TENETS OF STUDENT-CENTRED TEACHING PRACTICES

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CHAPTER TWO LITERATURE REVIEW

This chapter presents theoretical and empirical literature related to the study. The chapter presents various concepts in teaching and learning including learning theories and approaches to teaching and learning. It also discusses the factors that influence the implementation of student-centred approach to teaching and the suggestions for curbing these factors. The chapter also presents a critical review of previous studies on conceptions of teaching and classroom practices and highlights the limitations in these studies and then outlines the research gap the study fills. In addition, it describes the conceptual framework of the study.

 LEARNING THEORIES

Jordan, Carlile and Stack (2008:1) contend that in general a theory provides practical insights which are useful to explain and corroborate practices. Likewise, learning theories are used to describe the process of learning and the conditions required for effective learning. As these theories are the outcomes of several years‟ experiences and systematic examination of facts, understanding of them helps instructors examine different views of learning and become aware of alternative views available in the field of education (Jordan et al, 2008:1). This understanding shapes instructors‟ thinking of learning and improves their understanding of how best students learn, which will eventually lead to better learning outcomes for students. The dominant theories of learning include: behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. This section presents these theories and their practical implications for quality teaching and learning outcomes.

Behaviourism

Behaviourism emerged in the 1920s and used to be a popular theory of learning until the 1950s. Its emergence was associated with the work of scholars such as Pavlov, Watson, Thorndike and Skinner. The Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, is credited for the beginning of a behaviour theory based on his well-known experiment with dogs, which is known as classical conditioning. In his experiment, Pavlov demonstrated that dogs were able to salivate (response) after learning or associating a conditioned stimulus (e.g. the sound of the bell) with a primary stimulus (e.g. food). This led to the assumption that like that of animals, human behaviour can be explained based on S-R associations (Williams & Burden, 1997:8).
A modern behavioural approach to learning is associated with the work B.F Skinner who extended early behaviourist theories and introduced the principles of operant conditioning in which the organism or learner operates on the environment in a particular way due to a consequence which is either positive or negative(Tuckman & Monetti,2011:233). According to Skinner, learning thus depends on elements in the environment and the learner‟s ability to elicit the desired behaviours as a response to these elements (Torenbeek, Jansen & Hofman, 2009:136; Williams & Burden, 1997:9). The desired behaviour is shaped through reinforcement or punishment, which increases or decreases the likelihood of that behaviour to occur. This means that learning happens when the instructor reinforces the desired behaviours and penalizes the undesired ones (Birzer, 2004:394).The learner will repeat the desired behaviour if positive reinforcement or motivation follows it and avoids the undesired behaviour if punishment or no motivation follows it. In general, behaviourists view learning as something that happens to the learner, with the learner being passive in the process of learning. Learning happens only when the learner elicits the desired behaviour in a measurable and observable manner. For behaviourists, it is the learner‟s actions but not emotions or thoughts which were the legitimate object of learning. The internal thought process of the learner was not considered as an aspect of learning (Birzer, 2004:394). What happens in the mind of the learner during the learning process was not considered with the assumption that it is neither observable nor measurable.
As one of the influential and popular theories in the past, some of the principles of behaviourism, particularly its rewarding or punishing mechanisms are still powerful in shaping human behaviour (Williams & Burden, 1997:12). However, current views on learning and instruction challenge behaviourism for a number of its limitations. One of these is that it emphasizes the traditional teacher-centred conception of teaching, which considers the learner as a black box who simply absorbs information from the instructor (Jordan et al, 2008:12; Torenbeek, et al 2009:136). The other limitation is its heavy emphasis on surface learning such as memorization and recalling of facts, which are more likely to discourage student creativity and innovation. According to Jordan et al (2008:34), a behaviourist approach may not be effective in a higher education, as it does not promote deep learning, which is associated with understanding and actively constructing meaning out of learning. Another problem with behaviourism is its total exclusion of the role of the mind in the learning process assuming that activities of the mind are difficult to observe and measure (Bruning, 1994:5).

