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Pilot Psychology Class Simulcast to University in Japan

Laptop screen with the words 'e-learning'.
Rebecca A. Eckland

TMCC part-time psychology instructor Chris Jones typically teaches Psychology 101 to a classroom filled with students, but this semester one section that meets on Monday and Wednesday evenings is different: he’s the only one in the room.  On the monitor of his computer, however, are several students from NIC International College located in Tokyo, Japan. For them, it’s Tuesday morning, and they are taking a college class in English, which is not their native language. 

That, however, is the point of NIC International College: through a challenging curriculum developed in partnership with several U.S. universities and colleges over the course of 32 years, NIC prepares Japanese students to continue their college education in English speaking countries.  Jones’s Psychology 101 class, which began on Jan. 6 and will run through April 1, is a unique opportunity for students—both in Tokyo and in Reno—to experience a learning environment that is considerably larger than a single classroom. 

Learning Psychology 101 in a Second Language

“The students have been impressive with their knowledge of English,” said Jones, whose Japanese students are pursuing degrees in engineering, computer science, psychology, and “... I do have one aspiring actor,” he said. The live-streaming video course is made possible through a technology called BlueJeans, which projects Jones to his classroom of students, and them back to him in real-time. Aside from the time difference (which will be further complicated by Daylight Savings Time, moving Jones’s teaching time forward one hour),  teaching to students 5,182 miles away has gone surprisingly well. 

“I’ve tried to crack a few jokes, and sometimes they laugh and sometimes not so much. I’m not sure yet if that’s due to cultural differences or if it’s my poor comedic timing,” Jones said. Even though the class itself is focused on topics related to psychology—gender, learning, personality, neuroscience therapies, history of psychology, abnormal psychology and perception—these topics are sometimes laced with discussions that also involve culture. 

“I’ve asked them to open their textbooks to any page and to look at the names of psychologists listed there. I want them to notice how few of them have non-Anglo-Saxon names. [This helps them to realize that] this was a field created by cultures that are different from theirs—yet so many of the concepts we will study will be universally applicable,” said Jones.  For example, the way we perceive our sensations is a universal concept (pain is pain no matter what language you speak or what time zone you live in.) What might be nuanced by culture are topics dealing with social psychology and personality—topics that rely on cultural contexts.  

And while learning more about psychology is definitely the goal of this class, an informal goal for Jones is to help his students to practice their English in an academic setting. This is achieved by involving the students in in-class discussions and encouraging them to answer questions on the fly. So far, Jones said, the students are up to the task.

The First of Many Online, International Classes

According to Natalie Brown, Director of Academic Advisement, this pilot class is an introduction into studying abroad without the hefty price tag. “Distance learning is a cost-effective way of getting into international study which can, by its nature, be expensive. TMCC offers classes at less than half the cost of UNR, and classes like these—that are simulcast—offer these students the opportunity to complete one or two classes before committing to a full international program of study.” 

There are plans to continue this course, and perhaps add additional subjects as well, depending on student demand. The pilot class comes at a moment when TMCC is working to renew a near-30 year partnership with NIC International College. 

NIC College President and Managing Director Kazuko Hirota, said at a ceremony honoring students admitted to the program that:“...having an interest in different cultures and histories of other countries will give [you] a chance to realize how little we know about the world.... In our education, we frequently use this keyword: ‘why.’ It is these ‘whys’ that have expanded our boundaries of interest in knowledge and have motivated us to study and explore.”

Students in this class not only explore topics related to the course but the inherent cultural discussions that emerge when one classroom is the meeting place for students from different countries.

Unique Challenges of a Class that Crosses the International Date Line

In addition to asking the question “why” when faced with psychological concepts, however, students in this simulcast Psych 101 class face unique challenges. Even though Jones has two TAs in Japan who help with tasks like taking attendance, not being physically in the room with students poses a host of challenges, which include not being able to individually work with students who have specific questions, and an added barrier due to the difference in time zones and observed holidays (which differ between the U.S. and Japan.) 

Despite these small obstacles, TMCC will continue to offer psychology 101 to students on the Dandini Campus and at the NIC in one class. One thing is certain: if you’re interested in psychology and culture, this course offering will enable you to pose the question “why” and receive an answer from the other side of the world. 

For more information about studying psychology at TMCC, contact the Social Sciences department at 775-673-7185.  For more information about the Study Abroad options, please contact Academic Advisement at 775-673-7062.