places the teacher at the center of the educational process begun to fade away. Nevertheless, this new reality varies greatly across the globe and there are many places where this transition to a learner-centered pedagogic philosophy within the classroom setting has been very slow and challenging. Paolo Freire (2005) argued in his revolutionary treaty now fifty years ago, that the old banking model of education that treats the learner as an empty vessel devoid of any thought, capacity, or valuable life experience in which knowledge must be poured, must be replaced by the perspective that sees the learner as an active protagonist of his own learning and a creator of knowledge through experience. This shift that has occurred over the past half century in many places has indeed fostered learning environments that are empowering to both student and teacher, and the learner-centered approach to education has helped to build skills and practices that enable lifelong learning and independent problem-solving.

This new perspective has resulted in the emergence of such concepts and approaches like “flipping the classroom” (Walvoord & Anderson, 1998) and “collaborative learning and active learning” (Bruffee, 1993) that have transformed the experiences of students in higher education. Learner-centered pedagogy or student-centered learning theory and practice are based on the constructivist learning theory (Olusegun, 2015) that focuses on the learner’s central role in the construction of knowledge and meaning. It is a process that places the student at the center of both curriculum design and classroom interaction and activity. Students thus become protagonists in their own learning from the choice of readings, to the types of assignments, and to the actual assessment tools used within a particular course.

In this chapter, we explore the concept of the flipped classroom and in particular reflect on our efforts to “invert the classroom” using the research of Lage, Platt, and Treglia (2000) who were inspired to try something very different in their own classroom because they recognized that the traditional approach to higher education was not necessarily most suited to the learning styles of their students. We, too, recognize that our students at the University of Guam come from diverse cultural backgrounds that are fundamentally different from Western cultures and that the traditional approach in Western Higher Education is fundamentally problematic within the context of this Pacific Island University. We define the concept of a flipped classroom as an inclusive learning process where students are active learners as well as contributors in their own educational journey.

Likewise, we have also made great efforts to mold our educational approach to reflect the collectivist nature of our cultural milieu and incorporated collaborative learning as well as active learning strategies and approaches within and outside of the classroom. One might argue that the collaborative learning approach is founded on Freire’s (2005) recognition that “without dialogue there is no communication and without communication there is no true education” (pp. 92–93). Students at the University of Guam come into the classroom from many different cultural backgrounds where most activities in life are collaborative in nature, and very seldom they are working alone. When students are provided a learning environment that builds on this fundamental cultural value, that is based on the principle of sharing and cooperation—where group work becomes the mode within the classroom—we find that students are able to connect with course content much more easily and they are more enthusiastic about learning as well.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Active Learning: Encompasses a range of instructional practices that engage students in learning through activities and/or discussion, as opposed to passively listening to an expert.

Flipping the Classroom: Type of blended learning where students are introduced to content at home and practice working through it at school.

Collaborative Learning: An educational approach to teaching and learning that involves groups of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or to advance understanding.

Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Encompasses methods of teaching that shift the focus of instruction from the teacher to the student. In original usage, student-centered learning aims to develop learner autonomy and independence by putting responsibility for the learning path in the hands of students.

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