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2008.10.07 - Teaching: Pioneering New Language Training

Thomas McAuley talks about the M.A. Advanced Japanese Studies and the technology behind it.


MA Advanced Japanese Studies

East Asian Studies departments from Sheffield and Leeds have re-launched their MA Advanced Japanese Studies (Research Methods) to nurture and train students through a world-class programme.

As part of our commitment to provide jointly the best training to equip newly recruited students with the language skills needed, the departments of East Asian Studies at the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds have re-launched their Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-approved MA Advanced Japanese Studies (Research Methods) from this academic year, drawing on the expertise of both institutions.

The programme combines training in postgraduate research methods with the social science-based study of modern Japan, topped off with Japanese language modules aimed at providing the skills researchers require to study Japan through the medium of its own language.The main challenge has been to find a way to deliver a tailor-made programme of advanced language instruction simultaneously to students at two different locations, but who are also studying full-time. This course provides the solution in combining the use of online techniques, as used in our distance learning programmes, with intensive face-to-face teaching. As a result, students focus exclusively on different aspects of the programme for short periods of time throughout the year, as opposed to doing all their subjects simultaneously.

Method of Teaching

Both of the new Japanese modules are divided into three units, each one focusing on a different aspect, or aspects, of the language skills researchers would need. In semester one, students focus on essential skills such as: searching the Japanese literature to locate sources, making oral and written academic presentations in Japanese, and evaluating and interpreting the content of Japanese texts. In semester two, students acquire important skills by studying topics such as developing research proposals in Japanese and applying for research funding, creating questionnaires and conducting interviews with Japanese informants, and planning and conducting fieldwork in Japan.

Students on the programme use the University of Sheffield’s learning management system, MOLE, to access on-line materials for each of the language units. They read through the materials, perform a number of different tasks, and correspond with both their classmates and tutors through bulletin board discussions. The recent acquisition of Wimba’s Voice Tools ( tools) means that they are able to record and receive audio messages as well as text-based ones. Each unit has an intensive teaching day, where students learn through face-to-face interaction with their tutors, lectures on relevant topics in Japanese, and make their own presentations.