When a “ Yes, Prime Minister” moment (or two) occurs, which, may I add, are not isolated events but seemingly endemic to the wider system, I just can’t resist leaving it to the book.
I had several of those moments recently. The first was at a meeting where a vote by “secret” ballot for the promotion of another member was required. After listening to the brilliance and achievements made by this junior member – and seriously, as I have never heard such lengthy accolades for a single individual before I assumed s/he must have won the Nobel Prize! Sadly, I was mistaken – the administrative staff diligently with solemn application – even resisting a smile from an offhanded comical quip – distributed the pre-prepared ballot slips. Our duty as academic members was to decide whether the learned persons we had just been informed about were eligible for promotion to the next level. On the ballot paper we were to either mark “O” or a “X” (yes or no annotation) in the box on the ballot paper. Not too taxing – yet! At the bottom of the ballot paper we were given a space to write our own names – no, I was not mistaken, nor am I misleading you. And, I am not describing Mr Bean’s adventures. Remember, this is supposed to be a secret vote and that is why I assumed there was not simply a show of hands. Of course, I, allowed or otherwise, refused to write my name on this secret ballot. (I doubt it would have required Sherlock Holmes to determine whose the “unnamed” ballot paper might be from as I was likely the only person rebel enough not to do it.) What followed next was “ the straw that broke the camel’s back”: the administrative staff proceeded to walk around with a ballot box into which we were to place our “secret” – anonymous – votes so they could then be tallied. Good grief! Am I to believe this was merely ceremonial rather than a true evaluation based on due academic or democratic process? It was just comical – if it wasn’t so seriously flawed. And they think I am negative! “Yes, PM” or “Mr Bean”? Take your pick. You won’t be wrong.
The second unbelievable moment was when, at another meeting, on the same (unfortunate) day, the long awaited release of the JMOOC was announced. One poor sod (for reasons that will become evident soon) was asked to give a short presentation to explain (minus the costs and a few other key details) and demonstrate some (I hope it was only some) aspects of this MOOC. For those who are not aware what a MOOC actually might be: it is a Massive Open Online Course that started as a research project in the USA, but has since grown to be more common place. I have taken a few MOOC courses from EDx, with mixed results (passing some and incomplete in others as I was too busy to keep up with the imbalanced course work, amongst another reasons I won’t comment on here). Opinions about MOOC are mixed; the data not being overly kind presently. Personally, I like the idea of courses from universities being available for free (or very minimum cost) to the wider public, simply because I encourage the philosophy of life-long learning, not least for improving educational standards but also for the health of the mind and brain. Notwithstanding, I am aware that MOOC have many shortfalls, including evidence that learners are actually engaging with the learning potentials (though that same claim could be made of many face-to-face courses I have witnessed here in Japan), feedback issues due to the large number of enrolled students (one of the courses I successfully passed had more than 20,000 enrolled), and questions about whether the people who are taking a MOOC are the the audience who should be enrolling (such as people like me or the people who have never been to college or high school), amongst others.
I’m not going to go into any history of the MOOC at this particular academic organisation other than to say a few years ago I proposed a MOOC-like idea, developed in English, as an option that could be “piggybacked” on top of a collaborative program between the Japanese organisation and another SE Asian country’s organisation that were having discussions at the time. My suggestion was to NOT create a MOOC – although I could see wider benefits if it was in English – but create an Open U-like course linked to the web page that could be accessed by interested members of the public, and one which could be used for any collaborative program that may eventuate. Do note: the Open U-like course would be multilingual – not monolingual for a predominantly Japanese-speaking audience only! Put simply, I am particularly sensitive of the Galapagos Mentality that runs rife and handicaps the citizens from becoming anything more than diligent citizens blown one way or the other at the beckon call of the media and government that feeds them. Japan MUST get its information out to the international community so it can stand on its own as an adult and not cower behind the book of one thousand excuses. (That may sound harsh but Japan has so much to offer but is being held back by some very poor and self-seeking powerful interest groups). Japan’s future potential is to extend its “clever power” reach and reputation, not via a domestic focus, such as a JMOOC that will have minimal hits (unless the culture of on-line learning changes suddenly), but by showing the international community that it is an equal player in more than genetics, medicine, robotics and mathematics.
OK, no dirty laundry, but the template I presented to both the SE Asian organisation (and which had them signing up immediately for a test collaborative course) and to the organisation’s leadership, was interactive, learner-focused, and was immediately applicable to the learner’s world, with potential for paper-based material available (over and above pdfs and ppt files on the course). Politics aside, which is what “ killed” the goose, another person managed to acquire about $10,000 from JMOOC – Japan’s MOOC association, no doubt with links to Todai. Think what you could really create with this money! One could make a fantastic interactive course. The result, as presented? About 10 x 10 minute videos of several learned members talking in front on a blue/green screen on to which a photo of the organisation’s campus and a powerpoint slide presentations were superimposed. $10,000! A YouTube channel. Simply, that is all it is: a YouTube channel; a one directional one-in-ten-million other channels all hopefully waiting to be digested. (Not to boast, but a YouTube channel created for my students’ work some years back had 200,000 plus hits! Why? Applicability and suitability to the target audience). Interactivity of the MOOC presented? Didn’t see any. Opportunity for student feedback? Didn’t see any. Peer to peer discussion? Didn’t see any. Assessment information? Didn’t see any. 10 week course? Saw that with 10 videos.
The really sad part for me was when the other members clapped and cheered as if the “MOOC” was some brilliance – that some YouTube channel represents a MOOC. Was this an example of Groupthink? Ignorance? or just a case of Japanese politeness?
So much for the opportunities to get Japan out to a global audience. So much for showing that Japan is capable of effective educational theory and pedagogy. So much for… The implicit bias. What do I know with a PhD from the University of Cambridge in education, technology and learning? It means squat when you’re not “in” or when people’s worlds are locked inside cardboard boxes. I really do feel sorry for the youth…
Please do buy the upcoming book about many of the “adventures in advanced japan: you really won’t believe it” – or if you do, you will struggle to reconcile the advanced nation to the reality within.