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A decade in UPOU

I’m not here to preach about how you should always persevere and never quit, that tomorrow is a better day, or that God loves you and will always be with you, going ra-ra with fluffy pom-poms and all that. If you know me at all, you would know it would all be bullshit, coming from me.

To my recollection, I have drafted at least four resignation letters, the most recent of which is less than a year old. And yet… earlier this week, I had this plaque handed to me by my superiors.

I started with utmost gratitude. I had not distinguished myself an exemplary student since sixth grade. As far as I knew, UPOU was banking on my potential because I had very little else to offer based on what credentials I had back then. But maybe some of my dad’s attributes had rubbed off to me — enough to help me become a competent teacher, at least. Maybe they were able to somehow able to account for intangibles, since some of the decision makers knew who I was personally. Whichever the case, the point is, UPOU took a chance with me, and I will never forget that.

At my third year, I had already started to believe that I did not have what it takes to make this my career. A college teacher, sure… but a faculty member at UPOU… that felt like a different thing altogether. It still does. There were challenges, difficulties, sacrifices and outright burdens which I had not expected to take on, let alone carry long-term.

At my sixth or seventh year, I had to make a conscious effort to change my approach to work. I had shifted to survival mode. I had to drop the notion of aspiring for awards and taking part of the more glamorous parts of the job. It had let to harboring less than positive thoughts towards everything, as everyone else seemed to be getting all the attention. But it allowed me to march on.

At my ninth year, I felt the need to make another adjustment, and start thinking about my own advancement — whether it’s in or out of UPOU. And it is now, that I have begun to think more clearly of what I need and want to do. I still won’t be distinguishing myself in the university, but I am slowly getting back into doing things that I want to do.

It seems contradictory — that I have to act more selfishly in order to figure out how to do better in a job that is, for all intents and purposes, public service. But whatever. It’s working.

I managed to survive.

That is probably what this plaque symbolizes for me — resilience — ten years worth of it. No one else with the same career path within UPOU has ever lasted even half as long. And while I still do not have nearly enough optimism needed to happily look forward to the next day of work, I can tell you that I can get through it.

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MMS 173: Self Portraiture Exercise

Note to readers:

I did this exercise way back in 2013. Unfortunately, I lost my original write-up for the whole experience. Fortunately, my actual photos, both the unedited and edited versions, remain in my possession. Those are what you will see below (unless stated otherwise). The narrative, I have done my best to reconstruct from memory.

 

There is one personal rule that I have always abided by as a teacher. I would never, ever, subject my students to any task or requirement that I had not gone through myself. That actually backed me into a little corner when I started believing that requiring that students do honest to goodness self-portraiture was a good idea – that anyone who has been in my class would at least know how to do better than the usual selfies which litter social media on a massive scale. The thing is, I don’t like having my picture taken either. I don’t like being in group pictures. And I certainly had never taken self-portraits, not the way I would want my students to.

So, it’s either I forget about this idea, or put in the work myself before talking big to my students. Your reading this article will probably be a clear indication of the choice I made. Besides, I’m always game for the chance to take students out of the comfort zones, even if it means I have to do the same.

I started thinking about what I wanted to do. I’ve always been fond of dark, moody themes in just about anything. This was my chance to apply that to myself. I then set up my black background and my studio lights. But after taking a few trial shots and thinking about it some more, I decided that it was not the look I wanted. I needed to be more low-key. So, I put the lights aside and settled with my small portable LED pack. Back then I did not have the means to set up my flash gun off-camera the way I wanted. So I had to rely on continuous lighting, which means I would have to contend with slow shutter speeds and high ISOs. Hopefully, I could sit still enough throughout this session.

The good news is that I had the space to make use of my Nikkor 50mm/1.8D with my Nikon D7000. I could use my remote trigger while the camera sat on the tripod. But I wouldn’t be able to see what I’m shooting on the fly. Repeatedly having to aim, pose, shoot and then run to the camera to preview the shot would have made it a long night for me. Luckily, I came across digiCamControl, a USB tether software that supports Nikon cameras. I can control the camera with live view engaged from a laptop which I would have in front of me the whole time, significantly speeding up my process.

 

Equipment Used

  • Nikon D7000 body
  • Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D prime lens
  • Z96 LED light panel
  • Laptop with Digicamcontrol Pro
  • 2 tripods
  • black muslin cloth background
  • electric guitar as prop

 

Headshot

The idea for the headshot was simple – I’ll be facing the camera up front and aim the light source diagonally towards one side of my face. The reality of the matter turned out to be more complicated. I ended up taking dozens of shots. I was starting to doubt if I could pull this off.

Headshot diagram

 

I tried several poses. I didn’t like how most of them turned out. But I was able to pick three whose results I liked.

ISO 400 ; 1/8sec ; f/5.6

My camera was having a hard time focusing with the whole room being so dimly lit, forcing me to work with slow shutter speeds. It’s a good thing I managed to hold still. At the same time, that small light was pretty hard and intense.  You can even see behind the black muslin background, even with the intensity dialed down. But I could work with this. I didn’t want to do a lot of editing. Against my own vanity, I opted to leave the blemishes of my face alone or maybe even accentuate them.

I only needed to do two things: accentuate the blacks, dial down the highlights and add more warmth. No sharpening was needed. A little bit of blurring might have been of benefit, but I didn’t bother. Cropping to a 4:3 ratio was my final step — trimming down the background and providing more emphasis to my profile.

 

The only thing I would have wanted to improve upon here is the highlights of my hair. The hard light really harshly emphasized the white streaks on my hair. A reflector on the other side of my face would have also helped balance out the highlights a bit.

 

Freestyle

I wanted a picture of myself holding a guitar. The question was how. Again, I tried a number of things. Then I was suddenly reminded of the album cover of U2’s Rattle and Hum and thought how cool it looked, with Bono aiming a spotlight over The Edge. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to do the exact same thing. But I can take inspiration from it.

 

With the camera in the same spot as before, I’d be facing the background diagonally, with my light aimed slightly towards my left side. The hard light which I had an issue with while taking my headshot, worked wonders simulating a spotlight aimed at my upper body and the guitar’s neck. The hard shadow on my hand seemed like a nice touch to augment the effect, as well.

ISO 1600 ; 1/10sec ; f/3.2

I got a shot that I thought was perfectly framed, which was surprising given how I was shooting. Maybe it helped that I was literally looking at the laptop while I was posing so, I was really seeing what I was going to get, at least composition-wise. But there were issues which I felt required some retouching.

 

Spots that needed fixing

First, I needed to increase the exposure value a full stop to recover some brightness. After that, I proceeded with working on the issues. Visible folds on the background, a stray thread and a speck of dust — they all needed to go. The folds would disappear by blackening the frame, like I did with the headshot. The rest would also be easy fixes. Quick dabs of Photoshop’s healing brush tool removed those nicely. And again, as before, warming up what colors were present added life to the frame.

Final edit (2013)

2018 Note

I was happy with this back then. But looking at it now, I don’t think the highlights are warm enough. And the reflections on my hair is still too harsh.

Final edit (2018)

Today, I would go with an even warmer look. And then I’d use a paintbrush tool over my hair to decrease the overall exposure one whole stop. My face is still a bit shinier than I would like, but it’s something I can live with (then again, by 2023, who knows?). Overall, it’s significantly easier to look at now, don’t you think?

 

Conclusion

I did the shoot in one sitting. But between conceptualizing, setting up, shooting and packing up, I spend several hours. And then I spent more hours during post production. It’s more work than most of my students will realize. It was also a test for my confidence and self-esteem. Like most other guys, I look at the mirror every morning thinking how good looking I am. But the reality is that I don’t believe that, and I start thinking the opposite whenever I see a camera aimed at me. This is a challenge for me, for anyone, on many levels. And that is why, more than ever, I believe this is the most important assignment I can ever require in my photography class.

This walkthrough obviously does not cover everything. It’s not supposed to. So, if you are one of the students in my class, I urge you to head back to the course site and raise any comments or questions in the discussion forums. Because I will expect more details from your assignment than what you see here.

Good luck!

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BAMS Class of 2017 introspection: trusting the process

The graduation ceremony of July 2015 was a crucible.

Just over a year earlier, I had moved out of the Diploma in Computer Science program. I also stopped teaching in the Master of Information Systems and was told my services were no longer required in the Diploma in Land Valuation Management programs. With a bit of reluctance, my entire being as a UPOU faculty was thrown in the Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies program to continue what my predecessor had started and bring more stability to its foundation and facilitate its moving forward.

I faced the challenge head on, working harder than I ever did before and ever thought possible. It was tough on me. But it was no cakewalk for anyone else involved, either. Restoring any semblance of order required clamping down hard on any bad practices which we had unwittingly perpetuated in the past. The structure of the BAMS program by itself is riddled with issues. Workarounds had to be employed, especially at the beginning, just to keep the whole thing running. But its management became progressively more difficult as the years went by, as the workarounds slowly turned into common practice. All the while, graduation rate continued to be awfully low and attrition rate felt like it was high and still rising. For sure, the resident population kept accumulating. Everyone involved at UPOU knew it had to change. And it was going to be my most important assignment.

Again… it was HARD. Students had to be straightened out and made to understand that following the rules was important. And I took out just about every approach I had on my playbook to at least have a chance to succeed, from playing nice, to being brutally honest, to copping the terror prof persona as best as I could – anything to get the students to buy into the process.

