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HOME > 29th JAMCO Online International Symposium > Personal Views on Distance Learning Based on My Own Experience:
Distance Learning from Two Perspectives, Student’s and Teacher’s

JAMCO Online International Symposium

29th JAMCO Online International Symposium

February 2021 - March 2021

The Potential of Broadcasting and New Media for Supporting Education During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Personal Views on Distance Learning Based on My Own Experience:
Distance Learning from Two Perspectives, Student’s and Teacher’s

Shigeru AOKI
TV Producer
PhD Student, Tokyo Institute of Technology
Adjunct Lecturer, Komazawa University

1. Introduction
2. The Purpose of Documenting “Personal Views on Distance Learning”
3. Continued Interest in Distance Learning
4. What I Expected to Happen with COVID-19-Triggerd Distance Learning
5. What I Experienced from Distance Learning: As a Student and an Adjunct Lecturer
6. Conclusion: Potential and Challenges of Distance Learning

1. Introduction

The year 2020 turned out to be a year of change worldwide. The change, however, is not a positive one. It was triggered by the coronavirus outbreak as well as the subsequent lockdowns in major cities and the hindered economic activities. In Japan, for preventing the spread of infection, new behavioral patterns and some strange slogans, such as “san mitsu” (avoiding three Cs: closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings), wearing masks, body temperature check, social distance, and a new normal have been imposed on daily lives of the public, which is obstructing face-to-face communication. It has been a discouraging year, with people having to give up many things pressed by a phrase “It can’t be helped.”

Among them, the full or partial closure of university facilities is still underway at some campuses (as of December 2020). Almost nine months have passed since April* 2020. Distance learning, which was implemented temporarily as an alternative educational method, is beginning to occupy a position in Japan’s high education as if it was the standard one.
*The Japanese academic year begins in April.

Distance learning and correspondence education were not supposed to work as the best educational environment. Traditional attentive teaching methods such as tutorials and seminars used to play a central role in higher education, but they are now things the of past. They were abruptly replaced by distance learning. However, we do not hear many objections against it, which is rather surprising.

Such an abrupt change was something we did not expected to see. Educational technology and audio-visual education—the basis for the development of distance learning—were designed and developed in the United States during World War II. Audio-visual education was introduced in post-war Japan’s educational reform influenced by the United States and spread into the public, combined with social education, community center activities, traveling film screenings, and educational television.

Since then, with advances in media, audio-visual education has evolved, been renamed such as multimedia education, and connected education and media more closely, and its usage has been further expanded.

This time, however, it is ironic that a drastic change was triggered by COVID-19 and distance learning utilizing the internet have rapidly disseminated in the world of education.

The purpose of this essay is to present my views on distance learning based on my own personal experience. Distance learning had been already implemented in various fields in Japan, with diverse purposes such as education for all and educational reform, but what we are seeing seems to be a large-scale experiment that was launched out of blue, catapulted by an utterly unexpected event. The author looks into what is actually happening at universities.

The change we are experiencing must work as an important clue that can be shared beyond Japan. From a positive viewpoint, distance learning and the use of media for educational purpose have a huge potential for actualizing educational reform.

For example, developing countries suffering shortage of teachers have made numerous kinds of experiments and trials of distance learning. What Japan is experiencing now may work as valuable data gained from practical experiences and as a good opportunity to help developing countries pursue educational reform with this newly acquired knowledge on how to improve teaching/learning methods. 1

2. The Purpose of Documenting My “Personal Views on Distance Learning”

  • 2-1. Distanced Learning Viewed from Student’s and Teacher’s Perspectives

    Presently I wear two hats: student’s and teacher’s. As a student, I have been studying at a PhD level since the 2018 autumn semester at the Department of Social and Human Sciences, School of Environment and Society, Tokyo Institute of Technology. My major is Sociology of Religion. I am also an adjunct lecturer of Komazawa University, teaching Audio-Visual Education since 2017.

    In April 2020, these universities were faced with the same situation. The Japanese government announced the state of emergency, which forced them to change their status; they suddenly became distance-learning-oriented educational institutions. Since then, as a student receiving education and a teacher providing education, I have been playing both roles in front of one same computer on my desk at home.

    Having said that, distance learning is not at all a novel method of education. After the second world war, Hosei University and Keio University promptly put in place the system of teaching university courses remotely, and they have produced a number of graduates from their correspondence courses since then.

