What are the PBL courses?

Broaden your future with Project Based Learning (PBL)

We offer opportunities for further training!

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Everything changes extremely rapidly in our modern, globalised society. In order to face these changes head on, society needs people who can accurately identify an issue, understand its core, and resolve it. In order to become a person who can independently research, analyze and then act accordingly, we need to not only study a wide range of theories and concepts, but also to have the training to be able to integrate all of these ideas and apply them to the real world.

In addition, in order to actively participate in a global society, one needs to be able to communicate and cooperate with flexibility and resilience with people from diverse backgrounds - in English. AIU does not only offer lecture style courses; in 2012 it began offering Project Based Learning (PBL) courses to promote active learning. Through AIU’s PBL courses, you will have the opportunity to learn about issues facing the region, debate them, and work together with international and local students to find your own unique, practical solutions.

Project Coordinator Dr. Yoshitaka Kumagai

What is PBL(Project-Based Learning)?

PBL (Project-Based Learning) is an effective teaching method that cultivates the skills necessary for work in the real world. Its development was led by the medical department of McMaster University during the 1970s. Since then, beginning with northern Europe, America and Korea, and recently spreading to Japan as well, it has been applied to a variety of fields including engineering, the natural sciences, and the liberal arts. Unlike lecture-style classes of the past, PBL divides students into small groups and requires them to tackle specific problems that exist in the real world. Through this process of independently studying to solve problems, students can acquire practical abilities such as problem solving, effective presentation delivery and logical thinking; all of which are necessary to show their leadership in the real world. In addition to this, PBL helps students come to a deeper understanding of the issues they face. According to Dr. Bayston Jr.’s research on learning retention rates, students can come to a deeper understanding of their target material if they take real action, debate, and teach it to other people, rather than by just attending lectures and reading. Therefore, PBL offers everyone the chance to proactively carry out independent research, participate in debates, and present the results of their studies and discussions. In this way, you can expect to gain a deeper understanding and remember more about the issues you are tackling. The small group learning used in PBL will, without a doubt, improve your communication skills, help you mature, and strengthen your ability to work in a team.

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

PBL at AIU: Steps and Characteristics

STEP 1 Form Groups

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

AIU students form small groups together with international students. In this way, the project is carried out in an environment of diverse opinions and values.

STEP 2 Decide on a Research Topic

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Students decide on a research topic with the guidance and support of faculty.

STEP 3 Independent Research

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Begin gathering information with the cooperation of the group. AIU students will be expected to translate for Japan-based fieldwork.

STEP 4 Find a Solution of Their Own

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Through group discussions, collect and consider differing opinions and proposals in order to find a solution that satisfies the group.

STEP 5 Present Your Results!

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Each group presents their research results and proposals to the local people they worked together with during the project.

What are the 3 Characteristics of PBL at AIU ?

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Possible Schedules of PBL Courses at AIU

There are 2 patterns for PBL courses at AIU: you can do them on your study abroad, or you can do them at AIU. If you decide to do PBL on your study abroad, there are several ways to achieve this, as outlined below.

Type 1 (PBL During 1 Year Study Abroad)

Planning for PBL Type 1 (PBL carried out during the 1 year study abroad) is undertaken during the usual study abroad period. After the coursework for your study abroad period has ended you are expected to stay at the university and begin your PBL project in the following summer vacation (in the case of students studying in a quatuer system university, PBL will be a part of the study abroad period). You will then finish the remainder of your PBL upon returning to Japan.

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Type 2 (PBL during short-term study abroad)

PBL Type 2 is for students who have already completed their study abroad or who are still studying overseas. For students who have already completed their study abroad, this is another chance to study in the US. For students who are currently studying overseas, this is a chance to study at another university during your host university’s summer vacation.

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Type 3 (PBL at AIU)

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

PBL Type 3 (PBL at AIU) can be completed without going abroad. It is completed together with foreign exchange students at AIU over the course of 1 semester.

* The conditions for each plan may differ, so please read the details carefully on your application form.

What sort of issues will you tackle ? 8 Topics Relating to “Region”

History of the Regional Environment Type 3

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

A team of AIU and international students will publish an environmental history of the Arawa area in Akita City. Through interviews and idea exchanges with Arawa locals, students will study the changes affected to a relationship between the people and the environment in villages. Due to an embankment that is set for construction there, land reclamation and removal of residents from Arawa will occur within a few years. PBL students will be expected to provide suggestions for "Arawa from now on".

INT231: Community and Environment

Disaster Prevention Type 1 (University of Utah)

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Students will study disaster and crisis management systems in Japan and the US. Utah’s Salt Lake City and Akita’s Yurihonjo City are both regions that could face similar types of natural disasters. Students will compare the disaster administrations and regional communities’ preparations in these two cities. They will visit resposnbile public bodies to learn about their methods of communicating and cooperating in regard to disaster reduction, evacuation and providing aid. Based on what they learned, they will then propose their own countermeasures agasint a possible disaster.

GSP391: Disaster and Crisis Management

Ageing Society Type 1 (Dickinson College)

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Students search for what factors are necessary to improve aged welfare and find the commonalities and differences in regional areas of Japan and the US that are facing the problems that come along with an ageing society. Students will visit Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Yurihonjo in Akita, to obtain information from public services and welfare policy experts. They also seek out local people’s opinions to analyze these issues from social, cultural and economic angles. By the end of the course, students will present their own policies and practical plans.

