Taking student-centred learning outside its comfort zone: student and staff experiences of international higher education in Vietnam

Chantarin, S 2019, Taking student-centred learning outside its comfort zone: student and staff experiences of international higher education in Vietnam, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Taking student-centred learning outside its comfort zone: student and staff experiences of international higher education in Vietnam
Author(s) Chantarin, S
Year 2019
Abstract The flow of higher education across borders and the adoption of international models have made a significant impact on cross-cultural teaching and learning, in particular, the spread and adoption of student-centred learning (SCL) across the globe. SCL is widely considered a key element of 21st century pedagogy. The idea of focusing on student learning in education, however, has been around in the West since 1689 (Korab-Karpowicz, 2015). It was explicitly adopted as a guiding philosophy by institutions of industrialised countries in the West to meet with employability needs of post-industrialism since the 1980s. The popularity of SCL expanded further as the globalisation of education and the knowledge economy become a centre of interest and led to the idea of investing in education in order to enhance competitiveness on the global economic stage. Subsequently, in many parts of the world traditional teaching models are now characterised as teacher-centred learning and considered by educational policy makers as less relevant for the changing world. Initially, the paradigm shift from teacher-centred to student-centred occurred in the West. In recent decades, developing countries and former socialist states in Asia have modeled education reforms on Western countries, including the adoption of SCL. In the case of Vietnam, higher education reform has encouraged 'international' programs that explicitly apply foreign approaches and SCL has been an explicit feature of the higher education strategy since 2005 (Harman & Bich, 2010; Hong, 2011).

Previous research on the flow of higher education across borders and the adoption of SCL worldwide has found SCL has been adopted more easily in Western countries than in Asian (Biggs, 1997; Slethaug, 2007). SCL was found to be better suited to liberal democratic and relatively individualistic cultures than to countries with Confucian heritage culture (CHC) of East Asia. Since there are issues of cultural disparity involved, implementation of SCL to CHC students is a challenging task. Studies have shown that both teachers and students deal with pressure and confusion in adapting to each other. Furthermore, there has been concern over the issue of foreign teachers not truly understanding the cultural context of the students they are teaching which could amount to neo-colonialism in education.

In the Vietnamese context, there have been some concerns over the impact of a market economy and globalisation of education on Vietnam's distinctive values and culture. Some concerns, with regard to the cultural insensitivity of policy borrowing, argue that imitating a Western pedagogical style will not serve the country well since inappropriate ways of implementing SCL could overshadow the Vietnamese traditional way of teaching and learning. These tensions are particularly acute in 'international programs' in Vietnam which are taught in English using overtly 'international' teaching methods.

Previous studies have investigated the implementation of SCL approaches in Vietnamese higher education after the economic renovation. While many studies have shown obstacles slowing down the adoption of SCL in Vietnamese universities, there has been little research about what hampers or supports the implementation of SCL at international universities that are partnered with, or owned by, a foreign provider. Furthermore, most research on transnational educational has focused on quality assurance, regulatory issues and institutional management.

Given this gap in the research literature, this thesis employed a case study approach to undertake in-depth and detailed explorations of the implementation of SCL in the context of international higher education in Vietnam where these two educational cultures, SCL and CHC, interact. This study was conducted at two international universities in Vietnam, one a foreign university and the other a local private university that offers a range of foreign programs in collaboration with overseas universities.

The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand how teachers and students of the international universities in Vietnam experience the implementation of SCL. In investigating the situation, I am not interested in abstract questions about what way of learning is best but rather in understanding the experiences of participants in educational environments where SCL is explicitly being applied in Vietnam. My research questions seek to understand various connected elements within a particular institutional case in order to examine the way the different components of the institution shape experience:

Question 1 asks how SCL is implemented in the classrooms of the universities involved in the study:

Question 2 asks how academics of the universities involved in the study experience the implementation of SCL in their classrooms; and.

Question 3 asks how students of the universities involved in the study experience the implementation of SCL in their classrooms.
Findings of this thesis show what SCL looks like in practice at the participating universities. Findings also indicate issues of student resistance occurring at both participating universities. Importantly, findings include four strategies that have been found to motivate students to adapt to SCL. These are (1) contextualisation, (2) harnessing collectivism for active learning, (3) co-opetition and (4) affective dimension of SCL.
In conclusion, the thesis argues that, educators need to be supported to be more reflective around how the theory of SCL can be applied in such contexts in ways that will help students to be more active in learning without devaluing their culture or existing knowledge. To achieve such a goal requires international education providers, such as international universities and offshore campuses, to promote 'mutual engagement' of both students and teachers with the challenges posed by different cultures of learning. This study proposes the adoption of four strategies to enhance the implementation of SCL in cross-cultural learning environments: (1) enhancing mutual engagement, (2) finding learning opportunities in cultural disparities, (3) developing the affective aspect of SCL, and (4) engaging students in constructive learning through contextualisation of content.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban & Social Studies
Subjects Comparative and Cross-Cultural Education
Curriculum and Pedagogy Theory and Development
Higher Education
Keyword(s) Student-Centred Learning
Vietnam Higher Education
Transnational Education
Cross Cultural Education
Confucian Heritage Culture
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Created: Fri, 01 Nov 2019, 10:36:41 EST by Adam Rivett
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