Our Future Plan beyond the Autumn Semester 2020Wed, Aug 12, 2020
Our Future Plan beyond the Autumn Semester 2020
Dear Students of Waseda University,
August 12, 2020
I hope that you all are now enjoying the summer holidays. Needless to say, we are looking forward to welcoming you back to campus in the autumn, because good interactions among students on campus are what Waseda is all about. After I sent my message “Summer Holidays and the Autumn Semester 2020” on August 2, today I would like to talk about our future plans beyond the autumn semester 2020.
Before I begin, let me repeat the three missions of Waseda University: (1) to protect the health and lives of our students, faculty, and staff; (2) to continue to provide students with an excellent education, and (3) to promote research and scholarly work even under difficult circumstances.
In addition, Waseda University is committed to the following two policies. First, we should “minimize maximum regret or damage (mini-max regret principle)”. Second, “No one will be left behind,” echoing the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) of the United Nations. Therefore, we had to keep all classes online during the spring semester for students who are overseas or outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.
Our experiences of online teaching this spring reinforced two convictions. First, we have renewed our fundamental commitment to face-to-face teaching and communication. Secondly, while online education was effective for those faculty members who prepared well, it was less so for others. We will ask all faculty members to invest in the highest level of preparedness, and we will support them in their efforts.
When we think about how to conduct classes at Waseda, it is important to make a distinction between the “transitional period” when the COVID-19 is still threatening us, and the “post-corona era” when the pandemic will have ended. Waseda University formally regards this coming autumn semester as a transitional period, and we will structure our education accordingly.
In my message on August 2, I already described how we plan to conduct our classes in the autumn semester of 2020. During the transitional period, we will continue to conduct, with special care, face-to-face classes for seminars, labs, and other small-sized classes. We will provide students in those classes with appropriate social-distancing and with masks in medium- or large-sized classrooms. All large lecture classes will remain online during this transitional period. Although we are not certain how long this situation will last, we are prepared to provide both face-to-face classes and online classes in this way. Needless to say, we will have to resume on-line learning quickly if COVID-19 resurges.
As a leading university in Japan and in the world, Waseda is committed to being at the forefront of innovative teaching. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to make a virtue of necessity, and we are considering ways to leverage our investments in online teaching techniques and technologies into ongoing improvements. While formal university decisions are still to come, I am thinking about how to innovate teaching methods along the following lines.
First, “flipped classes” will continue to be effective in the “post-corona society.” In “flipped classes,” the first meeting of a week might be an online class in which students watch a pre-recorded video at their own convenience, and the second meeting of the same week would be an in-class discussion. This teaching method is used effectively in some North American and European universities. Waseda University should lead other Japanese universities in pioneering this hybrid method of teaching between online classes and face-to-face classes.
Second, we will continue to offer face-to-face classes for seminars, labs, and small-sized classes with an important element of discussion. We may consider increasing the number of these types of in-person classes in the future.
Third, as I mentioned earlier, online teaching is more effective in some circumstances than face-to-face teaching. Students tend to raise questions and give comments more frequently online than in the classroom, and instructors or professors can give quizzes more frequently. Consequently, students’ comprehension of the class materials may actually be better in online classes than in some physical classrooms.
However, there is a definite shortcoming to online learning. At the end of an online class, every student is disconnected from the host, and they cannot exchange their opinions about the lecture or anything else after class. To meet this need, we will in the future provide a virtual student lounge after or between classes.
It has also been reported that most faculty members say they spend more time and energy in preparing online classes. Those faculty members are probably providing higher quality of teaching. At the same time, however, other faculty members may not be making the requisite effort and investments to meet the challenges of remote teaching. We are committed to ensuring a strong teaching effort from all of our faculty.
As I mentioned, we are studying and investing in new methods of teaching to fit the “post-corona period.” To do this, we are consulting student surveys as well as the experiences of faculty at Waseda and elsewhere. You are welcome to input your opinions to the university.
Finally, the most important point I wish to stress is our commitment to protect and build on Waseda’s tradition of a vibrant student community based on good and intensive communications and interactions with each other. We aim to nurture this tradition, now and in the future. Introducing elements of online education will not attenuate our campus tradition; rather, an effective use of online communication skills will enhance dialog among students and with faculty members on campus.
We wish for a swift return to normal campus life, enhanced by innovative use of online communication tools.
With best wishes for your continued health and intellectual development,
Aiji Tanaka, President