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More research still needs to be done on the use of tablets in Thai classrooms

It is official now that just a handful of students will receive a tablet PC from the government this academic year. So, it is clear the One Tablet Per Child project has fallen flat.



The Pheu Thai populist policy had expected to distribute 1.6 million tablets to students, but a main supplier has cancelled its sales contract with the government without making any deliveries.

The other supplier can deliver only about 30,000 tablets at the end of this month.

Just late last week, authorities decided to endorse another supplier.

All such moves of course have pointed to a fiasco.

But still, I would like to point out that the fiasco has actually had less impact on students' learning in general because they do not depend completely on mobile technologies. Most classes are still carrying on with textbooks and other study materials or tools as usual.

Needless to say about the procurement failure, the Education Ministry has not profoundly done education technology research to find the right way to convey the content and learning activities to support better learning via tablets and mobile technologies.

I personally believe that technology in education is an important tools to augment student's learning. It can definitely enhance the concepts of "education for all" and "every child counts".

Before we give tablets to all Prathom 1 (Grade 1) or Mathayom 1 (Grade 7) students and their teachers, it is a must to investigate their readiness to use them efficiently.

As I wrote many times before in this column, before deploying anything for curriculum reform, research it is a solution!

Despite various concerns over this policy's fitness, the government spent more Bt3.5 billion to implement the OTPC scheme by giving 1.7 million tablets to local students and teachers. The scheme was expected to bridge the gap between rich and poor, allow every student to enjoy technology and boost education standards that are poorer here than in the rest of Asia.

It is not too late for the ministry to do research in technological education and find a suitable way to integrate technology into the classroom and also boost students' knowledge.

It is a must to prove whether the ministry has deployed appropriate concepts and strategy to schools, especially at the classroom level, in terms of both quality and quantity nationwide.

Before affirming that implementing OTPC for all school children can help kids connect to the Internet and work online together and build a more capable and skilled labour force for tomorrow, I affirm that doing research is the best answer to all concerns.

There is considerable research scaffolding that the ministry can apply to its OTPC research framework to investigate whether tablets can help improve the quality of education. One good example is "Teaching with Technology: Tablets 1 to 1: Key Questions" by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education (2013).

I met Lengel when he led a workshop at KMUTT last year and asked his opinion about using tablets for kids. He affirmed that doing research is the solution to doing so. Interestingly, he told me his experiences on conducting online surveys according to his research framework on teaching with technology.

Lengel focused the questions around using "tablets in school" concerning "vision and expectations for the tablet programme" to get a shared vision on the new educational ecology brought about by this technology from both students and teachers.

Lengel framed the questions based on students, teachers, curriculum and usage workflow along the following examples:

Students

Will each student "own" his or her unique tablet, or will the tablets be fungible and shared?

What proportion of schoolwork will be done on the tablet?

How many hours will a tablet be used during the school day and after school?

Teachers

Which of the following will be done with their tablets and in what proportion - presenting material in class, preparing assignments for students, reviewing and grading assignments from students, and communicating with colleagues, students and parents?

What proportion of work will be done on the tablet?

How many hours will a tablet be used during the school day and after school?

Curriculum

Which of the following aspects of the curriculum are expected to be accomplished on the tablets and in what proportion - reading, worksheets and hand-outs, research, writing, data-gathering, discussion and presentation?

Which of the following types of materials are expected to be transferred to the tablet and in what proportion - textbooks, fiction (novels), non-fiction (documents, biographies, journalism), reference books and workbooks?

Workflow

How will teachers distribute assignments and learning materials to students' tablets and what will be the proportion for each method - email, website or learning management system, daily synching of all tablets, WebDAV running on the school server, Dropbox or other outside service?

How will students complete their assignments on the tablets and what is the proportion of each method - standard productivity apps (word processor, spreadsheet, slide show) and filling in assignment fields directly on the LMS and apps?

How will students return their work to their teachers for commentary and grading?

Although there are tremendous research outcomes on using technology in education, the culture, teaching-learning condition and environment of each country vary. To improve results in using tablets, the ministry should spend time discussing these question with all stakeholders.

PRIYAKORN PUSAWIRO, DR - ING

Learning scientist

Computer Engineering Department

King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi

pusawiro@cpe.kmutt.ac.th


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