Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Looking through the eyes of New Technology

By Dolores Luna Hogan
The Learning and Neuro-Development Research Center is so  happy because we have another international interview today, we will share some ideas from Japan, because we have the honor to talk with Mineshima Takayuki. Mineshima who graduated from high school after the 3 year information processing program, later graduated from University of Nebraska at Omaha with Bachelor’s degree in geography specializing in USSR.

After he came back to Japan, he used to work as a teacher at a private school in Iwakuni for 5 years this gave him the light to reconstructed my career to assimilate knowledge and skills in education and technology at NTT (Nipon Telegraph and Telephone). Thanks this he received an endorsement from Educational Board of Hiroshima City to work at Fujinoki Elementary School as an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) specialist to help accomplish Japanese ICT educational policies including so called “Future School Project” and “Learning Innovation Project” for 3 years respectively.; with this background he established Learn For Japan to help learners and educators with ICT educational policies of Japanese ministry of Education and let us say that we are front a innovation leader.

LNDRC: Thank you so much Mineshima for sharing so deeply information about you, our first question is one we ask to every foreigner we met, how is Educational System in your country, Japan?

Mineshima: Japan is trying to getting out of criticism about its legacy educational system in which more academic emphasis is put on goal oriented approaches to accumulate knowledge, and now is trying to develop towards process oriented approaches to nourish abilities and skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration with using the cutting edge use of technology for the 21st century learning as a national educational policy.  This is exactly what is happening in Japan today and innovations in learning are getting part of its big driving force to nourish global citizens who are well adaptable to changing societies in the world, successful in international contexts, and confident about where they should go.

On the contrary, geographically isolated conditions have oddly allowed Japan to be committed to conservative tendencies towards educational uniformity and Japanese as a dominant language in the country has often lead to non-internationally educational systems resulting only to struggle with poor communication with foreign people, clumsy collaboration for building international understandings and consensus, and embarrassment in solving worldwide problems in different languages.  Japanese conservative educators tend to prefer being part of their local communities and exclusive decision-making trying not to contribute to advancement of globalization.

It is, however, true that Japan has become more enthusiastic to give it a change to be part of the 21st century society where global awareness plays a key role in learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community context.  Japan is looking for a better way to a new educational system as technology finds new possibilities in classrooms.

LNDRC: What are the pros and cons of Japan Educational System?

     Mineshima: As shown in PISA test results, Japanese Ministry of Education puts great importance on international academic achievement to confirm effectiveness and reasonableness of its educational system while making progress with remediation and improvement from a global view point.  This inspires Japanese leading educators to be more confident about what new pedagogical approaches and learning methods play a key role in breaking through difficulties and limitations whose solutions were left unclear under existing learning conditions and environment.  As Japanese educational policies of using technology in classrooms show evidences of their effectiveness and usefulness, educators in the country gradually pays more attention to technology and expects its growing possibilities to apply them to development of the Japanese educational system.

  On the other hand, conservative educators in Japan still don’t pay much attention to exploratory possibilities or advantageous options of technology use in classrooms along with their academic effects or pedagogical value in the advanced educational system.  Many of them advocate traditional learning environment already include effective pedagogical philosophies which are good enough to meet conditions to build the 21st century educational system.  They point out the small number of computers in classrooms and limited vindication to contradict the PISA test results so Japan should wait for more explanatory evidence for diffusion of technology use in Japanese classrooms.

     This, however, doesn’t mean that Japanese educators are insecure about where they should go, but there is room for both sides of the educators to discuss and share ideas about what the essential nature and definition of Japanese educational systems should be today and tomorrow.  To understand this situation more clearly, one possible explanation could be the fact that the newest knowledge and experiences harvested from the technology-based educational policies are not well shared or understood to arrive at reasonable conclusions for both of them.  Today it is often seen in Japan to discuss pros and cons over technology use in classrooms.  Pros insist that learning in classroom with technology should effectively enhance academic advancement and quality education while cons maintain that technology should distort and mislead the intrinsic nature of traditional Japanese education only to result in much more burden and confusion left for teachers and students.

LNDRC: You designed an application, especially for teachers to engage children with mathematics; this application is Digital Block, why did you decide this application was necessary in Japanese classrooms?

Mineshima: Digital Block actually has shown good evidence in Japanese educational policies with technology in the 21st century classrooms.  As a student-centered learning tool for knowledge building through communication and collaboration with classmates, Digital Block is necessary for children to make mutual understandings and consensus so they can arrive at mathematical conclusions while finding a way to grow their learning skills by themselves.

In fact, Japanese educators put more emphasis on learning than on teaching because they think it is highly important for children to become aware of their own learning processes with consistency and reasonableness so they can develop their own learning skills by themselves.  Teachers play an important role in nourishing their learning skills, as they grow intelligent in learning. 

As often seen in Japanese classrooms, for example, concrete materials are used to help children easily understand abstract concepts of mathematics while assimilating their real experience and simultaneous feeling through manipulating concrete materials.  This makes a lot of sense as long as their behavioral and cognitive development stages correspond to each other.  Otherwise, children would use a lot of time to find analog materials they may lose, find more space to put them back on their untidy desks, and find friends to talk about their clumsiness.

