Working Paper 88
Internationalization of the curriculum in Japanese universities: an investigation of English medium instruction and collaborative online international learning programs
Published March 2023

The objective of this research was to understand the current situation and challenges associated with the internationalization of the curriculum (IoC) through both English medium instruction (EMI) and Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) programs at Japanese universities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This working paper is thus comprised of two parts; the first reports on research focused on IoC in EMI contexts in Japanese higher education, and the second, based on notable emergent findings from the first study, looks more specifically at COIL programs. For part 1, we utilized a conceptual framework and ideas of ‘enablers’ and ‘blockers’ of IoC and analyzed the qualitative data from interviews with 11 faculty members involved in both in-class and online teaching in EMI programs at different Japanese universities. Findings from our analysis revealed a general lack of awareness of IoC, with those that were aware either relating it to the international nature of their academic disciplines or expressing uncertainty in how to incorporate IoC into pedagogical practices. Perceived blockers included quantitative approaches to internationalization policy and funding at the government-level that largely neglected IoC, a lack of commitment and organizational support at the institutional level, and constraints on physical international mobility due to the pandemic. Enablers included the expansion of COIL programs for virtual student mobility and the general commitment to academic freedom in Japan that allows educators to teach without excessive external interference, enabling them to personally internationalize their curriculum if they wished to do so. The findings suggest that IoC is still a novel concept in Japan that may evolve in the dramatically altered higher education landscape going forward. In part 2 of the paper we report on how the initial findings regarding COIL from part 1 inspired a refocusing of our research; we subsequently conducted an additional 9 interviews with educators involved in a government-sponsored COIL project at 7 different Japanese universities in an attempt to better understand the perceived benefits and challenges of COIL as a novel approach to IoC. While this research is still ongoing, we present initial qualitative findings specific to these COIL projects in Japanese higher education in the latter part of the working paper.

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