AMITIAE - Wednesday 6 August 2014

MacBook Air Computers at an Intensive English Camp for Engineering Students (Bangkok Post, Life)

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


I am currently running a two-week Intensive English camp for students at Mahidol University's Faculty of Engineering. I put this together over the summer break, with a lot of help from my friends, with an eye to the imminent AEC (ASEAN Economic Community) and as a way to help some of my students improve their English communication skills.

My own views on English teaching in Thailand are that it is not successful. It may help students pass tests and become experts in checking boxes, but after years of study, many Thai students cannot write a basic English sentence. Some have poor speaking skills because they lack confidence.

Using ideas from courses I already teach, adapted for an intensive format, we focused on a mix of skills to enhance confidence, including photography: they all have smpartphones. Contacts within the Faculty of Engineering arranged through SPVi - one of the local Apple resellers - to have some Macs available for the students. This worked out better than I hoped.

U.Store, Salaya

SPVi has a number of outlets including iStudio, iBeat and U.Store, including a branch at Mahidol University's Salaya campus. Their Education Development Manager, Peraphon Benhamud, brought with him two large reinforced cases from Apple, each containing 10 MacBook Air computers.

English Camp English Camp

The students knew these were coming and there was a certain amount of tension as only a few of them are familiar with Macs. However, as well as the boxes, Peraphon had a technical team with him who were on hand to advise the students.

Students - English camp

On Thursday morning, after I had outlined some photography basics, the students split into three groups and walked round the campus. They were accompanied by teachers and several helpers: students who had already studied or worked abroad and were confident in using English.

They tried to make sure that all students spoke English while working. The point that the helpers were not perfect English-speakers was part of the emphasis: to communicate, the students should not be worried about making mistakes.

This was also brought out by a number of speakers during the first week of the camp, including SPVi's Peraphon Benhamud, who addressed the students for about 15 minutes in English. One of the things he highlighted in that presentation was the fact of iTunesU: hundreds (if not thousands) of university courses available online.

Students - English Camp

Before the students used iPhoto, I did a run-through of importing and editing basics. The camp team also printed out the article on iPhoto I wrote a few weeks ago for Life, so there was a visual reference. Once the Macs were running and iPhoto was started, the students began to work.

The task they were set was to create a slideshow using some of the photographs from the morning walkabout. As I have seen many times before, when those new to Macs begin to use the applications, they focus on what they want to do, not on what the software wants.

We only had about 90 minutes for the task and as the slideshows were completed, I copied them onto my MacBook Pro. We ran the slideshows to conclude the day. Students love to see their own work, and the work of their friends, especially if it is displayed on a large screen. There were a number of amusing moments as photographs appeared in the slideshows.

students - English camp

To build on this, the next day the students prepared presentations using Keynote. In the morning, I identified presentation skills, illustrated with several videos. I included Steve Jobs' 2007 iPhone introduction, the announcement of the iPad, and clips from Apple's World Wide Developer Conference in June. My main ideas here were that good presentation comes from knowing the subject, not remembering a script; and from rehearsal.

Before the students started work, I outlined Keynote; and with a colleague we also discussed PowerPoint: they are more familiar with this currently. As the purpose was not to teach technology, we used a task which built on the previous day's efforts: using the photographs to make presentations about the Salaya campus.

As before, assistance from the SPVi team was available. After a few technical points were covered by questions from the students, the creative process took over. They were able to change themes easily and develop the slides (restricted to 10 because of time). At the end, the students made their presentations, each group of students using the MacBook Air they had been working on. This was a more limited success.

students - English camp

This week, the students will be using the Macs again for a number of tasks. These include preparation of résumés and more student presentations, developed from a task outlined at the start of the camp.

Having the Macs available for the camp was a real plus as this exposed the students to an alternative to the PC (I am biased, of course) and provided uniformity. The camp personnel and students were pleased that SPVi (and Apple) were able to support such a project.

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Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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