Distance-learning made easy

Tech January 29, 2013 00:00

By Asina Pornwasin
The Nation

6,068 Viewed

Use of the cloud is enabling many people who can't attend classes regularly to pursue their education


Cloud for education is now gaining momentum in Thailand’s major educational institutes. The latest to join the fray is the International Graduate Programme in Social and Administrative Pharmacy master’s degree and doctoral degree of Chulalongkorn University, which has been launched as a full e-learning course, using the cloud.
The institute has started to allow graduate students to take part in distance education this semester through the institute’s e-learning system that is powered by Microsoft Office 365. 
Sathitpong Thanaviriyakul, programme director of the Graduate Programme in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, said that currently 20 of 30 students of this programme are studying via the e-learning programme.
The Microsoft 365 for education offers Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online. The features of Microsoft Office 365 facilitate e-learning classrooms seamlessly. Students and teachers can interact instantly. They can record videos of communication on Lync Online to be kept on SharePoint Online. 
Prisda Gomutoutra, product marketing manger at Microsoft Thailand, said that Microsoft Office 365 would bring the cloud version of Microsoft Office’s products, with the latest version on desktop suite, for educational institutes of all sizes. Microsoft Office 365 is for education free of charge. It allows a number of accounts depending on the total number of students. The universities can use Microsoft Office 365 because they have been invited to be a part of the Enrollment for Education Solution (EES) programme to use 365. Graduated students also can use 365. 
Songtham Limwanich, education lead of Microsoft Thailand, said that currently several educational institutes such as Chulalongkorn, Sripathum, The University of the Thai Chamber Commerce, and Naresuan University are using Microsoft Office 365. 
“Microsoft Office 365 is in the first phase of deployment since its official launch in June last year. Currently, about 12 universities are using it. We hope that by the end of this year, about 50 educational institutes in Thailand will be using it,” said Songtham.
He added that earlier, Microsoft had launched cloud for education under the name of Live@Edu program 3-4 years ago. This program now has about 1.5 million user accounts across 50 educational institutes, from primary and secondary schools to university levels. 
“We will transfer Live@Edu to be on cloud with Microsoft Office 365 by the end of this year,” said Songtham.
Anuchai Theeraroungchaisri, assistant dean for Information Technology at Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University, said that the International Graduate Programme in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, master’s degree, doctoral degree e-learning course still required offline interaction between students and the faculty with 20 per cent set aside for examination and oral exam, while 80 per cent of total time spent on the full course could be online.
“Students of this programme come from across the country. This model of education can help them to study from a distance. Some of them also can keep learning when they are abroad,” said Anuchai.
Pintip Pongpech, dean at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Science, said that it is the first trial for the e-learning system after which it will be evaluated. 
“We have international courses; we will consider deploying e-learning options for other courses. This is to expand the opportunity for education,” said Pintip.
Anuchai added that Microsoft Office 365 is Web-based. Students can access from any devices. High-speed Internet with at least 2Mbps up can use these 365 features smoothly. The concept is to connect to the cloud, MS’s server, so that not only students but even the lecturers can be overseas.
“Cloud is an important tool for education. It helps reduce IT infrastructure investment, especially in the small educational unit in the university. It lets us to leave the IT system to the service providers,” said Anuchai.
He added that Chulalongkorn University also has a plan to integrate servers to be on CU cloud. It will be a private cloud and is still in the process of development. 
Jeanine K Mount, a professor at the School of Pharmacy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is one of lecturers for the Graduate Seminar in Social and Administrative Pharmacy at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said that with the use of Microsoft OFfice 365, she has been able to give lectures to students in Thailand from her home in the US. She said she could engage in seminar presentations, provide reflective comments, and participate in discussions with more than 25 graduate students and faculty who attend the class either online or in-person.
“I also use Microsoft Office 365 for regular Web meetings with colleagues from Chulalongkorn’s Social and Administrative Pharmacy programme faculty,” said Prof Mount.
Wachana Tungkwampian, head of Thai Traditional Medicine at Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital located in Prachin Buri province, is a pharmacy student who has benefited from cloud computing for education. She said that it is quite convenient for her to keep studying even when she lives in the province.
“I can study anywhere. It saves time as I do not need to come to Bangkok twice a week to attend classes. And, since my job requires me to travel a lot, I never miss the class,” said Wachana.
However, students who learn by this system need to concentrate more and be more active in collaborating with the class, Wachana said. 
Preeyaporn Phitaksemakul, the head of medicinal administrative and consumer protection subdivision at Chanthaburi Province Public Health Office, is another pharmacy student who has benefited from the Chulalongkorn University’s deployment of cloud computing. She works and lives in Chanthaburi province. She accessed the e-learning system on the bus when she had to travel to work, on the same day of the class. 
“The learning system is very flexible and convenient; just have a device and Internet connection and students’ preparation before the class,” said Preeyaporn.
Prisda said currently more than 22 million people in the field of education worldwide use cloud tools to teach and learn outside the boundaries of their classrooms. Microsoft Office 365 also provides new ways to extend classroom and teaching time and expand distance learning.
“Cloud and online learning are key trends and opportunities to transform education today. And with Microsoft’s revolutionary new Office 365 for education, educational institutions now have access to a holistic collaboration platform that will shape the future. As educational institutions in Thailand face pressure to innovate and compete with international peers, Microsoft is offering enterprise quality technology that will modernise teaching practices and help prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow,” said Prisda.