Dr Taeko Imura, from the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, received a 2018 Griffith Award for Excellence in Teaching for innovative teaching approaches and active learning strategies that have a transformative effect on her students’ Japanese language learning.

We asked Taeko to tell us a bit more about her teaching practice and the Learning Portfolio she has implemented in her courses.

Dr Taeko Imura

What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?

Students! – digital natives (a new generation of students)

How have teaching practices in your discipline changed with the introduction of new technology, and how has this technology changed the way you interact and engage with your students?

We are using more visually appealing resources such as YouTube videos to make the content interesting, relevant, up to date and authentic. I also use interactive applications that can enhance vocabulary learning and monitor student understanding in class. Students can use these to study beyond the class on the go. I think they are happy that they have the option, but at the end of the day it is up to them. I have seen students using regularly but also some students using just before the test/exam.

Can you tell us more about the Learning Portfolio you implemented in your courses?

Previous traditional methods in teaching generally dictated by textbook exercise rigidly set tasks with criteria that restricted creativity, innovation and engagement. This portfolio aims to overcome these restrictive methods that involves a more holistic method that enables student to become more critical and reflective of what they have learnt from exploring the Japanese language and to gain a cross-cultural understanding by exposure of the cultural and social aspects of Japan. This is done through designing own four tasks and four reflections to be written upon the completion of each task. The material from these tasks have to be made for a Japanese audience (written, spoken in Japanese etc.). The four tasks must encompass one creative writing, two listening and or speaking and one free choice task. The reflection involves reflecting on what they have learnt through the tasks.

We were stunned by the amount of creativity students displayed through making the tasks. For example, a student made a poster targeting Japanese people (by writing in Japanese) for her own percussion performance. Another student produced a flyer looking for a Japanese flatmate whilst another wrote a letter to families affected by the 2011 Great Eastern Earthquake. A particular stand out task was exhibited from a student that wrote a travel blog that shares photos with a host family in Japan.  A student wrote in the LP: “this task was a very liberating one as it allowed my creativity to be free…I felt very empowered to know what I could write satisfactorily in another language…”

What have you learnt throughout your academic career about creating an engaging learning experience for students, and what have you learnt from experimenting with new approaches that didn’t quite work out?

The one significant thing that I learnt from my career was that ‘one size does not fit all’. Every student is unique and have different approaches to learning, so you need to understand students better on an individual level and be flexible to make necessary adjustments when a certain approach did not work.

Given it isn’t always easy to innovate within a learning and teaching context, what advice do you have for colleagues looking to try something new in their teaching?

Be adventurous and do not wait. I use this quote to keep me going is “a plan executed imperfectly now is better than a plan executed meticulously never”. I think you have to start somewhere and the beauty of ‘doing’, is that we all learn from it, whether it be by making and realising mistakes and fixing this, or by identifying and implementing again where certain things were successful. You cannot enable change from just ‘thinking’ without action.

What is something new you are looking forward to trying in your learning and teaching practice over the next year or so?

I would like to attempt utilising mobile technology within the classroom through online applications that are user-friendly and are very effective for developing lower order skills and games that engage learning outside the class. I am so excited about developing digital homework to introduce to my third-year courses using OneNote (in Office 365). This initiative will be supported by the 2018 AEL Teaching and Learning Development Fund.

What advice do you have for educators looking to enhance their teaching practice?

I found attending Learning Future’s workshops and seminars is the quickest way to know the current trend, pedagogies and what is coming up next. This experience has inspired me to explore and apply some ideas in my teaching. I also enjoy attending language teachers’ conferences to meet inspiring teachers to share great innovation and creative works happening at schools. My experience is that it is true when people say that “you never stop learning when you are a teacher”.