    In 1983, The Open University of Japan was established, modeled after The Open University in the United Kingdom. The Open University of Japan has grown into a unique university, equipped with its own broadcasting station, offering classes on radio and TV as well as face-to-face. The university also has the School of Graduate Studies,

    Likewise, correspondence upper secondary schools were established after the second world war as a new form of secondary education. In the 2000s, the relaxation of regulations in education brought another significant change; business corporations are now allowed to operate schools, and schools have more freedom in areas of student requirement and can shorten course periods. The number of correspondence schools of diverse kinds have been increasing.

    It should be noted that these reforms were initiated after thorough preparations.

  • 2-2. Abrupt Introduction of Distance Learning

    What is happening at universities now is an extremely rare and special case—their instructional methods have been changed all at once, without much preparedness for distance learning.

    Such an experience may be termed as a testing ground for education, for the future education of Japan, its ideal, forms, instructional methods, the use of media, and so forth.

    In the following chapters, I describe my personal views on distance learning based on what I have actually experienced from two standpoints: a student at Tokyo Institute of Technology and a teacher at Komazawa University, in the hope that these ongoing changes will provide a prediction on what changes will occur in Japan’s education in the future.

    (Elementary and secondary schools are reopened in November 2020, but the situation at universities is unchanged as the year 2020 is about to end.)

3. Continued Interest in Distance Learning

  • 3-1. Why I Have Been Interested in Distance Learning

    In this chapter, I explain more precisely the reason I am interested in distance learning by reflecting on my involvement with it. My interest in making educational TV programs, or educational content in a more modern term of the digital-age, goes back to when I was studying education at university.

    In 1980, I started a master’s course at the International Cristian University in Mitaka, Tokyo, majored in audio-visual education and educational technology. The courses at the graduate school were not only academic but also very practical.

    Starting from reading basic papers on educational technology2 , I studied educational statistics and other related disciplines as well as designing prototypes of computerized teaching machines (CTM) using a computer that was as large as a chest of drawers, how to run the SPSS software using FORTRAN, and visual content productions. In this way I amply learnt the basic concepts of audiovisual education and educational technology. My master’s thesis was about Sesame Street3 that was creating a stir at that time as a highly innovative TV program for pre-school children.

  • 3-2. Cyber Textbook: New Distance Learning I Encountered at a Broadcaster

    To make a good use of what I had mastered at graduate school, I joined the Japan Broadcasting Cooperation (NHK), aspiring to produce educational TV programs. However, the first thing new recruits had to do was to learn the basics of making programs, not to produce educational content right away, and thus my training started. I worked for various program productions at local stations of NHK and accumulated hands-on experiences of program-making through almost every kinds of shows including music, sports, and news. It took me quite a long time to achieve my initial dream of making cutting-edge educational TV programs.

    Nearly twenty years after I joined the broadcaster, I encountered a program production that I can never forget. At that time, I was working for Japan Broadcast Publishing Co. Ltd. (current NHK Publishing Inc.) as a temporary transfer. It was in the late 1990s, when many people began to use the internet in Japan.

    NHK launched a project aiming at “exploring the possibilities of the integration of broadcasting and the internet” and was inviting proposals for this initiative.

    As a publisher of the textbooks for all language-education programs of NHK, Japan Broadcast Publishing proposed to make “online language textbooks linked to broadcast programs” titled Saibaa Tekisuto (Cyber Textbook). In retrospect, it may have been an experiment on a new distance learning system.

    The idea was to give viewers an opportunity to study on the internet prior to a TV broadcast and watch the program that would reflect what they had learnt. The viewers could review the lessons as many times as they like using the videos posted on the website linked to the program.

    The title of the proposal was “Let’s Try! English Conversation on the Internet.” The proposal was adopted and aired on NHK as a three-day special over three weeks, on 11th, 18th and 25th of November 1997.

    Yet, as a matter of fact, it was a real challenge to realize the idea.

    The project consisted of (1) a TV program, (2) a website linked to the TV show, and (3) a textbook with a CD-ROM. We chose a practical and useful theme: English conversation for overseas travel.

    We started with making the website for internet learning (internet textbook) covering the three weeks. Creating a website with embedded audio and video materials was a tough work because it was very different from TV program making, namely recording, location shooting, and editing. The slow internet connection speed back then was also a big challenge for us to have the videos played properly.

