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Global Communications in a Graduate Course on Online Education at the University of Tsukuba - page 6 / 30





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the results automatically compiled in charts. The graduate students peppered the mentors with oral questions about online courses in concrete practice, their problems and solutions, benefits and future possibilities for Japan.

In the afternoon the main activity utilized the WebCT Discussion function, an electronic bulletin board system (BBS). Students added their own questions as well as answering questions in a threaded discussion with the lecturer and other participants. Questions were about online education and related concepts that had been brainstormed in the course. Students reported that with the technical terms in each question explained by the lecturer they gained a deep understanding of online education. They wrote that BBS technology is markedly more efficient that than the traditional blackboard, chalk and notebook, so it should by all means be used in mainstream educational institutions.

On the fourth day in the morning there was first an oral class discussion of the previous day’s questions and answers written in the BBS, and the lecturer provided augmented explanations of the issues. Around the middle of the day the discussion continued in the Wimba Voice Board, applying new understandings to how the online education techniques the students had learned could be applied to EFL in Japan. The graduate students thought that online education might motivate students to grow as learners.

Later in the afternoon the students learned about an entirely online academic conference while visiting its Website at the University of Hawaii. Online conferences, in which the lecturer has actively participated since 1996, open up participation in academic societies to people in many countries at various occupational levels. The graduate students also learned to distinguish the open Web that is freely accessible and searchable from the password-protected Web where most online courses take place. Forming a circle offline again, students were asked what kind of virtual organization they might like to participate in. Examples included networks of EFL teachers in different regions or of fellow alumni so as not to lose contact in the future.

Students reported that the class included both theoretical and practical activities, and that there was important feedback from student-student exchanges. They reported that the lecturer brought the discussion together in the form of augmenting students’ views, so the progression of the discussion was easily understandable. There were some difficult theoretical issues, they wrote, but explanations were illustrated by very helpful examples. They concluded that online education holds great potential.

On the fifth and last day there was time allotted for independent study and working on final papers that had to be evaluated the next morning before the lecturer left Tsukuba. But in mid-morning there was also a second audioconference with mentors abroad. Particularly online learning textbook author Maggie McVay-Lynch, who had conducted the earlier HorizonLive online presentation, was peppered with questions the students had accumulated during the course. Topics included the actual situation of online classes and the roles of teachers and students.

The graduate students enjoyed audioconferencing and also found it to be superb practical training in English listening and speaking. Particularly for junior and senior high school students in Japan who have hardly any opportunity to use English outside of class, online education would be a most suitable means to activate and actually use what is learned in class. The graduate students had thought that education through the Internet was something personal

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