Japan’s Education Ministry Sets 1st Guidelines for Online University Classes

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
University students participate in an online class in April 2020 during the onset of the pandemic.

The education ministry has compiled its first-ever guidelines for online classes at universities, which quickly proliferated nationwide at the height of the coronavirus pandemic but are expected to continue even after it subsides because of their convenience.

The downside to remote learning has been that it makes it difficult for students and faculty members to interact with each other, and Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s guidelines present measures to deal with such challenges while proposing new ways to utilize online classes.

The ministry notified national, public and private universities of the guidelines on Tuesday.

The start of the pandemic in 2020 made universities unable to have in-person classes in that academic year, prompting the widespread switch to online classes. According to a ministry survey of 60 universities and other institutions of higher learning conducted last year, 60% of their classes in the 2021 academic year were carried out online.

Because this also had benefits for the students, about 40% of classes have remained online this academic year.

As universities are expected to continue having classes online, the ministry came up with the guidelines with the intention of improving the quality of university education by presenting ways to effectively use remote learning and to ensure inter-student and student-faculty interactions.

As one example which the ministry expects to be particularly effective, the guidelines propose not limiting online classes to within a single university, but instead collaborating with other universities both in Japan and abroad.

That would allow students to make the most of the features and strengths of other universities by taking their classes, as well as present more opportunities for international exchanges without the need to travel abroad.

The guidelines also recommend the proactive use of the metaverse, a virtual space on the internet. With students and faculty members represented by an avatar, a sense of unity can be felt by appearing to all be in the same place.

It should be noted that initiatives for remote learning vary from university to university. In some cases, the institution was not able to produce an effective educational environment. Some online classes meant for interaction ended up with the faculty member speaking one-sidedly, or repeatedly showing videos created at the beginning of the pandemic.

In light of this, the guidelines proposed adopting interactive methods, such as soliciting student opinions though the use of chat or voting functions during class, or having discussions between students by posting their opinions in real time on a shared screen.

In a survey on online classes conducted last year by the ministry on university and junior college students, more than half said it made it easier for them to take classes because it could be done anywhere, and over 30% said it allowed them to learn at their own pace more easily.

As for problems, 40% cited the difficulty in interacting with other students and with faculty members.

The Standards for Establishment of Universities has set a maximum limit for remote classes at 60 credits out of the 124 credits required for graduation.

In the guidelines, the ministry stresses that “although on-campus learning is the priority, it is important to pursue post-pandemic higher education by taking advantage of the benefits and possibilities of remote learning.”