    The website functioned as follows. First, learners were asked to type in their attributes (academic background, history of learning English, gender, area of residence, etc.). Then, they start working on tasks (basic phrases, words, listening to audio, and practice exercises) using video clips. Lastly, they took a quiz to sum up the lesson, and their answers were scored and analyzed to figure out each learner’s weak points and areas they should work more on, and learners received advice on their future studies on the website.

    Meanwhile, the production team for the TV special analyzed the access logs by learner’ demographic attribution to study the relations between demographics and answers (the baseline for each task, English learning history, correct answer rate, access time, time needed for answering, etc.).

    Following this, the TV program each week provided the answer tendencies obtained from the log analysis and explanations on particularly difficult questions to promptly respond to viewers’ questions. With this structure, we made three weekly episodes. In producing this interactive language program, the process of the production itself was nothing but interactive.

    We were supported and cooperated by a number of people to actualize this innovative project: young staff members of Toppan Printing who analyzed the data, the study-material-making team led by Prof. Nishikage Hiroko and Prof. Haginoya Etsuko (Taisho University) who made a large number of English sentences and quizzes for a short period of time, Prof. Nakano Terumi (International Cristian University) who gave us valuable advice on curriculum making, members of the production team of the program and the website, and Hiroko Grace, the navigator of the show. Working with them left a stark impression on me, which is an unforgettable memory.

    Apart from the website and the TV program, we also made Cyber Textbook, a textbook with a CD-ROM. As tasks for learners of this three-episode special program, there were 1,000 exercises, 1,331 basic phrases, 1,345 basic words, and 100 super-difficult listening exercises. We edited them and published as a Cyber Textbook (with a CD-ROM). 4 It was a real joy and indeed a rare experience for me to plan a fresh and novel project for educational content and develop learning materials on multiple platforms; website, TV program, and print publication.

  • 3-3. School Broadcasts Evolved into “NHK for Schools”

    After I returned to NHK, I was transferred to School Broadcast Programs Division in 2001, where I was involved in the production of educational programs for schools as Senior Producer and Director of the division for five years until 2006.

    At that time educational programs for schools were at the turning point, and broadcasts for schools were about to be transformed into “digital materials” using both TV programs and the internet. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology had just revised its curriculum guidelines “Courses of Study,” which stipulated the introduction of the “Period for Integrated Studies,” or hours for comprehensive study, which had been gradually implemented in schools. To help the teaching of this new subject, NHK produced a number of “digital educational materials” for comprehensive study featuring the simultaneous use of the internet and TV program as well as science study programs linked to internet content.

    With the number of these programs having increased, school broadcast programs evolved into “NHK for School”—a website containing an enormous amount of educational and learning video content with online study materials.

    However, to my surprise, many people in the educational field do not know this website and the richness of its educational content. I want to stress that “seeing is believing.” I suggest they visit the website. They will be amazed at how the content is well-made. When elementary and junior-high schools were closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, NHK aired a program inviting to use “NHK for School” with a guide on how to use the website.

    These great number of educational programs and content are utilized in overseas countries/regions. This is especially true for science programs because of their universal nature, with experiments and observations difficult to conduct at school. They are dubbed in local languages and are used by school teachers.

4. What I Expected to Happen with COVID-19-Triggerd Distance Learning

  • 4-1. Before the Distance Learning Started

    In Spring 2020, at the Graduate School of Tokyo Institute of Technology5, university authorities were discussing how to conduct the new semester amid rumors that universities might be closed.

    I remember exchanging emails with a faculty member. The following is an excerpt from my email. It was late March, a few weeks before the start of the new academic year.

    The message was my response to a question from my counterpart: “What should we consider if face-to-face lectures are changed to distance learning?” I put my candid opinions, but, reading it again, I find my message rather idealistic, written by a bystander.

    Not only that, back then I never imagined I would have to face an overwhelming challenge as a student as well as an adjunct lecturer.

  • 4-2. Excerpt from My Email on Distance Learning

    To state the conclusion first, I support face-to-face, intensive lectures, not remote classes using a Zoom platform and other video tools. I don’t think courses that can satisfy lectures and students will be available with Zoom.

    I’ll put some reasons for this. I believe video streaming of a class showing the teacher’s face via a TV camera is completely different from a physical class.

    First of all, the dynamism is different. It is like the difference between watching a play at a theater and viewing it on television. A class conducted by a real person face to face can create an interaction between the teacher and the students just like between the actors and the audience. I think even if there is no dialog between the teacher and students, there exists invisible communication between them. Physical classes are constructed and operated under this assumption.

