A team of students from Akita International University and University of California, Berkeley present the findings of their fieldwork to AIU students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the local community.
On July 10, five teams of students from Akita International University and University of California, Berkeley presented the results of their Project-Based Learning research on the theme of “International Migration, Transnational Family, and Community Building” to a crowd of over 100 students, faculty, staff, and community members in AIU’s auditorium. The presentations represented the results of 6 weeks of intensive study and research for the students, as well as over two-and-a-half years of preparation, organization, and guidance by the coordinating professors, Dr. Keiko Yamanaka of UC Berkeley and Dr. Takeshi Akiba of AIU. Student teams, consisting of 2-3 members, including at least one from each institution, presented their findings in English with simultaneous translation offered in Japanese for members of the local community. Afterwards, they answered questions from crowd members, many of whom had interest in the topic driven by personal relationships with the topics at hand. It was an excellent opportunity for students to discuss their results not in the sterile environment of a classroom, but to an active and interested audience.
Students from AIU, as well as coordinating professors Dr. Keiko Yamanaka (UC Berkeley) and Dr. Takeshi Akiba (AIU) gather from a group photo at the kick-off of the program in California.
Before they got to the presentations, however, students spent 6 weeks completely enveloped in their topics, which gave them the research basis and confidence to discuss their conclusions with authority. During this PBL process, students spent roughly 3 weeks at each university conducting field research on top of focused, intensive coursework related to their theme. The program is focused and time-intensive, equivalent to roughly 2 semester-long courses compressed into a 6-week span, and students are expected to produce superior results in both the coursework and independent research phases. In addition to intensive coursework, discussions, and assignments, students select their specific research questions from the pre-determined field, construct hypotheses and test them through field research, then present their results in an open forum, as they did at AIU on July 10.
During the Berkeley phase of this PBL project, students conducted fieldwork on community integration in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the Oakland Asian Community Center.
Students in this iteration of PBL first met in Berkeley, California to study immigrant integration and support institutions in the San Francisco Bay Area, including class study and field study, then completed their fieldwork in the local Filipina community in Yokote and Yuzawa cities in Akita. Their field research involved not only the community itself, but also meetings and interviews with government officials, language teachers that worked with the community, and other support institutions, including the Catholic Church.
This time, under the topic of “International Migration, Transnational Family, and Community Building”, the student research topics for the Akita portion of their program were:
- Language and Culture Retention
- The Agency of Filipina Women / Japanese Identity and Alternative Education
- Social Incorporation of Filipinas in Japan and the Construction of Japaneseness
- Identity Formation of Second Generation and Integration of Immigrants into Japanese Society
- Trainee System and Multicultural Society in Japan
In Akita, students conducted group discussions and individual interviews with members of the Filipina communities in Yokote and Yuzawa to understand their identities and integration into the local Japanese community. Here, students engage in group discussions at the home of the Watanabe family, who are long-term supporters of the local immigrant community in Yuzawa.
Each team of presenters included at least one student from each university and 11 students in total participated in the program, which was funded on AIU’s side by a 2011 grant from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) under the “Re-Inventing Japan Project”. With a proposal based on establishing Project-Based Learning programs with partner universities in the United States, AIU was the first and only Public University in Japan to earn a grant under this project.
The most critical portion of this PBL was the one-on-one interviews between students and members of the immigrant community, as shown here. Students from both AIU and UCB were able to open up the conversations and establish a rapport with their subjects to come to understand each individual’s personal experience.
This is the 5th iteration of Project-Based Learning at AIU, with each project involving a different partner university in the United States and based on addressing an issue common to both universities’ areas. Although the joint coursework and research portion of the program was only six weeks long, it was the culmination of over two-and-a-half years of planning and execution by the representative professors from each university, who developed the topics and created the course material then conducted intensive lectures, readings, class discussion, and writing assignments each day throughout the program in addition to mentoring students’ self-developed research projects.
Students and Professors from Akita International University and University of California, Berkeley along with the Akita Filipina community and staff from Yuzawa City’s Ogachi Japanese Language Class. (Photo Credit: Mr. WATANABE Mitsuya, Used with permission)
While the workload was intense for everyone involved, the result was an experience beyond anything most undergraduate students get to experience. Participation in PBL allowed students from both Akita International University and University of California, Berkeley, to gain real-world experience conducting independent, student-led research into important issues shared between both universities’ areas and also allowed them to contribute to their local communities through their presentation of results. PBL stands out as a rare and important opportunity in the education system in Japan for the degree of freedom and creativity granted to students to determine and conduct their projects.