Whether I am teaching a diverse group of international students or students from similar backgrounds, my challenge is to guide those students to the knowledge and skills they need to become insightful social thinkers. I also strive to inspire their curiosity, so they can more fully engage their sociological imaginations.
Part of encouraging students’ thinking is getting them to write; however, many students enter Ritsumeikan’s Global Studies program with little to no experience writing Western-style academic essays. To build students’ skills, I assign several different types of writing. In addition to assigning extended term papers, I use a class Facebook group, where students post original comments on the class readings and respond to their classmates’ comments. Students also write public blog posts for our website, japansociology.com. I encourage students to focus on expressing their ideas regardless of their level of English, and to avoid the formulaic, mechanistic writing they sometimes employ in term papers.
The blog has attracted a growing following, with over 93,000 views in less than two years. A few student posts have attracted significant attention. A Japanese site translated one student post on glocalization, leading to over 1,700 views in a day. Another student post on Japanese stereotypes of African Americans has received over 12,000 views. While the site’s statistics rank far below those of commercial sites, I have explained to students that the blog lets us continue the discussion outside the classroom, sharing students’ ideas with the world. In contrast, most student work tends to sit unread in a drawer after being graded. Having the general public read, re-blog, and comment on their work has inspired students to engage more with the topics and improve their writing.
Many Ritsumeikan students also start university reluctant to speak up in class because they have little experience with such discussions. Thus, I re-designed Ritsumeikan’s first-year seminar to teach those skills, including strategies for giving presentations. I introduced PechaKucha talks to move students away from the rote use of PowerPoint. In PechaKucha talks, speakers show 20 slides for 20 seconds each, while giving a six-minute talk. This approach has helped transform students’ presentations into informed, unique visions of the issues. I have also taught a variety of strategies for leading and participating in class discussions, including small- and large-group activities. These skills empower students to be more active participants in their education, and help them build the human and cultural capital they will need in the global job market.
As the Global Studies program attracts students from around the world, I have also worked to rely less on US-centered examples. For example, in my Introduction to Sociology class, we connect Annette Lareau’s work on parenting strategies and education to similar practices such as after-school clubs, music lessons, and cram schools in Japan and South Korea.
Finally, I firmly believe in fostering a sense of community and teamwork with faculty and staff. Developing the Global Studies program has required close collaboration across linguistic and cultural lines. This has included brainstorming teaching strategies to address students’ varied command of English, and developing policies on student plagiarism.
All of my pedagogical strategies are dedicated to developing students’ sociological imaginations in ways that will remain with the students long after they leave my classroom. Whether in small classes or large, I am dedicated to bringing the insights of sociology to students’ lived experiences, both at the local and global level.