    If students are satisfied with a class, they send signals to show their empathy to the teacher. Likewise, a teacher will be upset if anyone start nodding off, and he/she will send some awkward signals, for example, making noise to wake the student up or changing the lecture plan, or even throwing a chalk stick, which is rather extreme though. Physical classes are a place for mutual communication, with a feeling of tension, between real persons.

    This is what I call the vivid dynamism of watching a play at a theater.

    A large part of it shall be lost in video-streamed classes. Then, the possible outcome will be students finding the lecture uninspiring while the lecturer feeling as if he was talking to a wall.

    As a matter of fact, in the case of educational television, there are very few programs in which lecturers just keeps talking in front of the whiteboard. It will be almost impossible to attract students’ attention all the way through 90-minite video streaming, let alone for students viewing the video at home, not in a closed setting such as a lecture room. Such an environment greatly reduces their concentration.

    Another thing is that these lecture-only programs that were not carefully made are boring and dispiriting. There are some successful educational programs using a lecture-only format. However, even if they look just showing the lecturer, they are actually very carefully made with many twists on every aspect of the content: using multiple camera angles (usually multiple cameras are not available for university lectures), supplementing comments and adding explanations using captions (it is difficult for university lecturers to prepare such text information or process images), and inserting video clips related to the topic (it requires lots of efforts and time to do location shooting or prepare reference videos), to name a few.

    Such programs employ every device to attract learners’ (viewers’) attention, raise their interest, and deepen their understanding, which natural engages and inspires the viewers. Still, the limit of those lecture-only type programs is usually 30 minutes, or 45 at the maximum.

    Here’s one successful case utilizing the lecture-only format—a series of TED presentation videos.6 They use a simple lecture-type format where experts talk about topics they are versed in in front of the audience. The beauty of this program is not only the quality of speakers and speech content and their amazing narrative skills, but also the direction of the program using a number of state-of-the-art techniques for image processing and video making. Not only that, its theatrical art and presentation slides never bore the audience. Also splendid is how they arrange audience seats, which helps create interaction between the presenter and the viewers. Still, most of TED videos are under 20 minutes.

    Another huge differences between remote and physical classes are the concept and the instructional method. In my opinion, distance learning cannot enhance learning effects unless it has a comprehensive learning plan including pre-class and post-class planning.

    It is important for students to do assignments prior to the class, and for teachers to receive and answer questions from students on assignments and classes, give feedback, and let students communicate each other using chat or other functions after the class. It is crucial for teachers to fully prepare for all of the above, utilizing the internet and other necessary devices. Without thorough preparation, desired learning effects will not be achieved by distance learning.

    In terms of the university-level distance learning, in addition to TED, edX7 and Coursera8 also provide excellent remote learning opportunities. They both have very sophisticated courses and presumably the best models and the best practical examples of distance learning method of today. Their courses are artworks created by prestigious universities in the world featuring acclaimed professors. Each course is meticulously designed, ranging from syllabi, to reference literature, to assignments, to course content, etc.

    If Tokyo Institute of Technology is to implement distance learning, they should provide this level of remote courses. However, the above courses spend an enormous time in preparing classes and making websites. On top of this, they have larger financial and personnel resources and do not let individual professors manage the course by themselves.

    Again, to secure the quality of courses, we’d better hold summer intensive courses face to face. (At the time, I was thinking the COVID-19 outbreak would have been contained by the start of summer holidays.) If, by any chance, it turns out to be difficult to hold summer intensive courses with physical classes, we should do our best to utilize Zoom and the university’s OCW (Open Course Ware) to provide quality remote courses with pre-class and post-class assignments, and Q&A opportunities (perhaps using chat and setting a time limit). We had better invest our time in preparation for them. Zoom courses without preparation is a too reckless idea to secure the course quality.

    That was what I was thinking as of March 2020, before distance learning started in earnest. I never expected that I would be forced to experience a year-long distance learning soon.

5. What I Experienced from Distance Learning: As a Student and an Adjunct Lecturer

  • 5-1. Distance Learning Experienced as a Student

    As I mentioned before I am in a doctor’s course at the Department of Social and Human Sciences, School of Environment and Society, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and teach audio-visual education at Komazawa University as an adjunct lecturer. This chapter reflects on what I experienced in the turmoil of distance learning that was abruptly introduced in April 2020, based on my notes.

