Curriculum Innovation, Testing and Evaluation: Proceedings of the 1st Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.
May 11-12, 2002. Kyoto, Japan: Kyoto Institute of Technology.

Developmental reform stages in the
Japanese national university curriculum

by Richard Blight (Ehime University)

Innovations are generally introduced to a language teaching program to develop and improve the quality of the education process, and can occur on a range of dimensions (Karavas-Doukas, 1998). At the minor end of the innovation spectrum, any course that is purposefully modified with a view to providing improved teaching can be regarded as "an instance of developing and implementing innovation" (White, Martin, Stimson, and Hodge, 1991, p. 178). At the major end of the scale, curriculum innovations can involve a series of educational reforms that aim to make extensive changes to an entire program. At the start of the last academic year, Ehime University commenced an English Language Teaching (ELT) reform program that lies at the major renewal end of the innovation scale. The program was based on a five-year plan involving a series of developmental reform stages that aimed to establish a focus on learning English for purposes of communication. The new direction required the replacement of traditional Grammar-Translation methods with Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) throughout the university curriculum. Ehime University is the first national university in Japan to attempt such large-scale reforms to its ELT curriculum, and the university's progress is consequently being followed by a number of other institutions interested in introducing similar reforms. This paper reports on the progress achieved during the initial stages of the reform program.

Ehime University and the English curriculum

Ehime University is a major regional university, with four campuses located in and around Matsuyama, the capital city of Ehime prefecture, Japan. The university attracts many students from neighbouring prefectures on both Shikoku and Honshu. There are six faculties: Law and Letters, Engineering, Education, Science, Medicine, and Agriculture. Both undergraduate and postgraduate courses are offered in each faculty. The university's ELT program has for decades been mostly taught by Japanese professors (particularly from the Faculty of Law and Letters), although several native English speaking professors were also assigned to the faculties for this purpose, and in addition some native English speaking teachers were hired on a part-time basis. The Japanese professors most frequently had academic qualifications in English literature, and employed the traditional Grammar-Translation (yakudoko) method of instruction. Lecture style presentations were given to large classes, typically numbering fifty or sixty students. Students take English as a compulsory subject at first-year level (English A, English B), and for one semester at second-year level (English C). Courses are also offered at third- and fourth-year levels as elective subjects according to faculty program options. There are over ten thousand students attending the university, and in the 2001 academic year all 1,700 freshmen participated in the first year of the ELT reforms.

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". . . there is inherent complexity and also risk in the process of implementing innovations."

The reform program

While reforms are frequently introduced for the purpose of improving the quality of language teaching, there is inherent complexity and also risk in the process of implementing innovations. As discussed by Karavas-Doukas: "the change process is a tricky one fraught with problems, anxiety, conflicts and unanticipated difficulties. It can be an extremely disruptive process whereby people are asked to change their habits and routines for the sake of outcomes which are not guaranteed" (1998, p. 48). Indeed, in major reform programs, the potential for anxiety, conflict, and disruption becomes an important political factor that can count significantly towards the ultimate success or failure of the reforms. White, Martin, Stimson, and Hodge consider the psychological effect of implementing innovations, concluding that: "The more complex an innovation is perceived to be, the less likely it is to be adopted . . . . An innovation is not necessarily any more complex than existing practice, but because it is different, it will tend to be perceived as more complex" (1991, p. 183). They consequently argue that it is important in the planning stage to "take into account the relative ease or difficulty of introducing change into the system," and to identify various "adoption factors," including the perceived advantages of the new curriculum, its compatibility with the previous curriculum, the complexity of the changes being introduced, and previous in-house trials of elements of the new curriculum (Richards, 2001, p. 103).
At Ehime University, the political context of the reform program has been a paramount concern in the planning process. Administrators have sought to monitor the way in which different groups within the university environment perceive the innovations. It was anticipated that serious resistance might be encountered from some professors who could oppose the reforms and also feel that their own professional skills and teaching expertise were no longer being appropriately valued. Furthermore, given controversy within the university over previous reform initiatives, and the continuing debate over the form of the national university privatisation process, the current ELT reforms were conceptualised in terms of a series of politically sensitive stages, rather than as a more radical program that sought to introduce a set of sweeping reforms through the entire curriculum. A new structural division (the Integrated Education Center, or Sougou Sentaa) was first set up outside the faculty structure for the purpose of overseeing a range of reforms that would be considered with regard to the impending privatisation of the national university system. The English Education Center (EEC) was then established within the Integrated Education Center to introduce reforms to the English program. University administrators viewed these reforms as potentially leading to a wider process that would ultimately set new educational standards and encompass other faculties in the university. However, the innovations were also regarded as being complex and challenging, and as having the potential to cause significant disruption within the university environment. Similar large-scale reforms had not previously been undertaken at other national universities, so there were no established procedures or guidelines to follow, and it was uncertain as to how the autonomous faculty bodies would respond to the reform initiatives.

