Multimedia/Internet Education Project in Japan (Part 2)

Kayo Itoh <>
Yutaka Mori <>
Toshiro Takano <>
Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation



These days, just about everyone in Japan is interested in the Internet. Teen idols can be seen in television commercials "surfin' the 'Net." In Shibuya, an area in Tokyo where the younger crowd hangs out, kids with wildly colored hair can be seen accessing the Internet from computers at "cybercafes." The Internet business in Japan is booming, with more than 200 Internet service providers (ISPs) in the Tokyo area alone. Not many will dispute that the Internet is useful and fun when used in private, but what about the role of the Internet in education, where the schools have a rigid curriculum to follow, the resources are scarce, and the budget is so tight that they cannot afford to pay the water bill for the pool?

Executive summary

In April 1995, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) began experimenting with new multimedia technology in an effort to prepare Japan for the upcoming information technology era. Customers of NTT were invited to connect their networks to NTT's new broadband, high-speed multimedia experimental network (multimedia testbed network) and join together to research the effect this new technology would have on their particular area of business. It was decided that an experiment promoting the use of multimedia and the Internet in Japanese classrooms would also be worthwhile, as one of NTT's goals is to promote the use of technology in education. Therefore, the Multimedia/Internet Educational Project (MIEP) was started.

The main goals of MIEP were as follows:

With these goals in mind, four schools in Japan--two Japanese schools and two international schools--were invited to join the experiment and were connected to the multimedia testbed network in September 1995.

We dealt with many issues throughout the course of MIEP, from solving the most basic of technical problems to dealing with the complex issues encountered when incorporating multimedia and Internet usage into the standard curriculum. Many findings were also made regarding the resources necessary to maintain a successful multimedia and Internet program in schools.

MIEP was introduced at INET'96 in Montreal, where the project's start-up stages were presented. The main focus of this year's paper is on the issues we overcame and the achievements we experienced as the experiment matured. Results that can be concluded from this project, and the plans to incorporate Internet usage in the standard Japanese curriculum, will also be discussed.

Japan: changing the outlook on multimedia and the Internet in education

In August of 1995, the Ministry of Education in Japan (Monbusho) instituted a policy that aimed to promote the development of human resources in the form of information specialists. Specific goals included providing computers for schools, supporting the research on and development of teaching software, providing teachers with technical training and research opportunities, and providing students with opportunities to gain information processing skills.

In order to advance research in updating educational methods and revising course contents to include multimedia resources, the Monbusho is supporting the development of networks to connect national universities by satellite. In response to the need for distance-learning opportunities, the Monbusho is also supporting research in the area of two-way instruction over communication networks.

In the spring of 1996, the Monbusho announced that every school in Japan would be provided with a connection to the Internet by the year 2000. In November of 1996, the Monbusho, in conjunction with NTT's Multimedia Business Department, started the "Konet Plan" to realize this goal. The "Konet Plan" was an aggressive plan in which 1,000 schools across Japan were provided with ISDN terminal equipment, financial support, and technical support from the nearest NTT branch. For many schools, this was their first opportunity to explore the Internet.

Statistics show that 84.7 percent of all elementary schools now have computers (an average of 6.9 computers per school), 99.7 percent of all middle schools (an average of 23.9 computers per school), and 100 percent of high schools (at an average of 61.9 computers per school). Although 28.7 percent of all schools have their computers connected through a LAN (local area network), there are still only a few schools with direct connection to the Internet. However, this number is beginning to increase, thanks to projects such as the "Konet Plan."

Startup of MIEP

MIEP was officially launched in September 1995, after several busy months of designing the network, installing the software, and testing the applications. We contacted the Global SchoolNet Foundation (GSN), a nonprofit organization backed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the United States, to get more information about a similar project taking place in the United States, the Global School House (GSH) project. The GSH linked students together over the Internet to discuss environmental issues online, using e-mail and posting their results on the Web. Yvonne Andres, president of the GSH project, was invited to Japan to give us advice on how to get MIEP started.

Four high schools were chosen to participate in the project. Two Japanese public schools, Tokyo Gakugei University High School (Gakugei), and University of Tsukuba Senior High School at Otsuka (Tsukuba), and two international schools located in Japan, the American School in Japan (ASIJ), and the Canadian Academy in Kobe (CanAcad), were chosen to take part in the project. The different backgrounds of the four schools provided the cross-cultural environment we were aiming for.

Each school was provided with a workstation, a router, several personal computers, network equipment, and a connection to the Internet (Fig. 1: Network Configuration within Each School). The workstation was configured as a mail, DNS, WWW, firewall, and news server. On the Ethernet side, the router was connected to the LAN within the school, and on the serial side, the router was connected to NTT's multimedia testbed network. The network ultimately had a connection to the Internet (Fig. 2: Network Overview) through a 1.5-Mbps (megabits per second) leased circuit line via SINET (Science Information NETwork), a national academic research-based network.