    Let me start with my experience as a student. The media tools accessible for the students of Tokyo Institute of Technology were emails, liberally service, web system of the university’s administrative office (for students’ registration, grades, etc.), OCW-i (submitting reports for registered courses, list of registered courses, notice from lecturers of registered courses), study portfolio (entering my study records), and others. The syllabi can be viewed on the university’s website accessible from the outside. As of April, however, no new systems were introduced for distance learning.

    At the Tokyo Institute of Technology, I took as few as two courses. As a PhD student, I wanted to concentrate on literature research as well as field works during this period.

    Obviously, these two courses were conducted remotely through the Zoom platform. The first semester’s list of syllabi showed that almost all courses had been changed to remote.

    The 2020 academic year of the university started on May 4th, later than usual, but the seminars of the first half of the year (first and second quarters) started earlier for four months from April 8th through the end of July.

    How to proceed the seminar course was determined at the orientation session held on the first day: deciding on who would present on what date. All the members were to report their research plans. We also decided that we would read two papers on “diseases and religions”—the theme of the first and second quarters—every week.

    The seminar course used Zoom, and the basic pattern of each session was that the presenter sent résumé to other students using a mailing list beforehand and explained it in the seminar session by sharing the screen, which was followed by discussion.

    During this period, various changes occurred in our seminar. For example, one student started a master’s course and joined our seminar in April, but except for remotely greeting her over Zoom, I did not have a chance to meet her in person.

    Academic conferences were also held on Zoom. I attended three conferences “Japanese Association for the Study of Religion and Society” (June 2020), “Japanese Association for Religious Studies” (September 2020), and “Komazawa Religious Study Institute” (November 2020). They were all held on Zoom. In normal times, academic conferences offer a good opportunity to listen to oral presentations of latest studies, and for researchers of universities and other research institutions, it is indeed a great opportunity to meet in person and directly communicate with acclaimed professors at parties, but it was not the case this year.

    Likewise, workshops and meetings for religious study researchers organized by other universities turned into Zoom webinars one after another. Zoom made it easier for those in remote areas to attend and reduced financial burden on researchers, but opportunity to communicate with fellow researchers on a personal basis was lost.

    Conducting field research is indispensable for a graduate school student of social sciences, majoring in sociology of religion, but COVID-19 made it almost impossible, particularly after a cluster had been identified in a religious group in Korea. Many of the temples, churches, and other religious groups in Japan canceled masses and meetings at their facilities or stopped accepting visitors like us.

    Still, after the removal of state of emergency, I was able to resume participant observation as a field work for my thesis as I was approved to attend Zoom masses held at a church of a new religious movement. Every morning the mass started at 7:30 and was held for 45 minutes. The morning mass had been held in a church in Tokyo. Since the group have followers across Japan as well as the world, such as in Nara, Wakayama, and Florida, some members were happy about the use of Zoom, saying, “It is easier now to attend the morning mass.”

    Currently I am preparing for incorporating this observation records into my field research. But research activities are so restricted, developing it during my PhD course may be difficult.

  • 5-2. Findings from Survey on Distance Learning at Tokyo Institute of Technology

    In June 2020, Tokyo Institute of Technology conducted a survey of the all students who were taking courses in the first quarter to explore how they perceived remote courses, and released the findings as “The results of the questionnaire survey on courses, learning, and living conditions since the introduction of online courses.”9 The purpose of conducting the survey was to improve the quality of online courses.

    Survey period: June 2nd (Tue) to June 5th (Fri.), 2020
    Subjects: All students (response rate: 36.1%, 3,724 persons)

    I also responded to the survey. Here I would like to touch on several interesting outcomes.

    First, how may Zoom classes students take per week. The maximum numbers of classes a student take was 14 (23.5%) for first year undergraduate students, 12 (16%) for second to fourth, and 7 (10.8%) for graduate students. As the length of one class is 100 minutes, in simple calculation, first year students spend 23 hours per week (almost 5 hours per day) on Zoom classes. They take part in the classes, sitting in front of the computer, for almost 5 hours a day and prepare for each class and work on assignments, which is astounding.

    The survey finds students were having hard time to keep their concentration when taking remote classes. Those who agreed on this (combining “agree” and “somewhat agree”) accounted for 52.3% for first year undergraduate students, 61.4% for second to fourth, and 52.3% for graduate school students. Perhaps students were not able to concentrate because of the huge difference in study environment, physical classroom versus sitting in front of computer at home, or perhaps they were too exhausted.