I knew that it would be years before I’d be able to see results. But knowing that provided no comfort to me in July 2015, when only five BAMS students graduated, and none of them attended their own graduation ceremony. For seven straight years, I had a role to play in the ceremony – as university marshall or as program marshall for DCS. There was always something. That year, I didn’t know my place. Of course, I ended up marching behind the faculty marshall. But it was a strange and depressing feeling. I wanted to just skip the whole thing after the obligatory pictorial session with the officials and go home.

My Sablay, with the obligatory decor

In all fairness, it’s hard to blame the actual graduates back then. There were only five of them, and I did know that at least two of them wanted to be there, so much so, that one of them made it a point to attend the ceremony the following year. But that didn’t stop me from using this incident as fuel to the fire. There was no chance in hell I was going to let myself experience that day again.

It became obvious, that our system of managing things wasn’t the only one that needed fixing. There is a whole damn culture among BAMS students that needed a little tweaking. That’s when I started directly challenging their mettle, whether it’s about academics or what it means to be an Isko. I intimidated a bunch, angered a few, and prompted a few others to ignore me. But I do believe enough people started to listen. Because even though I’d openly complain and go on my occasional tirades, I would like to think I was endearing or amusing enough so people would keep listening and not get tired of me.

That was all that we needed. Sowing even just a few seeds can yield plenty given enough time. We just needed to keep tending to it. Trust the process, as they say. Did I mention it was hard? I constantly harbored doubt, wanted to give up multiple times, and asked to be replaced as BAMS PC at least twice. I had always had tendencies towards introversion. I had sporadically felt pangs of anxiety and depression since I was a teenager. But never did I think seriously of it until then. Perhaps what I felt for students with mental health issues was not sympathy, but empathy. It was a scary thought and I started to worry if it was affecting my judgment. I couldn’t afford mistakes – decisions being made impacted peoples’ lives, at least as far as academics went. But our process never stopped.

The number of graduates finally reached double digits at ten in 2016. And that time, some of them came. I will not even hide how relieved I felt when I finally marched as BAMS program marshall. And now, in September 2017, BAMS produced one of the largest number of graduates in the entire campus at 25, with 20 in attendance. And among those 20, are two who finished magna cum laude. This is unprecedented and I can’t help but feel proud of the moment, and proud for the students who were part of it.

However, I will not take credit for singlehandedly raising graduation rates. At the heart of this achievement is the work that all these students put in. They didn’t do it for me. They did it for their families and their careers. They did it for themselves. I only helped in showing them the way. Neither will I fail to acknowledge the help my colleagues at FICS provided for these students. Not once did my fellow faculty members come and tell me they didn’t want to teach in BAMS anymore. They never faltered in their willingness to gut it out in BAMS with me. This wouldn’t be possible either without our support staff and how they shouldered the processing of the paperwork which I have always had trouble keeping up with on my own.

The work is far from over. There is still a lot of students that need to finish – a lot more who have issues that need sorting out. So, why am I writing as if the story has ended?

The simplest answer I can give is that my time managing the program may or may not be coming to an end. Right now, I don’t know if I will be there next year to lead what would hopefully be a contingent even bigger than the one we had just now. If I am, then it’s all good. But if not, I step out knowing things are now better than it was when I stepped in and it is poised to get even better long after. I find comfort and a sense of achievement in that.

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An open letter to the UPOU BAMS Class of 2017

I didn’t realize until now that I haven’t really done so publicly yet. But I would like to congratulate not just our two magna cum laude graduates. Having one honor student in the program is a privilege already. But having two in a year considering the population… that is amazing. However, it is not just them.  There are 25 people who earned their BA Multimedia Studies degrees this year, all of whom deserve just as much recognition.

To our topnotcher…

Aia Magpusao, yours was a special case, of which you know full well. But what you may not know is that when your case was being presided over, I was “requested” to write a letter that addressed your underloads. It wasn’t clear how they wanted me to do it, so I just academically wrote down the details as far as I knew. They sent the letter back, pretty much saying na kulang daw sa puso. So fine, I gave them freaking heart…

Puso, to me, meant adding this paragraph to my letter:

Lastly, let us suppose that all of the above are still not enough to justify our overlooking of the underloaded trimesters. I would finally like to appeal to you purely based on the merits of her performance as a student. The GWA speaks for itself. The numbers indicate her making the cut to be magna cum laude. But even that does not provide the complete picture of the type of student Ms. Magpusao is as far as I have seen. The BAMS program is not easy to complete because it demands that students be competent in three fronts: academic aptitude, technical skills and artistic creativity. It is extremely rare for me to see a student excel in all three aspects. In my opinion as program chair for the last three years and faculty for eight years for the BAMS program, there has been hardly anyone who deserve recognition as much as Ms. Magpusao. Few people exemplify excellence in BAMS the way she has. With all that I have pointed out, I wholeheartedly support the bestowment of Latin honors to Maria Gabriella Magpusao. Thank you very much.

Needless to say, they accepted the letter with all thumbs up. It’s not bullshit. I meant every word of it. You are an inspiration to everyone here, including me.

Toni Cimacio, to me, you are the personification of drive and diligence.

I don’t agree with how you went about a few things during your time in BAMS. And I still don’t know what on earth happened in MMS 198 which almost cost you the chance to graduate with honors. But what I will always respect is how you always brought your game in the face of challenges thrown your way, whether it was me, or any other teacher. Whenever I saw your name on something, I always expected it to be good. And you kept on delivering. If only all the BAMS students had at least half of your willingness to persevere…

You came in with a goal and you owned it with authority. Few things are sweeter than that.

And to the rest of the graduates… it really was a great day. I looked at all of you and I see people whom I grew up and started to grow old with in UPOU. Ginny was in the first BAMS class I ever facilitated back in 2010. I’ve known Ann just as long, even when she was an AA student. And of course, my advisees, Ed and Ruby, who I had to guide through their particularly difficult process of passing MMS 200. Many of you, I consider more as friends rather than students. 

All of you went through me multiple times in my different courses. Some may have even taken the same course more than once. And those courses, as well as my teaching methods, continue to evolve and hopefully improve because of you. It’s likely that a few of you still harbor some negativity towards me. But I’d like to believe that it’s all good with most of you. And do believe that everything I have done was in your best interest as part of the UPOU Community.

I’m soaking this in more than I typically would because this might be it for me, as well. I might not be the one who’s around for next year’s batch. I’m happy because if that turns out to be true, then I go out on a high note and I did so with you.

It doesn’t end here. You will always be part of this community of learners. And you may find yourself willingly involving yourselves with our work sooner than you think. Until then, I wish all of you the best of luck and I hope to see you again soon.

 

Al Francis D. Librero
Assistant Professor and BAMS Program Chair
Faculty of Information and Communication Studies
University of the Philippines Open University

 

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MMS 173 Virtual Photography Activity: The Witcher 3

This is probably the first time I actually participated in this activity. I got a new video card a few months ago and wanted to see how far I could go with the settings of The Witcher 3 with it. I was so happy with the results I decided to post them here.

Instead of relying on game mods and regular screenshot function, I made use of Nvidia Ansel. You need an Nvdia-based card with it, and it won’t work with all games. But it does for this one, and I took full advantage. I was tempted to capture cutscenes, but that would be sort of cheating. So everything was shot in-game.

 

Kaer Mohren Sunset

The shot obviously follows the rule of thirds, with the castle as the main subject. But it also shows a lot of rhythmic elements thanks to the mist covered trees, clouds and the mountain range. The depth of the landscape also provided a lot of overlapping elements.

Natural lighting also had to be deliberate, the position of the sun depended on the time of day, as in real life. Late afternoon provided the quality and direction of light I needed for this screenshot.

 

Shrine at Skellige

The branch and stern of a longship falls within the golden spiral. They, in turn, create a frame within a frame for the altar and background landscape. The stern and altar themselves, if you choose for them to be the subject, follow the rule of thirds.

This is another afternoon shot with the camera shooting against the light. I managed to frame this in such a way that the lens flares were prevented. But you do see a dirty lens effect, which I find a little annoying (luckily, I found a way to turn it off for the succeeding shots). I find this more interesting, with lighting from behind the subject, rather than up front.

 

Silver For Monsters

Nvidia Ansel also allowed me to pause midway through Geralt’s attacks and let the camera go up close. The level of detail is amazing. Again, rule of thirds prevail here. Yet, it is the sword, with its rhythmic elements up front which is given emphasis. I wish depth of field was shallower here, but it is noticeable enough, to bring about many overlapping parts — the silver sword, Geralt, his sheathed steel sword and the background lansdcape. Unity is strong in this one (if you can forgive that tip of an enemy’s weapon that got awkwardly included in the frame, covering one of Geralt’s hands.

 

 

Igni

This one’s a little morbid, but has a LOT to offer design-wise. Again, rule of thirds is followed by Geralt (more specifically his spell casting hand) and his opponent. The enemy’s body also creates a frame within a frame for Geralt. The fire bursting out of Geralt’s hand in all directions relative to the frame creates a radial composition, but it is clear that it also has a strong directional force moving towards and even through the enemy as he is engulfed in them. The shooting flames also accentuate the overlapping layers found in the frame.

 

Yennefer in Toussaint

This is probably the one I spent the most amount of time with. I realized that with Nvidia Ansel, it becomes possible to do a portrait shoot like never before, it least for this game. I took so many shots but eventually settled with this one, because this is where I managed to move the camera finely enough to make it look like she’s looking at the camera. In-game her eyes follow Geralt, so I had to carefully place Geralt so that Yennefer faces opposite an acceptable background, which the immediate area does not provide much of, sadly. Not very intuitive, I know, but it works.