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Goals of the English Education Center

Karavas-Doukas provides the fundamental goal of the innovation process by stating "Educational innovations are planned to bring about improvement in classroom practice with the ultimate aim of enhancing student achievement" (1998, p. 28). And yet the establishment of an improved curriculum is complex and frequently controversial. An initial step in the innovation process is to target specific curriculum areas for improvement. Four goals were identified for the EEC in terms of the new student-centred orientation in 2001. One of these goals was to develop students' interest in learning English and increase their motivation for undertaking further study in English. This is vitally important to the learning process, and have been significantly and adversely affected by the form of passive language instruction that most students experienced in secondary school. It was therefore regarded as important to revitalise the students' interest in learning English by using the language knowledge acquired during their high school years.
Another aim of the EEC was to help students to develop skills and confidence in communicating in the English language. English should be studied for the purpose of developing real-life communication skills, rather than as a form of purely academic study. This direction was adopted in the CLT approach that makes "communicative competence the goal of language teaching," and acknowledges "the interdependence of language and communication" (Larsen-Freeman, 2000, p. 121). Furthermore, it necessitates the discontinuation of the Grammar-Translation method, in which "the ability to communicate in the target language is not a goal . . . . [The] fundamental purpose of learning a foreign language is to be able to read literature written in the target language" (ibid., pp. 16-17). This methodological difference was highly significant within the university political context, since the majority of Japanese professors teaching ELT classes had no experience or training in CLT. These professors were consequently unable to teach the new EEC curriculum without first undertaking relevant professional development.
The other two goals of the EEC contained general learning provisions that would be common to most ELT programs. They sought to provide for students' further study goals in English language education, and help students to effectively participate in a range of international activities using the English language.

Operational stages

A number of major changes were implemented with the inauguration of the new English Education Center in April 2001. Additional personnel were recruited in four areas: permanent faculty (tenured associate professors), foreign lecturers (with annual employment terms), part-time teachers, and administrative assistants. Teachers were hired on the basis of previous communicative language teaching experience. In the first operational stage, the EEC provided courses for the university's first-year ELT curriculum, amounting to approximately 85 classes each semester. In the second stage (starting in the 2002 academic year), the EEC also provided courses for the second-year ELT curriculum, amounting to another 85 classes, mostly in the first semester. The plan in subsequent years is to further extend the reform program to provide higher-level courses according to specific faculty requirements and areas of student demand.
The new communicative orientation also necessitated major changes to classroom organisation and teaching. According to the traditional Grammar-Translation method, students were primarily taught about the target language, as discussed by Larsen-Freeman: "Vocabulary and grammar are emphasized. Reading and writing are the primary skills that the students work on" (2000, p. 18). By contrast, CLT is based on the view that "Communication is a process," so that "knowledge of the forms of language is insufficient" (p. 128). Students should consequently "use the language a great deal through communicative activities" (p. 128), particularly by practicing language activities in group work: "Small numbers of students interacting are favored in order to maximize the time allotted to each student for communicating" (p. 130).

