Posts Tagged university education

Aoyama Gakuin University forcing students to carry tracking devices!

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

In a good example of journalese, the JapanProbe headline screams:
Aoyama Gakuin University forcing students to carry tracking devices
with a picture of an iPhone.
At least one of the commenters is alert and informed, and effectively counters the title’s hyperbole:

Comment by jikku

2009-05-17 18:34:27

The title of this article is misleading. The students of Aoyama Gakuin’s School of Social Informatics are allowed to use iPhone for attendance reporting, lecture podcasting and having online examination.They don’t have to carry it all the time and they don’t need permission to go off-campus. It just prevents 代返 (answering a roll call for another).

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tags: ,

The end of universities

An Oxford degree ceremony — the Pro-Vice-Chanc...
Image via Wikipedia

Been finding a few articles on the end of universities recently.

1) Universities will be “irrelevant” by 2020, says professor. This doesn’t say much that is new (“institutions that do not adapt will will out to those that do”), and I’m still waiting for all these universities to go belly-up and for students to take courses by iPod.

2) Seeing things as they really are. A Forbes article on Peter Drucker and his predictions:

“Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won’t survive. It’s as large a change as when we first got the printed book. “Do you realize that the cost of higher education has risen as fast as the cost of health care? And for the middle-class family, college education for their children is as much of a necessity as is medical care—without it the kids have no future. “Such totally uncontrollable expenditures, without any visible improvement in either the content or the quality of education, means that the system is rapidly becoming untenable. Higher education is in deep crisis.” Crisis means that things will get either much better or much worse. Things will get much different, Drucker says.

3) Donald Trump vs. The Mandarins. Gary North, a libertarian and Austrian economist, compares the great Chinese bureaucracy with the present-day American educational system, focusing on the MBAs. Apparently, like the expensive running shoes, you don’t necessarily get your money’s worth.

4) The Scourge of University Socialism. THE website for Austrian economics,, has an angry blog post about Obama’s wish for government to assume direct responsbility for making student loans. One commenter believes,

The truth is that this has nothing to do with education. This is a method of paying the Teacher’s Union directly from the government. There is always a hidden agenda in anything Obama does because his people know that if he says or does it directly the political backlash will be overwhelming.

3) Will the University Survive? by Tim Swanson. A well-researched article that has, erm, maybe too many hyperlinks, and footnotes. A thorough roundup of the key issues, obviously biased towards the free-market point of view.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tags: ,

The Immediate Method Autumn seminar 2008

The other day, I took part in the 8th Immediate Method workshop at Kobe University. I gave a very brief report on how I’d been using IM in a couple of different university contexts. (A more detailed report was published in the Conversations in Class newsletter #3 (pdf), which can be downloaded from the Alma Publishing website.)

In an earlier blog entry, I asked what should English teachers at university be teaching. I’m still pondering this, but I think that while recognizing the limits of students’ linguistic abilities, I should also remember that this is university and students are here to learn to think, to conceptualize and to do so at increasingly sophisticated levels.

The IM book, Conversations in Class, is quite good for this purpose. Firstly, it contains both basic and more advanced material in the same book, and it also includes some concepts related to English and Japanese pragmatics of conversation. It provides a valuable and relevant introduction to different ways of thinking by introducing the 3 Golden Rules (pdf) – 3 basic differences between English and Japanese conversational styles or pragmatics: even the idea that there might be differences can come as a surprise to students. The purpose of the “3 Golden Rules” is not to introduce students to cross-cultural communication theory, or to comparative linguistics, but to help them hold conversations in English.

Once the students are familiar with the 3 Golden Rules (avoid silence, give long and rich answers, and use a combination of questions and talking about yourself), these differences can lead, perhaps, to brief introductions to other, related, concepts, such as high-context and low-context cultures.

John Taylor Gatto, told his students that he did not really care if they came out of his class knowing or remembering nothing about Shakespeare or his plays; as long as they remembered and learned some basics of thinking and researching, such as making and testing a hypothesis, he would feel they had got the important thing.

