Katherine Thornton, Dirk MacKenzie, Hisako Yamashita

In this issue of Showcase, the executive committee of the Japan Association of Self-Access Learning introduces the association and its activities.

JASAL: Who we are

In 2005, with Garold Murray and Lucy Cooker as initiators, a group of 15 educators across Japan got together to form the Japan Association of Self-Access Learning (JASAL). Interest in the field of self-access has steadily grown, and JASAL now has over 150 members nationwide, from Hokkaido to Kyushu, in a variety of educational settings such as schools, universities, and private companies. In 2011, the current committee was elected, with Katherine Thornton (Otemon Gakuin University, Osaka) and Dirk MacKenzie (Konan Women’s University, Kobe) as president and vice-president respectively, and Hisako Yamashita (Kanda Institute of Foreign Languages, Tokyo) staying on as membership chair and webmaster, providing vital continuity. The organization charges no membership fees and therefore has no funds and works entirely on a volunteer basis.

JASAL: Our Activities

Through the years, the goal of JASAL has been to provide our members with opportunities to share and discuss ideas about self-access language learning, from running self-access centres (SACs) to facilitating the development of learner autonomy. Our regular activities include an annual forum, usually held at the JALT national conference, SAC visits, and an online discussion group. We also maintain a website containing a nationwide SAC registry, an archive of presentations, information about upcoming events, and links to self-access publications. In February 2012, we were excited to be involved in the Student Involvement in Self-Access Centres Conference, instigated by JASAL member Umidahon Ashurova and run entirely by students at Sugiyama Jogakuen University. A collection of student conference reports is available for download on our website, and we hope to be able to facilitate more student-run self-access events in the future.

Some of the issues addressed by our members in recent presentations and discussions include: 

  • How can we build a culture of self-access learning in an institution? 

  • How can we involve students in running the centres, and what training should they be given?

  • How can we assess reflection in self-directed learning journals?

  • In what ways can self-access centres be integrated with curricula?

  • What kinds of support should centres offer to learners and how should they be implemented?

  • How can we increase understanding of our goals among upper management teams at our institutions?

SAC Registry 

Available from the JASAL website, the Japan SAC Registry is an online registry of self-access centres across the country, including basic information and contact details for each centre. We have built this system in order to help members keep up-to-date on other centres and encourage collaboration. As more centres register, we hope to be able to provide an accurate picture of the number of SACs in Japan and services they offer. We encourage JALT members who haven’t yet registered theirs to do so.

SAC visits

We recently started a program offering SAC visits around Japan with the cooperation of JASAL member institutions. In November 2013, the day before the JALT Learner Development SIG conference in Tokyo, Soka University opened its doors to JASAL members and presented two of its SACs, the new SPACe facility, and the World Plaza. While conferences are useful forums for exchanging ideas, nothing is better for inspiration than actually visiting facilities and talking to the students and staff who use them. We would like to facilitate more such visits in the future. If anyone is interested in hosting such a visit, please contact us at: <jasalorg@gmail.com>

Looking forward

From our experience working in and running self-access centres and programs we are very aware of the importance of strong communication between the centre staff and school administrators. Thus, we are also working hard to encourage more Japanese administrators, often the life blood and decision-makers in SACs, to join JASAL. These administrators often lack the opportunities to take part in teaching or educational management conferences where they could attend self-access related presentations and meet others involved in similar work at other institutions. While JASAL is currently run predominantly in English, we have recently increased our Japanese support to encourage more participation from administrators. 

Joining JASAL

If you are working in the field of self-access in Japan, or just interested, please consider joining JASAL. We are here to support you. To join, please send an email to Hisako at <hisakoadvising@gmail.com> or visit our website at <jasalorg.wordpress.com> for more information.


Katherine Thornton has an MA in TESOL from the University of Leeds, UK and is Program Director and Learning Advisor in English Cafe at Otemon (E-CO), a self-access centre at Otemon Gakuin University, Osaka. Previously, she worked as a learning advisor in the Self Access Learning Centre at Kanda University of International Studies, Japan. She is the current president of JASAL.

Dirk MacKenzie is a lecturer and learning advisor at Konan Women’s University and vice president of JASAL. Previously, he was a lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies.

Hisako Yamashita is Chief Learning Advisor at Kanda Institute of Foreign Languages in Japan. She is Membership Chair and one of the founding members of JASAL. She specializes in advisor training and developing tools for self-directed learning. She is co-author of the English Learning Planner 2013 & 2014. Previously, she worked as a learning advisor in the Self-Access Learning Centre at Kanda University of International Studies.

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