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From Dateline (December 2, 2004)

Visiting Japanese Professors Study American Way of Teaching

Taking a brief respite from leading a class, five Japanese professors visiting Cal State Fullerton briefly became students.

Not only did the visitors hone their English-language skills, but they studied the American teaching style of actively engaging students in the classroom – which the professors said is a stark contrast to the Japanese method of delivering a non-stop lecture to silent students.

With the Japanese government ushering in privatization of that nation’s public higher-education system, Japanese universities have begun thinking more about the bottom line.

Hiroshi Ono of the National Institute of Multimedia Education, a clearinghouse for information-technology research shared among Japanese universities, determined that international students could help make up the difference in Japan’s university coffers. But, Ono said, Japanese universities wouldn’t attract more international students with classes in Japanese; English would be the key.

An acquaintance of Setsue Shibata, associate professor of modern languages and literatures, Ono said that Cal State Fullerton was a natural choice for his pilot program. Aside from knowing Shibata, the university’s American Language Program has a reputation for helping nonnative speakers improve their English, he added.

Earlier this year, the professors from Nara University traveled to Fullerton to spend four weeks with faculty peers in computer and biological science. Shigeru Yamashita, Minoru Ito, Yasuyuki Kono, Masahiro Akiyama and Koskuke Kataoka were hosted by five local families and paired up with Spiros Courellis, assistant professor of computer science; Mariko Molodowitch, associate professor of computer science; Donna Kastner, lecturer in computer science; Frederick W. Whipple, assistant professor of biological science; and Rodrigo Lois, associate professor of biological science.

“The interaction with faculty from Japan was very enriching bilaterally,” Courellis noted. “As a matter of fact, the benefit also was apparent in our students who engaged very actively during the classroom presentations by our visitors and exhibited increased scientific curiosity during the week that followed.”

Courellis added that the mentorship program could evolve to become an asset to the university, and “have a very positive impact on the entire California State University system.”

The Japanese professors were equally enthused. “The American way [of teaching] is better,” said Yamashita, noting that even though he would like to introduce it to native Japanese students, it could take years to be fully accepted.

During August and September, the Japanese visitors attended ALP workshops and sat in on their mentors’ classes. They wrapped up their experience by delivering lectures before American classes.

At a farewell reception, Harry Norman, dean of university extended education, congratulated the visitors on this capstone, putting it into perspective: “I can’t imagine ever having to give a presentation in Japanese!”