I sometimes hear teachers complain about their “lazy students”, and often wonder if it is really the students who are to blame. When it comes to engaging students, a key concept which drives our pedagogy is the notion of learner autonomy. At times, this can seem only a far away dream; however when a program focuses on first hand student experience, the dream can become a reality.
This year at PanSIG I met an educator whose research focuses almost primarily on developing learner autonomy. I am talking of Michael Nix of Chuo university. In keeping with this theme, it was Mike’s students who would be stealing the show this year.
Yes, that’s right, I said students! The work done by Mike’s students rivals that of any graduate student. Presenting on their own alongside educators from across Japan were four seemingly benign young faces.
However, the topics tackled by these students were far from being simple. Issues these students researched ranged from touchy subjects like the Ainu and Aboriginal peoples of Japan and Australia respectively, to more mainstream issues like LGBT acticvism. Let me give a brief overview of this pilot program as it was explained to me by Professor Nix of the Learner Development SIG.
For much of the term, students focused their research on a specific social issue within Japan and Australia. Then, they prepared to conduct fieldwork in Australia. That’s right, I said field work! The students spent one week in Australia conducting interviews with various individuals and organizers. For more details, please visit their programs homepage.
I spent a while talking with one of the student researchers, Ryo Ito, who did a comparison study of health issues for asylum seekers in both Japan and Australia. I was impressed by his professionalism and sensitivity to the issue.
As he discussed various factors surrounding the issue he clutched in his hand a zine composed of drawings by a refugee who had spent four years at the infamous Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney, Australia.
Ryo explained some of the differences between Japan and Australia when it comes to refugee media coverage. He said that in Japan, refugee issues are rarely discussed in the media, but that when they are discussed they are discussed in terms of an individuals story.
Whereas in Australia, media attention is less personal and for the most part focuses on the negative aspects of refugee issues. Ryo seemed especially touched by the personal situation of refugees in Australia, and wanted me to take a look at some of their artwork.
As I flipped through the zine, I couldn’t help but to be amazed by the experiential aspect of this type of learner development. I am sure that Ryo will continue to contribute much to Japan, and the world, as he continues to build upon this experience.
This was my first JALT PanSIG conference, but all in all I found it to be a great opportunity to broaden my horizons and meet new people. I will be looking forward to it again next year. If you are interested in PanSIG, past or present, please visit the conference website.