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In the EEC, small classes (averaging twenty students) have replaced the large lecture classes. A major reallocation of part-time teacher funding was consequently required in order to provide for the increased number of classes. A textbook has been produced for the first-year English course that aims to develop oral communication skills, especially in the form of conversation exchanges, since these are regarded as being significantly less developed than reading and writing skills. Teachers aim to involve students in communicative activities for approximately seventy minutes of each ninety-minute lesson. Lessons are based on students practicing target language structures in pairwork and group work activities. Activities are repeated and extended during a lesson to reinforce learning processes. Communication between the teacher and students, and between the students themselves, is restricted to English during the lesson. A range of communicative strategies for developing effective interaction skills are explicitly developed as part of the first-year curriculum to provide support to learners generally at the false beginner level.
As well as the compulsory first- and second-year courses, a number of additional courses have been developed during the first two operational stages. Repeat courses are offered during vacations to students who failed their semester course, providing them with a second chance to progress to subsequent classes with the current peer group. The new system of communicative instruction is also available to students outside the current first-year group, who can enrol in a range of intensive courses held during the university vacations. These one-week courses have proved popular with both freshmen and higher-level students, since they allow for additional credits to be made up during the vacation periods when students often have some free time.

Communicative assessment standards
"Western educational systems generally rate ability as the most important factor and attendance as least important, while Japanese systems tend to rate these factors in the opposite order."

General assessment standards for the communicative courses have also been determined. Since learning takes place through active participation in pairwork and group work activities, strict attendance requirements were deemed necessary across the entire program. Students who miss four classes in any semester automatically fail a course, and are subsequently enrolled in a repeat course. Teachers should consider three factors in the assessment process: ability (as demonstrated during the course), effort (as demonstrated during the course), and class attendance. There were significantly different viewpoints within the EEC faculty about the prioritising of these three factors. Western educational systems generally rate ability as the most important factor and attendance as least important, while Japanese systems tend to rate these factors in the opposite order. The EEC decided to adopt the Japanese system (attendance, effort, ability), since it was thought that students were justified in expecting consistent assessment standards to be applied throughout the university. However, communicative assessment techniques are required in all EEC classes, including conversation performance tests and monitoring of participation in classroom activities during the course. Teachers are also required to warn students in advance if it appears likely they might fail, and to specifically explain the problem area that needs to be addressed in the remaining classes. Committees and project team A number of committees and project teams were established for the purpose of developing the additional goals of the Center. The EEC plans to publish an academic journal each year that includes contributions from professors, teachers, and students from any faculty in the university, as well as from invited members of the local community. Submissions must be in English and focus on an area of English language education. Other committees were set up to establish a student evaluation system and to oversee the major curriculum development projects (including in-house production of a second-year textbook based on an integrated skills approach). Project teams have also been formed for purposes of developing a computer-based self-learning system, TOEIC® / TOEFL® preparation courses, and a Multimedia Assisted Learning Laboratory. In order to provide support for teachers wishing to develop their communicative teaching skills, a peer observation system and a team-teaching program are currently planned. Future developments may include a Learning Resource Center, a British Council certification program, and an EEC website.

