Field Studies FAQ

IMG_8152Each year since 2011, I have had the privilege of leading a field study course to Japan. The theme changes in some years, but the focus remains on giving students an opportunity to learn about Japan in Japan through hands-on activities and conversations with locals.

If you are considering this program, please read these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) before you complete the application. Please note, these answers are specific to May 2024 and may not apply in other years.

  1. Is the schedule on the application fixed? Answer: For the most part, YES. The course starts after Semester 2 final exams and lasts around 2 weeks.
  2. Is the course finished on the final day of the field study? Answer: NO. You will need to complete parts of the course (final assignment) up to 10 days after returning from Japan. You should be finished with all parts of the course by around 10 June. The entire course occurs in the first special term, so you can take other courses in the later special terms.
  3. How many credits is the course worth?  Answer: 4 – You must pay for these credits.
  4. Do the credits count toward the JS major? Answer: Yes. The course counts toward the 3000-level requirement for the major. This makes it ideal for students who will do (or have done) exchange in Japan (SEP). Mapping 2000-level courses from overseas is easy, but it is difficult to map 3000-level courses. Therefore, majors and minors should plan to take 3000-level courses like this one at NUS. There are no prerequisites for the course, but please note the Japanese language expectations (see #10 below).
  5. Can I apply if I am not a JS major or minor? Answer: Yes! There is no restriction for applicants, and in fact, each year many non-majors/non-minors attend.
  6. I am about to graduate and do not need the credits. Do I have to take the course for credit? Answer: Yes. Only students enrolled in the course for credit can participate. Please note, if you plan to graduate this year and attend the field study, you CANNOT walk at commencement in July. Your degree will not be conferred until September. This is a University rule that the Department of Japanese Studies has no control over.
  7. What is the difficulty level and how will the course be assessed? Answer: The course is standard for a 3000-level JS course. This is an intensive course that requires all your energy but rewards you with a unique and memorable learning experience. Marks will be based on participation, presentations (group and individual), on-site field exercises, and written assignments. You can see some of the past written work on this blog.
  8. What comes after the application? Answer: a group interview in early to mid-February. Successful applicants will know the results soon after the interview. I will offer 10 positions, as well as a handful of ‘alternate’ places, in case a student drops out, which happened in the past. If you are offered a position, you will have about a week to secure your place. The academic portion of the course, however, does not begin until Sem 2 final exams are complete.
  9. Can I participate as a year 1 student? Answer: Yes. However, priority will be given to students who show the maturity (regardless of age) to handle the stresses of a homestay, an intensive 3000-level course, and travel in Japan.
  10. How much Japanese language do I need? Answer: Priority will be given to students with certain proficiency, which can be shown either through courses completed, JLPT certification, or self-study (equivalent of LAJ2202 or JLPT N4). You will need to read some government documents and tourist pamphlets in Japanese, survive in a homestay, possibly take part in student exchange, and speak to strangers. Most importantly, you have to be willing to make mistakes and keep trying!
  11. How much will the program cost? Answer: It will cost around $1200, based on current prices and exchange rates (Jan 2024). Eligible students can also apply for a bursary from NUS. This does not include the flight to Japan, and the amount may change due to exchange rate fluctuations and other costs out of my control. I can provide a more exact estimate later upon request. Trust me, I was very conscious of the cost of everything when I was a student, so I will do everything possible to keep the costs as low as possible.
  12. What does the program fee cover? Answer: domestic transportation (train, bus, taxi), overnight accommodations, entrance fees, and most meals. Items not covered include a few meals, travel insurance, personal shopping, and NUS tuition fees.
  13. Does the program fee cover the cost of the NUS credits? Answer: No, you must pay for the credits.

Teaching News 2014

Today I learned I have received the NUS Annual Teaching Excellence Award for AY2012-13. This makes two years in a row!

The award is given by NUS to faculty members who have demonstrated a very high level of commitment to, and achievement of, good teaching. Selection is based on peer and student feedback, and information from teaching portfolios.

I will be recognized for the award at a university-wide ceremony on Monday, 12 May (see top image).

I also received the Faculty Teaching Excellence Award from the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences for the same time period (bottom image).

