This was a press release for the school which I wrote some years ago but gives you an idea of how things started. It was later reproduced in a book called “Publishing with Students” by Chris Weber (2002).
Sriwittayapaknam School in Thailand first started publishing on the internet back in 1997. It seems such a long time ago now as so much has happened since then. We didn’t really have any master plan as this was early days for internet in Thailand. Not many schools had their own web site and a survey we conducted at school showed that only 1% of parents had internet access at home. We wanted to create a presence for the school on the internet but we knew very early on that if we only created the site in the Thai language we wouldn’t receive many visitors. Therefore we started on the road to show people around the world what life in Thailand was like for our students. That was our basic aim.
Now our site has grown into the largest English language web site in Thailand receiving thousands of visitors every day. The school has won numerous awards and foreign journalists and tv crews have often come to the school to interview the students. We now own over a dozen domain names which between them have thousands of pages and hundreds of pictures. The first site was about the school, but we now publish sites about culture in Thailand, movies, cartoon books, soccer, scouting – basically anything that our are interested in.
On My Own:
At the start I was on my own. I knew nothing about creating web sites. I had very little technical support in English and none of my teaching collegues really understood what I was trying to achieve. When you are one of the pioneers you have to be prepared to make mistakes and then learn by them. So, it was a very slow start but we did progress as I started to recruit extra help. First the school principal became interested and she created the school’s web site in Thai. Then I managed to get some of my keen students, who were good at English, to create their own “homepage” – a collection of pages which tells people about themselves.
Getting the Students Involved:
Once we were confident about our own ability we started to involve the students more. At first we would assign them projects to do in their English lessons: writing about themselves and family, holidays, and other cultural things. After the school bought a scanner and then a digital camera, we were able to scan some of the students’ artwork and take photographs of their handicraft. The best of these were then put onto the internet.
Later, we let the students produce their own homepages during their computer lessons. At first these were only a basic page with a photo of the student and a brief introduction about themselves and their family. Then, as we became more ambitious, we let the students with a higher ability in English create their own mini web sites. These were made by using a set formula: Introduction, My Family, My School, My Holidays, My Diary, My Thailand etc. So, every student had the same six page web site but it was up to them to create their own style.
A small group of students became really interested in making web sites and playing on the internet so we gave them an opportunity to work in the Computer Center after school and during holidays. At first, they helped us with the rapidly growing number of school web sites. But, as they became more proficient, they started to create their own sites. These started small at first but quickly blossomed as they started to become popular with visitors from all around the world. A good example of this is: www.ThailandLife.com.
The students have benefited greatly from this experience. The internet is an easy medium for them to express themselves. It is similar to publishing a book, though obviously we are the publishers and we can write what we like. The students love it when they get positive feedback when people write in their guestbook or send them an e-mail. It is also an excellent opportunity for them to use English in real life situations. All of the students that have homepages have their own e-mail account at thaistudents.com. They often receive letters from students around the world. Some of these are just asking questions about life in Thailand. But, others are looking for penfriends. The students get a lot of self-satisfaction when they write a letter in English asking questions and they then receive a prompt reply. It shows them that they have managed to communicate successfully in the English language. It also shows them that they are not the only people that have difficulty with English. Even native English speakers can’t spell!
When you surf the internet you will see that no two sites are the same or demand the same amount of effort. When Leonardo DiCaprio was in Thailand making the movie “The Beach”, our school created an award winning web site called “Footsteps on the Beach”. We worked on that site seven days a week for over a year. We often updated the pages 3 or 4 times a day with news and the latest pictures. I did the last update myself after midnight every day during the 4 months that the film-makers were in Thailand. My students helped in many different ways: their first job in the morning was to check the Thai newspapers for pictures or articles. They scanned any pictures they found, wrote the captions, made up the page and then uploaded it onto the internet all within the space of one hour. After school, they would search the internet for articles about the movie published in international newspapers.
Many of the visitors were Leonardo DiCaprio fans, but we soon learned that 20th Century Fox executives in America were also checking up on us. They later sent us some exclusive publicity stills from the movie. Leonardo DiCaprio’s family and friends also logged onto our site often to see what was happening in Thailand. Leonardo’s mother sent our students hundreds of videos and calendars. Another group of visitors were the foreign journalists who came looking for information about the movie. We often received phone calls from these people and some even visited the school to interview the students.
Challenges and Difficulties:
We made a lot of mistakes in the early days, but we learned from these. Internet publishing is not like book publishing. If you make a mistake, you can correct it the next time you update that page and upload it onto the internet. If you are lucky, no-one spotted the mistake.
The “Footsteps on the Beach” web site demanded a lot of effort from us, but we were comforted by the fact that so many people were visiting. The web site had over 5,000 visitors every day from more than 120 different countries around the world. Due to the different time zones people were visiting our site every hour of the day and night. People were coming back two or three times a day looking for new information which spurred us on to keep giving them something new. With a normal publication like a magazine or newspaper you have one deadline for each edition. We had as many deadlines as there are minutes in a 24 hour period.
Other web sites that we have created were a little less demanding. A few years back we put a web site together about Scouting in Thailand (www.ThaiScouting.com) as there was no information on the internet on this subject. We took more care in putting these pages together as we didn’t have any daily deadlines. But, once it was finished we didn’t have to do any updates. We could move on to concentrate on other sites.
Collaborative Internet Projects:
Not all of our projects have been confined between the school walls. After the popularity of our “Beach” web site we realised we had thousands of Leonardo DiCaprio fans visiting us every day. So we decided to create a web site for them called “Leo Fans Only!” (www.LeoFans.com). Obviously, we didn’t know much about Leonardo other than the fact he was in “Titanic”, so the web site is a collaborative effort of people from all around the world. Basically, the Leo Fans now run the web site with little input from us.
On a few occassions, we have linked up with schools in different countries to share our cultures. The students exchange letters and artwork and we publish the results on the internet.
The school web site at www.sriwittayapaknam.ac.th became so popular with foreign students doing a project about Thailand that we decided to branch out and produce a more in-depth web site about life in Thailand. That is why we started Thai Students On-Line at www.thaistudents.com. The school homepage then focused more on school life and the Thai Students site on the culture of Thailand and tourist information. For example, we set up a section called Project Thailand and invited students from around the world to send us their questions. We also linked to other web sites around Thailand made by Thai students and schools.
It is difficult to predict the future as we have surpassed all of our expectations. But, one thing is for sure – growth. The school now has well over 3,000 pages on the internet. Some of the websites that were started by the school or students have become so well established that we decided to provide them with their own home on the internet. The students and teachers are running shops in our own Thai cyber market and students are starting to send homework to teachers by the internet.