#5 in a series on Learning in Different Contexts
Michael is a Canadian, born in Toronto, who has lived in Japan since 1997. He has taught learners from 3 to 80 in language schools, secondary schools and universities. He has an M.Ed (TESOL) from Temple University. At present he teaches at Toyo Gakuen University and Shibaura Institute of Technology. He was the founding chair of the Nakasendo English Conference. He has have been involved in the Japan Association of Language Teaching for over 10 years, and has participated in teacher training projects in Laos, the Philippines, and Bangladesh through Teachers Helping Teachers.
I seldom see a doorknob. Where I live doors open automatically. The toilet in my apartment resembles a jet fighter cockpit. It’ll power wash and dry my bottom with just the touch of a couple of buttons. Toilets in Japan are very high tech, highest in the world, I’ll bet – and that’s not all! Mobile phones have smart cards in them and you can use them to pay for a ride on the train, and you can buy a coffee from a vending machine by just touching the phone to a sensor on the machine. Every one of my students has a mobile phone, and they are the norm for university students in Japan. Young people in Japan spend nearly 2 hours a day doing e-mail, and browsing the web on their mobile phones. No surprise right? Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere for 1 May 2006 reports that 31% of all the blog posts in the world are written in Japanese, followed by English at 25%. Now that’s a surprise!
So, you’d expect all this technology to be in Japanese classrooms too, wouldn’t you? Well, it’s not.
I’m choking on chalk dust every day. Most classrooms I teach in still have blackboards. Interactive whiteboards are becoming ubiquitous in classrooms in the UK and elsewhere, but not here. There just isn’t much of a connection made between education and technology in Japan. When I was teaching at a high school, I can only remember ONE classroom, apart from the computer room, that was connected to the internet. When I refuse to accept handwritten assignments, rather requiring my students to submit their assignments as attachments by e-mail, they are shocked. I’ve had students, even at the Institute of Technology where I teach, complain about my insistence that they do assignments on a computer – none of their other teachers do, after all. Suffice to say that, despite appearances, few learners and teachers are ‘digital natives’ in Japan. Nevertheless, I’ve been integrating technology into my teaching for the last 4 ½ years.
In January 2004 I started a teacher blog in order to participate in a blogging project that my students were doing in another class. I’ve written extensively about it in a paper I wrote with Adam Murray called Blogging to learn English: a report on two blog projects. All I will say here is that I was disappointed the students didn’t blog more. Interestingly, two of them started blogs in Japanese, and kept them up longer than their English blogs. Another interesting thing about this group of kids is that now many of them post on facebook almost daily, and their exchanges with each other and other Japanese are usually in English. So they are willing to do it on their own, but not so keen to do it when a teacher asks them to do it.
It’s complicated. I haven’t given up hope. I’m still using web 2.0 applications. Whenever I think I should just pack it in and forget all the hassle of using a CALL room and web 2.0 applications in my courses I remind myself that most of the time my students feel that they can’t use English, except in my class (or in another class with a native English speaking teacher, if they have one).
One needs to understand that this digital natives vs. digital immigrants dichotomy is just plain wrong, especially in Japan and other countries in Asia. It’s not just about the national culture or even the generational culture. It’s about the specific educational culture. The trouble is that most of the research is done in European cultures (including Australia, New Zealand, North and South America.). This research assumes a fairly homogeneous educational culture. The assumption is that the difference in other countries is affluence and modernity. That assumption is wrong. Japan is affluent and modern, but its educational culture is not European, and that makes all the difference.
We need more action research. We need to see what’s going on in a variety of learning contexts. We need to see what’s happening in classrooms.
For further reading please see:
Birchley, Sarah Louisa and Taylor, Clair (2008). Virtual cards:an action research project exploring how far online flashcards can invigorate vocabulary learning for students. The Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University 16, 47-55. Retrieved 3 October 2010 from http://opac.ndl.go.jp/articleid/9437441/jpn
Stout, Michael (2009). Web 2.0 and Mixed Ability EFL Classes in Japan : Challenges and Possibilities. The Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University. 18, 247-257. Retrieved 3 October 2010 from: http://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/110007043508/
Taylor, Clair (2009). Setting up a MALL?CALL tracked self-study component to a course. The Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University. 17, 233-242. Retrieved 3 October 2010 from http://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/110007043508/