Trial and Error – my first 2 years in (thai) higher education

So. Here we are. 2 years after. Amazing how fast time goes by. 2 years ago I started my ‘career’ (if you can talk about a career in education) in higher education. I left my professional career I pursued before behind me and went all in in education. At a private University in Thailand. Here are some take aways, experiences, activities and, most of all, failures.

First of all I have to mention that it’s incredibly surprising how higher education institutions are being managed. At least from what I have seen. I don’t mean to bash or criticize anyone to harsh here, I’ll have another post spared for that, but that has been a huge revelation. You would think you’ve seen everything after years in marketing agencies – turns out you haven’t. The lack of professionalism and the importance of personal relationships is just insane and stands above everything. That is one of the reasons why quite a few projects failed or have never come into existence. However, as we all know, you always have two choices when the going gets tough. Giving up or standing up. So let’s see how far the tough can go in the next two years. Until then, as promised, a short recap of a few (failed) projects and experiences.

Project 1: Student Hang-Outs

This was the most successful project in terms of overall acceptance from a faculty perspective. Each week I would sit with 4-5 (sometimes a bit more) students from different majors together and discuss current topics from different fields. We would stream the discussion live via google+ and try to have conversations with viewers. Students loved it and even asked me to continue doing this project after we actually terminated it. Loved how dedicated and motivated students were when it came to this kind of exchange of knowledge and opinions.

The problems: The initial plan was that different lecturers would host a hangout each week so we would see different angles, approaches and faces on our channel which could have helped with the overall image of our faculty. Furthermore I didn’t get any support from a technical point of view which meant we had to make everything work by ourselves (finding a room, having speakers, microphones, cameras, etc.). The whole project was therefore based on the shoulders of my students (again, who are amazing) and myself. When the project then turned out to be somehow successful the faculty jumped on it and showed it off in their Quality Assurance assessment even though they didn’t contribute anything. When some teachers then told their students not to attend the hangout anymore (for what reason ever) we decided to stop it.

Still I think this was a great experience and an idea that could have worked out even better with a bit of support from faculty side.

Project 2: Student (online) TV show

Also a project that didn’t come into existence yet (a few more to follow) since I stopped working as leading digital strategist there but the plan stands and, since they ‘used’ all my other plans so far, I’m sure this one will be used soon as well too. The plan was/is: Create a TV show that will be hosted by students. They would have to do it in English of course and could decide on topics themselves (within a panel consisting of different hosts that would change each week). We would first show it online on our channels as well as on the TV spot the University holds with its local channel.

Alternatively or additionally we thought about creating a ‘reality show’ style show that, of course, would be more fun / comedic and not to dramatic / serious.

Project 4: Flashmob

Another quite successful project outside of our own faculty. We had the idea of a flashmob and the chance to make it come true thanks to cooperation with the art and music faculties at our University. Seems like the creative faculties are a bit more open towards such things.

We created a very diverse (dancing, singing, breakdance, chorus) flashmob experience that had it’s peak in an art gallery where we surprised the attendees of an opening ceremony. Lots of my students joined and practiced for a long time after classes. Furthermore 2 of my students took a lot of planning and motivating into their own hands which shows that students are able to create something really cool if you only let (and add a bit of motivation to) them.

Project 5: Motion control project

The second project (next to the TV show project) that fell short due to internal issues. However the idea stands and could now even be pushed further. We purchased a motion controller (LeapMotion) and planned on having our ICT students create applications with that. Unfortunately faculty lost interest and didn’t allocate budget towards that so students weren’t able to purchase applications in order to develop those programs but again the idea and plan stands and with more and more motion controllers becoming available this still looks promising and something that will definitely be taken up again by the newly formed ICT club.

Besides trying to run different projects I also suggested, planned and proposed new  / diversified classes. With negligible success as well.

1.) Online Marketing / Business classes.

I was hired to head the new Online Business major. That was planned to launch 2 semesters after my initial signing. So we had some time to plan it. Perfect, it seems. Lots of plans, lots of curriculums, course overviews, etc. All set and done. Also lots of cooperations with companies, search engines, etc. Prepared all that just to witness how the faculty, each and every semester, missed on promoting the new major in a professional and competent way and decided to push its launch back further and further. Right now I’m still waiting for it to be launched. Bit disappointing that lots of people in Thailand still don’t get the importance of Online Business and think online marketing = posting in forums.

2.) Parkour & Fun Sport class

As unbelievable as it sounds I actually did teach sports class once. Volleyball. Not a problem since I used to be a coach at home. At least I thought so. But teaching students you HAVE to take sports class but DO NOT WANT to really sucks! Nevertheless that’s not the point here. The point is that I saw that we only offer two sports classes and tried to change that. Luckily I know a few very good parkour (free running) artists here in Bangkok as well as some super talented inline skater (roller blading) and Slack Liner. I asked them if they would be interested in teaching their sport a few times at Uni. They agreed and all that was missing was a simple ‘ok’ by our faculty. Never happened. Wouldn’t even have needed any budget. Could have brought a lot of diversification to our campus, branded us as a ‘cool’ place to study, etc. but “we” decided not to go for it because……nobody else did it before so we can’t copy it and we’re not here to do things the first time. So it seems.

3.) Open Book Exams – with internet access. 

Since one of the classes I teach is called something like “Intro to Computers” I thought it would be a nice idea to let students use their tablets (which they receive when entering our University) in order to find information they need. Questions, obviously, would have to be different to simple ‘true or false’ or ‘name this or that’ questions but tasks in work life later on are usually not that simple and need research and the ability to relate facts and knowledge. Hence I figured it is a good idea to prepare students for such tasks ahead.

I finally got the green light to give it a try. Read more here: Open book (tablet) exams at University.

As one might know, university lecturers are not only supposed to teach but also to do research. So are we. In theory.

Conferences & Research

In real life however I did not receive any kind of support and encouragement to do anything related research, writing, or anything similar. Hence I took it onto myself to do research, create projects (myanmar-startups.com would be one of them for example) and to attend and to speak at (some of the most famous digital age related) conferences. Again: No support from my faculty. Fine. I’m interested in these topics so I do it anyways – that’s what I thought. However after returning to Uni, with TV, radio and newspaper interviews in my bag, my faculty decided once more to show me and my findings off in their Quality Assurance and advertising. I don’t have a problem with helping the faculty of course, but why not simply supporting me in the first place? Some things still need to be figured out here.

That’s part one of my review. A lot more in the pipe. Wait for it. It got even more legendary. Oh and don’t get me wrong. I still love being in education and I appreciate every moment spent with a lot of those amazing students here. Wouldn’t want to miss a single moment with them! That’s why there’s more to come soon 🙂

 

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