    The university library was closed temporarily in the first quarter. This may be one of the reasons for a number of students feeling overloaded with assignments. Those who agreed that there were too many assignments (combining “agree” and “somewhat agree”) made up 61.7% for first year students, 60.9% for second to fourth, and 41.6% for graduate school students.

    Responding to these results, the committee that conducted the survey made a comment that they had instructed teachers to improve the situation, with specific requests such as “pay due consideration to the amount of assignment,” “record classes for streaming,” “take a break (about 5 min.) during the class,” “pay careful consideration to “on/off” of the video,” “explain how to grade more specifically,” and “reserve time for questions,” etc.

  • 5-3. My Impressions on Distance Learning Experience at Tokyo Institute of Technology

    What I experienced and felt at remote seminar sessions on Zoom are as follows. The lecturer showed her face against the backdrop of a résumé or a related material, but students usually turned off both video and audio. The lecturer could not see what they were doing at all during a 60- or 100-minute class.

    The information lecturer could confirm was only the names of students attending on each Zoom class, the states of video and microphone (on or off), and chat messages (students rarely sent chat messages to her except for when notifying they had attached any materials). Other information was unknown to the lecturer. Speakers (usually the lecturer or presenter at seminar sessions) felt as if they were talking to the bottom of a deep well and felt quite empty as they could not see any responses from the group during the speech.

    The lecturer devised ways to make students feel engaged, such as asking them what had been going on recently and dividing them into small groups for discussion (breakout sessions). But I feel Zoom has a limit as a media tool to help students deepen their qualitative thinking. Further ingenuity will be needed to create a system of Zoom-teaching methods. This issue should be examined more precisely in the future.

    The Tokyo Institute of Technology’s second semester (third and fourth quarters) started in October. They entered a new phase10 of COVID-19 countermeasures, where teachers and students can choose remote or face-to-face classes. However, as multiple university members were reported to be infected, cautious handling of courses is still required. Distance learning may continue until the end of this academic year, or may be further into AY 2021.

  • 5-4. Distance Learning Experienced as an Adjunct Lecturer

    Here I discuss distance learning from the standpoint of an educator as an adjunct lecturer.

    My course at Komazawa University11 started from April 10th, 2020 in a form of distance learning. Then, I found myself in trouble. For my past “Audio-Visual Education” classes, I used various educational programs, particularly excellent ones. Since this was the fourth year of this course, I had designed the classes almost perfectly, including what clips I would show and what special programs aired on NHK would suit this course.

    However, the situation posed a challenge to my course plan. Broadcast programs were available to use for an educational purpose, but to post them on the internet or upload them onto cloud servers as video files, I had to obtain permissions from copyright holders again. This was proved to be a great hurdle in teaching audio-visual education by distance learning.

    The media environment of Komazawa University was similar to that of Tokyo Institute of Technology—not necessarily fully prepared for starting distance learning from April. The main media tools available at Komzawa University were Gmail accounts (mainly for emails), KONEKO (syllabi, course registration, and scoring), C-Learning (class support system, submission of reports, attendance, learning materials, communication system, questionnaire, etc.), and Yestudy (contacting students by discipline, posting my profile etc.)

    As I had been conducting classes mainly at physical classrooms until the end of AY2019, I had rarely used these tools except for KONECO for confirming students’ registrations and scoring and Gmail for communication, which were enough for my face-to-face classes.

    And yet, we received an instruction from the university to “start distance learning from April.” To master the use of systems provided by the university and to provide students with appropriate educational guidance, you need to take enough time to prepare materials and familiarize yourselves with new media tools. To be honest, I was not sure about how to use some of them. If it had been a normal time, I would have visited the university office to ask for help, but I couldn’t because the university was closed. I was completely in a fog, but I had to start anyway.

    In the end, I decided to use the C-Learning system as my main tool for remote teaching because it would allow a series of actions, from communicating with students by email, to preparing materials for class reading (by providing links to PDF documents and websites), and to receiving reports from students.

    For some reason, Komazawa University did not recommend the use of Zoom, a standard software for distance learning. I was told this was because of the university’s server storage capacity, which suggests that the active use of videos had not been taken into consideration for remote classes. They recommended the use of MS Teams. I asked the reason but the information I received was not enough for me to figure out whether it was an official application designated by the university or they wanted each teacher use it as a private tool. Later I learnt, from students’ email messages and responses to questionnaires at the end of semester, as well as through conversations with colleagues, that various types of video software were used in other courses.

    Audio-Visual Education is a full-year course consisting of 30 classes. The basic pattern has been that students read assigned materials and submit reports and I give them feedback by email. In this way I have completed more than 20 classes so far.