Cognitivism

Cognitivism emerged in the 1960s as a reaction to the limitations of behaviourism. The cognitive paradigm focused on mental structures and processes which were not considered by behaviourists who opted for emphasis on the observable and measureable behaviour (Bruning, 1994:3). As Semple (2000:23) state, many people believed that strict focus on observable behaviour at the expense of mental process is too limiting. This assumption led many to consider thinking as an object of study. This new assumption coincided with the advent of the computer in the 1960s, which was used both as a tool for exploring into human thinking processes and as a metaphor for the functioning of human mind, which is capable of receiving, processing, storing, and retrieving information as required. Supporting this, Birzer (2004:395) states, “the human mind is not simply a passive exchange terminal system where the stimuli arrive and the appropriate response leaves”. Rather, the human mind enables the thinking person to actively process meaningful information as he/she learns. Meaningful learning, thus, occurs as the learner organizes, stores, and finds relationships between existing and newn information. The learner, therefore, is not passive in the learning process as behaviourists often thought, but is actively involved in the processing of information as required.
In a cognitive approach, learning is more effective and meaningful when the learner is exposed to well-organized and structured information and when learning takes into account students‟ prior knowledge. This means that information must fit to the existing knowledge structure if it is to be learnt. Thus, through making connections between the old and the new concepts, the learner builds more and more complex cognitive structures.
Cognitive learning theory has contributed some new useful insights to the field of education. One of these is the treatment of learners as rational beings who have learning goals and who can actively process meaningful information in learning rather than as programmed animals who simply respond to environmental stimuli. The theory of cognitivism also takes into account the learner‟s previous knowledge that helps learners make connections between the existing and the new concepts. The theory asserts that the learner does not begin learning as a tabula rasa but endowed with a capacity to learn a new experience linking it with the already existing experience. In addition, the approach emphasizes the form of learning, which is organized and structured for students to learn and process information easily. However, its heavy emphasis on lecturing (telling) approach, in which the teacher tells fixed/ structured knowledge to students makes it not as such different from the traditional instructor/content-focused approach to teaching(Birzer, 2004:395). The other limitation of the cognitive learning theory is that it views learning as something predetermined and predictable, and teaching as a matter of shaping the mind of students according to this blueprint (Fox, 1983: 154). However, learning is believed to be goal-oriented and happens as the learner engages with the world rather than passively accepting fixed or predetermined knowledge.

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Constructivism

Constructivism is believed to be a blend of multiple theories including cognitivism. According to Jordan et al (2008:55), cognitivism focuses on how students process information whereas constructivism focuses how students develop knowledge and understanding based on this information. Constructivism maintains that knowledge is not a commodity that is transferred passively from an instructor to a learner; rather it is constructed and reconstructed by the active involvement of the learner in the learning process (Aypay, 2011:55).
The theories of Piaget and Vygotsky laid the foundations of constructivism (Aypay, 2011:21), leading to two perspectives of constructivism: cognitive and social constructivism. Cognitive or Piagetian constructivism views learning as knowledge construction and learners as active knowledge constructors in the process of learning. As Williams and Burden (1997:8) note, unlike the traditional views of learning which emphasize mere accumulation of predetermined facts and information, cognitive constructivism is guided by the assumption that individuals are actively involved in making sense of their world and experiences.
According to Piaget (1952:5), an individual adapts to constantly changing situations or experiences through the processes of accommodation and assimilation. Thus, if the experience is familiar, the individual assimilates or incorporates it into an already existing framework without losing the cognitive equilibrium. However, if the experience is a new one, cognitive disequilibrium results, and, thus, the individual adjusts the existing knowledge structure to accommodate the new experience, which leads to re-equilibrium. The implication of this perspective is that learning is dependent upon the existing knowledge structure upon which the learner attempts to build new experiences or knowledge or concepts. Therefore, the learner does not passively receive isolated facts from the instructor or from the text; rather, he/she actively constructs or reconstructs the existing cognitive structure to acquire new knowledge and understanding (Aypay, 2011:21; MacLellan & Soden, 2004:254, Mascolo, 2009:6).
The cognitive or Piagetian perspective of constructivism was later challenged for its strict emphasis on an individualistic approach to learning, failing to take into account the role of social interaction and culture in learning (Semple, 2000:24). Thus, the dissatisfaction with this perspective led to the emergence of another perspective of constructivism called social or “Vygotskian constructivism”. This perspective emphasizes the role played bynthe society and culture in learning more than the cognitive aspect of learning (Jordan et al, 2008:59). According to Vygotsky (1978:88), knowledge is socially constructed through interaction and discourse with others in the environment and is considered as a social process in which meaning is made dialogically.
Vygotsky asserted that social interaction plays a significant role in the process of cognitive development unlike Piaget who believed that cognitive development was dependent mainly on heredity (McMorrow, 2006:322). This perspective views learning as a social process, which happens due to the learners‟ interactions with fellow students and instructors and this is against the view that learning is due to cognitive development which follows biologically predetermined stages as theorized by Piaget. Vygotsky (1978: 86) also theorized that learning takes place in the „Zone of Proximal Development‟ (ZPD), which refers to “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”. According to Vygotsky, the actual development level defines all the activities the learner can perform on his/her own independently without the help of others whereas the level of potential development defines all the things that the leaner cannot do alone as the functions for such things have not matured in the learner. These levels are determined through a problem that the learner can or cannot perform. So, if the learner can perform the problem independently, it shows the learner‟s actual development level whereas if he/she cannot perform it independently but only with the assistance of someone else, it shows the learner‟s potential development.
The zone of proximal development thus helps to define those functions which are not matured in the learner but in the process of maturation with the support of „More Knowledgeable Others‟ (MKO) such as instructors and peers through a process called „scaffolding‟ (McMorrow, 2006:322). This means, in order for the student to acquire new experience and knowledge, instructors or peers that are more knowledgeable should provide scaffolds for the learning experience. During the scaffolding process, the MKO acts as a facilitator who stimulates knowledge construction, not as an expert, so that students freely collaborate with others to construct new knowledge and understandings.
The scaffolding or the assistance can be withdrawn gradually when the students develop the required competence.
In general, compared to other theories, constructivism embracing both the cognitive and the social theories has valuable educational implication for the contemporary classrooms. This can be clearly observed from its important features as described by Torenbeek, Jansen & Hofman (2009:137). First, constructivism maintains that learners construct new knowledge drawing upon their pervious knowledge structures. This view is in sharp contrast to the traditional assumption that learners are tabula rasa and have very little knowledge to contribute to their own learning. The implication of this is that instructors should take into account learners‟ previous knowledge when making learning decisions (Mascolo, 2009:6). Second, constructivism asserts that learners should be encouraged to construct knowledge both individually as well as with others such as peers and instructors. This means that learning is dialogical and involves learners in interaction with others so that they learn how to give and take information from others. Third, constructivism establishes that learners should share responsibility for their learning in terms of goal setting, self-monitoring, self-assessment and feedback. In other words, they should not entirely be dependent on their instructors for their own educational processes; rather they should be encouraged to assume responsibility for their own learning in terms of planning, managing and monitoring their learning. Finally, constructivism suggests that learning should be authentic or resemble real-life situations so that it stimulates learners‟ motivation for learning. This means learning is more motivating when it is purposeful and enables learners to deal with real-life problems.
Despite all these benefits, constructivism remains the espoused theory (ideal) more than the theory-in-use (practical) (Biggs, 1996:348). In other words, constructivism has become a popular theory in education; however, its practical applications are still far from this. This is particularly true in contexts where instructors suffer from teaching large classes, poor administrative support for teaching, centralized curricula, etc as in Ethiopian context. Nevertheless, if quality-learning outcomes are sought, constructivism seems to be the better choice. This is because students‟ learning is of a high quality when they actively construct.

