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Connected educations

Two Thai schools are already running under the NCPO's smart classroom initiative, with help from Microsoft

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In a science class at Suankularb Wittayalai Nonthaburi School, a teacher was explaining about plant cells. After spending time in the lab, students were assigned to work in small groups. In their smart classroom, they used two-in-one computers to access information online. They learned the difference between plant cells and animal cells, completed analysis and presented to the class their work via PowerPoint. 

Within 45 minutes, kids searched, thought and collaborated with their team members. Compare this with traditional teaching, in which an instructor explains and draws on a blackboard as students copy information into their notebooks.

Sompod Jantap, the science teacher at the school, found that under the new model, students have a better understanding of the content. The process of searching for knowledge has also become more efficient. In a smart classroom, students can do everything they could in a traditional classroom or library, and more.

“Teachers set the questions and the students work on it and find a conclusion by themselves,” said Sompod.

Suankularb Wittayalai Nonthaburi School and HRH Princess Soamsawali School in Pathum Thani province are the first two schools in the smart classroom pilot project supported by Microsoft (Thailand).

Operating under the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec), both schools have been working closely with Microsoft on the development of model learning environments designed to power the development of important 21st century skills among Thai students and pave the way to a knowledge-based creative economy.

Microsoft’s idea of the smart classroom encompasses four pillars of the learning process — teacher readiness, digital content, services and devices. The four cover essential skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication, and information and communications technology literacy.

For the pilot programme, all four elements are being implemented in science, mathematics and English classes for Matthayom 1 students at both participating schools over a full semester (from May to September).

Supoet Srinutapong, public sector programme lead at Microsoft (Thailand), said the two schools are different in their conditions. While Suankularb Wittayalai Nonthaburi School has a readiness in terms of teachers, students and facilities, HRH Princess Soamsawali School is a temple school that serves students with less opportunity.

“We designed the smart classroom to serve different scenarios. If the children have tablets, content is in mobile applications, but if children have books, the content can be whatever is surrounding them,” said Supoet.

Smart classrooms, Supoet said, are classrooms in which the environment facilitates teachers and students to do activities, helps students learn and access information and knowledge faster, and fosters communication between teachers and students — and among the students themselves.

For the pilot project, Microsoft is working with Thai educational bodies and leading partners, including content providers and device manufacturers.

In addition to educational and management features, the end-to-end suite of solutions implemented in the pilot programme also gives high priority to students’ security and privacy.

The project provides students and teachers with access to Microsoft’s Cloud apps and services, as well as academic content and tools developed by providers, including Intel, on Windows-based tablet devices from Asus. A panel of experts from public and private sectors, including representatives from Obec, the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST), Kenan Institute Asia and British Council Thailand, is providing guidance for the project.

Microsoft and the two participating schools will perform a full evaluation of the pilot project upon its conclusion at the end of the current academic semester in September, before providing Obec with an assessment report.

Under the programme, Microsoft Office 365, an online office and software services suite, is offered free to schools. Teachers and kids can use the software or instead opt for social networks such as Facebook for collaboration and communication.

The devices are channels to give users a knowledge base — they could be cheap desktop PCs, smartphones or tablets. Kids can use these devices to access Office 365, Facebook or other free online services, while the teacher manages the course.

“Success in a 21st century education requires attributes like creativity and critical thinking, as well as communication and collaboration. The effective infusion of technology into the learning process requires a holistic vision that extends beyond just the use of smart devices in classrooms,” Supoet said.

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