21G.501 | Fall 2019 | Undergraduate

Japanese I

Instructor Insights

Trying Something New

In this section, Takako Aikawa, Wakana Maekawa, and Masami Ikeda-Lamm share how they adapted 21G.501 Japanese I in fall 2020, and how they are likely to continue developing the course to meet future students’ needs.

Experimenting with Video

One thing we did differently in 2020, [when the course was taught entirely online because of Covid-19] was to add a video project to the course. Usually we don’t assign projects in Japanese I, because we focus on really basic stuff. It’s a lot of material to cover: the first six weeks are devoted to mastering hiragana, katakana, and kanji, and at the same time, students learn the basic grammatical patterns of Japanese. But in 2020, we felt it was important for the students to have some way of building community, because we were all online. So we added the video project. It wasn’t easy for the students to make a video with such limited knowledge of Japanese. But they made a self-introduction video after just three weeks. And then they could watch each other’s videos and make comments via the video format. So that was new, but it actually worked out quite well. So we would like to keep that after we move back to in-person instruction.

Writing Biographies

Another activity we introduced in 2020 was similar, but in a written format. At the end of every lesson, we want the students to use the vocabulary and grammar they have learned in that lesson—to use those skills for what they really want to talk about, rather than what they have to talk about in that lesson. So for example, we asked each student to talk about their favorite person: a famous person, their best friend, or whoever they liked. Then we asked them to write a biography of their favorite person. But we didn’t want to put too much burden on them because this was an extra homework assignment. So we said, “Just five sentences. Just include the name, the birthplace, what the person did, and what you think about this person.” They wrote about their favorite person using an application called Padlet. It’s like social media or a bulletin board, where they could write about that person, and they could also upload a picture of the person.

We found this kind of writing activity works well for students in this generation, the digital generation. And it turned out that they wrote a lot more than they were required to. We thought it would be a little burdensome for them, but they really seemed to enjoy it. Instead of doing this kind of writing assignment just to submit for the teacher to be corrected, they were writing for their classmates to read it, and they really wanted to make it look nice, so maybe that’s why they put in more effort. We didn’t really give corrections on the grammar or vocabulary for this activity, because we didn’t want them to be scared of making mistakes and being corrected in front of other students. We just let them enjoy writing and reading. And it worked well. So we’d like to continue giving assignments like this in the future.

Looking to the Future

[With the eventual end of the Covid-19 crisis,] we shouldn’t go back to where we used to be. Teaching in a residential setting has its own strengths, and remote instruction has its own strengths. Figuring out how to combine the two, utilizing the best parts of these two settings, is our next job. We’d like to explore a new really hybrid pedagogy using both residential and remote instruction. And we don’t know yet what it will look like, but we’re at a very exciting time. We may fail, but we can try new things.

"We have to change too, change how we teach, to provide the best learning opportunity for the students we have right now and the ones we’ll have in the future."

So many different types of applications are popping up nowadays like Padlet, and whiteboard-type applications, and notepad-type applications. And those are very engaging. At the same time, we have to re-examine what we can teach in the classroom. We’ve been talking about how to utilize the classroom hours more effectively, but what does that mean? How we can improve further? A lot of modifications and changes are coming up. In the next couple of years, we may have to modify the whole curriculum. Students are changing, the student body is changing. So we have to change too, change how we teach, to provide the best learning opportunity for the students we have right now and the ones we’ll have in the future.

We’ll certainly have some failures. We may have to go back a little bit, and then try something else. We just have to try, and see what happens, and then adjust. Just like our students, we should not be afraid of making mistakes.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Multiple Assignment Types
Instructor Insights