Philosophy of Teaching
As mentioned in the first version, my teaching philosophy is: teaching is not only to transmit knowledge and to give guidance but, above all, to awaken what lies dormant in the learner making him or her aware that learning is the process in which the learner establishes connections with not only the subject matter but also the external world and especially with himself or herself.
I think that basically higher education should be aimed at producing a human being in his or her true sense: people of intellectual development and moral maturity. In the current context of Vietnam in the times of global economic integration when tradition is challenged by modernity, despite our students’ ability to access and acquire abundant knowledge thanks to the advent of information technology, on the other side of the coin, our rising generations are likely to lose their identity and lack moral guideposts. As it is becoming a striking problem in my country, I think the aims of education should be as clear as possible.
I strongly believe that each individual is a microcosm that potentially possesses all features of its macrocosm. Innately, everyone has their wisdom and the levels of their wisdom manifestations are governed by the impact of the external world on their learning process and even their life (however, I am not a behaviorist). In this sense, the learning process is a way of constructing knowledge and knowledge acquisition is the process in which an individual mainly by his or her efforts makes connections with the subject matter, with the surrounding world and more importantly with himself or herself. This belief has steered my methods of teaching (I reluctantly use the term “teaching” because in reality there is hardly someone teaching someone else but people teach and learn from each other), and in my experience, they are greatly effective. That is, instruction in my class is mainly discussion-based. Specifically, my learners, working in groups, continually receive questions that demand critical and creative thinking and answers at different perspectives, or they are also assigned problem-solving tasks. Additionally speaking, the learners have absolute freedom to “be themselves” because the concepts of “right” and “wrong” are absent from my literature class. Then, both teacher and learner have equal roles in exchanging information and if there is a prominent position on the part of the teacher, then (s)he is just considered more experienced and knowledgeable to inspire, guide and facilitate the learners to acquire knowledge on their own.
As mentioned above, each individual is considered a “microcosm”, so I bring learners into my focus, and therefore learner-centeredness is my instructional approach. In this aspect, sharing the humanist view, “human nature is essentially positive and that each person possesses virtually unlimited potential” (Zinn, 1991), I think that a teacher mainly plays the role of a helper and the content is no more than a means. All of these are assumed to function as initial supports which arouse and prepare the learner for his or her subsequent discoveries of the world (the world in this writing can be understood at all levels of meaning) including self-discovery.
I always advise my learners that “content should be considered a means, not the end.” So what I expect my learners to achieve is something beyond their mastery of content and their good grades at the end of course, namely learning skills.
Role of Teacher
It is unreasonable to believe that learners are “empty vessels” and teachers are “Omniscient Beings”. If a learner is taken as a center of focus in my pedagogical process and learning is defined as a process of individual establishing links with his or her external and internal world, then the teacher in this case, at the outset, should make the learner aware of this rule, and then inspire, facilitate and encourage the learner to go on their own to discover the subject matter and the unknown world.
Relationship to Society
I am constantly faithful with the idea that each individual is a microcosm which does not exist independently of the large universe. The microcosm and the macrocosm are mutually inclusive. Knowing this principle, I believe that society can be improved through the means of education.
Education and Learning
As I have presented, learning is the process in which individuals establish connections which are not limited to their teacher and their peers in classroom. Connecting “new knowledge to what they already know… in a way that makes sense to them” (Weimer, 2003, p. 51) from constructivist theory can be considered a kind of links. However, I expect my learners to have more connections than that. That is self-connection or self-discovery which is often neglected. When an individual can find connections with himself or herself, (s)he will know who(s)he is, what (s)he really wants, what potential and value (s)he may have, and (s)he will know better than anyone else how to exploit and use it. Thus, the more connections a person has, the more knowledge (s)he gains, and the ideal state is that when a person has deep connections with himself or herself, then (s)he can make a link between his or her microcosm and the macrocosm of the world, and afterward what (s)he can obtain is not only intellectual knowledge but also human understanding. I am not dreaming of a Utopia, but I still believe that when there are links of this kind in society, there won’t be tragic “fragmented forms” in the way modernists view human subjectivity as characterized by Mary Klages (2007) and the world will become better. To do this, first of all, learners must be aware of their freedom in this process: freedom of thought and discovery. To some extent, I advocate radical constructivism because according to Jonassen, “there are many ways to structure our world and there are multiple realities, or many meanings, for any event or concept. There is no one correct meaning that we can strive for…” (as cited in Kanuka & Anderson, 1999). In fact, having such a belief has set free my learners from the boundaries of “right” or “wrong” frameworks, eliminating their fear on their way of discovery. And reality has proved that thanks to this comfort, my learners can learn effectively not only at school but beyond the university walls as well.
My Academic Plan
Once again, I put an emphasis on the idea of “connections” which is central to my teaching philosophy stated above. This emanates my slogan “The true love of knowledge transcends all the boundaries of time and space” and functions as a lodestar for my Academic Plan in the context of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities Vietnam. The University of Social Sciences and Humanities (USSH) is one of the members of Vietnam National University (VNU-HCM). “Established in 1955, the USSH was originally known as the Faculty of Letters, which was part of Saigon University. October 1975 marked the beginning of a new era in the university's history when it began its first academic year after the reunification of the country, with various changes in its training objectives, curricula, and programs” (University of Social Sciences & Humanities, 2008). However, in recent years, the USSH, sharing the same problem as many other universities’ throughout the country, has witnessed the shortage of talents, which has a negative impact on the quality of teaching and learning and fails to meet the demands of society. Besides, as mentioned above, a large number of the students at the University do not actually study independently and think critically.