So… rule of thirds with lots of overlapping layers in the background, of course. With her seemingly looking at the camera, I could give emphasis to those violet eyes. In the end I figured those eyes were more important than that leather and lace outfit of hers (yes, I just fanboyed over one of the most beautiful women in video games). Again, I made use of the afternoon sun, for the added warmth of colors.

 

The world of The Witcher is now my favorite virtual world for this activity. This has been so much more fun than Second Life.

Sharing of Experiences: The Role as System Administrator

It’s a little strange for me to be talking about me experiences as a system administrator. I am known to indulge in a little bit of complaining here and there, but never really seriously. Or perhaps my colleagues don’t take it seriously. I suppose it doesn’t matter. However, actually sitting down and discussing how I do my job and talk about the lessons I’ve learned… I’ve never really done that. Recently, I was asked to do just that for training specialists working across the archipelago whose new task was to learn how to operate learning management systems and disseminate what they’ve learned. Amusingly enough, what ensued was a bit of a demotivational presentation. Well… ok, I am exaggerating. But the audience did fully realize that the work of an IT administrator in UP, or perhaps the government in general, is more difficult than it looks.

 

As of this writing, I am on the final month of my ninth year as an employee of the UP Open University. Back in October 2007, I was barely a month into my job as a junior faculty and was looking forward to being just that in my foreseeable future. Little did I know that the direction of my career had practically been planned for me, the moment I was accepted in the fold.

I was quickly assigned into what was then the Management Information Systems Office of the university. It sounds rather heavy, but it was actually a room with two people who were little more than kids at the time. I wasn’t that much older than them and I had less relevant professional experience. Yet, I was expected to lead them and make sense of what, to the untrained eye, looked like a convoluted pile of hardware and software they called their network infrastructure. My job was to help effect a major transition in the university of which I had been ignorant of. I was expected to have a hand in some of the biggest decisions that needed to be made on behalf of a university which I quickly realized I knew so much less about than I initially thought. And what made matters worse for me was that nothing I had done prior to that time would have helped me prepare for that challenge. I was never given time to adjust and familiarize myself with my new environment without the risk of committing mistakes that can have campus-wide ramifications. I didn’t think it was fair. It was stressful. It was frightening. All I wanted was a relatively quiet job as an online teacher. And now, this…

One of the biggest moves UPOU made at the time I came in was the migration of all courses under all degree programs, and eventually all non-formal courses, to an online learning management system. Face to face sessions were being phased out.

UPOU had already chosen to adopt MOODLE by the time I took over the MIS Office. Everyone was calling it our learning management system. But the reality of the matter was that, with respect to how we were using it, MOODLE was our course management system. I suppose the difference is subtle enough for me to not mind and leave uncorrected. But it was significant enough for me to warrant addressing, albeit in a discreet fashion.

To me, it was clear that MOODLE cannot solve everything for us. And it did not help that its early versions were, shall we say, rough around the edges. The code was buggy and inefficient. For a relatively small number of users, it required a huge amount of server power and Internet bandwidth, both of which we were in extremely short supply of.

Over the course of several years, I was mindful of three things:

  1. Finding ways to improve how MOODLE itself run.
  2. Filling the gaps unaddressed by MOODLE as the university’s needs change and grow.
  3. Being aware if and when something better than MOODLE comes along.

 

Running MOODLE

UPOU started with running MOODLE with an in-house server. However, bandwidth limitations forced us to have our server co-located off-site. While this made hardware maintenance inconvenient, at least it partially solved daily accessibility issues for users. But it didn’t take long for the university to outgrow that setup.

Playing catchup with our needs proved difficult, as doing so required constant maintenance, upgrade and replacement of our own servers. The logical next step for us was to find a way to bypass the need for it altogether.

By 2008, we eventually negotiated a hosting contract with what is referred to as a MOODLE partner. It was one of several companies across the world that is certified by MOODLE HQ and its community to administer systems for organizations of all sizes. This solves our dilemma regarding hardware. And with a datacenter outside the Philippines, better access was all but assured. Lastly, as part of the MOODLE partner’s service, day-to-day administration of the system itself were taken off our hands to further lighten my office’s workload.

It was a comfortable arrangement that lasted for a number of years. We would have kept it to this day, had the service remained consistently good. Unfortunately, for some reason that remains unclear to me, the partner’s quality of service declined to a point when we were already within our rights to declare a breach of contract. That did not happen, but it did herald yet another shift for the university.

It was around 2011 when we ended our working relationship with the MOODLE partner. This was also the time when another team took over administration duties, at least for UPOU’s MOODLE system. But from what I have pieced together, hosting changed hands twice. Administrative responsibilities were relegated back to me in 2013, when the MIS Office was re-tooled as the ICT Development Office. Even though I had been doing the job since 2007, it was only six years after, when I was formally designated as a director in UPOU. By this time a local company was under the outgoing MOODLE hosting contract. It proved capable of performing the duties of a MOODLE partner. But the more interesting aspect of this arrangement was that this was UPOU’s early foray into employing a Cloud-based system. I had recommended exploring it a few years earlier, but perhaps up until that point, Cloud hosting was not particularly feasible. And while actual hosting management still changed hands one more time in these last three years, we have essentially maintained the same setup to this day.

Augmenting MOODLE

MOODLE is commonly referred to as a learning management system. But the reality is that it is rarely fully utilized as such. UPOU certainly is no exception. We do not need all its features. While at the same time, we had several needs which MOODLE cannot provide. In order to address this issue, we had to augment MOODLE with other applications.

Perhaps the most important addition to the UPOU Learning Management System was Google Apps, which we implemented in 2008. The availability of the whole suite of Google’s online applications solve a number of issues, such as official email, Cloud storage and collaboration tools. UPOU had also developed its own academic information management system that handles student admission, records and registration. Unfortunately, circumstances leave us hesitant to implement full integration of these systems to finally implement single sign on, which has been requested for years now.

The exploration and testing of new systems that can possibly complement MOODLE’s feature set is an on-going endeavor at UPOU. My colleagues conduct work of this nature on a regular basis. I am currently studying the use of an ePortfolio system and its full integration with MOODLE. The technical aspect is not difficult to figure out, as both systems have been designed to seamlessly integrate with one another. But it does have administrative and budget implications, which I hope to address in the near future.

Options Aside from MOODLE

Whether it is on behalf of the ICT Development Office or the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies, we are constantly keeping ourselves apprised of the development of learning management systems aside from MOODLE. We are currently active in testing Canvas and are in constant contact with their representatives to assess the prospect of employing the platform. Both parties understand that even if it were to end up being the case, it would still be several years away. However, this is notable in the sense that this has been the farthest the university has come to consider giving up MOODLE.

Lessons Learned

While it is presumptive, even arrogant, to declare UPOU as the foremost user of MOODLE in the country, I can safely say that we have never done better with MOODLE than we have right now. We also accumulated a considerable amount of experience over the past 10 or so years. There were also a lot of mistakes made and lessons learned which I’ll try to highlight the most important here.

  • A system administrator does not need to be the most skilled technocrat in the team. His or her role is, on one hand, to be able to articulate what the team is doing to the rest of the organization. On the other hand, the administrator has to make sure his or her team has the breathing room to work at its best.
  • It is a given that technical staff in UP or the government in general are underpaid, especially with respect to their counterparts in the private sector. That is why you need to find ways to keep your people from leaving.
  • Technology advances quickly. But that doesn’t mean new tech is always readily available to you.
  • Government procurement rules cannot keep up with new technology, services and platforms. Therefore, it is always a good idea to consult with your Legal Office before proposing to adopt anything new.
  • Many people have trouble distinguishing between needs and wants when it comes to ICT. It is your job to help them do so, while at the same time not making them feel like you are imposing how you think they should do their
  • Always have contingencies. Don’t EVER allow yourself to be backed into a corner where you don’t have at least a few possible solutions for every issue thrown your way. When faced with a crisis, few things will infuriate the rest of your organization than telling them there’s nothing you can do about it.

Yes, working as a system administrator in an organization like UP is not easy by any means. You will feel underpaid and underappreciated. Managing UPOU’s learning management system for nearly a decade has been an arduous task, that is for sure. But I have learned a LOT from my experiences and that has helped me adapt. I can’t say I’m a happy employee, but through these basic pointers, I can live with the burden. And if you are reading this, maybe you can take these few pointers, as well.

The point(lessness) of student evaluation of teachers in UPOU

I’d been going back and forth as to whether or not I should, or should even bother writing about this. It’s definitely not a new issue. But it does continue to bother us at UPOU on a regular basis. Then there is this thing about confidentiality which may or may not apply (I’ve never actually asked nor would I care to, at this stage). But here we go.

Student Evaluation of Teachers (SET) — if you’re a UP student, you have already had filled that survey form to assess the performance of your prof on all your courses. You’ve become so used to it that answering it has become second nature to you. If not, you will.

Unless you are a UPOU student, of course.

The problem in UPOU is that there is no procedure that will ensure that students will answer the evaluation sheets, like in other campuses. Neither is there any policy that will deter students from ignoring the call for evaluation. That leaves the university putting faith on the proactiveness of students…

LOL… ???

With confidentiality potentially becoming an issue, I’ll stick with only one set of data — mine.

From 2010 to 2014, I earned a SET average of 2.68. Breaking this down is going to be a little complicated, but I’ll do my best here by showing the actual sheet forwarded to me. I hope you’ll be able to follow.