The maintenance of the system was divided between the schools and NTT. Each school had a teacher or a group of teachers who were responsible for the system within the school, and NTT was responsible for any problems encountered with the connection to the outside.

First applications: e-mail, the Web, and CU-SeeMe

Meeting with Ms. Andres had given us some ideas of what we wanted to do in terms of applications to use on the network. She informed us, from her personal experiences, that frequent information exchanges using mailing lists were very effective in getting people to share their ideas and opinions.

The first application we used was e-mail. Students were given their own accounts so they could exchange e-mail with people from all over the world. Students at ASIJ and Tsukuba were excited about exchanging e-mail with recent graduates and hearing about their university experiences. Also, we created an all-students mailing list so that students could freely share their ideas and opinions on any topic with students from the other schools.

Ms. Andres stated that she found projects had to be created with inspiring themes and objectives to provide teachers and students with the motivation to actively take part in the project. Therefore, a project using CU-SeeMe, a PC video conference software that can be used over the Internet, was created to break the ice and encourage the students to use the technology. The "CU-SeeMe Club" was an initiative in which students from the four schools took turns discussing different issues over the network using CU-SeeMe. Students discussed many issues, ranging from their views on the French bombing experiments to their thoughts on the major league baseball player Hideo Nomo. Students from CanAcad in Kobe shared their experiences of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Students learning English at the Japanese schools used these discussions as an opportunity to practice their English. The four schools also participated in a discussion with students from the GII Junior Summit held in Tokyo in November of 1995 (Fig. 3: GII Junior Summit), in which they accessed the summit through the Internet from their schools and shared their opinions on world issues.

Eventually, each of the schools started designing its own homepages. The "Electronic Newspaper" project started out as a homepage at each of the four schools. Each site contained links to a number of articles written by students at that school and links to articles written by students at the other schools. The main motivation behind the project was to have the students get a better understanding about differences in cultures by reading articles that students from the other schools had written.

First year: overcoming the technical and administrative problems

We encountered many technical problems during the first year. Because the multimedia testbed network was experimental, sometimes some of the experiments would cause problems for the schools and they would periodically lose connectivity to the Internet. Some of the problems required us to log in remotely from our office; more serious problems required us to go on site. Many of the problems were resolved by rebooting the hardware or tightening loose cables. In the beginning, it took some time to get the network back up, but as the year progressed, it became evident that because the network was heavily relied upon, the system would have to come up immediately.

Most of the teachers responsible for the school networks were science teachers with little or no experience in network administration. We soon realized that it was important that we help train the staff so they could effectively deal with the problems that came up, without having the problems give the technology a bad image.

We held small study sessions in the beginning in which we showed the teachers how to use the workstation, how to configure the router, and how to install and use the software on the personal computers. Giving the teachers a share of the responsibility in the maintenance of the system enabled them to learn about the technology, and eventually take care of the system themselves.

Teachers involved in the project were given their own e-mail accounts and were encouraged to incorporate the use of e-mail into their everyday duties. We then set up a mailing list that included these teachers and ourselves. We encouraged the teachers to e-mail their technical problems to the mailing list. Many of the questions that the teachers had with the network were answered over this list. One difficulty we encountered was that not everyone who subscribed to the mailing list understood both Japanese and English. We overcame this by creating a policy that after each message, everyone should try to include a brief summary of the message in the other language. The teachers made some very heroic attempts at using the other language (Fig. 4: Question to the Mailing List).

Although the mailing list was very useful, we felt there was a need for us to get together with the teachers face-to-face periodically. Therefore, we made it a rule to hold off-line meetings with the teachers once every couple of months. At these meetings, each of the schools would present some new uses of the Internet with which they were experimenting and some of the problems they were encountering. We would also discuss and brainstorm for new project ideas, and coordinate events that required scheduling. As most of the issues could not be resolved during the time allocated for the meetings, the remaining discussion and information would be continued on the mailing list.

Perhaps just as important as the meeting itself was the tour of the hosting school. The schools took turns in hosting the meetings. All the teachers were interested in observing the differences between the Japanese and North American teaching methods. The tour gave the teachers an insight into the kinds of projects that were possible between the four schools, given the cultural differences. As an example, many of the North American teachers were delighted by the Japanese calligraphy the students in the Japanese schools were studying. They encouraged the students to put those calligraphy pieces on their homepages, adding to the art already there.

Second year: shift toward applications and contents

During the first year, a lot of time had been spent solving technical problems that arose from the system. Also, we had worked on forming the best technical support framework for the teachers. As the project progressed into its second year, things were running smoothly from a technical standpoint.