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CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION
1.1 THE CONTEXT
1.2 THE STUDY PROBLEM
1.3 THE OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
1.7 DEFINITION OF TERMS
1.8 THE DIVISION OF CHAPTERS
1.9 SUMMARY
CHAPTER TWO  LITERATURE REVIEW 
2.1 LEARNING THEORIES
2. 2 APPROACHES TO LEARNING
2.3 APPROACHES TO TEACHING
2.4 TENETS OF STUDENT-CENTRED TEACHING PRACTICES
2.5 IMPEDIMENTS TO THE IMPLEMENTATION OF STUDENT CENTRED INSTRUCTION
2.6 DEALING WITH THE PRACTICAL REALITIES OF STUDENT-CENTRED INSTRUCTION
2.7 REVIEW OF PREVIOUS RESEARCH ON CONCEPTIONS OF TEACHING
2.8 RESEARCH GAP
2.9 CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK OF THE STUDY
CHAPTER THREE  RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
3.1 RESEARCH APPROACH AND DESIGN
3.2 SAMPLE AND SAMPLING PROCEDURES
3.3 DATA GATHERING INSTRUMENTS
3.4 PROCEDURES OF DATA COLLECTION
3.5 METHOD OF DATA ANALYSIS
3.6 THE PILOT STUDY AND OUTCOME
3.7 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
3.8 VALIDITY AND RELIABILITY OF THE FINDINGS
3.9 SUMMARY
CHAPTER FOUR RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
4.1 PROFILE OF THE STUDY PARTICIPANTS
4.2 INSTRUCTORS‟ CONCEPTIONS OF TEACHING
4.3 INSTRUCTORS‟ APPROACHES TO TEACHING
4.4 THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INSTRUCTORS‟ CONCEPTIONS OF TEACHING AND THEIR TEACHING PRACTICES
4.5 FACTORS INFLUENCING INSTRUCTORS’ IMPLEMENTATION OF STUDENT-CENTRED INSTRUCTION
4.7 SUMMARY
CHAPTER FIVE  CONCLUSIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS AND LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY 
5.1 CONCLUSIONS
5.2 RECOMMENDATIONS
5.3 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
5.4 SUMMARY
REFERENCES
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