Associate Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Technology Management, Systems Engineering, Information Education
This is a continuation of the article I wrote for Chuo Online that appeared on November 10, 2011. The world where education meets ICT is changing and developing at a bewildering pace, so I would like to share my view about the trends over the past three years. When I was writing in 2011, only one year had passed since 2010 that had been said to be the first year of the digital book era, and books used in university education were also expected to suddenly change to digitized format. Three years later, although there has been no tremendous movement toward digital books, a number of digital book platforms have been launched and distribution numbers have risen in a paper and digital hybrid format. There has also been a steady increase in universities offering online courses with video recorded lectures. Also in elementary and junior high school education, experiments and trials have begun using digital textbooks and tablets to improve learning effectiveness, and although not as widely as neighboring South Korea, educational ICT hardware and software have spread steadily, including Takeo, Saga Prefecture, for example, where tablets were distributed to all of the city’s elementary and junior high school pupils. In parallel with this, new educational forms and methods that use ICT have evolved, such as flipped classrooms and other new lesson formats utilizing ICT, which are attracting a lot of attention.
I feel, however, that change has not lived up to expectations.
In the world where education and ICT cross over, Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, have attracted people’s attention since their launch in the US in around 2012. A succession of MOOCs education providers have been created, particularly a venture company set up by instructors at Stanford University, and even in Japan an organization called the Japan Open Online Education Promotion Council, or JMOOC, delivers online courses in a format that brings together a number of education providers. This is not something new, however, as free online courses have been around since 2002 when MIT launched its OpenCourseWare, or OCW. How are OCW and MOOCs different? To put it simply, they are run differently. Whereas OCW courses are run by universities themselves through self-reliant efforts such as collecting contributions for operating funds, the operation of MOOCs has been moved outside universities so that the courses are continuously run under the power of the private sector. The learning environment of MOOCs is also different, featuring interaction with teachers and between students as well as homework assignments, tests, and even the issue of a certificate of completion, unlike OCW courses which are simply transmitted lectures. At present, revenue from MOOCs is from the above-mentioned sources rather than from delivering lectures. Although there are thought to be several million registered students of MOOCs, their operation is in a rather difficult state with only about 4% of students completing their courses to the end. Additionally, with teachers being unable to handle courses with tens of thousands of students alone, there is pressure to reexamine the business model by considering how many facilitators are needed to support teachers. MOOCs have been developed against a background of issues with soaring tuition fees at American universities and attempts to provide university education at a reasonable price while maintaining quality, and so they are similar but not the same as OCW courses. I will be keeping a close eye on the development of MOOCs and JMOOCs in future.
In these circumstances, I have changed my own lectures over the past three years to incorporate flipped classrooms. Flipped classrooms are a sort of blend of e-learning and face-to-face teaching, in which students prepare for a lesson beforehand by watching an online video lecture of the lesson content and then consolidate their knowledge during the lesson through discussion, guidance from teachers on homework assignments, and collaboration tasks with each other. Two years have already passed since these flipped classrooms began, and I feel that I have achieved my aim of developing more interactive courses, evidenced by my students’ comments on the novelty of the courses, the freshness of the learning method, and their ability to enhance their knowledge through discussion. Running courses with flipped classrooms also presents problems, however. These are the selection of a discussion topic and the ability of discussion facilitators. The discussion topic depends partly on the characteristics of the subject, but I try to provide a topic that is somehow relevant to what has been learned from the preparation video, an open-ended topic that is likely to provoke a lively discussion. As for the ability of facilitators, if there are many students I am unable to facilitate in every group and so I assign one student as facilitator in each group, but the ability of those students affects the quality of the discussion (that is, the fermentation of knowledge) and the degree of activity. I still feel I need to come up with a better device for running these courses.
Although I am an advocate of online courses, I do not believe that all university courses should be changed immediately to a system like MOOCs. We have to look for effective educational methods that students find fresh and interesting. I therefore think we should start with the following two points. The first is to video record and release all lectures by teachers. Even if these lectures are not available outside the university, we should create an environment that can be viewed by students and teachers alike. Professor Shigeru Miyagawa of MIT, a member of the OCW Faculty Advisory Committee , has stressed that, “OCW is the ultimate FD (Facility Development) activity.” It is good to continue with classroom visitations and best teacher awards, but I think releasing lecture videos would be a more effective way of sustaining and improving educational quality and would have a large ripple effect. The second point is to provide clear system diagrams and syllabuses in order to eliminate any mismatches in classes taken by students and to increase their motivation in their subjects. Particularly with students’ high propensity to take easy-to-pass courses, we need to create an environment for taking courses using ICT, such as by making syllabuses visual. To this end, educational institutions (universities) should prepare the platforms for such environment. It really goes without saying, but we need to find a system that enables teachers, students and universities (educational establishments) to stimulate the change of the way of thinking.
I have taken the liberty of talking from my own experience about the state of university education using ICT, but such education methods as MOOCs, digital textbooks, and flipped classrooms using ICT are not, of course, a solution for everything. In South Korea, which has moved more toward digital textbooks, data suggests that students have lower reading skills as they read less and less. With MOOCs, it may be necessary to change how they are delivered in terms of operational funding. Whatever the case, amidst the rise in ICT-based online learning, social learning and active learning, the time has come to consider and try out new educational methods aimed at students of the digital native generation who think of information as being free. When shall we do this? Now, surely!