One of the biggest roles of Digital Block is help children to assimilate their instinctive sense and thinking processes through simulated experience and intuitive cognition in a calculating area of mathematics.  They can correlate the concrete and abstract concepts, bind them together, and make structured knowledge and systematical understanding by providing them with a framework of ideas they make without losing precious time to learn at higher stages of mathematical processes they would consequently deserve.  This makes their learning processes more efficient and exploratory in understanding abstract concepts of mathematics and acquiring subordinate procedural knowledge while they feel it is not easy to understand mathematical logic through limited time, space, functions presented in the Japanese 20th century classrooms as pictures below explain.

LNDRC: When you invite to teachers to use Digital Blocks, what is the most important to you?

Mineshima:  What matters most to me is see how children learn how to learn by themselves.  It is not necessarily difficult for children to gather information, put up ideas, and build knowledge, but learning the way they learn is much more meaningful and important.  Learning how to learn is one of the biggest goals children should accomplish as long as they are life-long learners.  So I would like teachers to use Digital Block as a learning tool rather than a teaching tool to help children nourish their learning skills, which are flexible and useful for fluid problem solving in their entire life.  

LNRC: Do you think new generations are less interesting on learning?

    Mineshima:  I don’t think new generations are less interesting on learning because children are bone with intellectual curiosity.  Children have intellectual appetite for extending the range of their behavioral and cognitive application as they grow while absorbing information from environment that surrounds them.  If there is a concern about their willingness and interest to their learning, you can find some aspects of the problem in educational systems and the way they include children.  In other words, educational systems define the way children learn.  Well designed educational systems and curriculum, indeed, can be effective in improving the performance of children learning.  It is, however, true in a way that the educational systems don’t always secure children their willingness or motivation to learn.  The educational systems rather tend to restrict the range of the way they learn.  So I think that is when educators need to rethink about what results from the education systems involved if new generations are less interesting on learning.

LNDRC: What is your perception about New Technologies in the classrooms?

     Minesima: Today we are living in an era of transitional technologies.  With development of information society, global citizens are required to have demanding skills to create new value and contribute it to global society where the way they live and work has to be multidimensional and trans cultural.  If education plays an important part in creating the new era, NEW Technologies should not merely be something that encourages children to acquire knowledge and skills as a goal of their learning, but something that inspires children to transform from students in classrooms to learners in society.
In other words, the essential value of New Technologies in education must be in the process to help children acquire knowledge, experience, and skills required to lead their entire life as a member of ever-changing society.

LNDRC: In your opinion, what is the role of New Technology in learning process?

    Mineshima:  The role of New Technology in learning is discover New Learning.  This means learners can become aware of their own cognitive activities and make an objective evaluation on which the process of nourishing their problem solving skills is based.

In recent years, many international educational institutions such as ATC21S (Assessment & Teaching of the 21 Century Skills) place special emphasis upon problem solving skills required for children to play a successful role in an international society in the future.  It is highly important for children to plan, analyze, evaluate, and adjust what to learn with their classmates, not just to learn respectively with efficiency.

     Naomi Miyake, professor at Tokyo university, points out as follows; Learning skills were mainly defined as skills for individuals to comprehend knowledge exactly and solve given problems efficiently so educators could set goals and design education to reach them.  But today massive informational environment is created and information is updated all any one time.  Goals are regarded more like something that reset themselves as you get closer to them so goals need to take care of every situation.  For this reason, it is important for children to find problems and answers at the same time, share methods of solution among groups, and remake their knowledge building processes, not for teachers to teach what is supposed to be taught.  For this purpose, goals need tools to trigger these processes.  At the same time, New Learning requires a new evaluation method.  The new evaluation method is not something that measures achievement of learning but something that keeps track of progress of learning and generates clues to go on to next levels of learning by deciding on how to modify what is actually happening there.  In order to make this kind of evaluation in accordance with progress of learning, teachers need a strong IT infrastructure to record, analyze, and share learning processes for next steps.  If the IT infrastructure is strong enough, teachers can concentrate on innovating New Learning without being distracted by maintenance of IT environment and the evaluation method.

Since the role of New Technology depends on how we can define the applicable range of learning processes, there is no expected answer in advance.  This way a lot of attention and expectation have been paid to a rapidly-growing technology society where the effective way of utilizing technology in education is mainly on the table.  In conclusion, if it is children who create a technology society in the future, it will be self-evident what the role of New Technologies in their learning processes is.

LNDRC: If you had all the money of the world, and no restriction to take decision to design a school, what would you include in it?

   Mineshima: If I had all the money of the world, and no restriction to take decisions to design a school, I would provide all the children in the world with equal opportunity to learn.  Children should be given an equal opportunity and the right to become successful in their entire life through learning.

As discussed earlier, international educational institutions and their organically mutual cooperation has been facilitating international consensus and standardization regarding a modern education method and learning process.  However, there are still many children who do not have an opportunity to enjoy modern and idealistic education because of a variety of factors such as politics, economy, and culture in the world. Furthermore, problems about academic achievement gap among countries and thus negative effects on education have been frequently pointed out.

Therefore, it is extremely important for educators to build an international educational platform and lead collaborative innovations in trans cultural education so children as global citizens who are living in a modern society can live a better life beyond borders with success by nourishing their intelligence and skills that will be useful when they grow up.  I believe everyone can be happy if everyone hopes for a global educational consortium for everyone.  And this is just what I am trying to do in my country with Learn For Japan and I believe this leads to the first step toward Learn For the World.

Don't forget to watch some videos to understand Digital Blocks:

You can find Digital blocks in Itunes Store:

And Learning for Japan is an wonderful resource:

Finally we share another Interview to Mineshima: