Recently, over 1,600 students packed the ground floor of the Social Science Complex in the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University (TU). The students put up posters that described projects that they had designed on their own to help eliminate problems in Thai society. The posters were on display.
Students present their projects in the recently revamped Integrated Social Science class at Thammasat University, Rangsit campus. PURICH TRIVITAYAKHUN
Taweesak Pothong, a law freshman, and his group proposed a project to help accelerate democracy within TU. Another student, Pattra Kesornjun, a third-year science student, and her group offered to mount a campaign to discourage sexual violence in the media.
That scene reflected the extensive interest in the innovative teaching and learning methodology of the required Integrated Social Science (ISS) course, which aims to instil an understanding of the conflicts that exist in philosophy, economics, history, anthropology and political sciences, and to find solutions to those conflicts.
"In the past, in this subject, students had to listen to a three-hour lecture each week," said Asst Prof Prinya Thae-wanarumitkul, PhD, vice-rector for student affairs at TU and the redesigner of the course.
"Now, instead of just listening to lectures and taking an exam, students have to step out of their classroom and initiate projects that they can do, as students, to solve conflicts in Thai society," Prof Prinya explained.
He added that students will gain maximum benefit if the methodology used in the class succeeds in encouraging students to think about, and to analyse, the problems and involving them in arriving at solutions to the problems.
"The weakness of Thai society today is that no one sees themselves as part of the problem. So, when they want to solve a problem, they usually ask for help from other parties," said the professor, adding that this new pedagogy will let the students recognise themselves as a part of problems. Students will start correcting themselves first, before tackling the challenges on the road to resolving larger-scale conflicts.
The heart of the new methodology, according to the vice-rector, is that there are no lectures in class.
The new strategy has been applied in the last three sessions of the ISS course. More than a thousand students were separated into several rooms. Each room contained 40 students, who were supervised by a teacher. The students inside each room were divided into four groups. Each group had to discuss and select a problem facing society that they were determined to solve, which could be a political, environmental or ethical problem.
After that, the teacher gave them one week to propose suitable solutions to an identified problem.
In the final session, students presented their ideas to their fellow students. Each student had to participate in two projects offered by their fellow students.
"The condition is that they are not allowed to suggest getting other parties, such as the government, to solve the problems. They need to offer their own ideas to solve the problems," said Prof Prinya.
The final proposed solutions included placing youth camps in Thailand's three southernmost provinces, campaigns on reducing violence against women and children, and paper recycling activities.
"Only 50 percent of the student population turned out to cast votes in the student-president elections. We want to do a campaign to raise that percentage," said Taweesak, describing one of the goals of his project. The group would like to increase the understanding among students of the role of the student organisations in the university and to encourage them to take an active part in them.
Many participating students admitted that, through discussions, they had learned new ideas from students who study in different fields.
"The 10 projects that have the highest number of applicants will be financed by the university, so that those projects can be put into action," said Prof Prinya.
This is the second semester that this methodology has been used. "In the first semester, the course ended when the students had just finished proposing their projects. They had not been implemented yet. We want to expand this methodology to cover every stage," the professor added.
Prof Prinya urged other universities to reconsider the teaching and learning of general study courses that are heavily based on lecture-style teaching.
"After students complete such courses, they are likely to forget everything. This is not beneficial to society, nor does it bring about desirable social changes," said the professor.
In the case of TU, the ISS was the course selected to be revamped. Prof Prinya said that currently, Mahidol University is conducting the new teaching process and will have a joint workshop on this topic with TU soon.
"If students from multiple universities can learn from and exchange ideas with each other, we can make positive changes for Thailand. Universities will then be able to produce [more] persons who are sociably productive instead of just persons who have only academic knowledge," Prof Prinya said with confidence.