Joe Sykes is a lecturer at Akita International University (AIU), a international liberal arts university in Japan, teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP). He has been living in Japan on and off (mostly on) since 2001. Prior to working in universities, Joe worked in Japan’s Eikaiwa (private English conversation school industry) teaching students from all walks of life and managing and training teachers. He also spent a year teaching in a English language school in New Zealand in 2005. After completing an MA in TESOL at Sheffield Hallam University in 2010, he began work at Akita University as an EAP instructor, before leaving for his current position in 2012. In 2016, he spent one year at the University of Sheffield, starting his doctoral studies. In 2017, he transferred to the University of Westminster with his supervisor, Professor Terry Lamb, and returned to Japan to conduct his fieldwork on learner autonomy in the context of AIU.
In the private sector of language education, Joe taught primarily English conversation to students ranging in age from 2 years old to retirees, each with their own background and their own reasons for learning.
At the university level, Joe has been teaching undergraduates and post-graduates English for Academic Purposes since 2010. He has taught reading, writing, listening and speaking, but currently teaches primarily academic speaking and listening, and academic reading. On the basis of his interest in learner autonomy, from the onset of his university teaching career Joe has been involved in establishing and running self-access language learning centres and developing learner-centred classroom pedagogies.
His most recent initiatives include: video portfolio assessment for speaking, which enables the students to set and pursue their own objectives and create videos that show the students achieving them; and, a multimodal news page project, in which students collaborate to conduct research and create webpage that includes images, videos and text.
Joe’s early teaching highlighted the individuality each student and the diversity that they bring to any classroom. This led to an interest in the unique personalities and background of learners, the agendas they bring to the classroom and the influence these have on the teaching/learning dynamic. While studying for his MA, this interest in learners as individuals led to a focus on learner beliefs and, ultimately, autonomy in the educative context.
Joe’s doctoral research explores the way that learners exercise control over their own learning in the context of AIU and what the influences on this process are. The project employs a participative, ethnographic approach.