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Evaluation procedures

Evaluation procedures comprise an essential component of any curriculum development project and should be used to "inform decisions about language programs" (Lynch, 1996, p. 175). As discussed by Brown, they provide for assessment of the effectiveness of the current language program, as well as for guiding subsequent improvements (1989, p. 223). The types of curriculum issues that can be informed by evaluation procedures include: "whether the program responds to learners' needs, whether future teacher training is required . . . or whether students are learning sufficiently" (Alderson, 1992, p. 286). The evaluation procedures should be integrated into each aspect of the curriculum development process (Brown, 2001, p. 15), and function as "a further set of decisions built into the curriculum planning and implemented at each of the subsequent stages of development" (Johnson, 1989, p. 20).
Two types of formative evaluation have been implemented in the EEC, which involve both quantitative and qualitative measurement (Richards, 2001, p. 296). At the end of each course, a student survey is administered to all EEC classes. The survey has been developed in order to provide information about the progress of the new curriculum to administrators, to evaluate teachers' performance, and to provide teachers with feedback on their teaching performance. The survey questions represent the communicative values of the new curriculum, so that evaluations provide a form of monitoring whether teachers are conducting classes according to communicative principles:
Teachers may well use the materials in the classroom . . . but may transform them or choose activities to suit their existing teaching style or to conform to their existing beliefs of the nature of the teaching / learning process" (Karavas-Doukas, 1998, p. 29).
Students are surveyed on three areas of the program: the communicative learning system (positive attitudes could be used to justify further reforms), the specific course, and the teacher. A materials evaluation system is also being used on the first-year coursebook. Teachers are asked to evaluate the effectiveness of each lesson based on actual classroom usage in the program. This evaluation system is consistent with Ellis's observation that materials evaluations are most effective when based directly on classroom usage, since this system "provides an appraisal of the value of specific teaching activities for particular groups of learners" (1998, p. 222). Each teacher on the first-year program provides a numerical rating (based on a five-point Likert scale) for each lesson, and also provides comments, criticisms, and suggestions relating to specific aspects of the lesson. The quantitative data is compiled across the entire first-year program and examined together with the qualitative data for each lesson. A major textbook revision was undertaken based on this evaluation system at the end of the first year of the program, and a second edition of the coursebook was produced. Ensuing revisions in subsequent years should ultimately produce a refined set of materials closely matched to the specific learning needs of the first-year student population.

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Future directions of the reform program

Further expansion of the EEC in terms of its conceptualised role as a provider of English language courses and services is planned in future years. In subsequent operational stages, it is intended to develop additional courses to provide for other areas of the university's ELT program. Specialized Courses are planned for the faculties (e.g., English for medicine, business, science, technology), as well as Advanced Courses to meet specific areas of student demand (e.g., current affairs, Internet English, public speaking / presentation skills, discussion / debate). EEC project teams will also continue developing the current projects, many of which will be ongoing or several years in duration. A range of courses is also planned in order to provide services to the local community (e.g., evening courses in Conversation, Business English, and Culture Studies), and it is hoped that a writing resource center can be developed to provide assistance with academic writing to faculty and students.
While the impending national university privatisation process will substantially affect the direction of the reform program at Ehime University, program-wide student evaluations indicate that the innovations implemented in the first operational stages have been well-received by students. The success in these early stages has been achieved in the face of opposition from some faculty groups, and can largely be attributed to the political sensitivity demonstrated by administrators in the planning stages. Throughout the challenging reform journey, administrators have been directly concerned with understanding "the complexity of the change process and some of the factors that facilitate or inhibit the implementation process" (Karavas-Doukas, 1998, p. 49). The careful attention that has been paid to planning a difficult series of reforms with regard to the "social and political bases for language learning and use" (Lynch, 1996, p. 175) has reduced potential conflict situations and facilitated the success of the first reform stages.


Alderson, J. C. (1992). Guidelines for the evaluation of language education. In J. C. Alderson & A. Beretta (Eds.), Evaluating second language education (pp. 274-304). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, J. D. (1989). Language program evaluation: A synthesis of existing possibilities. In R. K. Johnson (Ed.), The second language curriculum (pp. 222-241). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, J. D. (2001). Using surveys in language programs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R. (1998). The evaluation of communicative tasks. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Materials development in language teaching (pp. 217-238). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Karavas-Doukas, K. (1998). Evaluating the implementation of educational innovations: lessons from the past. In P. Rea-Dickens & K. P. Germaine (Eds.), Managing evaluation and innovation in language teaching: Building bridges (pp. 25-50). Harlow: Addison Wesley Longman.

Johnson, R. K. (1989). A decision-making framework for the coherent language curriculum. In R. K. Johnson (Ed.), The second language curriculum (pp. 1-23). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lynch, B. K. (1996). Language program evaluation: Theory and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J. (2001). Curriculum development in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

White, R., Martin, M., Stimson, M, & Hodge, R. (1991). Management in English language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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