By Megan Driscoll
Yasutaka Kageyama studied law in Japan, then moved to New York to earn a degree in communication design. After returning to Japan, he began working in Web production, earning awards for his interface design. He had just completed the application interface for creating New Year's cards for the entire Japanese postal office when he met Satoshi Yamakawi, the CEO of Castalia. At the time, Fusen was already in prototype, but Mr. Kageyama and Mr. Yamakawi worked together to build it into a free online learning platform.
Q. How was iUniv founded and what types of content does it provide?
A. iUniv was founded by Satoshi and me. The project was driven by two important points: First, there was no service distributing free educational content in a social context on the Internet. Second, Satoshi is an obsessive person who is very interested in higher education. We imagined that there must be a lot of people like him, who want access to quality educational materials.
iUniv focuses on distributing free educational materials that are already online. We currently offer more than 67,000 classes.
Q. What are your duties at iUniv as Creative Director?
A. Making it really work as a social layer for the educational platform. We also just launched a new project called 'Schooly' on iUniv, which allows users to take a class in a linear format with a closed learning group, all structured by the existing educational content. So I'm focusing on getting that project on the right track, too.
Q. You studied in New York City and are now living and working back in Tokyo, Japan. Do you feel that your international experience influences your work with open educational resources? What differences and similarities have you observed in the ways that Americans and Japanese approach open learning?
A. This is an interesting question that I think about a lot. The biggest difference is the approach to lifelong learning. In Japan, people tend to think of learning as something they have to finish before getting jobs. It's rare for people who have graduated from college to go back to school to learn new things. Only knowledge that effects their careers is likely to inspire them to start learning again.
In colleges in the U.S., especially in New York, I realized that there are many reasons for people to want to take a class and start learning again. The approach they take to learning varies based on their backgrounds and interests, but it doesn't matter how old they are. This difference shows us that the Japanese are focused on taking what they can from a class for their careers, whereas Americans seem to take classes based on their interests.
It's also not yet popular in Japan to use open educational resources because we only have a limited number of them available. But people are starting to find that they are good resources for busy business people who can't attend classes on a regular schedule. And especially after the emergency situation in Japan, more people are recognizing that we need to have a system to encourage people to keep studying.
Q. What is your personal philosophy on the subject of open education and the resources that iUniv provides?
A. For human beings to survive all of the current environmental issues, we need to learn through the most advanced intellectual platforms.
Q. You recently attended the OpenCourseWare conference as a representative of iUniv. What's the relationship between the iUniv platform and the OpenCourseWare Consortium?
A. We distribute a lot of OpenCourseWare material on iUniv. The connection isn't obvious currently, but will be more clear once we're linked on the OCW reference page. They do promote us by introducing people to iUniv via word of mouth, but we're not officially connected yet.
Q. Do you think that anything you saw or heard at the conference will influence your work with iUniv?
A. The sessions on P2PU and Open Study were really influential. Those projects are related to universities, but not driven by an individual institution. Since we are also part of the commercial sector, it is really interesting to watch how they're doing.
Q. What are your and Castalia's plans for the future of iUniv?
A. We want to reduce the size of learning materials. An hour-long lecture video accompanied by 300 pages of a heavy text book is becoming a relic from the last century. With new technology we want to make learning materials 'handful' sized and offer them in modules. We are also working on designing the modules to predict what you should learn next.
Q. Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about iUniv and open education.
A. We are always looking for feedback on iUniv and opportunities to work with other open education organizations. And while Schooly, the learning platform for closed groups, is currently only available in Japanese, we'd love to get feedback on that project too.