The Internet increases the ease of international communication and creates exciting new opportunities for American students to learn about Asia. In this article we will discuss our experiences using the Internet to engage college students in Japan and the United States in a cross-cultural discussion of contemporary Japanese society. This electronic exchange allowed us to accomplish specific learning objectives for each class while giving our students a unique personal connection with the culture and language they were studying. While the American students focused on the study of contemporary Japanese society as presented in textbooks, lecture, and videos, the Japanese students reflected on Japan in a cross-cultural context as part of a content-based English as a Second Language (ESL) pedagogy. We have conducted this exchange twice in the past two years, using both email and a Web-based discussion board format and are quite enthusiastic about its potential.
The Educational Settings
Our professional assignments are useful context for the remainder of the essay. One of us (Cynthia Dunn) is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology who teaches a Non-Western Cultures course on Japan at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), a public university of 14,000 students. Learning objectives for the course include a basic knowledge of historic and contemporary Japanese culture, developing skills and frameworks for understanding another culture, and gaining a broader perspective on American culture through crosscultural comparison. Sections are thirty-five students each, with no previous knowledge of Japan or Japanese language required. (A bibliography of course materials is included at the end of this article.)
The other author (Debra Occhi) is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Miyazaki International College (MIC), a private, four-year liberal arts college of 300 students located in Miyazaki, Japan. MIC offers a BA in Comparative Culture; the college’s curricular foci are critical thinking and English proficiency. All students spend the second semester of the sophomore year on study abroad in an English-speaking country. Classroom use of digital technology is integrated into the curriculum.