Hope everyone is keeping safe! The novel COVID-19 outbreak has significantly affected academic institutions all around the world and here in Japan, the situation is no different. In this article, I hope to provide you with some ideas on how Japanese universities are dealing with the outbreak. The policies of four of Japan’s top universities located in Tokyo (The University of Tokyo, Keio University, Waseda University, and Sophia University) will be discussed. From my research, it seems as though spring classes have only officially started at the University of Tokyo at the time of writing. Therefore, in the second half of this article, I will ask some of my University of Tokyo friends about their experiences using online classes and see if they have any tips and tricks to share with you all. Stay tuned!

The state of the novel Coronavirus in Japan

At the time of writing (April 10, 2020), Japan has reported about 5,500 infections (excluding the 712 cases linked to the Diamond Princess cruise ship). The epicenter of the outbreak in Japan is located inside its capital, Tokyo, which has reported more than 1,500 cases. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a State of Emergency in Tokyo and seven other urban areas on April 7, 2020. As a result, educational facilities such as schools and universities are in principle, closed. Nevertheless, the specific regulations slightly differ between each university. 

The University of Tokyo

(Check community page! ->)

The University of Tokyo has decided to start the new semester as originally planned on April 6th. However, following the declaration of a state of emergency, all classes have been moved online and all extra-curricular activities have been prohibited. The campus has been closed and in principle, no one is allowed to enter without authorization. 

Keio University 

(Check community page! ->)

Keio University has decided to postpone the start of the semester to at least Thursday, April 30. Although the shutdown period of the university campus was scheduled from April 7 to April 20, Keio University has decided to extend this till at least May 6. For the time being, each faculty within the university is working to move all of its classes online. 

Waseda University

(Check community page! ->)

Waseda University has also decided to postpone the start of its academic semester. The university announced that the spring 2020 semester will start on Monday, May 11 with all classes, in principle, being held online. The University has created a new learning management system called the ‘Waseda Moodle’ where students will be able to check lecture connect, view materials, take quizzes, and participate in discussions. All of Waseda University’s campuses are closed until at least April 21. 

Sophia University

(Check community page! ->)

Sophia University once decided to delay that start of its semester until April 24 but has now decided to further postpone this until May 25. As a result, its academic semester has been pushed back into the summer, with final exams running from August 3 to August 7. Furthermore, the university campuses are closed from April 8 to May 6 and all club and circle activities are prohibited until at least May 24th. 

The take-away 

It seems as though from out of these four major universities in Tokyo, only the University of Tokyo has started its classes at the time of writing (April 10, 2020). The University of Tokyo seems to have more conservative policies when compared to Keio University, Waseda University, or Sophia University. A reason for this may be because the University of Tokyo is a public university whereas the other three universities are privately-owned. Therefore, it could be possible that the University of Tokyo faces more restrictions when imposing new rules surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. 

Online classes – Tips and Tricks 

So how have these online classes been functioning at the University of Tokyo? I was able to ask a few of my close friends about their experiences after taking online courses for the past week:

“Most of the classes are held on Zoom and it works pretty smoothly” – Third-year PEAK Student 

“Some professors have posted their lectures on Youtube, while others use Dropbox. Then, they spend 45 minutes on Zoom to offer time for discussion and Q&A” – Second-year PEAK Student

“There are lots of readings posted already on ITCLMS [Information Technology Center – Learning Management System]” – First-year PEAK student

“My Japanese teacher had no idea how to use Zoom and it was hilarious” – First-year PEAK Student 

At the University of Tokyo, it seems as though the professors have a large degree of autonomy over the way their lectures are presented. Some professors choose to pre-record their lectures, whilst others host live seminars over Zoom. Furthermore, there are a number of professors, as indicated by the second-year student, that offer a mixture of prerecorded lectures and live zoom sessions, splitting the total class time of 105 hours per week into one 60 minute lecture and one 45 minute discussion 

Lastly, here are some personal tips from me for students taking online courses in the near future:

  • Turn your video on as much as possible
    • Although the professor may not explicitly tell you to turn your camera on, I think it is a good habit to do so. It will let the professor know that you are physically present in class and helps you concentrate.
  • Eliminate distractions
    • Keep your desk area as clean as possible and put your smartphone away. Keeping a clean organized work area will help you focus even at home.  
  • Raise your hand if you have any questions 
    • In an online class, it is more difficult for professors to gauge the student’s feedback. Therefore, it is important for students to be proactive when voicing any questions or concerns.

Good luck and have fun studying online! And remember, stay safe. Look after your friends and family. When you are out in public, always act as though you may be the one carrying the virus. Cheers!