I know that many (or perhaps even most) of my students, even though they are English majors, are highly unlikely to need English in the future. I bear this in mind and try and give them concepts, via anecdotes or stories wherever possible, that might broaden their outlook and understanding.

In order to do this, I need to use Japanese quite a lot, but I still think it is worth it.

Tags: , , , ,

Where to set the bar for EFL classes at Japanese universities?

(Photo credit: Limbo – “How Low Can You Go?” by sidneysealine3 on Flickr)

The other day, I met an acquaintance who, like me, teaches English at a Japanese university. We were attending a wokshop, and at lunch he asked me: is very basic EFL really suitable for university students? Isn’t the bar being set too low? “Passport” was at one point the most popular textbook amongst non-Japanese English teachers teaching university classes: what does that tell us about where the bar is being set?

A couple of weeks ago, I’d had a disappointing writing class, and I whined about it to a friend who, after seeing my online lesson plan, sent me this comment:

19 year-olds do need to reinvent the wheel of course, but all of these things take time away from other things, like learning to think and analyze… How about you … giving them a serious project to do that isn’t about trivia but also isn’t something so removed from them… I think it’s very, very difficult for us teachers to remember that their high schools kept them from engaging with adult concepts and ideas and so they really do need these 4 years at university to grow up… When you finally get to university in Japan, all you can think of is “Wow, what a relief not to have to memorize stuff for tests and read uninteresting books.” So giving them silly tests and HS type activities isn’t the way to go in my view, even though you make think, “This is all they are capable of doing”…I am continually amazed at how many people … have students do stuff that is quite childish and not really what university should be about.

At first I strongly disagreed with this: all my classes are English language classes, as opposed to content classes, and in addition my own students are of a lower English ability than his. However, I do agree that giving university students rather meaningless activities is an easy trap for teachers to fall into. The rationale, or excuse, often given is that teachers need to match what they offer to what the students can reasonably be expected to do given their level of English ability; a reasonable objection.

On the other hand, many students at university, even those in English Departments, are not realistically going to be using English in their careers. So what should EFL teachers teach and/or have students do in university English classes?  Below are some of my reasons for doing activities that require students to do some thinking, analyzing, conceptualizing and on various levels.

  1. One of my Japanese colleagues has expressly said she expects me to introduce students to new concepts and ways of thinking, not just teach them English (this colleague is an English speaker but does not teach English language).
  2. I know that many (most?) of my students, even my English majors, are highly unlikely to need English in the future. And their English level is pretty basic. So does that mean I’m limited to having them ask each other (or me) about their likes and dislikes, their favourite whatevers, because that is “all they are capable of”?
  3. In an earlier blog entry, I wrote briefly about one important role that I feel I can play as a non-Japanese teacher or “native-speaking English teacher” at university in Japan: the outside reference point, a point of comparison from outside their familiar context. This not only teaches them that there ARE different contexts, but also, by requiring them to explain their context in English to an imaginary non-Japanese person, forces them to think about that context from an outside point of view.
  4. A further justification for requiring students to think and analyze is the “kansoubun” syndrome.  Japanese students are very familiar with “kansoubun” 感想文.  What is  “kansoubun”? It’s a kind of “reaction paper”: students will write things like, “I liked this, I didn’t like that. I felt sorry for the main character. The hero was cool.”  Students seem quite unaccustomed to thinking and writing about the themes or ideas of, say, a movie or a novel, or a newspaper article.
  5. Marina Lee-Cunin in her book (2004) Student Views in Japan: A Study of Japanese Students’ Perceptions of Their First Years at University, St. Joseph, Trinidad and Tobago and Rochdale, UK: Fieldwork Publications. Paperback, 310 pages. References, Notes. ISBN: 095472450X quotes data that show that some students expect to be intellectually challenged at university and are disappointed; perhaps more students than we realize feel this way. (Lee-Cunin’s book is briefly mentioned in this January 2006 book review: Japanese Higher Education in Transition? by Peter Matanle in the electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies).
  6. Further reasons have to do with the kind of concepts and the kind of thinking students can or should be required to do.  I’ll leave that for a later blog entry.