SET_LibreroAFD

 

Scores seem straightforward enough. However, there is one important fact which the spreadsheet does not account for. It doesn’t say how many students actually evaluated me. I wish I still had all the numbers as proof, but I don’t. You’re just gonna have to trust that I’m being honest about it. As far as I can tell, the number of respondents exceeded ten only once here — for LVM 202 FS 2012-2013. Now, with the exception of maybe CMSC G in SS 2011-2012, when I only had three students, I typically have at least a few dozen students in a class. That LVM 202 class had 70 students, of which 17 evaluated me. I know because the Faculty of Management and Development Studies gave me the actual detailed results for both LVM 202 classes indicated here (in the second class, there were 6 out 34 respondents). In other classes, I’d typically get between 1-4 respondents. Another noteworthy fact here is that LVM 202 is the only course in that list which is taken by new students.  The rest are taken by students midway through or at the end of their residency.

Seventeen out of seventy was the best the SET could do for me — a response rate of less than 25%. In any other campus that would be unacceptable. But it would be the most normalized score I would ever get. Is it a coincidence that it is the also the highest rating in the list? I don’t know, really.

Now, make no mistake — I have never claimed to be the best teacher anywhere. But I do try to be good. But I have a style that not everybody would take well. No method does. That is why there will always be people who will not regard me or my methods kindly.

From what I have observed, I can surmise that students are more likely to evaluate teachers if a) they are new and are still enthusiastic towards this activity, and b) they have an axe to grind and the SET is a great opportunity for retribution, so to speak.

I admit that I felt hurt the first time I saw these scores last year. It was a big issue, not just for me, but for nearly everyone at UPOU. I don’t think anybody was spared. Do we deserve it? I can only speak for myself, but what I will say is that the only way I’m going to accept such low scores is if they are representative of the majority. If that’s what most of my students think, then so be it. That would also be the time when I say to myself that I really am not good at this and step away from teaching.

I didn’t mind the detractors by themselves. Like I said, there will always be those people who will not appreciate what I do and will make sure the university knows about it. What bugged me a little was that those who do like what I do couldn’t be bothered to evaluate me. But you know what? That was last year.

I saw the above sheet again the other day. And I was like, yeah, whatever… There is, however, a bigger questions to be answered.

Does this even matter?

I really can’t prove it, but I have this feeling that there are foolish students out there who think it doesn’t. So to address anyone who think as much, I’ll tell you why it does.

I started believing it served a purpose back when one of my profs in grad school was being reprimanded. The UPLB administration dug up his evaluation scores and used it against him, even though they were practically cherry picking. He was a highly regarded teacher who had few detractors. Unfortunately, it was those detractors who were passionate enough to detail their displeasure through additional comments. The admin made full use of those and played a small, but significant part in my prof’s departure.

SET scores are also mainstays in our university portfolios. I mean not the one that we would put out in public, but the one that is the basis of our tenure and our advancement. Higher scores earn us more points, which we need to accumulate before being promoted.

Perhaps its most important purpose as far as students are concerned is that it is the basis for the officials in determining what to do with us. Even though the indicator is a number, the SET is actually what keeps our portfolio and performance from being just a numbers game. Students’ feedback qualifies the teaching load we take every term.

Given a sufficient sample size, there are few things as indicative of a faculty’s performance in teaching than the SET. Unfortunately, we never have that benefit at UPOU.

We have now found ourselves in a conundrum. With such gross under-representation in the SET, UPOU has no choice but to stop respecting it as an assessment tool for faculty. That will only change if students stop taking it for granted and start being more proactive in its accomplishment. But since they generally don’t think it’s important in the first place (and is actually somewhat true now), it’s not going to happen.

There is another solution — find a way to make SETs mandatory and properly enforce it. But that is something I will leave to the people in power to figure out. I stopped caring last year.

If you are a UPOU student and has read up to this stage, I’m not going to beg you to start filling those SETs. Whether you do it or not is your prerogative. The important thing is that whatever you do, you accept what it entails.

Again, I never made any claims of being an outstanding teacher. But I do go out of my way to at least try to be one. I certainly believe I am better than a 2.68, so I will ignore it. But on the flipside, without SETs, teaching will completely become a numbers game. There would be no upside in trying to improve. I don’t even need to do this job well. I will earn my pay no matter what. There’s that… at least until I completely lose interest and quit teaching altogether.

UPOU Seal (500 pixels)

The BAMS Survival Guide

Version 0.21 (May 8, 2016)

changes:

0.1 – first draft
0.11 – expanded foreword and corrected a misquote
0.2 – major additions
0.21 – added list of UPOU officials

 

Disclaimer:

This guide is not meant to replace whatever official guidelines UPOU has established for students. Much of what lies below are also matters of opinion based on my experiences and observations as a teacher and administrator in the BAMS program for the past six years and are not necessarily shared by the rest of the university.

This is my personal site which UPOU has no control or authority over. It has, and always will be, my intention to help students. Over there at UPOU, I am bound to follow a certain level of decorum in order to do so. But here, I can say anything however the hell I want. Besides, from what I’ve noticed, what you see here seems to be the language most students understand.

If, at any point, you find something in this guide that offends you, then I suggest you stop reading and seek advice elsewhere.

Thank you.

 

[nextpage title=”Introduction” ]

Introduction

Contrary to what may be popular belief among BAMS students, there are actually established guidelines and protocols that are meant to be followed as they weave through the program. It just so happens that pretty much all of them are subject to change.

UPOU navigates over capricious waters of the times. Perhaps more so than any other UP campus, UPOU is subject to the rapid changes in trends of technology and society. Since the opening of the BAMS program back in 2008, I have seen prevailing ICTs change, from paper-based correspondence to SMS, to content management systems and mobile platforms. This is huge because ICT is the artery bridging the students to the university. We have also seen student demographics and dynamics dramatically change from the population dominated by full-time professionals to the emergence of UPCAT passers fresh off high school.  These things force us, the UPOU faculty, to never stop moving forward to adapt to these changes. Otherwise, we run the risk of getting left behind and be doomed to irrelevance.

The BAMS Survival Guide is meant to be a supplement for whatever official guide or handbook is issued to you by the UP Open University. It aims to cover issues which any official guide cannot. It is also meant to keep pace with sudden changes to anything that relates to your being a student, unencumbered by the rigorous process an official guidebook has to go through before being approved by the university.

With that said, this is not meant to replace any official guidelines issued by the university. If you find any sort of conflict, unless it is explained clearly in this guide, you, the student have to trust that the official guidelines supersede this survival guide.

At the same time, this guide is only meant to point you to what we feel is the right direction. This guide will never be complete in the sense that everything you need to know will eventually be here. That is what we call spoon-feeding — students expecting it and teachers practicing at are deeply frowned upon around here. As UPOU students, you are expected to practice a certain level of autonomy and proactivity. If you can’t do that, you may have to do a bit of soul-searching and figure out for yourself if you are in the right school.

Lastly, as it is emphasized here, when all else fail, talk to someone with authority and ask for help or perhaps directions. It’s part of why we’re here as mentors in the first place.

Al Francis Librero
BAMS Program Chair, 2014 to present


I, Student

There are generally two types of students – the full-timers and part-timers. Full time students are typically encouraged to take on a full twelve unit load for each trimester. Part-time students, whom we presume to have full-time occupations, are advised to take three or six units.

However, based on what I have seen, classifying students is much more complicated than that. We also have to take educational background into account. That leads us to the following:

  • UPCAT passers coming straight out of high school
  • International Baccalaureate Diploma holders
  • Transferees from other UP campuses
  • Transferees from other schools and universities
  • Admitted students who have finished certificate or ALS programs

These have yet to cover so many other parameters in what is the student demographic. It may take a while to do so. But what this means is that the UPOU studentry is a highly diverse group of people, all of which must be fairly accommodated. Does it sound like a daunting task? You bet.

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[nextpage title=”General Pointers” ]

General Pointers

Sooner or later, you are going to have problems. And then I, or whoever the program chair will be when that time comes, will have to go through the repetitive process of helping you out. Now, it’s ok if such things are isolated or are easily resolved. But there are times when neither is the case.

Therefore, it is also in my best interest to help you prepare early on with how to go about your business not just in BAMS, but in UPOU as a whole.

Let me start with the most important thing:

  • MATUTO KAYO MAGBASA AT INTINDIHIN ANG INYONG BINABASA.

I’m not pertaining to any specific case or person (even though doing so will not be difficult). Being careless about instructions and content is sadly endemic to students as a whole. I think at least half of your potential problems can be avoided just by reading intently, whether it is your course site/manual, the academic calendar, AIMS, or whatnot. Aside from preventing yourself from making mistakes, it also saves you time because you won’t have to needlessly make inquiries to me, your learning center or OUR and move on with whatever you need to do.

  • SEEK CLARIFICATIONS WHENEVER NECESSARY

Ask me, other faculties-in-charge, the learning center coordinator or your fellow students. Whatever happens, DO NOT keep any questions to yourself hanging and lingering until it’s too late. Whenever there’s a problem, an excuse that starts with I would like to ask that you reconsider [a ruling for whatever it is I screwed up]. I did not know that… is probably one of the worst that you can come up with.

  • KEEP YOUR FACULTIES-IN-CHARGE AWARE OF WHAT’S GOING ON

Like I said, excuses are best made before deadlines. It gives us time to figure out how to deal with whatever problem you’re going through.