    The students taking my course are very studious and hardworking. For these 20 classes, all of the students have submitted reports without fail. Many of the reports were very well-written, much better than I had expected. They frequently ask questions by emails. The reading materials are excerpts from books and academic papers. With more than twenty classes completed, they have already read quite a volume of literature.

    It is not easy to measure learning effects, but my impression is that remote classes may provide more fulfilling time than ordinally physical classes do. It seems students are more concentrated in remote classes than physical ones and working harder as the burdens on them are heavier now.

    I have not met my students in person, but I feel much more proactive responses from them than in my past classes. However, it is unfortunate that we have significantly fewer opportunities to view quality video works in the class.

  • 5-5. Findings from Survey on Distance Learning at Komazawa University

    Just as Tokyo Institute of Technology did, Komazawa University conducted a questionnaire survey of students on the first semester and released the results.12

    Interestingly, the survey finds students spent more time on preparation and review than the previous year (AY2019), by about 40 minutes per class. This means if a student takes eight classes, he/she spends additional five hours on preparation and review.

    The survey team explains that the above result was presumably affected by the increase in assignments and the decrease in time spent on commuting, club activities, and part-time jobs. The survey also reveals that the mean values of the following items were higher than the previous year: “studying hard and engaged in the class” (up 0.27 pp), “leaning materials used in the class are easy to see” (up 0.19 pp), and “developing an interest in what I learn in the class” (up 0.15 pp). And the mean value for “the rate of absenteeism” decreased by 0.16 percentage point.

    The survey suggests that students are more committed to their studies in distance learning and that distance learning has many advantages. I am keen to see more detailed results of the survey including students’ satisfactory levels and reactions to assignments. I look forward to the next questionnaire survey that Komazawa University plans to conduct in the second semester of AY2020.

6. Conclusion: Potential and Challenges of Distance Learning

The year 2020 will be marked as the year where educational reform of introducing distance learning in higher education was implemented in earnest, not as mere slogans, which shall be recorded in history. Distance learning was forcibly introduced in school/university education and carried out albeit in a rather rough manner. Presumably, if COVID-19 had not spread all over the world, the implementation of distance learning and educational reform would not have proceeded at such a tremendous rate; it must have taken more time.

My next question is what we should push forward, taking advantage of this opportunity. To conclude my essay, I would like to discuss this question, again from the two standpoints, of a student and of an adjunct lecturer.

First, the support system for the making of educational content is definitely necessary. Japanese university courses usually start in April. And what I saw this year was that teachers in charge of each course were solely responsible for making the materials for their remote classes. Preparing 15 classes of 100 or 90 minutes for the first semester is not easy at all, too much workload for one person. Just to mention an example, making a 20-minute TED talk video usually takes several days or even weeks.

Preparation and operating of a remote class at a Japanese ordinally university involves many works: converting study materials into PDF files and sending them to students using a mailing list, making PowerPoint slides, preparing video materials, checking and clearing copyrights, taking attendance in the class, making and distributing assignments, evaluating and grading, giving students feedback, answering their questions, and more. It is obvious that teachers need a help of supporting team of specialists in class-content production.13

Secondly, it is also necessary to secure the budget for distance learning. At university, academics are eager to obtain research funds, but we rarely hear they try to secure the budget for course expenses.

To implement distance learning, it is highly important to take into consideration the budget for making content for remote classes.

Here’s an idea. For example, in the case of basic subjects at a faculty or a department such as “introduction to economics,” “introduction to sociology,” or “The Constitution,” course designing and budget planning for five years, not for a single year, would work because you can use five times as much budget. This is just an example, but it is high time to reconsider the allocation and the usage of budget.

Also crucial is to properly keep a record of this unexpected distance learning experience. Just as the survey of Komazawa University students indicates, the time spent on study has increased because of distance learning. It is important to assess what educational effects were generated by analyzing data. To do so, implementing a survey project is indispensable.

In education, accumulating data, and experiences, over a long term—five years, ten years—is important. In this context, although triggered by the discouraging and unfortunate outbreak of coronavirus, we are already stepping forward into a new phase.

I very much expect that this new momentum of education, which is happening in front of us, will be utilized as a significant example that can contribute to opening up new possibilities for further development of educational opportunities in the world, especially, in developing countries.

The theme of this paper is “Personal Views on Distance Learning Based on My Own Experience,” but what I went through over these months is not just as an experience in a narrow sense but carries many clues to the future of new media, use of content, role of teachers, and ideal ways of teaching.


