I have always figured I am about 3 years ahead of my students, at least in adoption of technology for learning. But with this MOOC thing, I have leapt way, way ahead. The way universities are set up, the education system so entrenched and ossified here in Japan, I fear for the 2020’s (and figure not much will happen until then).
Japan’s Ministry of Education is promoting the idea of applying the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle to learning. Never mind that this was developed to improve assembly lines for Toyota in the 1960’s by W. Edwards Deming who has reached mythical status over the years. Teachers tell me it can be used for anything. Sure it can. But should it?
So how do we get from here to there? Baby steps? A gradual evolution? Or a revolution? Will digital citizens rise up and man the barricades, voting electronically to…do what? MOOCs of the Connectivist variety will require a lot of nurturing, and will get splashed with the backlash that is sure to come in the next few years of the emerging technologies hype cycle.
My students are woefully unprepared for autonomous learning. They have been instructed and directed down to the minute in a very efficient system for developing instruction followers. I am guessing they will become the engine for whoever will lead them. I teach one day a week at the leader’s school. The ones who will go into the bureaucracy to push Japan forward in the next few years. They leave me hope. They are willing to experiment, but only so far. Tiny tiny groups are allowed to do things differently, such as take a gap year. Are these baby steps enough? Should I try to foment a revolution? They say the best leaders are adept at spotting a crowd going somewhere and getting in front of it. I don’t see much movement right now. Hopefully it is just me.
A good friend in the business has been long telling me that Japan is a mature market for language learning books, materials and software. The shrinking commercial areas at language conferences attest to this. Now, another indication I came across this morning. Mindsnacks is a new software for language games, with apps for iPads and iPhones. If you will notice below, we have a nice app for learning English as a Second Language (ESL). The interfaces for learning have lots of different interfaces. If you speak Spanish, Korean or Chinese, and many other languages, you have instructions in your language to learn English. The notable exception? Japanese.
People are uneasy here. The aftershocks continue unabated, now more than 1,000 since the big one March 11. We had 3 in one night, strong enough to wake us up. The epicenters are moving south, near Chiba, which is about 30 miles to the east of us. Fortunately, no significant damage has been reported. Our house, about 35 years old, is holding up all right. The spring rains have also come, and the school year has started up in most places. Julia spends a lot of time watching TV and reading.
One thing I do note, is that people are talking about their situation on the day of the quake. The topic of conversation quickly moves there, much like the “where were you when Kennedy was shot” kind of conversation. People are now making the before/after distinction, and although there are no big changes here in Tokyo, there are a lot of small changes. The streets are no longer lit by neon signs as much, and many of the escalators in the public transportation are turned off, all to save electricity. Right now there is enough power to go around, but come summer, with the load air conditioning puts on, it means there may be new blackouts. Tokyo Electric is ramping up their production, taking old coal-burners out of mothballs, and (more seriously) postponing scheduled maintenance on some nuclear powered plants. There is a small movement to try to shut down all the vending machines, which would reduce usage to manageable levels. Here is a before and after of downtown Shibuya near where I work.
It’s been a month since the earthquake. Maki and Julia just returned from their trip to our niece’s wedding in Hawaii. About 2 hours after their return, we got a 7.1 shaker, pretty significant. I had time to get to the front door and open it (good), and Julia looked for the cat (bad). Just had another shaker, not quite as big. We have been getting them more regularly, but this is an increase in the frequency and intensity.
As rescue efforts get organized and more effective, the body count is rising more rapidly. We are still discouraged from travel to the area, and there seems to be a large government effort at restoration beginning. The construction industry, long the most corrupt part of the economy, have lined up to make sure that they are included in these relief effort. Very few outside companies are being considered.
I started school today. For my third-year students I have an activity where we look at how much each class session costs them. We divide tuition (about ¥1.2 million, or US$14,000) by the number of classes in a year (usually around 400, each 90 minutes). They usually guess pretty closely to the ¥3,000 ($35) price for each session. But then we add room and board (another ¥1 million) and lost opportunity costs. We define those as if they could work their part-time jobs 40 hours a week, instead of studying. That adds another ¥2.4 million, more than tripling the per-class cost to a total of more than ¥11,000. That is about $130 per 90-minute session. For each student. Sure, I explain they also get the office staff, the library, our Boston Campus, and 3 other retreat centers, the Career Advisory staff, etc, etc,. But they get the idea.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last too long. At the end of the class, I gave the students the option of using their laptop computers in class with our new wireless system, or the other option of a paper-only class. I told them web-based activities would be more interesting, and that they could learn much more, and more quickly. Most thought that carrying their laptop into school was too much of a burden. So we are using paper. (I have 3 classes where they don’t get the option, they HAVE to bring their laptops. At least they will get some muscle tone.)
Because of the electric situation, we will be finishing our semester 2 weeks early, just ast he really hot weather kicks in, and the air conditioner usage surges, causing rolling blackouts (but not in our area). I think it may have been that the university saw everyone else getting a late start, and wanted to get in on the inaction. The students cheered when they heard the news. So we have both administration and students working the system to get something for nothing, or, more accurately, less for the same.