Current concerns (13)

Parents shape up after parents are invited to monitor university classes

MORIOKA–In mid-November, a middle-aged woman was seated near the lectern of a room at Iwate University. She was taking the class not as a student but as a “monitor” for its courses–a role filled by parents at the national university.

During the class, the 46-year-old woman, whose daughter is enrolled in the agricultural department, was writing whatever comments came to her, such as, “Many students are falling asleep or whispering among themselves,” and, “It’s probably because the lesson is not accommodating to them.”

She was monitoring classes because the institution had invited the public to observe the instruction of its core curriculum, which is to be taken by all students regardless of their majors. The woman found that not all teachers she watched were creative in their teaching methods.

When it came to lectures in large halls, for example, some merely gave one-sided talks, causing many students to fall asleep, while other teachers occasionally switched tempo by asking their students for their opinions.

The woman was attempting to discern whether the school deserved the academic fees that had placed a heavy financial burden on her family. “I’d like both the teachers and students to become much more serious [about their classes],” she said after the visit.

As part of its effort to improve teaching, Iwate University began to open its classrooms to public scrutiny three years ago. The following year, it began to allow parents to monitor instruction.

During public observation periods, such monitors can sit in on classes whenever they have the time, and then share their opinions with other parents and faculty during lunch meetings.

Vice President Shinnosuke Tama, 54, said the parent monitoring system he is in charge of also has a different aim. “We’d like to send the message that the parents and we at the university are important partners in the education of our students,” he said.

Today’s university students tend to act more immaturely, dropping out of school whenever they have trouble with their studies or friends, Tama said. For this reason, his university has decided to take much better care of its students than before, building a collaborative relationship with their parents, he added.

About 10 parents are registered as monitors every year, and give opinions on a wide range of issues. Some monitors also cited the institution’s lack of information sharing as problematic after some of the monitors were allowed to observe certain classes because the instructors had been unaware it was an observation period.

After completion, the monitors’ opinions are delivered to the teachers. The practice has resulted in fewer teachers arriving late to class or cancelling classes outright. This change is proof, Tama said, that his teachers are improving their attitudes toward their chosen professions.

In addition to its core courses, Iwate University will open its major courses for public observation. It also will start to have faculty members observe each other’s classes by the end of the current academic year.

Thursday, December 25, 2008 Daily Yomiuri

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