  1. Education is one of the most important strategies for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs.) It is important to secure the right to receive appropriate education of high quality to achieve these goals including no poverty, good health and well-being, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and reducing inequalities. Distance learning may provide a good opportunity to overcome cost problems and teacher shortage.

  2. Gagne, Robert M., 1997, The Conditions of Learning, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, N. Y.,
    Schramm, W., 1977, Big Media Little Media: Tools and Technologies for Instruction, Sage, C.A., Publications, Inc.
    Schramm, W., 1978, Quality in Instructional Television, The University Press of Hawaii.
    Travers, Robert M.W., 1973, Second Handbook of Research on Teaching, Rand McNally College Publishing Com., Chicago.
    Joyce, Bruce, et al, 1972, Models of Teaching, : Prentice-Hall, New Jersey,

  3. The background of the birth of Sesame Street, the records of program production by Harvard University and CTW, Lesser, Gerald S., 1974, Children and Television, Random house Inc., (with its Japanese version, Sesame Street Monogatari, translated by Yamamoto Tadashi and Waku Akio, 1976, Simul Press), the program’s influence on Japanese pre-school programs such as Okaasan to Issho (With Mother) and Hirake! Ponkikki.

  4. NHK Shuppan Saibaa Tekisuto Hiroko Grace no Kaigai Ryoko Eeikaiwa [Japan Broadcast Publishing Cyber Textbook: Hiroko Grace’s English Conversation for Overseas Travel], 1999, Japan Broadcast Publishing
    NHK Shuppan Saibaa Tekisuto Hiroko Grace no Kaigai Ryoko Eeikaiwa [Japan Broadcast Publishing Cyber Textbook: Hiroko Grace’s Busines English Conversation], 2000, Japan Broadcast Publishing

  5. Tokyo Institute of Technology has three campuses in Ookayama, Suzukake-dai, andn Tamachi, Tokyo. The number of students is approx. 10, 500. (approx. 5,000 undergraduate and approx. 5,500 graduate school students). Among them, about 1,700 are from overseas. The university has about 1,200 lecturers and 600 staff members.

  6. TED was also quick to present talks on coronavirus such as the bellow



  9. (in Japanese, last viewed on November 8th, 2020)

  10. Tokyo Institute of Technology has a policy for each phase as “Policy on COVID-19.” (last viewed on November 11th, 2020)

  11. Komazawa University has three campuses in Tokyo. Its fundamental principle is based on Buddhist doctrines and the spirit of Zen. The university has eight faculties including Faculty of Buddhism, and the graduate school has eight divisions. The number of students is approx.15,000, with 337 lecturers and 201 administrative staff.

  12. Komazawa University’s committee for faculty development released a report on “results of the students’ questionnaire on classes, first semester, AY2020: higher amount of study and learning effect” on its FD NEWSLETTER (63): OCT: pp.2-9

  13. Tokyo Institute of Technology and Komazawa University both have centers for instructional innovation, IT promotion, and faculty development.

Shigeru AOKI

TV Producer
PhD Student, Tokyo Institute of Technology
Adjunct Lecturer, Komazawa University

Born in 1950, Shigeru Aoki majored in education and audio-visual education at the Yokohama National University and the Graduate School of International Christian University. He joined the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) where he was involved in a number of TV program productions as program director, senior producer, and division director at various divisions including Cultural Programs, Lifelong Learning Programs, Economy and Information Programs, NHK Archives, and School Broadcast Programs. He was temporarily transferred to Japan Broadcast Publishing Co. Ltd. (current NHK Publishing Inc.), where he was responsible for digital publication at Multimedia Promotion Office. After returning to NHK, he worked at the Programing Department and held Secretary General posts at the Japan Prize (international competition for educational content), “ABU Voyage to the Future” (international co-production project of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, ABU), and “Educational Fair”— NHK’s annual autumn festival open to the public.

After retirement from NHK, he joined NHK Enterprises, Inc. (NEP) and served as General Manager in charge of “NHK On Demand” service, Corporate Officer, in charge of overseas program acquisitions, International Business Group, and Senior Vice President of NHK Cosmomedia America Inc. in New York.

He currently studies sociology of religion as a PhD student at Department of Social and Human Science, Tokyo Institute of Technology and teaches “Audio-Visual Education” at Komazawa University as Adjunct Lecturer.
[As of November 2020]

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