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Seeing the world beyond a grain of sand: SPICE's online course for Tottori Prefecture

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Opening ceremony for 2017 Stanford e-Tottori, courtesy Takuya Fukushima, Tottori Prefectural Board of Education

When I visited Tottori Prefecture for the first time last year, I learned that it was the last prefecture in Japan to open a Starbucks outlet and that it is well known for the Tottori Sand Dunes and the Sand Museum. Of the 47 prefectures in Japan, Tottori is the least populated and one of the more geographically remote. The Sand Museum has featured sand sculpture exhibits that depict images from countries like Italy, Brazil, and Russia and also continents like Africa. The current exhibit focuses on the United States and features sand sculptures of the Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore, President Trump, the U.S. flag, and other iconic images of the United States. This is one major way in which Tottori government officials are hoping to not only attract more tourists to Tottori but also to educate Japanese students about the world.

The goal of educating youth about the world has been promoted by the vision of Tottori Governor Shinji Hirai, who supported the Tottori Prefectural Board of Education’s decision to collaborate with the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) on the development of a new online course on U.S. society and culture. The inaugural Stanford e-Tottori course was offered in 2016 to help high school students in Tottori expand their knowledge of the United States beyond just a superficial level.

SPICE’s Jonas Edman, Stanford e-Tottori Instructor, represented SPICE on July 27, 2017 at an opening ceremony for the second Stanford e-Tottori course. The ceremony was attended by Office Director Fujiwara, English Education Advancement Office, Director Tokuda, High School Division, and many students from the 2017 Stanford e-Tottori cohort. At the ceremony, Edman told the students that they will be encouraged to think in an “internationally minded” manner—that is, to “think about different points of view and to realize the importance of diversity and cross-cultural communication.” He also emphasized that students need not be concerned if they encounter small setbacks in the course, as learning from setbacks can become “stepping-stones to success.”

Following the opening ceremony, a special session with Edman was held at Tottori Nishi High School, one of the schools that enrolls students in Stanford e-Tottori. Edman led an interactive discussion in English about the risks and rewards of helping strangers. The discussion offered students a glimpse into what Stanford e-Tottori will be like with its active learning and student-centered focus. Teacher’s Consultant Takuya Fukushima, English Education Advancement Office, commented, “Edman-sensei was an instrument of inspiration as he helped students feel comfortable in analyzing the risks and rewards of helping strangers from different perspectives and to come up with as many solutions as possible… His teaching at the special session illustrated why Stanford e-Tottori is so attractive to students.” Some of the topics Edman plans to introduce in this year’s course are World War II, Japanese players in Major League Baseball, the U.S. educational system, Silicon Valley, and diversity—topics that should spark constructive discussion and debate. Students should come away from the course with a much deeper understanding of the United States.

Typically when Japanese students are asked what comes to mind when they think of the United States, many mention things like the Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore, or other images that are depicted at the Sand Museum display. Edman is looking forward to launching the 2017 Stanford e-Tottori course this fall so that he can help students see beyond such images by asking questions like “What does the Statue of Liberty symbolize?” and “Why are some presidents depicted on monuments and not others?”

“While observing the remarkable sand sculptures that depict images of the United States,” reflects Edman, “I thought to myself, ‘These images offer teachable moments.’ I may ask my students in Stanford e-Tottori to research how and why these images were chosen. My objectives are not only to help students improve their English abilities and to gain new perspectives on the United States, but also to strengthen their critical thinking skills. I am so grateful to Governor Hirai and the Tottori Prefectural Board of Education for this opportunity.”

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