Wednesday, March 7, 2012

bfg on sonyland doesn't exit

I miss having a ps3. It was so wonderful. Just looking at it by the TV... So sleek, so blue and handsome. But leaving Canada I was reconciled by the fact that I would be spending the next year (heehee I didn't know then I'd be a lifer) in Sonyland. Akihabara was a 50 minute Shinkansen ride from my house. Worry? Please!

Lies. All lies. Sonyland doesn't exit -

I should have known when I first sat down to the yellow ancient keyboard in my office. But only when I asked to borrow a USB stick did I start doubting that Sony was even from this country.

"Sensei, do you or some teacher have a USB I could borrow?"

"Memory stick? Um, well no but we have this," And in her hands, I shit you not, she held out a floppy disk.

The last time I saw a floppy disk was in my DOS class in Secondary 1. Was this a joke?

Sadly, no. The ENTIRE school has everything backed up on floppy disks. Even now I am shacking my head...

I invested in an inexpensive Sony USB which wows my colleagues to no end. Even though there is a wireless network at school, I am not allowed to log-in. There is one projector for the entire school. Recently, all high school teachers in Shizuoka (not ALTs) were given a laptop. I like to call them Dinosaur. They take up 25% of a desks surface, weigh about 5kg and anytime I try to access any decent website the network blocks me. Teachers cannot access videos or pictures easily - whats the point then? Administrative work can be streamlined. Oh, Japan.

So you can imagine what happened last October when I walked into class to teach with SJ, the new iPad. To say my teachers were shocked is an understatement. Some dared to whisper in my vicinity, "~~~ iPad~~." The best part was how excited my kids got - many coming to visit at lunch time to play with the apps. "Sure wash your hands and speak English!" two of those kids later got iPhones with many similar apps to mine and we play "Words With Friends" where they proceed to kick my ass! Suddenly it wasn't about learning English it was about learning about the iPad and my students, who, as monkeys, really can't focus, were engaged and active in the learning process. Words like download, upload, stream, buy, app store where floating around the room and it wasn't my voice but theirs. I just nudged them a bit and they took off... Made my birthday present to myself worth every penny and more. But more so, I think it really showed my teachers that there is more than one way into the castle. Our castle being English.

As a device junkie - Kindle, iPad, iPhone, MacBook, universal remotes, etc. - I am horrified at the gapping hole in lessons: Teachers wasting time writing on a board when they could just prepare a simple Power Point, NOT allowing CD submissions ("Cassettes only thank you!) for speech contests, computers with floppy drives that do not have a FUNCTIONING USB Key input.

Every class I use something: movies, music, power point, pictures, ... I use my iPad as a reward for students who finish class work early - they get to play English games. I use apps like Teacher Pal to take attendance, record grades and input notes on my students ("extremely loud and annoying. Wants to be a singer so loves learning English songs. Will shut-up if lesson is music centered"). Though my supervisor is supportive of this, I was very very depressed when I learned from a friend that the new school building they are constructing does NOT have a projector in every classroom, will not have outlets to support more tech in the class and really doesn't deserve the word "new".

So my question is why? Why are teachers not using these amazing tools to help enrich their lessons, save them time and do something fresh and new. Something that simulates the real world and isn't teacher centric. And why is it that in Sonyland - where the tech industry makes 130 billion US dollars a year, has some of the highest quality cellular phones and is home to such household names as Toshiba, Nintendo, SHAR - technology is excommunicated from the classroom?

And most importantly, how can Japan start taking advantage of the great technology they create and share with the rest of the world for themselves?


bfg returns to lesson planing ... on her computer.


  1. Good to hear from you BFG!
    I'm a teacher, and am waiting to hear back from JET (positive thoughts!) and that's very disheartening to hear about the lack of technology in Japanese classrooms. Not just because it's Japan, but because the use of technology in classrooms really allows teachers and students to do so much more in terms of curricula, content and student interest. Interesting to hear about it though.
    I was glad to read a blog post from you today!


  2. I once worked at a mid-tier private university in Tokyo. When they unveiled the new building on campus the professors actually complained about the tech-equipped classrooms. Each classroom came equipped with illustrated instructions, easy enough for *me* to understand. Still, they harped on and on and on and ultimately refused to use the classrooms… more tech. for the English department.

    I came from a technology equipped school system. I learned to touch type when I was in second or third grade. My fifth grade class learned how to program apple IIs. (That should give some idea of how old I am.) Your coworkers got none of this. Even in this day and age Japanese universities don’t require students to type their assignments. If your teachers came through that system, unless they have a personal interest in computers, they know squat about computers.

    Some old farts are afraid of technology, or have zero interest in changing the way they do things. Still, there are teachers out there that would love to use technology if they just knew where to start. There is little budget for technology. Heck, they don’t even have the budget to heat and cool the schools in my corner of Japan. I don’t think money is the main barrier here though.

    ALTs in my area are required to teach workshops for the JTEs and Elementary school teachers. This year, with the new text book for elementary schools, we took some time from each workshop to go over the resources that came with the textbooks and how to use them in class. Out of the 60 teachers that took our workshop, only one knew that the CD that came with the textbook had more than just the listening activities and chants on it. And they were amazed at what could be done with the resources on that one dinky disk.

    My goal this year is to spread the love of technology a little more by showing my coworkers some of the ways it can be used to enliven a language class. Hopefully you can do the same and spread the bug a little further.