Innovation in Motion: Teaming with University of Yamanashi to Develop a New ICT-based Approach to Education
2012 saw the start of a joint research project between Fuji Xerox and the University of Yamanashi into the area of "new ICT-based educational methods and technology to produce talent for the global stage". This project was an attempt to revolutionize the way classes are taught in universities by incorporating what is known as the "flipped classroom" approach into lessons. The results showed increases in student grades, speaking highly of the benefits it potentially has to offer. This volume describes this joint effort between Fuji Xerox and the University of Yamanashi to improve the quality of education through the establishment of a new approach to the way we teach and learn.
Education programs that will catch the attention of the world
Significant changes are occurring in the university environment—changes that are throwing these long-established centers of learning into a stage of massive evolution. In a current global environment that is more connected than ever, it is now possible for us to receive high-quality education anytime, anywhere, through the increasing availability of such resources as freely distributed online courses. These changing times are causing people to question the traditional "brick-and-mortar" university learning spaces, asking how these environments can be more effectively utilized. On top of these concerns, educators are also struggling with issues of student passivity in learning in a time when society is calling out for more assertive graduates capable of succeeding in a global arena. Stemming from the desire of the (now former) University of Yamanashi Vice Chancellor, Shuichiro Maeda, to "provide educational programs that will catch the attention of the world", the research theme of "new ICT-based educational methods and technology to produce talent for the global stage" was established, and the joint project set in motion.
Clarifying key issues of traditional education
Shinozaki: My role was to manage the numerous joint research activities being undertaken in the project. This involved overseeing project direction and the scheduling of its many members (Fuji Xerox sales, system engineers, research teams, etc.) so that all involved were moving in unison towards a common goal. Regular communication between these groups and the professors at the University of Yamanashi was important as it allowed us to clarify what issues needed addressing. We first noticed that most lessons at the university were delivered in the traditional, unilateral style. Also, questionnaires revealed to us that a passive attitude and lack of vigor towards learning was common in many students, with some stating they spent no time whatsoever studying outside of class. To address this, we began looking into new teaching styles that would be conducive to developing a proactive attitude towards learning, and the approach we chose was the "flipped classroom". Rich in discussion and presentation, this approach is currently receiving much attention due to its inclusion of numerous activities geared towards the promotion of active learning in students.
In the flipped classroom, students first watch pre-recorded lectures online. After this, students attend a classroom-based lesson where they actively engage in discussion with teachers and other students on the content they have viewed to solidify their understanding. However, as there are currently few domestic or international examples to go by for reference, the process of clarifying how ICT systems could be introduced to further enrich the approach and how best to develop a proactive attitude in students required repeated trial and error and lengthy discussion on ICT and lesson design.
Working with teachers to create a system to last
Hirano: Before we introduced the flipped classroom approach, some teachers expressed concerns about the time needed to create video material for students to watch pre-lesson. What this suggested to us was that for the flipped classroom to be sustainable long-term, it was vital that content creation and distribution be made as simple as possible to lessen the burden on teachers. At the same time, however, some teachers stated that if they were to put in the time, then the content they created should use the latest web technology and be in line with current trends. In the end, we prioritized. Separating the needs from the wants, we placed emphasis on the necessities to determine what was required of a system that would be used long-term to create and deliver educational content. Content would need to be understandable and captivating so that students would watch, understand, and not lose interest.
Thus the system needed to allow easy editing and updating of specific parts of videos when it became necessary to add information or change the way content was taught. For this, we used a tool our research team was working on at the time, and used this to develop a system that allowed the user to create, edit, and distribute content by recording their computer screen while simultaneously capturing audio through a microphone. The resulting content was a type of slideshow with live commentary. "Details aside, fifteen minutes of content should take fifteen minutes to make". Together with professors, and while taking in advice from different perspectives, we worked to turn this goal into a reality. I believe the resulting system achieves what we set out to create, delivering a flipped classroom environment that educators can use on their own to create, use, and upgrade educational content in a simple manner, so that they will continue using it into the foreseeable future.