Thanks again to all of my students, past and present (and future!), and fellow JS staff for making teaching an exciting and constant learning experience.


With Dean Brenda Yeoh at the FASS Awards Day, at River Safari.

With Dean Brenda Yeoh at the FASS Awards Day, at River Safari.


New publication – in Education About Asia

Screenshot of the EAA webpage

Screenshot of the EAA webpage

My paper “How ‘Green’ is Japan? Studying Environmental Issues in the Field,” has just been accepted for publication by Education About Asia. It will be published in early 2014 (19:1).

This is my first paper about my annual field studies module and is based on work I delivered at the annual meetings of the Association for Asian Studies in San Diego (2013). Thanks to the NUS Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) for a Teaching Enhancement Grant to attend the conference.

For access to the PDF, please visit my NUS Faculty Profile page:

2014 Field Studies Module News

The Department of Japanese Studies learned this week that it has again received a generous donation from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Singapore, to hold the Field Studies in Japan module again in May 2014.

This means I am in the middle of planning the schedule, readings, theme, and learning activities for our next trip. Please check back on this blog for a link to the application, which I will post early in January 2014.

In the meantime, you can read Frequently Asked Questions about the program here.

New publication on MOOCs

Now out in the electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies, my thoughts on online learning spaces and MOOCs.

Teaching Japanese Popular Culture in the MOOC World

by Chris McMorran

Since 2012, the growth of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) has stirred excitement and controversy in higher education. Open-access, fully online courses are but the latest advance in a long history of distance learning. However, the recent combination of advanced course-hosting technologies, enthusiasm for MOOCs at institutions like Harvard and Stanford, and vast start-up capital for MOOC providers like Coursera, edX, and Udacity has led to speculation that MOOCs may drastically alter higher education, for better or worse.

What will the future hold for MOOCs in Japanese Studies, specifically for courses about or incorporating Japanese popular culture? This paper addresses this question and explains the relevance of the topic for anyone engaged in teaching about, or with, Japanese popular culture. This includes not only individuals who teach courses in film, media, or cultural studies departments specifically about Japanese film, anime, manga, games, cosplay, literature, music, television dramas, etc., but also those who use examples of Japan’s rich cultural heritage to teach about something else, like history, sociology, anthropology, geography, politics, international relations, marketing, business, and more. Anyone who relies on Japanese popular culture to make a point, provide an example, define a term, or even entertain, needs to be cognisant of how MOOCs might shape what they do and how they do it.

I hope to stimulate discussion about MOOCs in Japanese Studies. Although there is very little peer-reviewed scholarship on MOOCs, there has been a media explosion of news reports, commentaries, essays, videos, and interviews with MOOC advocates and skeptics. In this paper I draw on dozens of mostly online materials, as well as email correspondence with several scholars who have developed or are developing popular culture-rich MOOCs, in order to: 1) define MOOCs and trace their recent growth, acclaim, and controversy; 2) discuss challenges that must be overcome to take advantage of MOOCs, most notably copyright; and 3) raise some questions about MOOCs that have yet to be widely discussed, but may affect us all in the future. Overall, I question the ability of MOOCs to democratise education and fear they may create a fissure between institutions, departments, and scholars who can capitalise on their promise and those who cannot.

Read the rest of the article here:

New Module Blog

I have just begun a blog for my module titled “Japan: the green nation?”

On the blog, students provide reviews of news stories that depict Japan or a Japanese company, group, or individual as “green.”

Please check it out to keep up to date on “green” news coming out of Japan and to witness the critical thinking skills of NUS students when it comes to such news.

The blog is here.

The L-index: a proposal for measuring scholarly impact on learning

As I finalize the syllabus for my upcoming semester, I have decided to begin a habit that hopefully will address the shortcomings of existing indices of scholarly impact. Beginning this semester, I will contact the authors whose work I use in class and inform them of their impact on student learning. I will share my syllabus, class size, and other data that will help create something I call the “L-index.” The following is a short explanation of the L-index and a call to action for others to join me in expanding how we measure scholarly impact by including the impact of scholarship on student learning. I welcome feedback on this idea and ways to improve it.

Measuring scholarly impact

Scholarly merit is based on impact – impact on one’s field, students, institution, and the local, regional, national, or global community. Measuring impact has always been a challenge, but one with real impacts on hiring, promotion, salary, research funding, awards, and more.

