Flipped classrooms in Japan

Flipping a Japanese language classroom: seeing its impact from a student survey and YouTube analytics Dr. Yasuhisa Watanabe (posted here under the Creative Commons license)

Abstract The ‘flipped classroom’ is gaining popularity in university teaching. However sceptics question if students actually come to classes prepared by viewing the given video. In this study, 163 university students enrolled in an intermediate level Japanese subject that was taught in a flipped mode were surveyed on their experiences of viewing the pre-learning video. The access records to the video were also analysed to determine how students behaved online. The survey showed only 50% of students had viewed the video regularly, but had done so thoroughly. On the other hand, 17% answered that they did not even attempt to access the video. This paper will present reasons the students gave for watching or not watching the video as a part of their learning and argue for an improved methodology.


The flipped classroom design, a form of blended learning (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008), asks students to learn what they traditionally learn in a classroom before the classes and engage in activities that are traditionally given as homework in classes (Bergmann & Sams, 2012). Before the classes, students are to view materials that are usually distributed using technology, often in the form of video clips. The method became popular recently in various educational settings, including universities. A brief survey of recent publications on flipped classroom shows that the method has been used to teach a diverse range of subject matters: marketing (Jarvis, Halvorson, Sadeque, & Johnston, 2014), history (Gaughan, 2014), statistics (Wilson, 2013), and foreign languages (Simon & Fell, 2013), to list a few. Utilising the pre-presented knowledge, class time is commonly used in studentcentred activities, such as peer-teaching and problem-based learning. These activities have the potential to engage students’ deep learning, i.e., to truly understand the meaning of what is being taught (Ramsden, 2003). It can potentially transform classroom teaching to become more individualised by giving students more choices in spending time on areas where they need the most practice (Bergmann & Sams, 2014), and allowing teachers to work as a facilitator, correcting students’ misconceptions as they engage in exercises and guiding students in applying the newly acquired knowledge (Hamdan, McKnight, McKnight, & Arfstrom, 2013; Jarvis et al., 2014). However, what this rhetoric appears to ignore, at least at the initial stage of implementing the flipped classroom, is students’ readiness to accept such model of education. Resistance from students can be felt when implementing the flipped mode of teaching, as they are forced to take control of their own learning and may perceive this as increased workload on their part (Simon & Fell, 2013). Most presentations to date only appear to present how the flipped classroom model has been implemented in different subjects (Wilson, 2013), and/or report on whether students viewed the video clips as intended for flipped methods (Gaughan, 2014). In this concise paper, a limited analysis of data from the video server will be used in conjunction with students’ survey data to shed light on students’ perceptions on the flipped classroom after trialling the method for a semester in an intermediate level Japanese language subject at the University of Melbourne. Current study In Semester 1, 2014, an attempt to flip a lower intermediate-level Japanese language subject was made. Of the four contact hours each week, about one hour’s worth of a class (dedicated to conducting grammar instruction) was flipped. In the traditional mode of language teaching, two to three new grammar structures are introduced each week in class, followed by drill and conversation exercises using the new grammar structures. This is followed by reading and writing practices which also incorporate the use of new grammar structures to let students construct and consolidate their learning of the target language. Of these three new grammar structures to be taught each week, one grammar structure (the key to all language practice during the week) was selected to be presented with a video clip.

For each week of the 12-week semester, a short video clip of three to six minutes, explaining the key grammar structure, was created using Microsoft PowerPoint with a voice-over in Japanese. It was then uploaded to YouTube and made available to students via the embedded video player on the subject’s LMS, along with other… [truncated here]

Discussion and conclusion

The first experience of flipping a subject for an entire semester achieved some success and provided valuable data on how to improve the future incarnations of the subject. It was disappointing that less than 10 percent of students became regular viewers of the video as intended by the flipped methodology, i.e., viewing the video before the class to prepare for deep-learning tasks (Bergmann & Sams, 2014). However, it also became clear that some students who found the contents of the video clips useful become dedicated viewers who watched the entire video clip and, although not confirmed by the analysis in this paper, may have understood the contents at a higher level. Why did some students find the video clips useful while others found them trivial? The YouTube analytics revealed two major issues: not every student accessed the video clips, and students’ interest faded towards the end of the semester. The former can be explained by reasons such as “textbook is good enough” and “I already know the contents explained in the video”. Because the selection of grammar patterns to be introduced in the video clips was made from the prescribed textbook, although more information on and examples of the introduced grammar patterns were included, it may have given some students the idea that they can manage the subject without watching the video clips. It is also conceivable that the proportion of activities associated with the flipped classroom method was not perceived as significant enough by the students to justify viewing the video clips every week. The latter may have been caused by the way the video clips were presented in Japanese, which gave some students an impression that the video clips were “difficult to understand”. The piloting of the flipped classroom also highlighted the issue of students’ workload. The comment “because this is my breadth subject” (i.e., not my major area of study) suggests that some students were overwhelmed by the amount of information presented and the time required to work on the material. A balance between students’ academic level of engagement and time commitment needs to be considered. Three recommendations can be made. Firstly, in an ideal “blended learning” mode, the contents of video clips needs to be well integrated into the entire curriculum (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). Classroom activities following the video clips should sufficiently leverage on the content presented in them to encourage previewing. Secondly, the video clips themselves should be made more accessible to students so that they do not feel intimidated by them. The video clips used in the future semesters are currently being revised. Finally, a careful explanation of the purpose and educational benefits of the flipped classroom method and expectation on students should be made repeatedly and clearly to students (Jarvis et al., 2014). Although the piloting of the flipped classroom was partially successful in terms of freeing some time for tasks to encourage students to engage with the subject matter at a deeper level than otherwise possible, modifications to further improve the curriculum will continue to be made.

