Tokyo Institute of Technology: Global Leadership Practice course 2021 with Georgia Tech held online

The 2021 Global Leadership Practice in partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) was held as an online intensive course from June 15 to 25. The course, held for the fourth time, was conducted in a virtual environment for the second straight year due to mobility restrictions caused by COVID-19. In 2018 and 2019, a Georgia Tech instructor and teaching assistant (TA) were invited to Tokyo Tech to provide face-to face instruction.

This year, 15 students from Japan, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Mongolia gathered for the two-week intensive course to develop their leadership skills, focusing on self-evaluation, case studies, organization observation and analysis, and a final team project. As with in-person lectures in past years, the course was conducted in an interactive style by utilizing various technologies such as the BlueJeans video conferencing system, the Pear Deck learning platform, and the Mentimeter interactive presentation software.

Global Leadership Practice is one of the core subjects under the Global Awareness and Other Breadth Courses for students in the Advanced Global Scientists and Engineers Course (GSECouter). GSEC was established in 2013 to provide students with the skills and expertise necessary to become globally competitive scientists and engineers. As of August 2021, 2,090 students have registered for GSEC, 51 of whom are in the Advanced GSEC.

Interactive online sessions
Over the two months prior to the course, a lecturer and TA from Georgia Tech, faculty and staff of GSEC, and TAs from Tokyo Tech held several online meetings to discuss how to carry out online group work effectively and to develop a new application to enhance class commitment. The course was organized in an active learning style, which presented challenges to both the students and the instructors.

Students enthusiastically engaged in the session by applying an open mindset, new technology, and their time management skills — Atlanta, where Georgia Tech is located, and Tokyo are 13 hours apart, so organizers decided to begin lectures at 8 a.m. in Tokyo and 7 p.m. in Atlanta.

Despite the strict limitations on mobility due to COVID-19, students gained leadership skills to collaborate in a multicultural environment through work with participants from diverse backgrounds. In addition, the teaching team constantly accepted online feedback on the lessons from students and reflected on potential improvements.

Participants from diverse backgrounds
Joining the group of students in the course were two Tokyo Tech TAs, one from Mexico and one from Bangladesh, a lecturer and TA from Georgia Tech, and a guest speaker from Vietnam. The Japanese participants, consisting of students who have experience in or plans to study abroad, were eager to interact with their international counterparts and TAs.

Sessions focused on active learning
Global Leadership Practice was developed based on the leadership program at Georgia Tech. This year’s course content reflected feedback from participants from the last three years. Before implementation, instructors from the two institutions planned and discussed the contents and pedagogy. In the US, a significant number of tasks are assigned to students before and after each class, where active participation is expected. Students are asked to read a textbook on leadership, and to write blog articles based on personal leadership experiences. These practices were also adopted at Tokyo Tech.

Students were requested to attend an orientation session beforehand, where they received the course manual. This manual covered the main points of each lecture and assignments for the course, and proved especially helpful for Japanese students during group work and discussions with international students.

While the use of English and an active learning style throughout the course challenged some students, instructors made available various learning platforms to enhance active participation. Students were asked to use Pear Deckouter to share what they felt was the most important thing they learned from each lesson. During breaks, participants shared and listened to music through their computers. These activities helped students to get to know each other. The friendly atmosphere of the class and instructors resulted in active engagements for everyone.

The “100 Value Cards” assessment, utilized in face-to-face lectures in past years, was also developed for online use by a student who took this course in a previous year and provided it to the class. Through this assessment, students learned how to develop their leadership skills by focusing on their own strengths, values, and capabilities.

The online tool “Mentimeterouter”, which has excellent quiz, voting, and answer compilation functions, helped students to visualize instantly their answers and share their individual values.

Learning in multicultural teams
Throughout the course, students learned how collaboration with team members can help extract these strengths from each member while transforming one’s own values and goals into reality. Participants also learned how to adjust issues and develop problem-solving skills in a multicultural environment.

Specifically, students were asked to develop some new equipment “to solve a problem in the world” in a short period of time with only 10 materials in their homes. Created products included “smart glasses” to prevent accidents when using a smartphone while walking, a “magic hand” which enables the user to feel and “touch” the other person during online communication, a laptop holder that can be utilized in any position, and a “heating juicer” to cook cup noodles with vegetable soup to ensure nutrition. Through this task, students learned how to build teamwork and leadership skills in order to realize a common group goal within a limited time frame and under restricted conditions.

Heating juicer
Students also studied various kinds of leadership in different countries based on egalitarian and hierarchical concepts that take into consideration history, culture, and customs. The participants shared various types of leadership styles based on their experiences. It was understood from this session that decision-making styles differ from country to country between egalitarian and hierarchical culture, and students learned about the characteristics of each style along with ways to deal with unconscious biases.

Study of multicultural team building continued in the next session, which was led by Dr. Minh Nguyen, a Tokyo Tech alumnus currently working for Google Japan Inc. After listening to Minh’s lectures and experiences in both Japanese and multinational companies, students reflected on how to turn their ideas and goals into reality in terms of their own career development.Minh Nguyen from Google Japan speaking to participants

During this course, students, faculty, and TAs traditionally hold a social gathering to deepen fellowship. This time, a social gathering was also held online for the instructor and TA from Georgia Tech who could not come to Japan physically. During the event, participants enjoyed various games and discussions about varying impressions and positive aspects of each country. In order for students to get to know each other, students shared each other’s favorite songs, movies, and books during class breaks through the “Awesome List,” a platform created by TAs. After class, students had the opportunity to discuss topics related to lesson themes more deeply. Through these activities, students opened up to freely express their thoughts in a class based on mutual trust.

Final presentation session
On the last day of the course, four student groups presented their comparative analyses of two different leaders. Students spoke about the societal influence and leadership qualities of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, Finnish-American programmer Linus Torvalds, Astroscale CEO Mitsunobu Okada, IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, Nitori founder Akio Nitori, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) founder Morris Chang, and former Japanese female footballer Homare Sawa.

After the presentations, students discussed how they could apply their newly acquired knowledge on leadership to their own paths. The online intensive course stimulated students and boosted their growth through a mix of lectures and active learning, challenging them to step out of their comfort zones. Instructors and TAs provided feedback on each student’s learning and development after course completion.

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 era, the Global Leadership Practice intensive course provided a beneficial learning opportunity for students to acquire a more international outlook regardless of their location.