each other across a table, five students from Pomona and six from Japan
talked animatedly about college life and cracked jokes. Then, with the
click of a mouse, they parted, and a bridge over the Pacific vanished
into thin air.
The Pomona students and their professor turned a classroom
in the Academic Computing Center at Claremont Graduate University into
a live chat room during an Internet videoconference last fall with counterparts
from Japan's Keio University. During the conference, the Pomona students
gazed up at a large projected Netscape "Net Meeting" image of the six
students from Keio, who, like the Pomonans, were clustered in front of
a microphone and videocam.
The conference took place while ballots in the U.S.
presidential election were under dispute in Florida, and the useful phrases
that Kyoko Kurita, associate professor of Asian languages and literatures
at Pomona, had written on the whiteboard included "to refuse" and "to
offer a compromise plan."
The Pomona students--David Mathews, Anne Gibson, Celina
Godoy, Jesse Gillespie and David Turken--talked about candidates and issues
such as gun control, but also about nonpartisan topics like dining hall
food. That subject seemed to strike a chord and elicited laughter on both
sides of the Pacific.
The technology was effective though imperfect; the students
pictured on the screen were clear and in focus except when they moved,
which caused a brief ghost-like visual effect. "It would be better if
it was a little easier to see, but I think it was a good introduction,"
said Turken. "It's fun to be able to use the language that we've learned
a little bit."
Kurita plans more Net meetings for third- and fourth-year
students of Japanese. "What we did today was to introduce each other,"
she said. "The way I would like to do it in the future is to set a topic,
so there can be discussion and study prior to the event, and then we can
have a teleconference meeting and later write up a report. The idea is
to eventually expand this type of communication to other parts of Asia
Videoconferencing appears to be a useful teaching tool,
she said."This is a way to learn Japanese through talking about real-life
problems and issues."