Tags: , ,

University students, part-time jobs, and talking about Japan in English

Last Student Loan

Originally uploaded by here_for_now

In my basic EFL Writing class last week, students created simple questionnaires, then asked each other, collated the results and made a brief report. A couple of students chose part-time jobs as their topic.They then posted their reports on their blogs.

One of the purposes of having students write in English on public blogs is to

  • encourage them to think of their audience, and
  • create a potential audience that is not necessarily familiar with Japan or Japanese.

Japan is a high-context culture, which means one where people are almost always talking to an in-group or other; their “nakama” 仲間. They are not used to explaining the context of what they are talking about to others who do not share that context; there’s hardly ever any need. So this is one area where I, as “gaijin” (foreign) teacher, can play an important and valuable role: I offer a point of comparison which is outside their frame of reference, outside their in-group. I do this mainly by pretending not to know what they are talking about.

The course is entitled Talking About Japan, and the premise is that the students imagine they are on a homestay in an English-speaking country. They create conversations between the visiting foreigner (themselves) and the host family on a number of different topics, selected by me (so far), starting with their name. I call them out to a quiet corner of the classroom, two by two, and they have a conversation in front of me, which I grade, and towards the end, I join in e.g.:

“You go to a what university? A private university! Are all universities private in Japan? No? Half? The majority? A minority? What percentage, would you say? What other kinds of universities are there in Japan? What kind of students go to a private university in Japan?”


“What’s that in your pocket? Manga? What’s manga? Oh, a comic! But you’re 19! Surely you’re too old to be reading comics! Do all Japanese 19-year-olds still read comics? Really!? Why? Most people in this (the host family’s) country stop reading comics after the age of about 10!”

Cat among the pigeons.

It’s fun. And it has a serious purpose: to give them a broader or different context from the one they are used to. The one they are used to is one where everyone shares the same context so there is no need to explain (and hence also little need to question or examine) the terms or concepts. “Everyone knows there are both private and public universities in Japan; everyone knows the national universities are harder to get into than the private ones (except perhaps for the very top private ones); everyone knows that undergraduate programs in Japan run for 4 years”, etc., etc. So, because “everyone knows” this background, this context, it goes without saying; it does not need to be said. But, in a different context, e.g. in a different culture or country, it does need to be said because the context is not the same.

In addition, they assume that the norm in Japan is the norm everywhere else, too. (In Britain, for example, most undergraduate programs run for three years, not four.) They have no point of comparison. They have never had to explain these kinds of things before, and perhaps consequently, rarely had to think about these kinds of things before. Despite the Internet, “kokusaika” 国際化 (that’s not a rude word – it means “internationalization”, whatever that means), globalization, etc., my students (at least; can’t speak for others) are still remarkably parochial and insular in their thinking. This is the main purpose of the class: for them to learn to see their own culture in a different perspective, in a different context, and my role is to provide the different context, the reference point of comparison which is outside their context.

All of which is a very long-winded way of introducing an article I found online today about a survey of British university students. It’s mainly about student loans, but it puts the subject of part-time jobs into an interesting context: financial survival! It also includes some interesting statistics, which I plan to use in my classes, in order to provide a badly needed point of comparison. Here’s a sample:

Three quarters of students have jobs. They spend, on average, almost the same number of hours being taught per week (15 hours) as they do at work (14 hours)… While a quarter of those who work spend up to eight hours a week doing so, almost half spend nine to sixteen hours in their jobs. Another fifth spend 17 to 24 hours at work each week, and 5 per cent work between 25 and 32 hours. About 40,000 students (3 per cent) work more than 33 hours a week.

(The Flickr photo I used above includes some comments which reveal just what a big issue student loans are now for British students. When I was a student, tuition was free. See Wikipedia for more details.)

Another reason I want to use this article in class is to help give them a clearer idea of what I mean by an “interesting subject”, and to wean them away from childish ways of thinking and towards more adult (i.e. more conceptual) ways of thinking. However, that topic deserves its own blog entry.

Tags: , ,