We have lots of deadlines ourselves. We are pressured to produce grades on time. Heck, some of you even expect your assignments to be marked immediately. Personally, I am usually able to meet those deadlines under most circumstances. But it gets annoying when somebody sends an email asking for reconsideration, making up all sorts of excuses just to get away from a DRP or 5.0 long after I’ve submitted the grades. Do you have any idea how tedious (and potentially embarrassing) it is to modify official records?

Meeting deadlines is only one issue, however. All of us have our problems. We respect your right to privacy. However, when your problems start affecting your performance as a student, it might already be a good time to let us know enough of what’s going on so we can try work with you to come up with a means to make things more bearable.

If that is no longer possible, at least we can advise you to drop your course(s) or file a leave of absence. It sounds harsh, but in my experience, working students with families are usually the ones facing the most problems and studying is almost always the lowest priority among them. Therefore, letting go of their studies, at least for the time-being, is usually the most practical decision. At the very least, an LOA is much more preferable than an array of DRPs and 5.0s.

Communicating with your FICs is also good practice because, eventually, it is something you will have to do constantly, when you make it to the higher major courses, especially MMS 200. If by then, you still don’t know how to approach your profs, you might be in for a difficult time.

  • UPOU AND ITS PROFESSORS ARE NOT “THE ENEMY”

The first batch of BAMS graduates marched back in 2012. One of them graduated magna cum laude and delivered the valedictory speech for the entire class. She closed her speech with the following passage:

To the graduates, today is definitely a good time to ask for graduation gifts. This is our day. And today we celebrate that in spite of how much our Professors challenged us, we won over them! Congratulations fellow survivors!

A big difference the ordering of two words can make, no?

Regardless of the speaker’s actual intention, it is a reminder for us teachers of what some think. It’s strange to see students behave as if the university and its professors are roadblocks – antagonists or kontrabidas in the stories of their lives. For the most part, such way of thinking has been tolerated. Truth be told, if it can be a source of motivation to excel and succeed, then all well and good. Unfortunately, there are incidents when students take it too far. Aside from being offensive, such incidents are unnecessary.

So, let’s get it out of the way early on. The institution and the people working for it are not your enemies. It is the course contents which you need to win against. The professors are here to help you achieve that, but only if you let them. Win them over and convince them how good you are.

On the other hand…

  • STUDENTS ARE NOT CLIENTS

With students having to pay for tuition, it is not surprising for some to regard themselves as paying customers. Therefore, we should all abide by the old and misguided adage that the customer is always right. This can be a root of a lot of issues and possible conflicts.

Remember this, and remember it well. You are not in UP buying a degree through the tuition fees your pay. You are in UP paying for a chance to prove yourself and earn a degree. That’s a colossal difference right there…

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[nextpage title=”People, Names and Acronyms” ]

People and Names

When communicating with professors, the least a student can do is get their names right. Some of you are probably going duh. But believe it or not, names are gotten wrong more often than it should,even if their email addresses are their actual real names. Whether it is borne of carelessness or ignorance, it is difficult to say. It is awkward, either way (not to mention insulting for some).

Even more awkward and embarrassing is being exposed for not knowing who you are actually addressing. You know the name, but not his or her title, position or responsibility.  I know of incidents where students don’t know who the FICS dean, or worse, who the UPOU Chancellor is. There is no excuse for such levels of ignorance. Do take the time to know about these things.

I’ll make it easy for you.

As of May 2016, the following are the UPOU Officials whom you should know by name:

  • Chancellor – Dr. Melinda dP. Bandalaria
  • Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs – Dr. Melinda F. Lumanta
  • Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration – Dr. Jean A. Saludadez
  • Dean, Faculty of Education – Dr. Ricardo T. Bagarinao
  • Dean, Faculty of Information and Communication Studies – Dr. Alexander G. Flor
  • Dean, Faculty of Management and Development Studies – Dr. Primo G. Garcia
  • University Registrar – aProf. Aurora V. Lacaste
  • Director, Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services – Dr. Sheila R. Bonito
  • OIC, Multimedia Center and Information Office – Dr. Joanne Serrano
  • Director, ICT Development Office – aProf. Al Francis D. Librero
  • Director, Office of Gender Concerns – aProf. Finaflor Taylan

 

Acronyms

You are in BAMS (not BAMMS, BMS or anything else), the Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies program. It is an undergraduate degree program run by the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies (FICS) at the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU).

FICS is NOT the same as FIC (faculty in charge). Speaking of, there’s what we call Faculty with a capital F, which pertains to the office (FICS, FEd and FMDS), and then there’s faculty with a small f, which pertains to us, the assistant, associate and full professors.

This is quite important to keep in mind, especially when communicating with UPOU staff. Get it wrong, and you will look foolish. Even though most of us will not mind, it’s still best to avoid that. We’ve encountered instances where a student makes it through graduation without even knowing which Faculty they belonged to. That’s just embarrassing and I don’t want any of you to be the same.

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[nextpage title=”Transfer of Credits” ]

Transfer of Credits

The program chair is actually the wrong person to ask for regarding which courses you took from your previous school or university can be credited by UPOU. He or she is not involved in this particular process. This is handled by the Faculty Secretary and therefore should be the person for you to contact regarding this matter.

However, there are a few things you can keep in mind prior to contacting the secretary.

  • It is typically automatic for students previously from another UP campus, or those from the Associate in Arts program to have their GE courses get credited, unless they were taken from a long time ago. How long? Course contents have varying degrees of shelf lives. Math lessons can stay relevant for decades or even centuries. On the other hand, content information technology related courses can be rendered obsolete within a year or two. UPOU, therefore has to review requests on a tedious case to case basis.

 

  • Students who took bachelor’s level courses outside UP will typically have to take validation exams for each course he or she wants transferred. Keep in mind that these exams assess how well you might do in the pertinent UP course, not how well you did in your previous school. Therefore, it will be very much possible for you to encounter types of questions dramatically different from what you have previously encountered. Is that fair? From your perspective, probably not. For everyone else, of course it is.

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[nextpage title=”Enrollment” ]

Enrollment

A self-advising checklist is released during registration and can usually be found in the front page of the AIMS student portal. It includes all the courses offered in the trimester.  The instructions in that checklist are fairly straightforward. However, certain questions often come up.

 

Academic Load

Full-time students normally take on full twelve unit loads for each trimester. Part-time students are often advised to only take three or six units per trimester. However, they are free to take up to twelve as well, if they do so desire.

Under special circumstances, students are allowed to overload and take fifteen units. Permission must be requested from the Program Chair, who will then promptly evaluate the case. Generally speaking, only cases of impending violation of the maximum residency rule (8 years for BAMS) are considered for approval. Otherwise, the request would be denied.

Reality Check:

FICS had become extremely accommodating in as far as allowing for overloads is concerned. This was rooted from the early years of the program when it was in disarray. It was not managed well and left a lot of students without clear directions. It took years to recover from that. Part of the recovery process was to bend the rules a little bit here and there. That also meant allowing students to overload in order to catch up and give some students a chance to graduate on time.

Admittedly, this was taken for granted up to the point when a new generation of students started making use of overloading as a means to accelerate and graduate in less than three years. That is no longer allowed.

 

Curriculum vs. BAMS Self-advising Checklist

Every now and then, you will find certain conflicts or inconsistencies between the BAMS curriculum found in the FICS website (http://fics.upou.edu.ph) and the self-advising checklist made available to you during enrollment period through the Academic Information Management System (AIMS).These are what you need to know in order to understand why.

First, what is found in the website or BAMS program handbook (if available) is the one that is official, as in approved by the UP Board of Regents. That is the one we strive to follow as best we can. However, there are times when it is necessary to bend the rules a little bit, so to speak. This can be manifested through the checklist.

 

Prerequisites

OUR’s AIMS is supposed to follow the curriculum originally approved by the UP Board of Regents, as already stated. The problem is that FICS is often forced to bend the rules a little, when it comes to prerequisites. That is why you will often notice conflicts between the checklist and AIMS when you enroll courses. This happens for two main reasons. First, with BAMS students coming in every trimester with widely varying degrees of previous accomplishments, provisions have been made to make sure they have enough courses to enroll in. Second, there are a number of higher major courses where students would do well taking certain lower courses prior, despite what is included in the original curriculum.

So, these conflicts, in fact, happen not out of incompetence, but of the desire to accommodate students more.

 

Waiving of Prerequisites

If a program chair has the authority to waive prerequisites, he or she will already do so and indicate it in the BAMS self-advising checklist provided during enrollment. An FIC has the authority to waive prerequisites and allow you to enroll even if you haven’t passed them, but only when what we call COI or the consent of instructor is officially prescribed as a prerequisite in the curriculum.

Again, if a prerequisite has not been pre-waived in the checklist, the program chair can’t do anything about it. You need to directly contact the FIC. If one has not been announced yet who can give a COI, as is sometimes the case, you will have to assume that the prerequisite(s), if any, cannot be waived.

Reality Check:

Perhaps the most important thing to note about prerequisites is that they are there for a very damn good reason.

However, waiving of prerequisites also became a sadly common practice in the early days as well. Again, provisions had to be made to recover from the initial shortcomings of the program and graduate on time. The problem is that again, the reasoning behind doing it in the first place had been taken for granted.

I personally found it alarming, as well as insulting, to see students complain when I deny their requests to waive prerequisites. On the other end, I have also received complaints from the side of the faculty about students struggling (sometimes to the point of failing) in courses whose prerequisites they have not taken yet because they have been fricking waived.

