Asia in the Modern World: Images to Flip Over

A painting with a man and a woman standing at the pier with a sail boat in the background, and the man is holding a parasol.

“Eight Views of Yokohama: Sails Returning to the Landing Pier” by Yoshitora, 1861, from Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. (Public domain image.)

OCW has just published an updated version of 21G.027 Asia in the Modern World: Images and Representations. It is an unusual course site, with a unique history, and a remarkable instructor, who has learned new things about teaching even after many years in the classroom.

The course looks at history primarily through images, rather than texts, with a special emphasis on Japan. The instructor is Professor Shigeru Miyagawa, Professor of Linguistics and Kochi-Majiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture. He also holds a joint project professorship at the University of Tokyo, where he is Director of Online Education.

Professor Miyagawa has devoted much energy in his career to creating a large collection of images, assembled from museums from all over the world, on the Visualizing Cultures website. What’s even more impressive, the images are published under a Creative Commons license, so that people can download them and use them in their own teaching and projects.

Beginning with OCW

Professor Miyagawa describes the course and its history in his video Instructor Insights on his This Course at MIT page.  As a member of OCW’s Faculty Advisory Committee from its inception and as Chair of the Committee from 2010 to 2013, he has long been a leading advocate of open sharing, and in another of his videos, he openly shares the story of how OCW was conceived.

Photo (video screengrab) of Professor Miyagawa speaking while seated at a desk.

In a series of short videos, Professor Miyagawa talks about the creation of OCW and his many insights into teaching.

Weaving Online Resources into a Unique Course

The 21G.027 site is a very unusual one for OCW in that it is really a kind of hub. Its Study Materials page points to pieces of content for each topic on three different websites: Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity (a MOOC Professor Miyagawa helped create on the edX platform), Visualizing Cultures, and Visualizing Postwar Tokyo (another MOOC on edX, which Professor Miyagawa was indirectly involved with as Director of Online Education at the University of Tokyo).

If sending learners to different places to get study materials seems peculiar for OCW, in this case it shouldn’t, because that’s how Professor Miyagawa teaches 21G.027 on the MIT campus.

Flipping over a Flipped Class

When he had prepared materials for the VJx MOOC, he had his students check out the videos before coming to class, just to see what their reaction was. The results were a revelation:

And what I realized right away was that students would come into class, and they would have a lot of knowledge, which was not the case before…I had a whole set of PowerPoints which I had created from years of teaching. I did not show a single PowerPoint. For 70 minutes I just asked them questions, just to see if I can find something that they didn’t know. They knew the whole thing. And I said, gee, this is different.

And without realizing it–I didn’t even know what a flipped class was–I just did a flipped class.

Making All the Difference by Working in Teams

Another epiphany he has had involves the importance of student teamwork. All the students at MIT, he notes, “are academically gifted, and they’re highly motivated.” But a couple of students in each class “stand out after they graduate and go on and do big things.” So, he wondered, what’s different about these students? And the distinguishing feature was that they

…have learned to work with others. That’s it…They have learned to work not only with people they share interests, but also with people that they don’t necessarily share interests. That’s the trick.

It’s easy to work with people who are like you. It’s harder to work with people who are not like you. But when you learn to be able to work across the spectrum of people, then you can basically tap their gifts. That’s what entrepreneurship is actually.

As a result, Professor Miyagawa now puts special focus on developing students’ interpersonal skills.

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