CU-SeeMe was being used with fair results. After a CU-SeeMe session between a class at Gakugei and ASIJ, one ASIJ student noted that he was surprised that everyone at Gakugei wore uniforms and that they sat neatly in rows. During a physics class at Gakugei, students accessed a scientist at an observatory using CU-SeeMe. The students were able to ask the scientist questions and have them answered right away.

As the project progressed, the difficulties of performing events "live" became evident. First, the schedules of both schools had to be confirmed, so that a time convenient for both parties could be selected. Teachers had to decide beforehand what topics would be discussed, ensuring that the discussion would be beneficial to both sides. Also, the teachers needed to have the connection ready so that when it came time for the discussion, they could connect to the other party immediately. If the connection was cut off during the discussion, they waited until the connection could be reestablished.

The teachers began thinking about different ways in which they could make the discussions more effective for their students. CU-SeeMe was a wonderful tool because it was performed real-time and was great for getting a visual image of the other side. The teachers would use CU-SeeMe when they felt this would enhance the discussion. Mailing lists and homepages proved to be good tools for use in non-real-time discussions.

The discussions started to take on a different shape. One history class at a Japanese school wrote an article containing their views on a certain event in history, then posted it on their homepage. A history class at one of the English-speaking schools then accessed the homepage, discussed their views on the event, and posted their conclusions on their own homepage. In this way, the two classes were able to exchange their ideas and opinions without having a live connection.

The students and teachers became better at using the mailing list and more comfortable with sending out their opinions to a group of readers. The mailing list became an important medium for discussion, and people became more creative, including attaching files to their mail messages.

Major changes started to be observed in the "electronic newspaper." Student authors of articles found they were not getting a lot of response from their readers. A teacher from CanAcad then proposed a new way of generating more discussion about the newspaper articles and making the newspaper more interactive. At the bottom of each article, there would be a link with the e-mail address of the author written on it. When it was clicked upon, a mailer screen would pop up, and one could automatically mail comments to the author of the article. Moreover, students who wrote comments about the articles linked their comments back to the original article so when one accessed an article, one could also see the various comments people had made. This "seamless newspaper" was interactive and gave readers an easy way to react. What we found most impressive about the "electronic newspaper" was that the teachers had created a new application in which the positive points of both the Web and e-mail had been emphasized.

Internet usage increased at all schools, with teachers at ASIJ reporting that they had to force their students to get off the computers and go home after school. Teachers found that because everyone wanted to access the Internet, at times the network would become very crowded. Teachers began downloading information from the Internet before class and storing it on their hard drive so there would be no class time wasted in searching for material.

Overcoming the differences between the Japanese and Western schools

The biggest difference between the North American and Japanese schools was the amount of human resources allocated to their technology programs. At ASIJ and CanAcad, there was a system administrator on staff who was responsible for the entire system. Both schools also had more than five technicians helping to maintain the system. These people were responsible for the daily upkeep of the system, including maintenance of the hardware and installation of new software, and dealt with any general problems that came up with the system. There was also a curriculum coordinator on staff. These people brought the technology down to the level of the teachers, and assisted the teachers in incorporating the technology into their teaching.

On the other hand, the Japanese schools did not have a system administrator or a curriculum coordinator. Teachers who had classes to teach and who were not professional system administrators were made responsible for the system.

This made a big difference in the attitudes the teachers had toward the new technology. Teachers at CanAcad and ASIJ could rely on immediate support from the technical staff if they encountered any problems. However, their Japanese counterparts were forced to overcome problems on their own. It became evident that teachers who had not been provided with an adequate support network felt less comfortable with the new technology than those who had.

We soon realized the need to provide an adequate support network for the teachers to ensure the success of the project. In this particular case, the addition of human resources was not an option for the schools. Therefore, the mailing list was created and off-line meetings were held.

In terms of incorporating the Internet into the standard curriculum, one must look at the differences between the curricula that the schools follow. ASIJ and CanAcad follow curriculums based upon North American methods. The Japanese high schools follow the curriculum set out by the Monbusho. In Japanese schools, there is fierce competition amongst students to get into university. Students must study hard during high school for the university entrance exams, which does not leave teachers a lot of time to teach something that is not part of the standard curriculum. Therefore, it was not surprising that the Internet was absorbed more quickly by the North American schools. Recently, however, the Monbusho has begun to realize the need for the Internet in education, and there is some movement by the Monbusho to establish the Internet as a standard resource.

Realization: the Internet is just another resource

In December 1996, Gakugei hosted its second annual open house to showcase the technology used in the school. Looking at footage from the open house in 1996 and comparing it with footage taken in 1995, many differences were evident. In 1995, many of the applications presented depended solely upon having a live connection to the Internet. Often the connection was poor, and in the worst case, a connection could not be established, meaning the lesson could not be performed. In 1996, a more multimedia-type approach to teaching was prevalent.