So like overloading again, waiving of prerequisites can only be allowed in dire circumstances.


Cross-registration

<sarcasm>Another issue that is dear to my heart.</sarcasm>

Cross-registration allows you to enroll in courses in another UP campus. Take note – another UP campus.

We strongly discourage cross-registering now. Here’s why:

Let’s say you enroll for the first semester in another campus, let’s say in UP Diliman. That will count to your first trimester load here in UPOU. Now, with UPD following a four month schedule, the first semester would still be on-going by the time the second trimester of UPOU commences. That means that 3-unit load at UPD will still count to your second trimester load. That means you can only enroll up to 9 units for the second trimester.

 

Furthermore, we have no control over whatever happens to cross-registrants in the UPD side, nor can we lend any assistance if anything goes wrong. There are cases where UPOU loses track of students due to cross-registering. It’s actually enough to prevent a student from graduating on schedule.

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[nextpage title=”Curriculum” ]

Making Sense of the BAMS Curriculum

The following is a section in-progress. All courses have their official guides and descriptions. However, they do not tell the whole story. This section intends to fill those gaps which the official documents cannot cover. Each course contains annotations from students and teachers alike in the hopes that you, the student thinking about enrolling in any of these courses, see a clear picture off first-hand accounts from those who’ve actually been there.

 

MMS 120 Communication and Culture

Student notes:

Approaches to the study of communication and culture; comparative analysis of communication variables, patterns, and systems across cultures — this is the why and how of BAMS and whatever you learn here will serve you as a practitioner for years to come even though it is hard to appreciate for the sheer amount of writing required by this course.

MMS 121 Multimedia and Popular Culture

Student notes:

Impact of multimedia on popular culture — this is where you can expose the world to your inner geek or kabaduyan. Expect to get to know your classmates more for better or worse whether you like it or not. Don’t be surprised if you come out of this with either new friends  or old ones that have started to avoid you. Hehehe.

MMS 130 – Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D)

Faculty notes:

It is one among several courses under the program that define the social relevance associated with UPOU’s approach to multimedia studies. Thus, you may find it different from your earlier courses. It covers lessons learned and best practices on the use of information and communication technologies in programs and projects by the international development assistance community. It is composed of three units: Situating ICT4D; Sectoral and Thematic Applications; and State of Play. All three units, in turn, contain three modules.

Student notes:

Application of ICTs and multimedia for sustainable development — probably the most socially conscious course you will take in BAMS, the theories you will encounter are mind-blowing but the knowledge of how we as BAMS people can apply them are mind-numbing.

 

MMS 131 – Introduction to Knowledge Management

Faculty notes:

Knowledge management was defined in the nineties as a newly emerging discipline that treats intellectual capital as a manageable asset. Since then, the phrase has been misused, abused and has consequently evolved in forms that its intellectual founders would hardly recognize as KM. Nowadays, almost anyone associated with information, knowledge, or management can claim to be a KM expert. This course will provide an appropriate perspective to the discipline by tracing its roots and looking at its application particularly within the development sector. MMS131 is structured into the following: Knowledge; Knowledge Management; and Knowledge Management for Development (KM4D). Each unit contains three modules. The course was so designed that the class will construct the content of these modules collectively. The main readings are contributed by the Faculty In Charge.  In the spirit of constructivism and knowledge sharing, you are likewise expected to contribute to the class resources through a mechanism that we refer to as the learning log.

Student notes:

Foundations, basic principles and applications of knowledge management— this is where interaction with your fellow BAMS students is inevitable so it will be the time to get down from your ivory tower or crawl from under your rock and realize that BAMS people aren’t so bad after all.

 

The 140 Series of Courses

The 140 series is made up of math and computer science related courses, namely:

MMS 140        Mathematics in Multimedia
MMS 141        Principles of Programming
MMS 142        Internet Technologies and Web Development
MMS 143        Introduction to Multimedia Computing
MMS 144        Principles of Multimedia Information Management
MMS 145        Multimedia Communications and Networking
MMS 146        Object-Oriented Programming

Passing these courses can be a potentially daunting task, especially for those without a firm background on mathematics and computer programming. If you think are one such student, then you are advised to only take one of them at any given trimester. And perhaps more so than in others, FICS is particularly strict about enforcing the prerequisites of these courses.

 

The Production Courses

The aptly called production courses consist of the 170 series, namely:

MMS 171        Text in Multimedia
MMS 172        Audio in Multimedia
MMS 173        Photography in Multimedia
MMS 174        Graphics in Multimedia
MMS 175        Videography in Multimedia
MMS 176        Animation in Multimedia

Program Chair Notes:

The originally approved BAMS curriculum indicates that there are no prerequisites for these courses. However, if you apply a bit of common sense, you will notice some logic in the sequence of these courses.

All six courses are deeply rooted from MMS 100, the first major course all students should take. Therefore, it makes sense that you take MMS 100 before any of the production courses – not after or even at the same time. Otherwise, prepare for potential difficulties along the way. A student has further argued that the ideal time to start taking any of these production courses is after taking MMS 102. This makes a lot of sense. What adds even more sense is for students to take MMS 100, 101 and 102 during their first year before  starting with production courses in their second year. These three courses can provide all the requisite knowledge on theory and practice in order to fully appreciate these six production courses.

It is also an excellent idea to take these production courses in ascending order, starting with MMS 171, and becomes practically imperative by the time you make it to 175 and 176. In case you’re asking why, if you take a close look, their foundations are actually grounded on the lower production courses. For example, what is video but the combination of sound, moving pictures and a dash of text and additional graphics?

Another thing to note is that while these production courses are potentially the most fun you will have in BAMS, they typically require a considerable amount of work. Therefore, it is recommended that you take no more than one production course for each trimester.

The most common question I get, however, is that regarding required equipment. And yes, it will be necessary to not necessarily own, but have full access to certain hardware and software all throughout these courses.

MMS 198 – Special Topics

Students are often clueless when they enroll in this vaguely titled course. The way UPOU treats this course, it is a springboard for emerging trends and topics in the field of multimedia. It is also the place to tackle topics not covered by any of the other major courses.

The actual topics will vary each time MMS 198 is offered. FICS will go out of its way to announce these topics in advance so that you will have the chance to choose the topic you would be most interested in.

For your reference, the following topics have been covered in the past:

  • New Media Art Practice
  • Mobile Videography
  • Gaming in Education
  • Digital Image Processing
  • Collaborative Online Audio Production

 

Mobile Videography

Faculty notes:

Mobile Videography tackles the requisite skills required in the craft but, more importantly, underscores a meaningful application of the medium towards a socially beneficial goal. Video is a powerful medium, primarily because it approximates reality. It leverages both the visual and aural senses and exploits the synergies between these two. It captures not only knowledge, but emotions and contexts as well. For so long, the benefits of employing this medium were reserved to the trained professional or the well-endowed artist. Today, technology has allowed anyone with a smart-phone to tap this medium and has equitably decentralized and distributed the power associated with its use. We have become less and less dependent on professional studios and more and more enabled to tell our own stories through video. Personal video stories will be the focus of this course.

 

MMS 200 – Special Project

Faculty notes:

MMS 200 can’t really be considered as just one of your major courses.  It is your capstone. It is the avenue for you to apply everything you have learned from all the other courses to conduct research on multimedia through a project or a thesis.

It is difficult to set boundaries for what you can or cannot do because of the wide scope encompassed by the term multimedia.  UPOU faculty, therefore, have to evaluate students and their ideas on a case-to-case basis.

Only students of senior standing (or have taken 75% of the courses in the curriculum) should attempt to take MMS 200. It is also strongly recommended that most, if not all, of the production courses and MMS 197 are included in that 75%.

Research is a tricky concept to grasp, hence the necessity of MMS 197. What can or cannot qualify as multimedia research is explained in greater detail in the guide for MMS 200.

As for handling MMS 200 is concerned, it is a 6-unit course, taken three at a time.

The following are to be expected the first time you take it:

  • You will initially be supervised by the MMS 200 coordinator. He or she will address any concerns you have early on.
  • Your immediate job is to come up with one or more ideas on what you want to do and how you can conduct research for it.
  • You are to seek out UPOU faculty who you would want to work with and request that you be taken in as an advisee. You may choose according to whatever criteria you desire. But there are two important things that should always be concerned if you want to get through MMS 200 quickly and smoothly. First, he or she must be a full-time or affiliate UPOU faculty whose background and interests are aligned with what you want to do. And second, it would be ideal if he or she is someone you can comfortably work with (to a certain degree, at least).
  • What faculty requires of you before they agree to be advisers do vary. Sometimes, they agree immediately, while sometimes, they will ask you to clearly present your ideas first.
  • You are to write a project or thesis proposal for the approval of your adviser.
  • There are only two possible grades the first time – S (satisfactory) and U (unsatisfactory). To earn an S, expectations #3 and #5 must be accomplished. Otherwise, you get a U and are required to repeat the first take.

 

Once you get an S, you can proceed to taking the second half of MMS 200. Expect the following:

  • Typically, this is the time for you to implement your project or experiment, and then write your manuscript.
  • You will be under the direct supervision of your designated adviser the whole time.
  • Under no circumstances should drafting manuscripts be taken lightly. It is not your run-of-the-mill term paper. It is the measure of how you stack up as a BAMS student and practitioner. Prepare to deal with BAMS faculty at their most demanding.

