Waking Up the Classroom

By Anne Wharton

Role-playing games and social networking sites are all elements of Professor Yuko Kato's Japanese course at Austin Community College. Kato is creating adventures for her students, keeping them motivated and encouraging them to practice their Japanese.

Photo by Anne Wharton

Selected for the 2016 National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development Award, Kato is “waking up” her classroom with technology. “When I ask them to use their cell phones, you can see them wake up,” Kato smiles. “One of the things I always think about is how to help them learn after they've completed the homework. If there are fun activities, they'll keep practicing their Japanese. But if it's not interesting, they won't go the extra mile.”

After teaching Japanese for twenty-two years, Kato knows the importance of repeated exposure and the value of practicing to learn a new language. She's also picked up a new skill to help her students learn outside the classroom after attending the annual convention of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Kato's created her own role-playing game, as well as using her own voice for the characters. “The game lets you move and meet different characters and ask them questions in Japanese,” Kato said. Although she says she's still “in the process” of improving the game, it's yet another opportunity for her students to learn Japanese outside the classroom.

Likewise Facebook and Skype allow Kato the opportunity to connect college-aged students in Japan, who want to learn English, with her students in Austin, who want to learn Japanese. The added visual aspect of screen sharing programs allows students on both sides of the world to take their skills to a new level. “If they see, they can really communicate,” Kato said.

All these opportunities allow her to create “adventures” for her students. “So many students at ACC work 40 hours a week and then take 2 or 3 classes. After working 40 hours, you won't study if the material isn't motivating and interesting,” Kato said.

Grateful for the flexibility at ACC, she enjoys the challenge of individually crafting her classroom for students. “At ACC, I feel like I can do anything,” she says. With all the work and passion she brings to her Japanese courses, her students probably feel the same way.