Teaching and Learning Tip #34: Do Students See Your Class as Chindōgu?

August 21, 2018

Tip #33: Do Students See Your Class as Chindōgu?

Contributed by Enoch Hale, Ph.D., Director, Center for Teaching and Learning & Academic Technology

This is my first, but not last, contribution. My name is Enoch Hale, and I am the new director of the Center for Teaching and Learning & Academic Technology. Why Chindōgu?

Well, it’s the beginning of the semester and having taught in higher education for many years, I intimately understand how important it is to properly orient students to one’s course: its requirements, its schedule, and the nature of its intellectual work.

Chindōgu (珍道具) can be defined as “the Japanese art of inventing ingenious everyday gadgets that seem like an ideal solution to a particular problem, but are in fact useless.” Of course, Chindōgu is much more culturally involved; however, it does present an interesting metaphor that we can use to think about perspective.

How do students see the work you design and the instruction you deliver? Do they see it as an obstacle to matriculation? As a series of checkboxes? As irrelevant to one’s major or, worse, life? As silly? As disconnected?--- Or, as an opportunity to grow? As an lens by which to view natural and social phenomena? As a series of deeply engaging experiences? As relevant to their majors and lives? As exciting? As inspiring? As productively challenging?

This metaphor suggests another question: How do you orient students to the type of intellectual work that characterizes the course(s) you design? In other words, what are the range of methods you enact to get students to see the course as you intend it to be?

What’s in your toolbox? (a.k.a. - A few suggestions)

  • What’s the professor’s job? What’s the student’s job?
  • Have students map the course using only the syllabus. From expectations to the range of topics, from types of assignments to types of engagements, you may catch a glimpse of how students interpret the purpose, structure, and value of your course.
  • Model the type of intellectual work you want students to do and which is appropriate for their developmental levels. For example, ask questions as you wish students to ask questions: Ask for examples, for metaphors, for illustrations, for elaborations.
  • Establish ground rules for interaction. What would it look like in your context if students participated in this process?
  • Use the power of metaphor to help students think through the key point of each lecture.

To conclude, I used the concept of Chindōgu as part of a keynote address at HSU’s Professional Development Day kick off event last Friday. It was framed around broad notions of communication, so I encourage you to explore how your faculty and staff colleagues engaged with this metaphor.


  • Ambrose, Susan A.. (Eds.) (2010) How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Fink, L. Dee. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Nilson, Linda Burzotta. (1998). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors. Bolton, MA: Anker Pub. Co.
  • Ritchhart, Ron; Church, Mark; Morrison, Karin. (2011). Making Thinking Visible. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.
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