Flipping classrooms: Is Japan embracing new educational paradigm?


By Preston Phro

When we imagine schools in the future, usually one of the first things that pops into our minds is students watching lectures on their computers. You might even imagine kids sprinting through crowded streets, late for school, with nothing but a simple LCD screen in hand instead of hefty spine-cracking backpacks. And, while many of us might have dreamed of learning straight from a computer, it never really seemed realistic, did it?

Well, it turns out that our sci-fi day dreams might be closer to reality than we’d ever imagined.

Starting this autumn, Saga Prefecture’s Takeo City will become the home of the first public Japanese school to try out the so-called “flipped classroom.” Though the idea isn’t entirely new, it is a bit surprising to see it taking hold in a country that many assume to be extremely conservative, especially when it comes to education. After all, Japanese students still clean the schools themselves and are renowned for their heads-down, nearly silent note-taking in classrooms. The idea of flipped classrooms taking over in Japan is nearly enough to boggle the mind.

But first, let’s take a step back and talk about just what a flipped classroom is.

The traditional classroom, whether in Asia, North America, or Europe, tends to be filled with lectures by teachers, with homework done at…well, home. Obviously, each area and each school has variations on the theme, but we generally think of teachers as standing in front of a room of students, explaining things. The flipped classroom, as the name implies, flips that idea – students watch lecture videos at home, do the selected work, and bring it to school for discussion and extra help when needed.

Flipped classrooms, as you might imagine, bring some unique challenges though. Teachers have to provide videos to students, and it’s also necessary to be sure they actually watch the videos. The solution that Takeo City’s school came up with is simple: tablets!

Since 2010, Takeo City has actually been supplying elementary students from fourth to sixth grade in two schools with iPads for use in the classroom, and they have plans to do the same for all elementary school students starting next year. In 2015, middle school students will be included in those receiving the devices. This puts the city in a distinctively advantageous position to test out flipped classrooms, and this November, one of the two elementary schools will try out the model for part of their science and math curriculum. From there, they plan to expand to the whole school for all subjects, all the while collecting data on the effectiveness of the method.

In schools with flipped classrooms, teachers have said that students tend to perform better and that it creates a better learning environment – slower learners can watch and rewatch videos at their leisure while quicker learners can zip through the easy stuff. At the same time, when students bring their digital homework to class, the teacher can easily glance at cumulative answers and see which problems were most confusing. This allows them to devote more time to clearing up issues that prove difficult for students.

Another benefit that the Takeo City Board of Education is looking to derive from flipped classrooms is group discussion. The hope is that this new educational model will allow students to practice and develop their communication skills. While they’re probably not imagining lively, outspoken debates, it certainly seems like a great experience for Japanese students. Much to the chagrin of English-speaking assistant language teachers across the country, Japanese children tend not to speak up in class–sometimes even when directly called on.

However, as we mentioned before, there are some potential problems. Students have to be self-motivated to study at home, and it will require greater involvement from parents to encourage their children to watch the lectures. At the same time, it may also prove challenging for teachers, who will be forced to reexamine and modify their role in the classroom. Another issue is the cost of tablets. Each student will need one, and the devices can easily run around 50,000 yen. Though parents will likely be expected to purchase a device when their child enrolls, schools will also probably be expected to help subsidize the costs.

Now, the question remains: Will flipped classrooms work in Japan?

Though the paradigm has been successful in test programs in other countries and even in some private schools in Japan, it remains to be seen if it will catch on in public schools. Aside from the challenges for teachers and extra costs, we imagine that many parents would be leery of letting their children take classes using very modern methods that have only been tested a few times.

There seems to be a lot of mixed reactions to the model among Japanese Twitter users:

—I just found out about “flipped classrooms.” And it really does seem right–it’s the revolution we need in education.

—Flipped classrooms look great. It seems a lot different from how I was educated as a kid.

—This does seem advanced at first glimpse, but I think they’re going about this the wrong way. I think device manufacturers’ profits will go up much more than students’ grades.

—Whether it’s “flipped classrooms” or classrooms sharing new problems through discussion, you need “debate.” But there is no tradition of debate in Japan. Is there?

Obviously, not everyone is excited about the program, but with an ever-growing number of institutions, from MIT to Tokyo University, providing online educational material for free, it’s easy to believe that this is just one step towards the future. And with the success of Khan Academy, where you can self-study nearly every major subject, there’s no reason to think that this would be impossible to implement.

But as for what the actual results will be…well, it might take a few decades before we find out.

Sources: Asahi Digital, Naver Matome, Twitter


Further resources:

The flipped learning network (www.flippedclassroom.org)

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