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Many students in Thailand are using social networking services for fun on the internet. Some can be used for educational purposes too. Even students who do not own their own computers seem to find ways to network socially on the internet in their free time. 

 

 

Flickr is one of these social networking systems and it has recently been used for English language learning and cultural awareness.  Last year at a conference in Bangkok’s King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), Alec McAulay gave a presentation on teacher generated podcasts which was to lead to a project involving teachers from Japan, Thailand Indonesia (Bali) and China (Hong Kong).

 

This project was not on the subject of podcasts, but related to the photographic social networking application on the internet called Flickr. Students were required to open a Flickr account (which is free) and upload a photograph.

 

They were then required to write a paragraph of about 125 words describing the photograph and then write comments on other people’s photographs in the group. They were also required to respond to comments made on their own photographs.

 

It was hoped that students would upload at least five photographs, which they did; however, they tended not to write many words as a description, falling well short of the 125 I was after.

 

Once they were happy with the process, they were then introduced to students from the other participating countries, in order to practice their English language skills and have the opportunity to exchange cultures with students from other countries.

 

The students reacted very well, in fact too well at the beginning. It was obvious that they had been exposed to something like this before as they jumped the gun several times when I was trying to implement a smooth introduction to the activity.

 

This enthusiasm proved useful as the project matured, resulting in hectic communication between members of the class and a substantial interaction with other students from Japan, Hong Kong and Bali.

 

Many of the photographs were of the students themselves; however, some interesting dialogues took place demonstrating that our students in Thailand can converse with students overseas in a polite and humorous manner, whilst they exchanged their cultures and ideas.

 

There were some serious subjects dealt with in the conversations; however, humour was evident in the majority of the Thai/Thai communications and does show that students in Udon Thani have great character and an extremely funny sense of humour.

 

There are too many examples to give in this article; however, the photostreams are available at:  http://www.steves-english-zone.com/flickr.html where you can see what sorts of activities the students were involved in.

 

Thai students already use applications such as Hi 5, so many were used to using the internet in this way; however, they were not used to using it in English. Whilst there were many grammatical and spelling errors, these were addressed at a later stage in class, so as not to affect the fluency of the activity. It is always important to have a balance between fluency and accuracy. 

 

This semester I have another class in which to experiment with. I’m not sure how they will react as all classes are different and all students are individuals; however, they seem to like the idea although they find it limited compared to some of the other applications available.

 

I have used the experience from the previous class to modify the existing activity and this semester I hope to see if the adjustments will integrated properly into the process.

 

This project has given the teachers taking part a new experience as they have been able to experiment with something different and produce data that maybe could be used for research. The possibilities are endless if only teachers are prepared to take a chance and try out new innovations, even though there is always the chance of failure.

 

Students are more adaptable and durable than teachers think, so it is important to remember that our students need to be challenged if they are to progress with their studies. Teaching down to them does not bring out the best in our students and results only in teachers hiding inside their comfort zone. 

 

 

 

International conferences are taken in their stride when students and teachers have the confidence to use their English language skills. This can be done with the aid of social networking projects.
(Unedited article published in the Bangkok Post 06th January 2009)

 

 
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