Social Networking Behind Student Lines in Japan

Social Networking Behind Student Lines in Japan

Steve McCarty (Osaka Jogakuin College, Japan)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-190-2.ch010
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In a cross-cultural educational context of TEFL in Japan, the author sought to enhance the integrative motivation of students toward the target language community through a supplementary online dimension. The social networking site (SNS), Mixi, was selected because it is familiar to most college students in Japan. The Mixi Japanese language interface is illustrated in this chapter, describing functions possibly applicable to education. A YouTube video that introduces Mixi in English, made in authentic collaboration with students, is also referenced as a representative CALL 2.0 classroom activity. More importantly, joining Mixi presented an opportunity to go behind the lines into student territory. Teachers and students, whether foreign or Japanese, customarily maintain their social distance in terms of separate affiliations. Social networking with Japanese students further involves issues of online technological proficiency, biliteracy, and the necessity of an invitation. The author negotiated with three 2007-08 classes on networking through Mixi, with varying outcomes extending beyond the classroom and the school year. Metaphors of lines and perspectives including “technoscapes” (Appadurai, 1990) are proposed to interpret the results, but Japanese socioculture may be most salient to account for the particulars. Student attitudes are probed as to a possible ambivalence in valuing their free expression in Mixi versus the integrative motivation of social involvement with a teacher. One prediction was that results would differ as to whether or not a teacher was welcome in a student community depending on how students were approached for an invitation. Social networking is proposed as a Web 2.0 educational approach that is authentic, collaborative, and immersive in cutting through power hierarchies and positively blurring the distinction between the classroom and the real life of students and teachers, which nowadays includes a virtual dimension.
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Efl Uptake And Technology Use Among Students In Japan

Briefly with regard to the subjects of this study, the EFL situation in Japan is problematical in a number of dimensions. While nearly everyone studies English for at least six years in secondary school, and children’s English is increasingly popular among parents, the Japanese language predominates outside of classes, which do not meet often enough or provide enough listening input and speaking practice. English serves as a test subject for gatekeepers to rank students academically, affecting their future willy-nilly, whether they ever need English or not, so in compulsory EFL classes some students naturally regard the work as an imposition. A disincentive tied to a mutually exclusive sense of cultural identity is that a student who speaks a foreign language fluently may be singled out from her peer group as different or crossing over in affiliation, which threatens the vulnerable young person living in a social world with exclusion. Educational officialdom is more concerned with maintaining Japaneseness than encouraging goals of bilingualism and biculturalism, so there is a pervasive ambivalence about English. Thus motivation tends to be extrinsic or instrumental rather than intrinsic or integrative. Yet teachers are expected to motivate students, so they either read their lines perfunctorily or go to great lengths including innovations in CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning).

The technological background of students is that of an advanced nation, but ubiquitous use of Internet-capable mobile phones with cameras and ever more functions has somewhat stunted the computer skills of students beyond what is necessary or convenient for school work. Despite a shortage of IT workers, computer-related courses are relatively less popular in Japan than in many other countries, which heightens the challenge of teachers to innovate while starting from where the students are in computer proficiency. As this chapter will show, however, social networking is very popular among young people and works to converge computers and mobile phones as they access the same platform.

The subjects of this study are female students, who tend to be shy with computers compared to males, as a sort of believed self-stereotype. Osaka Jogakuin College (OJC) has a women’s 2-year and 4-year program where everyone majors in English. Unlike the general situation described above, the students have chosen EFL, so intrinsic motives can be activated. The college encourages women’s empowerment, so a teacher can promote technological empowerment. The integrated content-based curriculum, recognized as “Good Practice” by the Education Ministry, has the effect of integrating the faculty as well, Japanese and non-Japanese, full-time and part-time. Like most other private colleges in an ageing society, OJC is not difficult to enter, but students have to work hard and therefore tend to achieve remarkable growth in English proficiency. More classes are taught in English by native speakers than at most colleges in Japan. In this institutional culture, teaching is emphasized more than research and each student is valued as an individual.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Second Life: Sometimes referred to as simply SL, Second Life is a 3D virtual reality developed by the Linden Lab in California, USA, that was launched in 2003. It became more prominent in late 2006 as a number of global corporations and educational institutions opened buildings there. Based on a free downloadable client, Second Life estimates that up to 18 million accounts have been registered there as of early 2008.

Socioculture: The combination of social factors, some of which may be incidental to contemporary institutions, with cultural factors that are deeply ingrained and passed across generations, strongly coloring people’s identity and communication style. The resultant combination affects people’s tendencies to affiliations that can be related to languages, and this chapter utilizes metaphors of lines to symbolize existing sociocultural borders that may constrain cross-cultural communication along with other patterns of behavior.

Integrative Motivation: A type of motivation that is particularly relevant to learning foreign languages, it refers to a learner’s intrinsic orientation or desire to communicate with, be more like, or to join the L2 (second or foreign language) user community. Developed chiefly by R. C. Gardner, the concept has been refined by Z. Dörnyei and others, moving away from fixed attitudes toward the possibility of transformation as hypothesized in this chapter.

TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Teaching English where another language is predominant in the environment. Therefore, English input or practice in a country like Japan often depends on classes that do not meet often or long enough to match the results of an ESL environment where, by contrast with EFL, English pervades the environment outside of class as well.

SNS: Social networking site or sites, sometimes social networking service or services. To users it is an online gathering place for enhancing relationships and making new acquaintances by sharing words and media about oneself and one’s world. Successful SNS companies provide mostly free services and gain revenues through advertisements rotating on users’ Web pages. Functionality differs according to technology and culture, but common functions are profiles, blogging, photos and short videos, with messaging and RSS-style notifications of new entries by a user’s friends and topical communities.

Technoscapes: A type of global cultural flow in A. Appadurai’s anthropology of globalization. It foregrounds the various perspectives people have on technologies, and this “perspectivity” can be useful in considering the varying background knowledge of students in CALL (computer-assisted language learning) classes. Globalization generally affects such students in Japan, but this chapter finds that knowing the specific cultural background of students is essential to interpreting their use of social networking technology.

Mixi: The most popular SNS in Japan with users estimated at over ten million, possibly over a tenth of the whole population, predominantly students and young adults. Most of its functions are accessible from the mobile phones ubiquitous in Japan. In this chapter Mixi provides a supplementary online dimension for a teacher to motivate EFL students and continue the human relationship after classes end.

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