GSP392: Living Well in Later Life

Immigration Type 2 (University of California, Berkeley)

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Focusing on immigrant women of Asian descent and their children, students compare Japan and the US in terms of factors such as ‘gender’, ‘generation’, ‘citizenship’, and ‘immigration’. Field research consists of interviewing immigrant women of Asian descent and their family members to learn about their thoughts and experiences. Students can then tackle problems such as “what it means to accept immigrants into regional societies and live together”, or “the key factors for turning Japan into a multicultural society”.

GSP393: International Migration, Transnational Family, and Community Building: Comparative Perspectives

Elementary School English Type 3

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Since 2011, Japanese elementary schools are required 35 hours foreign language activities. Unlike in bigger cities, these 35 hours are the primary opportunites for students in Akita to study foreign languages and cultures. An effective participation of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) is thus necessary to provide a better learning envirnment. Japanaes and international AIU students, playing a Japanese techear and an ALT, will conduct simulated lessons and have their own opinion to foster an effective participation of ALTs.

JAS331: Teaching English to Elementary-School Students

Folk Performing Arts Type 3

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Students will observe folk performing arts in Akita and neighbouring prefectures and will learn about the difficulties they face in passing them on to subsequent generations. Through interviews with locals, students, as outsiders, can find current and future meaning of traditional celemonies. From various angles, including religion, local customs, changes to the social landscape among others, students may bring a unique interpretation of these traditional ceremonies and disucss their future possibilities.

JAS231: Preserving Local Folk Culture

Tourism Type 2 (San Francisco State University)

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Students learn about marketing for tourism in California and northern Tohoku. They will study marketing and branding theories in America. They will learn about how marketing is put into practice in global industries and the tourism industry by conducting fieldwork at the Apple and Google museums and by visiting wineries in the Napa Valley. In Japan, students will visit sake breweries and festivals, and apply their knowledge to address the issues of ‘tourism marketing and branding’ with regard to Akita’s Kanto Festival.

ECN376: Marketing and Branding in Tourism

Community Revitalization Type 1 (Oregon University System)


Students will go to local communities in Oregon’s Wallowa County and Akita’s Yurihonjo City, and think about community revitalization. Through these fieldworks, they will tackle with issues such as: what is causing the area to decline?; what is actually happening in the area right now?; and whether it is possible to change the region’s current situation? From the discussion about these questions, sutudents will learn the importance of interdiciplinary perspective in global issues.

GSP376: Developing Resilient Rural Communities in Japan and the United States

Voices from PBL participants

  1. Why I chose PBL
  2. What to expect from PBL and my aspirations
Tomomi Takahashi (Class of 2010: Oregon State University)

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

  1. Having been born and raised in Akita, I can’t ignore the issue of underpopulation here. I wanted to do something about it, but had no idea what I could do. Just as I was about to become overwhelmed by this dilemma, I heard about doing PBL with the theme of “revitalizing depopulated regions”. Believing that I could draw on the comparative and critical thinking skills I had learned at AIU, I decided to join the project.
  2. Through this PBL investigation into revitalizing depopulated regions, I hope to improve my multifaceted analytical and coordination skills, as well as my leadership abilities.
Keisuke Yano (Class of 2011: Dickinson College)

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

  1. On impulse! (haha). Before listening to Professor Kumagai at the study abroad information session, it had never occurred to me to participate in PBL. However, I think that joining in the PBL course at Dickinson College will be one of the best parts of my study abroad experience.
  2. Normally, people go on exchange to broaden their experiences and grow as individuals. However, I think that perhaps one of the best aspects of PBL is that the results of what I will learn can be applied back to the region. For me, PBL = personal growth + regional revitalization. In addition, being able to eat and sleep together with my professors and fellow American students while working together to think about the future of regions and the country is a rare opportunity. I’d like to do my best at PBL for my own sake as well as Akita’s!
Misato Abe (Class of 2011: Oregon State University)

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

  1. This summer I am going to participate in a joint “Japan-US Collaborative Project” that involves Oregon State University and AIU. My motivation to join this project first came from my involvement in AIU’s Centre for Regional Sustainability Initiatives’ (CRESI’s) project to revitalize Yurihonjo City, which awakened my strong interest in regional development. I hope my future career will involve dealing with issues such as depopulation and revitalizing my hometown, and to this end, I hope to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to do so.
  2. I hope that through the practical investigations in this program, I will gain problem-solving skills that I will be able to use in the future.
Daisuke Sakai (Class of 2011: PBL @ AIU)

Akita International University Project-Based Learning

Through PBL activities I was able to see with my own eyes, the relationship between issues and the real world, in a way that academic knowledge alone cannot provide. I strongly understood how important this is. PBL is not passive study; by requiring you to think and then act by yourself, it demands a high level of independence. In addition to this, it deals directly with issues relating to regional people’s lives. This requires a degree of responsibility that regular classes do not, which allowed me to become deeply involved in learning. I matured tremendously over the course of the semester thanks to the intensive research, debates with my classmates (including foreign exchange students), and enthusiastic interactions with local people.

* Mr. Sakai has already finished his PBL, so these are his thoughts on his experiences.


  • "Four types of PBL" by Shinji Tsuruoka
  • "Engineering Education Program centered on PBL" by Motoi Nakao
  • "Stop the Galapagosization of Japan through PBL Education" by Shigehiko Kaneko
  • Toyama National College of Technology Website
  • Ritsumeikan University Website