I am about half way in the second time teaching this course at Temple University here in Tokyo. It’s certainly already been one of the highlights of my time here in Japan, and nicely complements my rather scholarly pursuits at GRIPS.
The course is an introductory international political economy unit for liberal arts students at the Japan campus of Temple University, Philadelphia’s “other” large university. Temple is the only foreign university accredited to issue degrees here in Japan. For Japanese students who want to get an American undergraduate degree without leaving their home, and Americans keen on experiencing Japan, Temple has a unique proposition.
The university has just signed an agreement with Showa Women’s University to build new facilities in Sangenjaya, west of Shibuya, to be opened in 2019. The growing student body, numbering more than 1,000 as of now, is nicely mixed, in terms of origin (with U.S. and Japan the two largest single groups) as well as age and other metrics. There are quite a few American veterans, for instance.
My class meets twice a week in a normal semester, and three times now in the summer term, 90 minutes each time, which is intense. American liberal arts education is obviously a little different to what I am used to given that I was educated in the UK. The lecture format lies somewhere between British tutorials and lectures, with frequent interruptions and questions to the audience.
Classes are relatively small, and much work is done during class time. I use a textbook as the main reading, with all its pros and cons. Pros: a structured way to approach a topic as vast as IPE, in this case relatively well-written and balanced. Cons: how do you make the content stick and build intuitive bridges between the different topics?
I have designed my syllabus alongside that of my predecessors and tweaked it a little now that I am teaching it a second time around. The major topics economic development, trade, finance, production and migration come back again and again, of course. I kick off the class with a broad sweep history of global capitalism from ca. 1400 onward. Introducing the foundation for developing some critical perspectives later on, the class follows a global historical approach — highlighting the Eurocentrism prevalent in much of the narratives underlying IPE.
The bread-and-butter lectures, economic development, trade and finance are close to my heart and draw quite a bit on my professional experience in sovereign debt as well as banking and trade finance. I like to use charts and graphs of all kinds and try to get the students to play with online sources as much as possible, but am still fine tuning what the best method is. Today, for example, I have the students present trading profiles of countries of their choice, using World Bank and WTO data. I am planning to post the class assignments on my blog for reference.
Into the fray comes pedagogy — and the steepest learning curve for any new instructor. How can I make my students enthusiastic, attentive, able to reproduce knowledge, interpret new information, draw connecting lines between the various topics, think critically and form their own opinion? Some facts of life do not change (reading is essential), but there are plenty of ways to make the classroom exercise more interesting and interactive.
According to the research findings of two of my Temple colleagues, the most important predictor of a good learning experience is the enthusiasm with which the instructor teaches the class. That may sound obvious, but many of us forget that. Add to this that “less is often more”, and I have two good principles with which I can reassess my first two terms of teaching and improve the class going forward.
This will also help me in the preparation and the teaching of two other classes I currently have in the pipeline at Temple, “Metropolitan Tokyo” and “Megacities”. These are obviously much closer to my current research agenda and I will spend some time reflecting on them on this blog, too. I also want to pick up on some of the IPE topics here, perhaps even by way of lecture summaries, to help students consolidate their learning.