Japanese prof’s example of blended learning

Today I spent half a day in Kyoto, attending the 11th FD Kyoto Forum, which is sponsored by the Consortium of Universities in Kyoto, the city and prefecture of Kyoto, and the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

I really want to attend tomorrow as well, but can’t. If you read this and you attend, I’d love to hear from you. The session #1 is the one I’d like to attend, but there are other promising ones, too, such as #2 “When universities must give places to all who apply”, and #8 “Unique examples of good practice in inter-university education: Open Courseware” (maybe Moodle?).

Today was the opening ceremony and plenary speakers and a symposium. Tomorrow will be the breakout sessions, including one I would dearly love to attend: conducted by Prof. Kino of Ritsumeikan University. He will present on a blended learning class which he taught over several years starting in 2002 (this class was held at Osaka City University). The session is called “2-way communication class: a practical example” (双方向型授業の実践)

If you can read Japanese, you can read what I read about it today in the handbook, over here. Even if you can’t read Japanese, that page contains 3 short QuickTime movies that give you some idea of the class. The first shows students signing in as they enter the room (at this time, they also mark their votes for the best comment; see below) and collecting that day’s handout. The 2nd movie shows a Thalidomide victim Kino invited to class, and she shows a video of how she cooks… with no hands. The third movie shows little prizes being awarded to the student who wrote the most popular comment to the documentary shown the previous week (as voted on by students).

For those who can’t read Japanese, here’s the gist.

Prof. Kino’s class was called “Documentaries: Environment and Life”:

  • A key purpose of the class was to try to create a 2-way dialogue and avoid “1-way traffic”-style teaching/lecturing. While this is relatively easy to do in a seminar (usually 15-25 students), it is much harder to realize in a content-based lecture-type class, and is therefore hardly ever attempted.
  • Another purpose was to create a course that is easy to understand and interesting to take part in.
  • He decided to avoid lecturing by using 50-minute TV documentaries each class. The documentaries were intended to make students think, and were on the topic of “the environment and life” (i.e. pollution!). He used TV documentaries, not only to facilitate students’ understanding by using a graphic medium, but to stimulate discussion and get them talking.
  • He produced handouts to accompany each documentary, in order to avoid lecturing and allow as much time as possible for watching and then discussing it aftewards.
  • He created a mailing list for the course. Everyone had to sign up (it was a condition of registering for the course). Students wrote opinions and reactions immediately after watching the documentary and sent them to the list. They were required to read all the other students’ reactions/responses and to pick the best one. (Voting took place in class). [In previous years, prior to trying the email list, Prof. Kino had used “response cards” which he handed out in class and on which students could write anything they liked about that week’s topic – a comment, a question, a response, anything. He called them 何でもカード]
  • He made a homepage for the course which acted as a record. On the page he wrote a short introduction to each documentary, the “best 5” student summaries of that week’s documentary (submitted by email), the most popular opinions/responses sent to the mailing list that week (according to students’ votes), a selection of student opinions/responses chosen by Prof. Kino, and anything else that Prof. Kino wanted to share with the class and did not want to take up valuable classtime with.
  • Weekly post-viewing group discussions

Student evaluations of the class (held in 2002 and 2003) show a satisfaction rate of over 80% (measured on a 5-point Likert scale item).

The documentaries were picked as the best element of the course, followed by the handouts (4 A4 pages), the mailing list, the homepage, the voting, and finally the in-class discussions. The results from both years were almost identical.

Prof. Kino writes in his handout for this FD Kyoto Forum workshop, that the reason he started the mailing list was to allow students to read each other’s opinions and comments. He quotes one student’s feedback as the thing that decided him to go with this, despite the heavy workload involved (he had over 80 students in the course in 2002, and over 60 in 2003; he needed, and got, technical assistance with managing the mailing list):

The mailing list, and being able to read other people’s comments, was fascinating. Instead of being kind of locked up in my own world, I read other’s opinions and greatly broadened my thinking.

I obtained this information from the write-up in the FD conference handbook which I got today. Unfortunately, I cannot attend tomorrow, when Prof. Kino’s session takes place. (If anyone reading this attends, please send me your notes).

Below are some links to the homepages for the courses referred to above, as well as to Prof. Kino’s research page. (All in Japanese).

Prof. Kino’s course and the source for all above info, as stored on the website of the Center for the Promotion of Excellence in Higher Education, in Kyoto University

Homepage for the 2002 course “Documentaries – the environment and life”
Homepage for the 2003 course
Prof. Kino’s research page
Homepage for the 2005 course

The reference to “2-way communication” was what caught my attention. The Japan Universities Association for Computer Education (JUCE) conducted a survey in 2004, asking a total of 60, 845 teachers at private universities and junior colleages around Japan, what they were doing in terms of improving their teaching, what difficulties they faced, and if (and if so, how) they were using IT in their teaching.

The summary of the report (in Japanese, of course) is here, and includes a link to the actual (PDF) report. I haven’t read the report itself yet, just the summary, in which I read the following:

Teachers’ ideal includes, being able to motivate students, having a clear idea of students’ level of understanding and teaching in a way which focuses on dialogue: teachers seemed to be conscious of the need to move away from “classes where teaching takes place” to “classes where learning takes place”

, which seems to indicate an awareness that teaching does not necessarily automatically result in learning. (It reminded me of EFL and teacher trainer Dick Allwright’s famous 1994 article entitled “Why don’t learners learn what teachers teach?”

I’ve been educating myself about the Socratic method, and have long felt hampered by the difficulty of entering into meaningful dialogue with students, particularly about their learning. For that reason I created a couple of blogs for classes last year. Prof. Kino’s syllabus has given me ideas for how I might make the blogs more effective, and what other tools I could usefully try. It was great to have this chance to meet other Japanese teachers doing interesting pedagogical stuff (and you can read between the lines there if you want).

One thought on “Japanese prof’s example of blended learning”

  1. great post and has me thinking about how I can alter the way I use moodle with my classes.

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