Discovering Something Yourself
Practical classes in biology begin at sophomore level. For students to acquire the appropriate expertise with experimental procedures, one common approach is to hand out documentation in advance so that the students can learn the correct methods. However, actual research involves the challenge of investigating unknown phenomena. From an understanding of known and unknown elements, you formulate a hypothesis, which you then attempt to verify. To put this hypothesis to the test, you then have to design your own experimental method. And that is why I don't hand out a manual or instructions to the students at the beginning of the class. Right from the beginning, I want the students to be thinking about methods toward achieving the experimental goals.
What is important is getting the students to think about different possibilities and approaches rather than simply dealing with completed materials. The emphasis is not on some disappointing result having been a failure but on this new discovery that the previous method was inappropriate. This learning process fires the student's curiosity and unleashes their powers of imagination.
For one thing, the students at ICU love thinking about and discussing matters. I remember one particular experiment having been preceded by a discussion that lasted seven and a half hours. The students have incredible curiosity--a great eagerness to find things out. This is not something that takes place just in my own classes. In other classes or even outside classes, in various activities and interactions between students and faculty, this spirit of curiosity is very evident. This is the challenge of not simply doing what you are told to do but determining your own course. And I believe that the ICU approach and way of thinking in education are certainly reflected in its results.
It is necessary not only to study but to get out into the world, not just to think about a particular problem but to find something out for yourself. This is the ability to identify problems yourself and work out a way to solve them. It is important to have the capacity to listen carefully to other people's opinions and at the same time being able to express your own. With such an education in the four years of university, it is then possible to go positively into society and go beyond the confines of Japan assertively into the world.