Saturday, February 2, 2013

Pace yourself with "Modern Japan", "Introduction to Asian Studies" online.

A few days ago the Japan American Society of Greater Philadelphia posted that a free online course "Intro to Japanese Culture" through the Massechusetts Institute of Technology [MIT] was now available. Navigating the MIT website you'll see a syllabus, a list of readings, and downloadable materials that direct back to the website. I noted on their Facebook page that this particular site was a useful guide but that it lacked any lectures or uploaded materials, so it wasn't exactly a "course" but rather a checklist. This and the numerous other Asia-related courses available from MIT---including Japanese Literature and Cinema, Smashing the Iron Rice Bowl, and Race and Gender in Asian America---are useful for enthusiastic learners wanting to pace themselves with previously-offered university courses, but are incomplete in that readings, lectures, assignments, and films are, because of logistical and copyright concerns, unavailable. It wasn't my goal to bicker with somebody behind an excellent resource for Japanophiles in Philadelphia, just to look more closely at what's actually available.

However, some university professors put their course sylabii and more online, allowing people to follow along at home. Dr. Alan Baumler at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, for an example in western Pennsylvania, teaches "Modern Japan" and has posted not only a syllabus but also the articles his students can choose to read. As he explains on this Frog in the Well blog post last month, students choose among several optional readings in order to customize the course a bit to their own interests.
I could give them a whole graduate seminar of readings, but that would not work, in part because undergraduates mostly need the ‘lecture’ part of lecture-discussion: someone leading them through the major themes of the period rather than assuming they already know them.

The way I have been approaching this is giving them a set of “optional” readings. Each week they need to do whatever common readings we have, and also at least one of the optional readings, usually an article or a book chapter. The idea here is that they can tailor the class to fit their own interests. More interested in economics, or women? Then pick the optional readings that fit your interests.
Dr. Baumler also teaches "Introduction to Asian Studies", for which there is also a syllabus and selected readings online.