 

In addition, you still have to understand that the world does not revolve around you. Be considerate and heed the following:

  • Professors do not accept advisees lightly. It is a serious commitment due to the complexity of the work involved. Therefore, do not ask one today and expect to be accepted immediately just like that.
  • The burden of communication and coordination will always rest on you. Do not expect anything to be handed to you freely. You need something, you work for it.

 

You typically would have one academic year to finish MMS 200. However, the 3-3 distribution was based on a semestral schedule. So if you still want that whole year to work with and not have any grade issues, it is a good idea to have a one-trimester gap when enrolling. For example, as a senior student, you enroll the first time during the first trimester. Assuming you pass, don’t enroll MMS 200 again until the third trimester arrives. You use that break during the second trimester to conduct the implementation of your project or experiment (while still under the supervision of your adviser). So, when the third trimester arrives, you will only have to worry about writing your manuscript (or the finishing touches of your implementation, depending on its extent).

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From AA to BAMS

It’s fairly common for graduates of the Associate in Arts program at the Faculty of Education to continue studying and take BAMS. If you are one such student, please be guided by the following:

UNLEARN YOUR BAD HABITS!

Of course, I have encountered excellent AA graduates over the past eight years. Some of them move on and do well in BAMS. But I have noticed a few trends among the majority.

  1. Complacency – Just because you have 2-4 years worth of study experience in UPOU doesn’t mean you can let up and chill in BAMS. Employing that attitude is an insult to your former professors and a waste of your or your family’s hard-earned money. It also serves as a bad example for new students to see. If you are one such student, you should be ashamed of yourself and might as well donate your tuition money to someone who deserves it more.
  2. Cluelessness – Yet, another thing to be ashamed of. I’ve seen AA students to whom the concept of a discussion is completely lost. Most AA students treat discussions as if they were assignments, which is completely wrong. Then there’s the annoying habit of flooding the forums with posts near or at the final day of classes.
  3. Half-expecting profs to be considerate – I know my colleagues mean well. But I do honestly believe their kindness, at times, have become a detriment to the maturity of some students. They also inadvertently pass on headaches to others such as myself. And that is something I do not appreciate. If a prof doesn’t accept a late submission from you, it doesn’t matter if others before him or her did so. If you rightfully failed a course and your prof refuses to give you consideration, deal with it. Just because some kindly teacher bailed you out doesn’t mean the rest of us have to do the same. It’s your fault and you should be mature enough to own up to it.
  4. Overconfidence – Homaygawddd… I observe this on a painfully regular basis. BAMS major courses are collectively more complex than the GE courses taken in the AA program. The lack of appreciation for that fact has often led to failures, or worse, quitting school altogether. It’s good to believe in ourselves. But there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance that is best left uncrossed. Yes, your prior experience should make all of this easier now, but be mindful that there are higher levels of difficulty for you to deal with now, which AA has not fully prepared you for.
  5. Jadedness – It is possible that this is a primary root of most of the behaviors previously mentioned. Perhaps there were a few profs who did not do their jobs well in the students’ eyes and somehow think everyone else are like those few. Or maybe deep down, they know that distance e-Learning is not for them but for some reason are forced to keep studying at UPOU, anyway. Whatever the reason, even though this is what annoys me the least, it is what saddens me the most.

It’s nothing personal. But the point is, as an AA graduate, there is a good chance that you have lost your way as an online student. I hope you don’t exhibit any of the above behaviors. But if you do, UNLEARN THEM.

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Frequently Asked Questions 

  • Can I enroll more than 12 units in a trimester?

You could be given permission to enroll 15 units (please see the part on Academic Load). But it’s not very likely.

  • How about 18 units?

Are you kidding me?

  • Will the credits from my previous school be transferred?

If you came from a non-UP school, it is not automatic, and therefore must be explicitly requested. Remember that the program chair is NOT the person to ask about this. This is the FICS secretary’s job (fics-secretary@upou.edu.ph). Alternatively, you can inquire through the FICS mailer (fics@upou.edu.ph).

  • I would like to take a course even though I have not taken its prerequisite. Is that possible?

Only if you have COI, or the consent of instructor. The program chair cannot give you the COI, unless he or she is the actual faculty in charge of the course you want to take.

  • … actually I have taken the course, but its FIC hasn’t given me my grade yet…

You still need the COI. However, in such cases, faculties in charge tend to be more lenient since the shortcoming is from the university’s end.

  • What courses can I take?

There’s always a checklist made available for you so you can decide which major courses you can take. For GE courses, you can check out postings from the Faculty of Education. Cross check the available courses with your academic record, while keep in mind of prerequisites. This is something students are expected to figure out for themselves.

If you’re a new student, it’s a good idea to take MMS 100 as soon as possible. Among GE courses, Math 1 is arguably one of the most critical, being the prerequisite of MMS 140 which, in turn, is a prerequisite for other courses in the 140 series.

Also, keep in mind that while we do what we can to ensure that it is possible for any student to be able to enroll twelve units in a trimester, regardless of standing, there will unavoidably times when it is not going to be possible. This is not uncommon, especially for those who are not following the prescribed plan of study, which assumes that you started your life as a BAMS student on a first trimester. Those who don’t start on a first trimester can regard themselves as irregular students. Again, while UPOU does its best, it is not obligated to accommodate irregular students as far as ensuring twelve unit loads is concerned.

  • There’s course Y which, according to the curriculum, has course X as prerequisite. But the checklist says there is no prerequisite. Which one is correct?

Technically, the official curriculum is correct. However, due to circumstances covered in this guide, there are times when prerequisites need to be waived. If a program chair can do so directly, it will be reflected from the checklist. Therefore, if the checklist does not indicate a prerequisite for a given course, it means that its official prerequisite has been waived, at least for the duration of that trimester.

  • I would like to take a production course even if I haven’t taken MMS 100 yet. It’s not listed as a prerequisite, after all. It’s ok, right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, because you are correct. MMS 100 is not officially a prerequisite. But it is crucial is preparing you for what’s to come in all the production courses. If you proceed, you do so at your own risk.

  • I would like to take MMS 200, but I haven’t taken MMS 197 yet. Is it ok?

MMS 197 is to MMS 200 the same way that MMS 100 is to the production courses. So, yes and no…

  • I successfully enrolled in MMS 200 even though I am not yet of senior standing…

Stop right there. Unfortunately, AIMS cannot account for senior standing as prerequisite. It’s a system limitation that has not been addressed as of this writing. Therefore, the coordinator goes through academic records manually and will have your enrollment cancelled if you are actually not qualified to take MMS 200 yet.

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Reaper Screenshot - Nasan Ka Kaya

Nasaan Ka Kaya? – the first product of the UPOU Soundtrack Project

By now, you’ve probably heard of Mix 3 for the song Nasan Ka Kaya. In case you’re still not familiar with it, this song was written by one of the BAMS students, Bem Favorito.

 

Now, Bem was kind enough to let us use his songs for what we’re currently dubbing as the UPOU Soundtrack Project.  Nasan Ka Kaya was chosen as the first guinea pig, so to speak. I grew up in the 1990s and it was probably the time when I listened to music the most. When I first listened to Bem’s demo, I was immediately reminded of the sensibilities, as well as recording qualities of rock and indie bands of that era. It was imperative that we capture some of that vibe for this song.

Three people have directly contributed to the production of this song. Bem is based in Metro Manila and recorded the vocal track. JM Agbayani played and recorded her bass guitar from the other side of the world in Dubai. I provided a basic backing track for them to follow and record with. And then they sent their recorded track to me online. I live near UPOU Headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna and I recorded the electric and acoustic guitar parts of this mix.

Reaper Screenshot - Nasan Ka Kaya

So, above is the main window of REAPER 5, the DAW software I used, or rather, am using for my audio production work. I am going to break this mix down, which I hope can give you a better understanding of how we went from Bem’s old demo to this mix.

As you can already see, the whole thing looks complicated for a relatively simple song that can be played by a three- or four-piece rock band with relative ease. It is complicated in the sense that the closer you get to the sound that you like, the difficulty in finally making it there increases. But you really don’t have to work that hard or have an extremely high level of proficiency to get something to sound decent. I would also like to say that I do not consider myself an expert in this line of work, nor do I believe that my way is the only way to get this mix to sound good. But I will say that I am happy with this whole learning experience and that while I believe there will always be room for improvement here, I can live with what I have here now.

 

Drums

Recording drums is one of those things that intimidate me in this project because I’ve never done it before. But I do look forward to learning how to do it. Unfortunately, as of this video clip, we still haven’t had the opportunity to do so. That is why we had to make do with a virtual instrument, at least for now.

I used a software plugin called EZDrummer 2. As the name implies, it is an easy-to-use virtual drum software, with a large library of MIDI-based loops and actual drum recordings. Creating a drum track for the entire song was largely just a drag and drop affair. I used stock loops, except in parts of the chorus where the snare, kick and cymbals are hit in unison with the guitars and bass.

 

This is very much usable. But I would like to point out that I look at EZDrummer more as a songwriting tool than an all-around replacement for a real drummer. I would still very much rather have live acoustic drums in the mix. Hopefully we’ll still have the opportunity to record that.

 

 

Bass Guitar

Just like the drums, I had a MIDI Bass Track prepared for this song. I was already resigned to the proposition that it will be as far as we will go for this song. That is why I was so happy that JM came forward and volunteered to play bass for us. She had an actual bass guitar and a USB interface. She even elected to use Reaper for the first time. All these were fortunate on my part. I asked her to send me a dry or effects-free recording. This is important because it makes thing more convenient for me while mixing. Applying effects would be easier and more predictable. And cleaning up any noise or unwanted artifacts would be less complicated.

