Academic journal article Babel

Reducing Teaching Hours in Tertiary Japanese: A Case Study

Academic journal article Babel

Reducing Teaching Hours in Tertiary Japanese: A Case Study

Article excerpt


The primary objective of this study is to identify the effect of reducing teaching hours from five to four face-to-face teaching hours in a beginners' Japanese course at the University of Canberra, Australia. The results of 2007, 2008 and 2009 cohorts of Japanese students' results are compared to consider the effect of the reduction in classroom teaching hours in 2009. The results indicate that reducing face-to-face teaching hours from five to four hours per week may cause a significant increase in the number of students discontinuing their Japanese study and students getting lower grades, with the retention rate and language proficiency both decreasing. The implications of this study for retention of students, language proficiency and educational outcomes will be discussed.

Key Words

student retention and attrition, tertiary languages, language proficiency


There is substantial evidence that attrition, that is, 'student non-continuation with language studies' (Nettelbeck, Byron, Clyne, Elder, Hajek, Levy, McLaren, Mollering & Wigglesworth 2009, p. 5) in language courses at Australian universities is an issue of serious concern and of particular concern for Japanese (Nettelbeck, Byron, Clyne, Hajek, Levy, Lo Bianco, McLaren and Wigglesworth, 2007). The aim of the present study is to examine the effect of reducing face-to-face contact hours of beginners' level Japanese study at the University of Canberra. Facing budgetary constraints typical of Australian universities in the first decade of the 2000s, the University of Canberra's Japanese program had its teaching hours for beginners' Japanese reduced from five to four face-to-face contact hours in 2009, reducing the total number of contact hours from 65 to 52 per semester, equivalent to the lowest reported number of hours taught per semester in Japanese in an Australian university in 2007 (Nettelbeck et al. 2007).

This paper examines the student results in the three years 2007-2009 during which time the content of the course, the assessment and the teaching staff remained the same. In addition, the student cohort in terms of the proportion of international and domestic students, the proportion of male and female students, and the proportion of students taking Japanese as compulsory or non-compulsory subjects was relatively unchanged (see Figures 1-3).

The size of tutorials was constant each year with a cap of 18 students per class. The only quantifiable change was the number of contact hours per week. However, while the abovementioned variables have been measured quantitavely and found not to have changed, a possible change in the teaching staff's attitude may have been conveyed to the students about the reduced number of contact hours per week and cannot be measured. Thus, it must be acknowledged here that the teaching staff's feelings may have been conveyed to the students and that this may have had an effect on the results.

This particular case study highlights the effect of budgetary constraints typical of the 'crisis' in tertiary language study in Australian universities (Go8. 2007a; Go8. 2007b; Lo Bianco 2009a; Joint Australia-Japan Working Group for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education and People-to-People Exchange 2010; Nettelbeck et al. 2007; Nettelbeck et al. 2009). It illustrates the effects of the crisis in which economic policy has overridden educational outcomes. As the authors of the Beginners' LOTE in Australian universities: an audit survey and analysis, Nettelbeck et al. (2007, p. 21) emphasise, there is a causal link between the budget-driven decrease in contact hours and language proficiency.

Our study also confirms that retention, that is, where students continue their language study, is a key focus of a number of recent reports about tertiary beginners' languages courses (Nettelbeck et al. 2007; Lo Bianco, 2009b; Joint Australia-Japan Working Group for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education and People-to-People Exchange, 2010; Martin and Jansen, 2012) and is indeed a serious issue. …

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