An art class was a good example of the new multimedia-type approach to teaching. In the first year, art teachers accessed Web sites of famous museums to show their students artwork from all around the world. They relied heavily on the Internet, and they spent much class time searching for artwork. In the second year, the teachers relied not only on the Internet connection, but other resources as well. When studying artist van Gogh's life, the teacher had taken a book out of the library containing van Gogh's artwork, and had supplemented the book with downloaded artwork from the Internet. The teacher also had prepared a film detailing van Gogh's life, as well as handouts.

Another good example of this new multimedia-type approach was a class in which classic Japanese was being studied. The students, working in groups of two or three, accessed a Web site containing questions about classic Japanese. They worked through the questions by referring to their dictionaries, accessing other sites, and consulting their group members and teachers.

The schools proved that they now understood the meaning of multimedia. The Internet was no longer their only source of information, but was used in conjunction with other media.

Discussion: strengths and weaknesses of the Internet in education

Many similarities can be drawn between the Internet and a conventional school library. Both provide a resource for information and both come with tools that make searching for material simple.

There are, however, three characteristics about the Internet that distinguish it from the library. The first is the freedom of the Internet. The Internet gives every user the power to give and receive information freely. Anyone with a computer and a modem can obtain an account with an Internet service provider and can set up a home page and voice their opinions to the world. Second, the Internet is dynamic, up-to-date, and new. Home pages of large companies are updated on a daily basis. The information on the Internet is, in most cases, more up-to-date than any published materials. Third, it is interactive. It is possible to interact with anyone in the world at any time of the day.

However, the freedom of the Internet does have some disadvantages. There is too much information on the Internet. Students must decide what information they need and what they do not need. The quality of the information can also be misleading. Students must be taught how to distinguish between quality and unimportant information. Since no rules exist on the Internet in terms of what can and cannot be disclosed, anyone can put any material on the Internet. This, in turn, means that anyone can access this material. School libraries are able to control the printed material that students can access. This is difficult with the Internet because of the amount of information that exists and the lack of its management.

One issue that comes up in this area is pornography. Although there are tools designed to keep track of pornography on the Internet and stop access to such pages, the changing nature of the Internet makes it difficult to keep the list accurate and complete. Some of the schools implemented the "honor code" system, in which students are trusted not to access these pages. If students are found doing so, the teachers have the right to prohibit them from using the Internet. The results were successful, with schools such as ASIJ reporting no problems with students trying to access these pages.


When MIEP was started in 1995, the Monbusho did not yet have plans to introduce the Internet into Japanese schools. However, one year later, the Monbusho announced an aggressive plan of installing computers in all schools across Japan, showing they recognized the importance of this new technology.

During the first year of MIEP, we concentrated on solving the technical problems such as securing connectivity to the Internet, and showing the teachers how to use Internet applications. We also worked on forming the technical support framework for the teachers, which included things such as establishing the mailing list.

In the second year, the issues we faced dealt more with the actual usage of the Internet in the classroom. The schools struggled to define the educational role of the Internet. By the end of the project, the schools were experimenting with applications in the classroom to find which ones were effective.

We can now outline some of the characteristics for success when incorporating the Internet into the classroom. We found that a system administrator at each school, or an equivalent technical support framework, was crucial in ensuring that the technology is introduced successfully. We also found that when using the Internet in the classroom, it was important to take a multimedia-type approach and not rely just on the Internet, as one would do with any other medium. We also found it was important to use the Internet in ways in which its positive characteristics--its being dynamic, free, and interactive--could be taken advantage of.

Future plans

From the results of the project, it can be concluded that the Internet is a beneficial tool to have in the classroom. We would like to see the Internet become part of the standard Japanese curriculum in the near future. However, to do so, we need to show the Monbusho concrete results showing the benefits of Internet use. We hope to cooperate with people involved in other Internet projects, including the "Konet Plan," and work together to bring the Internet into the Japanese classroom.

With these issues in mind, we are exploring the possibility of continuing the project. This time, with the technical and administrative problems cleared, the emphasis would be on experimenting with new software and applications and finding ways in which teachers can easily incorporate this technology into their classes. Although we have seen illustrations of the Internet being a positive factor in the classroom, we must find a way in which the Internet, along with other media (library, CD-ROMs) can work together, so that the positive characteristics of each medium can be realized to their fullest potential. We believe the Internet can become a major part of education, and hope, through more experimentation, to find a way in which it will drastically change the face of classrooms in the years to come.


MIEP was designed and realized by cooperation and donations from the following (in alphabetical order): Apple Japan Inc., InfoCom Research Inc., National Center for Science Information System, Net One Systems Co. Ltd., Nihon Sun Microsystems K.K. and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation.


Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture of Japan. (1996). Information Technology in Public Schools.

Echigo, M. (1996). Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation: Multimedia/Internet Educational Project in Japan. The Internet: Transforming Our Society Now. The Annual Meeting of the Internet Society.