Looking back on the PBL project – A review by Associate Professor Takeshi Akiba

The idea to carry out the completed PBL project was first conceived when Dr. Keiko Yamanaka of UC Berkeley (where I did my master’s program) and I took a strong interest in the community of female Filipino immigrants residing in Akita. When I was first assigned to my post in Akita, it was beyond my imagination that such an immigrant community ever existed here. Even Dr. Yamanaka, who has abundant experiences of studying immigrants, had never heard of this particular community in Akita. After all, very little research had been conducted on the immigrant communities of Akita until then, not to mention the fact that no information on the subject was published in English before.

The PBL project, therefore, offered valuable opportunities for the participating students to hone their global understanding and gain experiences of working in an international team while the instructors could pursue the study of our particular interest and try out an innovative course delivery method. In addition, since many of the participating students from both countries had similar backgrounds, for example, they had immigrant parents or they themselves were immigrants, they approached the subject matter of the project with special determination. These students had previously gone through identity issues of their own and were personally interested in the topics related to languages, cultural inheritance, intergenerational relationships between the parents and children, etc. Therefore, when the students visited the interviewees, they asked a series of enthusiastic questions and were engaged in emotional exchange of opinions at times.

At UC-Berkeley (Associate Professor Akiba in the middle)

At UC-Berkeley (Associate Professor Akiba in the middle)

Although the distinctly unique characters of the 11 students’ led to occasional confrontation and misunderstanding with each other, because of their cooperative mindset, all participants tackled their assignments head on and were able to form a strong sense of solidarity and camaraderie.. I believe a learning experience this rich in content and full of memorable happenstances are hard to come by.

As one of the instructors for the program, I was able to not only obtain additional knowledge about female immigrant communities but also gain experiences of using PBL as a pedagogical alternative, which benefited me tremendously both as a teacher and researcher. In addition, the program provided an emotionally meaningful opportunity for me to take the students from Akita to California where I had so many fond memories and also bring the students from California to Akita as part of the curriculum.

I am very grateful for this opportunity and hope AIU will be able to continuously offer programs like this by leveraging the newly built human networks as well as the experiences that were gained by the instructors and administrative staff.