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Award winning “sensei” connects Japanese students globally

30 October 2019

Japanese language students at the University of Canterbury (UC) chat to students in Thailand, Korea and Japan in online forums and mentor younger Japanese language students as part of ground-breaking initiatives that develop better proficiency and create enduring communities of learners.


Teaching Japanese means creating communities both locally and globally for Dr Masayoshi Ogino from UC’s Department of Global, Cultural and Language Studies, who will receive an Ako Aotearoa award for teaching excellence on 30 October.

Since joining UC in 2011 Dr Ogino has created a multi-layered learning environment that draws on traditional Māori support systems, where more experienced tuākana guide less experienced teina, and connects students internationally through the latest technology. 

“My passion is to help my students explore new ways of thinking about a world of diverse peoples and cultures – my mission is to transform their lives and I do this by teaching them Japanese,” he says. “I firmly believe that learning an additional language has the power to broaden their horizons, enrich their world and their professional career.”

Dr Ogino became known internationally for pioneering the online World Café Forums for Japanese Language Educators, which in 2018 attracted 60 educators from 15 countries. The initiative has connected and inspired Aotearoa’s Japanese language teachers with a global community.

Also online, Dr Ogino’s students post messages and videos to special Facebook pages, creating a parallel online experience that strengthens their classroom learning. Dr Ogino’s classes host Japanese visitors from a local English school and groups of English language learners from Japan. Since 2015, Dr Ogino has arranged an annual visit of Japanese children affected by the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake through the Support-Our-Kids (SOK) organisation.

For the past six years, Dr Ogino has created the opportunity for UC students to join the NCEA Japanese workshop as teaching assistants and mentors for secondary school students. This annual workshop involves 350-400 students (year 11 to year 13) from over 15 local schools, and is the largest event of its kind in Oceania.

An extension of the online World Cafes brings together English language students in Japan and Japanese language students at UC to practice both languages. “The structured, sheltered learning environment of the Bilingual World Cafe allowed my students to actively engage in meaningful interaction and discussion with UC students and encouraged their confidence in speaking English,” Associate Professor Zane Ritchie, from Josai University in Japan, says.

Dr Ogino’s teaching approach has evolved over more than twenty years at secondary and tertiary institutions in Japan and New Zealand.

“My initial teaching experience was as a high school English teacher in Japan where the prevalent exam-focused teaching was a strong motivation for my pursuing communication-focused language teaching. My experience at Hamilton Girls’ High School as an exchange teacher from Japan between 1994 and 1996 enabled me to see the potential and reality of my new approach, and made me realise the need to initiate a genuine and lasting experience for my students.”

Students love the challenges, ranking Dr Ogino 4.81 out of 5 for ‘effective teaching’. 

“Dr Ogino is more commonly known to his students as Ogino sensei. This Japanese word sensei in simple translation means teacher, but to me has also come to mean leader, expert, pioneer, someone who inspires courage and resilience in their students and communities,” one student commented.

The innovations are proving very effective. For example, a UC student won third place in an International Japanese Essay Contest this year, from 6,793 essays from 62 countries. In the Tertiary National Japanese Language Speech Contest, UC students placed 2nd in 2018, both 1st and 2nd in 2017, and 1st in 2015.

“Connections created through language and culture can engender empathy, compassion and a better understanding of oneself and others,” Dr Ogino says.

“It has been my pleasure to play my part in deepening people’s mutual understanding and respect for other cultures through my position teaching Japanese at UC. I will continue my efforts to improve my teaching practice and inspire students and fellow teachers by strengthening connections and developing multi-layered learning communities.”

Previous awards

2018 Inaugural University of Canterbury Outstanding Teaching Practice Award

2018 Certificate of Commendation from the Japanese Ambassador for his distinguished service in contributing to the deepening of mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and New Zealand.

2017 College of Arts - Excellence in Teaching Award

2017 Lecture of the Year in College of Arts by UC Student Association (nominee in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2017)

Ako Aotearoa awards

Ako Aotearoa builds educational capability in New Zealand's tertiary sector. Every year, up to 10 of the country's top teachers are celebrated at the national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards Ngā Whakawhiwhinga Tohu Whakaako, hosted by the Minister of Education. In 2019, 10 teachers received sustained excellence awards for their contribution to tertiary teaching and learning under the General and Kaupapa Māori categories.

The Prime Minister's Supreme Award, selected from the awardees, will be announced on today at a ceremony at Parliament.

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