Embracing e-learning

Embracing e-learning

Chiang Mai University is at the forefront among educational institutions in adopting digital technology in the classroom

Chiang Mai University (CMU) is using digital technology to improve teaching and learning systems. photos by NOPHA AROONPHUN
Chiang Mai University (CMU) is using digital technology to improve teaching and learning systems. photos by NOPHA AROONPHUN

Amid increasing mobility and advanced powerful technologies in the world today, it's no surprise that educational institutions are being forced to embrace technology and e-learning.

Incorporating more technology into the classroom with innovative approaches will differentiate them from competitors and attract and support next-generation students.

Chiang Mai University (CMU) is among the frontrunners in using digital technology to improve teaching and learning systems.

"We aim to become one of Asia-Pacific's top 50 universities over the next five to 10 years," says Assoc Prof Thanomporn Laohajaratsang, director of the university's information technology service centre.

Students are each connecting two or three mobile devices to the university's wireless network.

CMU is modernising its IT infrastructure with an investment budget of 100 million baht under the "digital university" project from 2013-16.

It started the first phase in 2013 by improving its wireless network, mobile services, smart learning, smart classrooms and digital literacy.

The university doubled its number of internet access points to 5,700 and increased its internet speed to 5 gigabits per second, which could accommodate at least 100,000 devices.

This pervasive connectivity on a highly secure network also enables a Bring Your Own Device environment so that students and staff can engage in a connected mobile learning experience.

The network can serve one person with five connected accounts, covering 37,000 students and 11,300 staff across 22 faculties.

Assoc Prof Thanomporn says CMU has collaborated with leading telecommunication companies to deploy a network powered by equipment supplied by Cisco Systems Inc.

"The telecom network plays a crucial role in the development of digital infrastructure, with reliability and high speed critical factors for users' interest," she says.

CMU also provides 47 computer corners with more than 1,000 terminals to facilitate students.

The university has implemented Cisco's security solutions for email and intrusion prevention to secure the content and access gateway and protect against dynamic and rapidly evolving threats.

"We are also improving our digital learning system by adopting e-textbooks. We encourage teachers to redesign course content to interactive online teaching as well as eliminate the practices of traditional classroom teaching," says Assoc Prof Thanomporn.

To serve the imminent arrival of the Asean Economic Community, CMU is also providing mobile apps for English language students to study anywhere at any time by using a portable electronic device.

CMU chooses Cisco as its core network and solution wireless provider to transform itself into a digital university.  

"We will migrate some of our IT systems to a cloud-based platform for our second-phase project to be implemented from 2016-20," she says.

Vatsun Thirapatarapong, managing director of Cisco Systems for Thailand and Indochina, says there is an urgent need for educational reform in Thailand, where the system discourages the development of creativity and individuality among students. 

The education sector is confronted by growing challenges and opportunities presented by technology as well as fundamental changes in society.

Mr Vatsun says greater adoption of mobile devices and availability of nationwide wireless broadband networks are transforming teaching and learning platforms.

Technology-enhanced learning and teaching use e-learning resources including e-textbooks and digital content as primary sources.

Video-enriched learning and social networking also foster interactive learning and teaching experiences, says Mr Vatsun.

Technologies such as the Internet of Things are also playing a role in energy management.

He says cloud-based infrastructure can bring many benefits to the education sector including promoting more efficient use of IT resources, particularly a reduction in costs through sharing equipment and the costs of provision (software licences, management skills and physical security of premises housing servers).

Data analytics technology can help educational institutions align academic and non-academic data for each student to identify at-risk students. Analytics can improve learner success, evaluate and critique the performance of teachers and assess education programme designs.

Students get into mobile learning at CMU as teachers are encouraged to redesign courses for online teaching.

Mr Vatsun says gamification -- the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts -- can also play an increasing role in the education industry to increase students' motivation through engagement. For instance, integrating educational video games into the curriculum will make learning fun.

Jan-Martin Lowendahl, vice-president of Gartner Inc, a leading research firm, says traditional educational business models are being fundamentally challenged by digitisation.

Spending on the worldwide education sector, which includes higher education, primary and secondary schools, is forecast to grow by 2.3% to reach US$67.8 billion this year.

Gartner recommends education chief information officers consider adaptive learning, which uses computers as interactive teaching devices and will be valuable in designing the pedagogy of the future.

Mr Lowendahl says educational institutions should adapt e-textbooks that can be edited to include up-to-date information, be assembled or disassembled, or include content from other sources and social interaction.

Customer relationship management is now a widely recognised tool for tracking and managing relationships with constituents, including prospective and current students, parents, alumni, corporations, benefactors and other friends of the institution.

Mr Lowendahl says big data in education is associated with collecting vast amounts of data from the digitised activities of students, parents, faculty and staff, transforming that into information and producing or recommending actions aimed at improving institution outcomes.

Moreover, institutions should use sourcing strategies that represent a collection of technologies and vendor services from hosting, cloud, homegrown and open sources to subscription models for acquiring software/hardware capabilities.

Digital assessment is ultimately about being able to do any assessment digitally while improving modes of testing, grading and data analysis.

The first-level application of digital assessments is to increase trust in online education by applying identification mechanisms such as keystroke identification or cloud-based face recognition.

Mr Lowendahl says mobile is not simply a synonym for mobile smartphones or tablets. Mobile in education includes use in all aspects of the academy -- administration, education and research.

However, he says the domain is maturing surprisingly slowly. Inhibitors still include smartphone costs, device limitations such as battery life, the development of m-learning course materials, lack of skills and the wide diversity of mobile devices. Educators will need to treat mobile as a strategic technology for several years.

Mr Lowendahl says social learning gives learners the ability to establish a presence or social profile that reflects their expertise and interest, and to create, discuss, share and capture learning content as learning objects.

It also allows learners to organise and find learning objects from a variety of sources, interact with peers in their social networks and reach beyond their networks to other trusted sources of information.

In addition, learners can engage in experience-based learning exercises and receive real-time online coaching and support.

The experience from massive open online courses shows the importance of "social" in learning platforms and is influencing the acceptance of social learning platforms.

However, Mr Lowendahl says a significant number of teachers and students prefer to use open social platforms such as Google sites or Facebook to complement traditional learning management systems rather than the built-in social features in learning platforms.

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