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Features Headline — 05 March 2014

By John Rogers

Part one of a two-part series about how Albion is sharing the liberal arts with Japan, and how Japan is sharing important economic policy lessons with Albion.

Albion College exported the liberal arts approach to education to Japan after recently hosting professor Yutaka Harada from the economics department of Waseda University in Tokyo.

Harada was assigned by Waseda University to come to the United States to see how educational instruction is conducted in the liberal arts tradition. His goal is to understand how liberal arts colleges engage students in a way that causes them to think critically about the material they are learning and participate in discussion.

“I think that it is difficult to teach [first-year] philosophy or political theory, but I feel professors have succeeded in activating their classes by giving good questions and examples to students,” Harada said.  “These courses talk about very abstract things, but I felt that students seriously thought about them when given concrete examples.”

During his 10-day visit, Harada attended various political science, economics and philosophy classes, and also met with both Interim President Michael Frandsen and Provost Susan Connor to gain an intimate understanding of what Albion is doing to try to foster an open and engaging dialogue with students. His focus was on understanding how to help students apply theory to the real world.

“I feel that to bridge abstract theory to the real world is important,” Harada said. “By doing this, I think professors can make students think. A professor asks students to report on a topic [and at] the same time to propose issues to be discussed. This is a good way to make students think deeply. I will imitate this in my classes.”

He is optimistic about the impact that he will have in Waseda’s classrooms.  Harada acknowledges students, regardless of nationality, share some characteristics.

“Sometimes even the U.S. students looked shy, and there was limited student responses to professors,” Harada said.  “Of course, it is natural that they cannot respond well if they do not read assignments. Some students study hard, but others don’t. It is the same in any country.”

The shyness Harada refers to is more prevalent in Japanese classrooms than in American ones, but this is deliberately being changed. According to political science professor Dyron Dabney, who has studied in Japan, institutional and instructional norms are transitioning away from professors in large lecture halls only presenting information.

“Waseda University, for example, offers a four-year education in the School of International Liberal Studies,” Dabney said.  “Imagine a smaller liberal arts model of teaching and learning in a large research setting.  Students who are enrolled in this program can expect a teaching and learning model that is similar to a liberal arts setting.  With that setting comes the expectation of more participation by students in the class. I would say that the teaching and learning expectations are changing.”

In addition to exporting the liberal arts tradition to Japan, Albion faculty and students had the chance to import some policy lessons from the economic turmoil Japan faced over the past 20 years during Prof. Harada’s visit.

Part two of this series will explore Japan’s recent economic experience and assess what Prof. Harada thinks the U.S. can learn from it.

Photo via Waseda University

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About Author

John is a senior from Rochester Hills, MI. He is majoring in economics and is interested in economics and how it can help everyone get the m.ost out of life. Twitter: @John_RogersJr

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