Building Sustainability Through Online Learning

Building Sustainability Through Online Learning

By: Chris Clancy

Chito wants the United States of America to be run by a President who feels a sense of crisis about the environment, and who tries to solve environmental problems. Seto routinely criticizes more progressive political agendas as being socialist. “Which one, Chito or Seto, do you want to talk to?” asks a Japanese second-year high school student. “I think I’d like to talk to Chito because I’m also interested in environmental problems.”

The above is one of many opinions submitted electronically as a follow-up to a previous online activity in which 84% of 302 students cast their votes in a mock U.S. Presidential election a week earlier. Of those, roughly 57% selected Democratic nominee Joe Biden over Republican incumbent Donald Trump.

The year 2020 was unique in many ways. We each had to adapt our way of life to meet the various restrictions we faced in an effort to curb the spread of the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the potentially fatal COVID-19 respiratory disease. How did I adapt to the restrictions of 2020? Online learning–something I first futilely attempted to implement in a Japanese high school via Yahoo Groups shortly after arriving in Japan 20 years ago–finally became a reality.

The Japanese high school at which I am currently employed ceased operation when a nationwide state of emergency was declared at the end of February. Though an abbreviated graduation ceremony was held in mid-March, the beginning of the new academic year was postponed until late May. It was during this time that I began online video-chat tutoring with students from other parts of the country who were stuck in the school dormitory with nothing to do until restrictions were relaxed.

Online video-chat tutorials were conducted with groups via Facebook Messenger, Google Meet, and Whereby, and individually through LINE. These proved to be great alternatives to the traditional classroom during the school closure in the initial stages of the pandemic. The High School English Debate Association even held its annual national tournament via Zoom. Adapting new approaches to teaching, however, didn’t stop there.

I have tried for years to raise awareness of environmental issues through teaching English, lending graded reader books and their accompanying CDs to public high school third-year elective class participants. My supply has dwindled over time, but I continue to use the same reader, albeit in an online format. I have input and uploaded all the chapters and many of the follow-up exercises from the text to Google Classroom as student materials, assignments, or quizzes.

After coming to the private high school where I currently teach, I found that students are more competent in English than at every other public high school I’ve taught at in Japan. What’s more, every student is required to have a tablet computer to work with. Google Classroom provides an alternative form of education that teachers have been utilizing since the pandemic began. The mock election referred to above was presented as a multiple-choice quiz using this online application, as was the follow-up assignment prompting students to share their opinions of the candidate they selected. The alternative classroom is still new to all of us, but I have continued to use it even after regular school operations resumed. I now also help students practice typing and how to use online resources–in addition to raising environmental awareness–through the medium of English.

Google Classroom is a tremendous resource. Although 78.5% correctly guessed item #6–The normal weather conditions of a place–as “climate” in another 22-question multiple-choice Climate Change vocabulary quiz, others opted for one of the other possible answers, including “I don’t know.” Being able to pull up these quiz statistics and those at the beginning of this story took far less time than leafing through piles of paper to work them out for myself.

The most important thing I learned about teaching this year is that Google Classroom, as with the above examples, provides some great alternatives to traditional classroom teaching methods. It also offers more potential in terms of environmental sustainability than traditional teaching approaches. It eliminates the need to distribute paper materials, for example. I think it should be used in all schools to prevent further environmental degradation.

Interactive online teaching and learning has finally become a reality for me. Though they may not yet be on the brink of being totally replaced, traditional English language teaching methods have certainly changed. My computer assisted language learning endeavors of 20 years have come to full fruition via Google Classroom.


Chris Clancy possesses a MEd from Temple University, Japan and has taught English at many education levels throughout the 20 years he has lived in Japan. He currently teaches at Saku Chosei High School in Nagano Prefecture. Chris enjoys bicycling and reading during his free time.

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