Francis Marion University professor hopes to provide new wrinkle for old school Thais

Francis Marion University’s campus is about 10,000 miles from Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University in central Thailand.

That’s a long way, but for the past three years, faculty and staff from the two universities have partnered to provide professors with an opportunity to teach and expand their knowledge of how students learn.

This summer they’ll be doing it again.

For the past two summers dozens of education professors from Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University have visited FMU’s campus to be taught the finer points of project based learning by FMU professors in the School of Education.

The partnership between the two universities has been forged by Dr. Sompong Kraikit, a semi-retired Florence physician and an advocate for education in Thailand. Kaikit hails from the same province as Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University.

Dr. Callum Johnston, associate professor of Education at FMU, will be switching hemispheres and traveling to Thailand to teach his NSRU colleagues an intense, two-week course called EDU C561 – Applications of Project Based Learning in Curriculum Instructions on June 15.

The lesson plans Johnston has prepared for his Thai students are similar to those for education students at FMU. The main differences address cultural difference.

Johnston, who spent much of his childhood in foreign countries, says he wants to be mindful of cultural standards in an effort to ensure possible foibles don’t hinder the professors from learning.

“This is really going to be an interesting opportunity for me to see something I’ve never seen before,” Johnston says. “I’ve been practicing the professors names… Taking into consideration their language, culture and way of going about life, I’m going to have to be on a quick learning curve to work successfully in that environment.”

Johnston hopes to provide the Thai professors with pedagogical tools similar to those he gives to his American students — valuable teaching methods that they can use in their classrooms.
Project-based learning, which is relatively new even in the U.S., conflicts with the traditional method of lecture-test teaching that has been popularized throughout Eastern education. Project-based learning involves a more hands-on approach for students to learn by doing.

“They want to explore methods for teaching their students that go beyond just the didactic lecture-test structure that they are used to,” Johnston says. “For the past two years, (the Thai professors have traveled to FMU) to learn how to do project-based learning and how to structure their instructions so that their students are doing projects from the work they do, rather than just a simple lecture-test format.”

The exchange may seem a bit one-sided – FMU teaches, NSRU faculty learns. But Johnston says the benefits of the partnership and the exposure it provides to Francis Marion should not be dismissed.
“We get our brand out there,” Johnston says. “This shows the university’s willingness to extend its mission out to not just South Carolina and the United States, but to go out and connect with the world.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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