Pursuing better learning through close observation in the classroom
Tamaru: In the flipped classroom approach, students view lesson content before classes. Having done this, students enter the classroom and share their reflections based on what they have learned pre-lesson by carrying out practical applications and participating in group work. It is thought that this approach aids students in gaining a deeper and more lasting understanding of what they are learning. That is why when designing lessons, thorough care is needed in deciding what content to deliver pre-lesson and the types of activities to implement in the classroom to achieve this goal of better learning. I participated in this project as a visiting professor to the University of Yamanashi, working closely in both the classroom and with other university professors. Together, we considered what form the flipped classroom should take.
Using an ethnographic approach, we visited flipped classrooms over multiple occasions to make observations, gain realizations, and measure its effects. Because there is no clear-cut end-goal to these activities, the process taken was one of repeated trials followed by effectiveness evaluations, gradually refining the approach as we went. I observed and evaluated a wide range of professors’ lessons, taking the positive elements and areas that could be improved on from each. I felt that through this I was able to positively contribute from my unique position by inputting my expertise and realizations into the improvement process. Coming from a business background, it was a special experience to work with the professors of University of Yamanashi as a visiting professor and share and contribute my perspective on how to provide quality education.
Changes in students after participating in the flipped classroom
After introducing the flipped classroom approach, it was found that all students were now carrying out some form of preparation before class. Similarly, many students were also spending one to two hours reviewing content after class, showing that the flipped classroom approach did not only increase time used in preparation, but also review. Furthermore, the number of students with low test scores dropped significantly, while the number of students with high scores grew dramatically, with the median and average both showing large increases. Feedback such as, "I achieved a deeper understanding of the lesson content", and "the videos were very easy to understand and I could use them in review" also showed that content was being used not only for preparation but to help understand points that were unclear. Other effects were also witnessed in that because students were preparing beforehand, they were also bringing points for confirmation to class, and as a result, discussions were starting quicker. From these results, we could see a shift taking place in student attitude, moving from passive, where students "sit lectures", to active, where students "take ownership of their own learning", as well as many other proactive behavioral shifts regarding lessons and the learning process.
Active learning and the flipped classroom has also captured the attention of the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) and is being promoted in other universities. As one of the first educational institutions to introduce and deliver positive results using this approach, the University of Yamanashi has earned itself a reputation as a pioneering figure in the field of active learning. Furthermore, based on the results of this joint research, Fuji Xerox has developed two tools: Media DEPO and Sky Desk Mixed Leaning. These tools are designed for the creation of flipped classroom video content and are being shared by Fuji Xerox with other universities. Fuji Xerox was also able to acquire knowledge and experience in creating the space, environment, and other elements necessary in active learning to deliver better quality to the learning environment. In the future, we will use this knowledge to create new value and build a solid collaborative platform that will act as the springboard for similar results in other collaborations.
Professor Masanori Hanawa, University of Yamanashi
The joint research between Fuji Xerox and the University of Yamanashi on "new ICT-based educational methods and technology to produce talent for the global stage" was a combined effort in research and development between the business and academic sectors to advance the environment and methods employed in university education. With the goal of applying these efforts to increasing the pool of global talent, these activities spanned over four years from 2013 to 2016. Preparation itself began as early as 2012, with discussions starting in April of that year. In 2017, while not under formal contract, we still exchange information and cooperate on various fronts with one another. All efforts towards the flipped classroom approach at this university began from this joint research. Especially throughout the preparation period leading up to the summer of 2012, there was much intense debate between the various participants—those in business and academia, sales and development, experienced members and newcomers—on what form a new and improved university education should take. The result of this was the flipped classroom approach we have now. While working together with the many talented people that a large company like Fuji Xerox provides was key to the endeavor’s success, at the same time this project gave me an inside glimpse into the difficulties that come with being a large company. I am extremely grateful to all those who joined us on this exploration, solving issues as they arose along the way. I feel that the flipped classroom has made significant improvements on the traditional one-way style of disseminating knowledge, which often creates passive tendencies in student learning. The flipped classroom approach is, however, only one part of the solution to the many issues that exist in university education. For example, while many call for the increased use of ICT in university learning, a large number of the solutions that emerge from business and engineering sectors focus primarily on the technology itself and fall short in delivering real solutions. I believe cooperative focused attempts—as seen in this project—to solve real issues through the coupling of differing specialties such as universities and companies, engineers and educators, practitioners and observers, etc., will produce the most fruitful results in the future.