In 2005, the physicist Jorge E. Hirsch proposed the h-index to assess the quantity and quality of a researcher’s scientific output (Hirsch 2005). Like the familiar journal impact factor (Garfield 2006), the h-index uses sophisticated statistical methods in an attempt to reduce bias in determining scholarly impact. However, such measures are inherently biased against scholarship in some fields, particularly the humanities, area studies, and social sciences, not only because of their focus on peer-review journals, but also because they fail to address the impact of scholarship on student learning.

To better understand this impact I propose the index L, in which L is for Learning. The L-index will allow scholars to demonstrate the impact of their scholarship beyond the statistics of journal impact factors and citations, by addressing how their scholarship is being used in teaching.

L-index, the non-index

In some ways, the L-index is a non-index. It does not involve an elegant formula, does not result in a single “objective” number, and cannot be derived from easily accessible data posted online. The L-index will result in a set of figures, but not in any standardized fashion. It will be up to the individual which figures to highlight. The follow are suggestions: Publication A is being assigned in W courses, for X students, in Y institutions, (in Z countries).

Because this data is not easily available online, the L-index requires scholars to share such details with others. The data in question can only be derived if scholars take the time to contact authors once a course syllabus is complete. Scholars will receive useful information about the impact of their scholarship on learning and hopefully, pay it forward by sharing similar information with others. This will result in meaningful data that can be used in important decisions about hiring and promotion, salary and bonuses, and awards.

Of course, qualitative data is also important in determining scholarly impact. This includes written assessments from peers both inside and outside one’s institution and student comments on course feedback forms, as well as comments from current and former students about significant learning memories, jobs landed, graduate schools entered, and more.

I am not suggesting we overlook this vital qualitative information, nor that we favor quantitative over qualitative data. I am advocating the inclusion of new quantitative data that recognizes scholarly impact otherwise overlooked. It seems futile to rely solely on quantitative measures developed by others, which are more suitable to other disciplines. If we must quantify our scholarly impact, we should introduce measures and collect data that take into account our unique scholarly outlets and contributions.

Whither the book chapter?

A colleague who recently prepared her tenure dossier inspired the L-index. While analyzing her publication and citation statistics, she sensed something was missing. According to the h-index and journal impact factor, a chapter in an edited volume published several years ago with few citations appeared to have little scholarly impact. However, after much digging through online course syllabi she found the chapter being taught in a number of institutions.

Subsequent conversations convinced me that scholarly impact tends to be calculated in a limited way, by not considering the impact of publications in coursework. In addition, I realized that existing methods for determining impact tend to ignore book chapters, a scholarly product more common in some disciplines and often more accessible for students than journal articles. It occurred to me that a chapter with only one or two citations might be read by hundreds or thousands of students in classes around world. However, there currently is no way to access this impact on student learning. The L-index offers one possible solution to this serious oversight.

I conclude by returning to Hirsch, who admitted that the idea of summarizing scholarly impact with a single number was “potentially distasteful” but necessary “in a world of limited resources.” I am not suggesting we throw out the h-index. Instead I suggest that there are other ways of thinking about and representing scholarly impact. In a world of increasing emphasis on quantitative measures it can only help to be armed with meaningful statistics that represent one’s impact on student learning.

Call to action

Developing an L-index requires action. As I pointed out above, currently no online service can glean this information. Until all course syllabi are posted online and routinely updated, this kind of “big data” will be impossible to create. An L-index requires “small data,” which only comes from one-to-one communication. 

If you agree that the L-index is worth pursuing, please make it a habit to email the authors on your syllabus each semester. Attach your syllabus and share the course size and any other details that might give the author a sense of the impact of her/his book, book chapter, or article. Be willing to answer questions about how you use the work of others and its impact in the classroom. Let’s give each other the tools to explain to colleagues and administrators the impact of our scholarship beyond citation statistics, on learning.


Garfield, E. (4 January, 2006) “The History and Meaning of the Journal Impact Factor,” Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) 293 (1): 90-93.

Hirsch, J. E. (15 November 2005). “An index to quantify an individual’s scientific research output,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 102 (46): 16569–16572.