In this context, imagining myself to be the leader of this University, I will carry out the Academic Plan for a five-year term (2011-2016) in which the following initiatives are to be achieved:
- Developing and making the best use of human resources
- Developing discovery learning and reviving research activities
- Building and fostering good relationships with governmental, social and commercial organizations locally and globally
- Assuring education quality by strictly following international accreditation standards
1. Developing and making the best use of human resources
Developing and making the best use of human resources will be prioritized to make the USSH a qualified and competitive academic community. In recent years, in addition to the number of professors approaching retirement, the University has witnessed a phenomenon: brain drain. That is, experienced lecturers are leaving for another countries or another place to work. To meet the demands of the growing size of learners, the University has policies to recruit newly-graduated students or invite young lecturers (who may be either from other universities or freelancers). This event to some extent reduces the education quality at the USSH because owing to modest experience or humble responsibility, a considerable percentage of these lecturers do not satisfy the academic demands of students.
To improve the situation, developing and making the best use of human resources in this plan will be effective in several ways. In Vietnamese, there is a famous saying, “dat lanh chim dau” with the meaning that “If the land is good, birds will come.” First, the USSH shall have strategies to recruit talents by making policies on salaries, incentives, rewards or other promising conditions to attract experienced fellows not only throughout the country but also from every part of the world. Furthermore, the University shall have policies on training or sending young lecturers to developed countries for further study. A number of leaders in the country do not approve of this idea fearing that learners studying overseas may not return to Vietnam. I do not think that this fear is necessary. The first reason is that when we make the University “a good land,” we need not worry about the “leaving of birds”. The second is that, corresponding to the idea of connecting people all over the world implied in my slogan, the concepts of “brain drain” and “brain gain” no longer exist because when we increase our willingness to receive new ideas and lift our flows of knowledge and techniques as high as others’, and metaphorically speaking “when the waters are at level, then my goods pass to him, and his to me. All his are mine, all mine his” in the way the nineteenth century American philosophy Waldo Emerson pondered over the acts of giving and getting in his essay (1844). In this sense, how can we say that we have lost our talents after having them study abroad while they are lending a hand constructing the world? Don’t Vietnamese people benefit from the progress of humankind? Definitely, this plan promises that over the next five years the USSH will see itself as the place where there is the convergence of talents with great potential for qualified teaching and research activities.
2. Developing discovery learning and reviving research activities
This will have a strong impact on the teaching and learning practice inside and outside classroom. Besides learner-centeredness, context-based approach and a diversity of methods that enhance their critical and independent thinking, students are encouraged to view learning as a journey to discover the unknown world. In this way, both teachers and learners will have to unceasingly innovate new ideas and adapt themselves to the changing world with novel discoveries, and as a result, Faculties and Departments will continuously improve themselves by updating and modifying curriculum, contents and even managerial strategies to keep pace with this speedy intellectual development. Furthermore, this way of learning will not be divorced from research activities which currently are subordinated at the University. This initiative ensures that students at the University will find outlets for their creative ideas and then their research findings will be rewarded and translated into practice (instead of being putting on shelves in oblivion as they are). To facilitate this, the University will establish fraternal relationships with governmental, social and commercial organizations locally and globally to win their support for research activities at the University.
New models of research cooperation (it has long been applied in developed countries) will be established, namely research cooperation among faculty, among students and especially between faculty and students. In conformity with the theme of “connections” in my teaching philosophy, teaching and research activities will be fortified through furthering research and training cooperation between the USSH and universities across the country and worldwide. The University will welcome all the opportunities to join the international academic community.
3. Building and fostering good relationships with governmental, social and commercial organizations locally and globally
The bilateral relationships between the USSH and domestic and international organizations or businesses will be greatly beneficial to the two parties. First of all, the USSH will be able to enlarge its limited fund, which promotes sponsoring or rewarding geniuses and upgrading teaching and research facilities. Besides, it is the demands of these organizations that shape the research topics for faculty and students, and it is also these organizations that will introduce research findings from the University into reality. These relationships mean that the University will not stand separately from the society and that theory and practice are inextricable.
4. Assuring education quality by strictly following international accreditation standards
This is one of effective ways to raise the USSH to a higher rank and to make the University recognized worldwide. Vietnam National University (VNU), being a member of Asean University Network (AUN), has promoted its accreditation activities in recent years. And as a member of VNU, the USSH conforms to the standards for training quality assurance set up by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) and also follows the accreditation standards of AUN. In my plan, over the next five years, the University commits itself to a higher level, namely following ISO standards. To ensure scientific objectivity, the University shall invite international experts from non-beneficial organizations with good reputation to evaluate its education quality. It is one of the best ways to legally and officially connect the USSH with international universities. Hopefully, as a result of my Academic Plan, the next five years will see the USSH taking education quality as a precious asset to build its international image in the academic domain.
- Emerson, R. W. (1844). Gifts. Essays: Second Series. Retrieved from http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/essays/gifts.html
- Kanuka, H. & Anderson, T. (1999). Using constructivism in mediated learning: Constructing order out of the chaos in the literature. Radical Pedagogy, 1(2). [online]. Available: http://www.icaap.org/list_journal.php?action=show_details&journal_id=24
- Klages, M. (2007). Postmodernism. Retrieved from http://www.colorado.edu/English/courses/ENGL2012Klages/pomo.html
- Weimer, M. (2003). Focus on learning, transform teaching. Change, 35(5), 49-54
- Zinn, L. M. (1991). Identifying your philosophical orientation. In M. Galbraith (Ed.) Adult Learning Methods (p. 45). Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.
- University of Social Sciences & Humanities. (2008, August). Retrieved from http://en.hcmussh.edu.vn/3cms/?cmd=120&cat=1320139786512
*The context of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam described in my Academic Plan only serves the purpose of my study for the course in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.