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Proposal for a Learning-Centred,
Computer-Enhanced Syllabus for
Japanese University ELT Classes
by
Gregory Poole
- 2

3.3 Takachiho University (TU)

TU is a 4-year college with an undergraduate enrolment of 2800 students and a very small MBA graduate program. As explicated above, like at most Japanese universities, indeed the "small culture" of most TESEP situations worldwide (Holliday 1994; Holliday 1999), ELT methodology at TU has been largely determined by "tradition" (for a similar U.S. context cf. Gandolfo 1998), practices that are common across the college curriculum. Consequently, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed, bearing in mind methodological appropriateness for the context of TU (Holliday 1994).

3.3.1 KEY ISSUES IN NEED OF ADDRESS

• Limited number of classroom hours
The reasons for this are the institutional and governmental parameters that affect all TU classes. First, the university calendar in Japan lacks flexibility, not least because the lack of a semester system and the subsequent 90-minute lesson per week that meets throughout the school year (officially April to March, but in actuality, no more than 25 or 26 lessons over the year). This amounts to less than 40 contact (classroom) hours per year. Secondly, the institutional decision to limit the number of required course credits in English - presently 4 credit hours (two classes) over the four-year management and commerce curricula.

• Lack of continuity between classes and grade levels
Although partly rectified with a more integrated curriculum in the 2001-2002 school year, traditionally there has been little or no integration of language classes throughout the four-year program at TU, and a discontinuity between grade levels. Students normally receive little direct guidance from department faculty except for a 15-minutes explanation during the one-day orientation program for incoming "freshers."

• Poor student attendance, lack of motivation and self-confidence
TU students tend to follow learned behavior patterns consistent with societal expectations and notions of the institution of "university" in Japan. This perception is not unlike the social contexts, the "small culture", of many TESEP situations, namely, there is a general lack of learner involvement in the learning process. Students have not learned to draw real world parallels between what they are learning in class and themselves as active participants.

• Intradepartmental communication, low staff morale
Because of institutional and societal norms, there is limited communication between the hijookinkooshi (part-time, adjunct faculty on yearly contracts) who teach upwards of 70% of all language classes at TU, and the senninkooshi (full-time, tenured staff) who are the only teachers directly involved in curriculum development and institutional decision-making. The daily "teachers' room gripe session" reveals an endemic negativism amongst many staff characterized by low expectations of, and overall frustration with, TU students.

Bearing in mind these issues, the following programme of a more flexible syllabus is proposed.

4. Programme Proposal

"Computer-Assisted and Collaborative Language Learning as Tools for Learner Involvement and Independence in the Japanese University EFL Writing Classroom"

4.1 Aim

(A general statement of what the learner might learn (cf. Laurillard 1993, pp. 184-185))

• Students will learn to work collaboratively on EFL writing projects in a technologically-enhanced classroom

4.2 Objectives

(A more specific statement about what the learner will be able to do better as a result, cf. Rowntree 1994, p. 50)

After students have successfully completed the programme they will:

• Take on more responsibility for their own language learning.

• Demonstrate an attitude of confidence about and be able to give examples of their improved ability to communicate simply in written English.

• Actively participate both in the classroom (synchronous computer-assisted classroom discussion, CACD) and out of the classroom (asynchronous computer-mediated communication, CMC).

• Be able to distinguish between and feel comfortable working in an achievement-oriented atmosphere (intrinsically motivated) rather than a test-driven programme (extrinsically motivated).

• Be familiar with computer-mediated communication and conferencing technologies.

4.3 Methods

In a classroom teaching environment, of all possible media computer conferencing is the one which best allows a teacher to simultaneously give each learner unique, personal feedback while asking learners to answer questions about the subject and building each learner's ideas into the teaching. (Rowntree 1994, p.68). The following are examples of methods that might be employed in order to achieve the above aims and objectives, bearing in mind this media.

• Add the stability and carefulness of written discourse to the dynamic of classroom exchange.

• Provide students and instructors with an instrument for informal, written communication.

• Improve the quality of student invention, drafting, and revision.

• Create alternative means by which students may work in small groups and receive quick and detailed feedback from instructors and peers.

• Establish an interactive classroom environment that enhances the process-based approach to writing.

• Encourage active learning.

• Prepare students for lifelong writing and learning in an information society.

• Encourage students to write more.

This learner independent programme not only addresses many of the issues facing ELT at TU, but is supported theoretically by the research literature on applied linguistics.

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