The Power of Metaphor in Bringing Clarity for Learners in Learner-Centered Design

The Power of Metaphor in Bringing Clarity for Learners in Learner-Centered Design

John Ewing, Doug Reid
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0892-2.ch015
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The study focuses on guiding students through an exploration of social constructivism model as it relates to the roles of instructor and learner. It explores the use of a metaphor, the dot, to demonstrate that metaphors can support deeper understanding of difficult concepts inherent in learner-centered and constructivist pedagogies. This research was conducted to ascertain whether metaphors provide common reference points for learners that can be used to build and test new assumptions of knowledge. Additionally, the study highlights challenges that learner-centered pedagogy face when identifying preconceived constructs and moving towards the adoption of new thoughts, perspectives, and reasoning. In theory, this study identified the continuing role that metaphors play in the learning theory and how the literature can be explored further. In practice, the study identified student-centered activities, which include the learner as a contributor to knowledge, learning in a community of learners, and empowering the learner to change.
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Narrative: The Use of a Metaphor in Creating Enduring Understanding

A colleague recalled the following story. At the end of one teaching session at a major university, a past university student popped into his classroom as students were heading out. After waiting patiently for a while, she stepped forward and stated, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I was in your morning class about three years ago! I am now teaching and fully love it! I was walking down the hallway and noticed your familiar voice and wanted to step in for a moment and say hi.” The student continued, “I wanted to let you know that you inspired me and I have told so many of my friends to make sure they take your course. I loved your enthusiasm, humor, and knowledge of the subject—you are one of the best profs I have had and hope that I can bring to my own future students what you gave to us.” While my colleague tried to get his get ever increasing head size out of the proverbial door—his recollection, not mine—my colleague of course did what the rest of us do. He searched his memory for her name. A place. A time—some sort of reference. Who was this student? When did she attend? She looked familiar, but . . . did she get the right person? My colleague did not dare ask, especially since she had stated so openly such warm sentiments.

The student continued. “Oh, you don’t have to worry. I don’t expect you to remember my name—she was being kind. I was the student who brought the student textbook that Tolstoy wrote before he later became renown for his writing of great works of literature!”

It was instant recall as my colleague remembered the event! He stated, “You don’t forget such things. She was a student from the Republic of Georgia and this was her grandmother’s textbook. She brought it to class as an artifact and told us a story related to the object. I remembered the look of the “old” ragged book with pages torn and yellowed over time and part of the cover bent out of shape—it had traveled great distances to be in our class. The book was a Social Studies book written in Russian. This student translated a few passages for us . . . and I remember thinking, The great Tolstoy was once a textbook writer? Certainly there still must be hope for me as a writer then!” Actually he recalled, “I marvelled that in a small classroom at a university located in Western Canada such a student would appear through that door and bring with her a connection to such a treasure. (This included students having artifacts from the Mayflower, another being a daughter of a prominent politician, and another informing us during a discussion that her great grandmother was one of the personal confidants of Gandhi himself, so nothing surprised me as an educator.) I was reminded that students come from such interesting and unique backgrounds and no two were the same.

The student then related something that was my colleague had not anticipated at all. “Oh…I wanted to say that I still remember your ‘dot’ illustration—you know—that metaphor “thingy” you used at the beginning of our course to help us remember learning theory.” It made so much sense to me that and even today when I think of my classroom strategies, I am reminded of it. I have applied the same ‘dot’ thinking to other areas of my teaching as well. . . and it works!”

My colleague quipped, “Of all the topics, concepts, and multiple hands-on learning activities we worked through in that class, and all she remembers is the ‘dot!’ Remarkable! It worked! In a sense, as my colleague continued, “I remembered her as the student who brought to me Tolstoy and she remembered me as the ‘dot’ prof.”

What began as a small and seemingly insignificant learning activity now took on new meaning in the life of the students. It was clear that the metaphor my colleague had created provided a meaningful learning point for the learner. The test? It endured. The metaphor was obvious something that had connected with many students and over the years it proved worth retaining and paying more attention to. My colleague recounted that numerous students shared similar connections to their learning experience through this particular metaphor. It became a useable illustration and place to begin discussion on the topic of learner-centered pedagogy. In fact, in one session of the class, a student stated, “Oh, this is the ‘dot’ illustration that my friends who have taken your course mentioned.” So the dot is a natural place to begin our own study of learner-centered pedagogy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Visual Literacy: Visual literacy is the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image, extending the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text. Visual literacy is based on the idea that pictures can be “read” and that meaning can be through a process of reading.

Transmissionist Learning Theory: Transmissionist learning theory focuses upon transferring of knowledge from an expert in the field to form a learner’s preconceptions and develop a world view through various discipline fields. In such theories, the instructor passes on knowledge to the learner who is usually passive in acquiring information required to meet specific identified standards of practice.

Metaphor: A metaphor is a figure of speech that identifies something as being the same as some unrelated thing for rhetorical effect, thus highlighting the similarities between the two.

Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Learner-centered pedagogy or student-centered learning theory and practice are based on the constructivist learning theory that emphasizes the learner’s critical role in constructing meaning from new information and prior experience.

Transformative Learning Theory: Transformative learning theory focuses upon the often necessary change that is required in a learner’s preconceptions and world view.

Social Constructivism: Social constructivism believe that a learner’s ability to learn relies to a large extent on what he already knows and understands, and the acquisition of knowledge should be an individually tailored process of construction. Transformative learning theory focuses upon the often necessary change that is required in a learner’s preconceptions and world view.

Phenomenology: Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl and was later expanded upon by a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany. Contemporary authors such as Max van Manen have used phenomenology in developing understanding of patient needs in the field of medicine and health studies.

Scaffolding: Scaffolding is the learning process designed to promote a deeper level of learning. Scaffolding is the support given during the learning process that is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006 AU26: The in-text citation "Sawyer, 2006" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): The zone of proximal development is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. It is a concept introduced, yet not fully developed, by Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

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