TTU's latest international course uses new format to span cultures

Tennessee Tech University used a combination of Internet technology and collaboration with Dohto University — its “sister” institution in Japan — to offer a course this fall that allowed its students to become its teachers.

That course was International Comparative Studies in Japanese and American Architecture, the third to technologically team up students and instructors from both universities, but the first to be presented in the Elluminate Live! virtual classroom format.

Both previous international courses, like various other online courses at TTU, were presented through the WebCT course management system, which allows students to work independently and at their own pace to track and turn in assignments.

Although TTU is considered a model university in its use of WebCT, the Elluminate Live! format allows synchronized online “meetings” using interactive vocal and visual communication tools that paved the way for students at both universities to collaborate more actively than before.

“Different disciplines and teaching styles tend to determine which online format is more appropriate, and Elluminate Live! turned out to be a perfect match for our international course this semester,” said Bob Clougherty, director of TTU’s Institute for Technological Scholarship.

The international course is also the first to combine TTU’s housing and design concentration (which emphasizes interior architecture content) with Dohto’s concentration in architecture, graphics and sculpture.

“This course was developed to enhance the learning experience of students from both cultures by combining similar fields of study — both of which needed a visually based teaching capability for maximum success,” said Jeff Plant, associate professor of human ecology who guided the course at TTU.

But the levels of cooperation and interaction achieved among the students surprised even him, he says.

At Plant’s suggestion and guidance, the six TTU housing and design students in the course formulated a topical outline that was presented to and approved by the six Japanese students and their instructor.

“It turned out to be a better outline than it would have been if I’d written it myself, and it allowed the course to become student centered, student developed and student delivered,” Plant said. “In a very real sense, the faculty became the moderators — the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage — and the students became the teachers.”

At each class session, TTU students presented information about a specific form of American architecture — such as the different types of residential housing units, educational institutions or churches — and the Japanese students reciprocated by presenting information in English about those types of architecture in their own country.

“I’m graduating this month, and this class was a truly amazing way to end my studies here at TTU,” said Heather Seyer of Gainesboro. “It’s an excellent example of what learning should be like.”

Amanda Hall of Oliver Springs, agreed, saying, “This course was very different from any other I’ve ever taken because all of the students were a part of the teaching process. This course was a great opportunity to learn about Japan and the Japanese culture, and I enjoyed learning about it from the students at Dohto University.”

Zentro Satoh, assistant professor of architecture at Dohto who guided the course in Japan, said he felt all his students had also enjoyed the course, learning more and improving their skills as the semester progressed.

Toshiyuki Sakabe, Manager of International Affairs and English instructor at Dohto who served as course translator, said he so enjoyed seeing the students improve their speaking skills, presentation efficiency and study habits that he considered the course to be a positive experience for him as well.

The Japanese students described the course as a great way to learn more about both cultures, and they say they hope to have more opportunities for international collaboration in the future.

“The course was a great way for me to learn about the American culture, but most importantly, I also have a new understanding of my own culture,” said Makiko Wada, a Dohto architecture student. “If there is another opportunity like this one in the future, I’d love to participate in it again.”

The Institute for Technological Scholarship and School of Interdisciplinary Studies provided funding and technological access to help make the course possible.

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