 

While it needed some more work, the dry track sounded surprisingly good. It would probably be ok if I just left it as is. But I eventually decided that I wanted it to sound like it was being played through a bass guitar amplifier. I also wanted to reduce the faint noise that was audible when the bass track played alone. But I didn’t need to be too aggressive with the editing, because any noise in the bass track was adequately masked by the other tracks.

 

Acoustic Guitar

This is where things start to get a little fancier… well, despite outward appearances.

In a previous mix, I used an electric guitar with a synth pickup to simulate an acoustic guitar sound. It’s fine for live work, but I wasn’t particularly happy with how it sounded. So, I opted to just record this part again, but with a real acoustic guitar. This entailed a few matters that needed attending.

The reason why I first used a guitar synth was to not worry about acoustic considerations. Like everyone else in the project, I don’t have a professional grade audio studio at home. I can hear just about any noise outside or inside. I also don’t have a room with honest to goodness acoustic treatment. What I do have is some space in the middle of my house which I haven’t gotten to cleaning up. It worked out surprisingly well. In fact, I hadn’t noticed that it was lightly raining while I was recording until I took off my headphones. Luckily, the sound of the rain wasn’t picked up.

ADL_1417

My makeshift recording room

 

I had a cardioid condenser mic aimed at or near the 12th fret of my guitar at about 12 inches away. This was my intended main acoustic guitar sound. But since my guitar had a built-in pickup, I thought that I might as well, make use of it. So, I recorded the same performance with two sound sources. It turned out to be a good idea.

 

The sound from the microphone isn’t bad by itself, as you can hear. But to me, it sounded like it was a little short on bite.

As for the pickup sound, well… it sounds different. It’s also good, but is not as mellow as the mic’d sound.

I probably wouldn’t want to use it by itself for recording. But when you blend it with the microphone recording, you can get something different, and dare I say, better. They mutually make up for each other’s weaknesses.

 

Electric Guitars

These are probably the set of tracks which I put the most thought over. And yes, it does have something to do with these being my part. Most people will hear the electric guitars as if it were just one, or maybe two instruments. It’s not that simple, and I’ll show you why.

I plugged in my guitar directly through my interface and used the same software I used for the bass to simulate a guitar amplifier’s sound. I could have mic’ed a real guitar amplifier – I actually have a real version of the simulated amp that I used. But I decided against it. I didn’t want to deal with the acoustics of my work area. Of course, if it didn’t sound good to me, I would have opted to use a microphone like I did with the acoustic guitar. But BIAS FX, the software I used, made things so much easier for me. More importantly, given the circumstances, I doubt I could have gotten a better sound within the same time span.

 

The thing that helps keep the song together is the rhythm guitar track, which doubles the acoustic guitar, creating a thicker sound. But at the same time, I didn’t want it to dominate the mix, so it wasn’t really that much louder than the acoustic guitar here.

The lead guitar is also a straightforward affair. It’s nearly as loud as the vocals, and with a bit more distortion applied. The melodies themselves… well, they’re not what I would normally like to play, but they do work well for the sound and feel that Bem wanted for this song. He seemed to agree, so I kept them all.

 

I simply repeated the verse vocal melodies for the guitar solo spot, but to keep things from being too monotonous, I recorded a third guitar track to provide some harmonies. Then I added a fourth electric guitar track in the background to build up the song towards the climax at the final chorus. As far as keeping the 90s indie feel went, this was the part where I veered away from it the most. They didn’t do much ambient guitar stuff back then. But I still think it works well with the song. At the very least no one’s complaining about it, so it hasn’t been taken out.

 

Vocals

Whenever there is singing, it will almost always be the main focus of a song. That goes for just about any music genre out there and it is difficult to find exceptions. And no, this song is no exception either.

That is the point of working on mixing in the vocal track last. With the accompanying tracks close to being set, Bem sent me his recording. My job was to lay it down front and center and adjust the rest.

The dry vocal track itself needed work. But at the same time, I didn’t want to completely lose its rawness. So, I employed a technique I learned called parallel processing. It’s where I leave the dry vocal track pretty much as is, and then I send the same signal to a new track where I apply all the effects I wanted. And then like with the acoustic guitars, I had the option to easily blend the two tracks together until I get a sound that I want.

 

As far as effects were concerned, I used a plugin called IzoTope Nectar Elements. It’s a stripped down version of IzoTope’s more professional, and yes, more expensive line of effects plugins. But it has all the basic things I needed for the vocals. I started off with Nectar Elements’ Indie Warm and Dry preset. It essentially adds a little bit of reverb and then sets the EQ as a high pass filter. I further tweaked it by amplifying the signal and adding a bit more high end.

 

Panning

I kept panning simple for this mix. Since the bass guitar and vocals work on different areas of the frequency spectrum, it’s ok to keep them both at center. Lead guitars were also at center. It should also be fine because even if it lies relatively close to the vocals in terms of frequencies, they almost never play at the same time, anyway. Acoustic guitars are slightly panned to the left, while the electric rhythm guitar is equally panned to the right. The guitar fill heard at the final chorus actually doesn’t stay in place. I’ll explain that next.

 

Automation

Automation in DAWs is something you might not know about. I don’t know if it will ever be talked about in MMS 172, but I certainly don’t remember touching on it last time. But it is possible to tweak just about any parameter in the mix while the song is playing. And you can set the DAW to do it for you and by how much.

For this song, my automations made subtle changes, but I do think they make a big enough difference. The most obvious one is with the guitar fill where I played a bunch of natural harmonics in the last chorus. I laid down this track to add just a bit of ambience to the chorus and make it sound bigger. I certainly didn’t want it to muddy up the mix. So, rather than let it sit in one place along the stereo spectrum, I thought it would be cool for the harmonics to pan from left to center and then right to center.

 

Another part, or rather, the other parts where I do it are during the choruses where I temporarily raise the volume of the rhythm electric guitar track just before the vocals go nasan ka kaya…. and anong ginagawa to emphasize the downstrokes of all the guitars with respect to the rhythm.

 

Final Words

A great deal of my work here dealt with the faders to set the volumes for each track. It may have contributed to my seemingly endless series of tweaks, but I followed no definite rules for this. The important thing for me is that, in the end, all the tracks have to be audible in a manner that are good to my ears, and none of the volume meters should go red.

The 1990s indie vibe is definitely there. I started asking other people to listen to the song. Every time somebody mentions The Eraserheads, I know that the mix worked (though such a remark may have to do with Bem’s vocals more than anything else). Still, there are other influences and aspects that shine through the mix, which I’m particularly happy with, such as the 70s-ish guitar sound and harmonies, as well as a little bit of ambient effects – my personal little imprint on the song.

It is demanding part-time work. But I do enjoy doing creative projects with colleagues and students. I hope this song will only be the first of many to come.

 

 

 

No longer just for adult learners

The degree programs of UPOU, or at least most of them, were designed and developed with the adult learner in mind. It made sense since most of what we have are graduate degree programs catering to working students. And then came the Associate in Arts program, then Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies, and then Bachelor in Education Studies – all formal undergraduate programs. While young students started coming into the woodwork, they were still largely a minority at the beginning, especially outside AA.

Things have started to change, though. Last year marked the first time we admitted passers of the most recent UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) – students fresh out of pre-K-12 high school. Before I knew it, a substantial contingent of 16-18 year old new students had arrived. This year, it got slightly more alarming, as we actually have students who are barely 15 years old. At that age, I don’t think I could even imagine myself being in college, let alone being sure that studying online was for me (although to be fair, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the Internet when I was 15 back in 1992).

At first, I did not think too much about it. My line of thinking was that things will sort themselves out eventually. Besides, we didn’t ask these kids to come. Adjusting has to be their problem. I certainly knew it was mine when I went to college.

However, I began to realize my lack of foresight at some point. I have always treated my students like mature adults. I always aim to put up some sort of challenge for them and employ any tool or method I think is necessary to facilitate that. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I may not be able to do that without additional restrictions. I became fully conscious of this matter in my Photography class when a student initiated a discussion on the work of a well-renowned photographer who was famous for his work on nudity and erotica. Some colleagues would argue that it’s nothing new. Well, like hell it’s not. Sure, I’ve had my share of mature themes in the classroom. But it was a physical classroom and stayed there. Those were simpler times. Whatever happens in the classroom no longer stays in the classroom, or the campus, for that matter. Whatever happens in the classroom can easily spread anywhere, thanks to social media, where things can easily be taken out of context.

Yes, I acknowledge the possibility that there are kids who can handle mature topics. I’m fairly sure some in this bunch can. But it doesn’t matter. All it takes is for one strict parent or a judgmental crowd in social media to see what’s going on and blow it out of proportion. It could even lead to a formal complaint. It’s not like I’m a stranger to such things, but it doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

Effectiveness of certain teaching methods have also been affected. A skills-based topic such as photography is still best taught hands-on. I know that. That is why I do hold face to face sessions when I can in order to augment the online discussions and activities. Historically, the barriers which students deal with when trying to attend are schedule conflict, distance and maybe inclination. AY 2014-2015 was the first time I became aware of a case where the student wasn’t allowed by parents to attend for fear of kidnapping. On the other hand, maybe it’s just an excuse. I’ll probably never know, but what I am sure of is that it will always be a plausible reason.

While face to face classes are logged by learning centers, they are not necessarily formally part of courses. I definitely do not put out formal letters of invitation and waiver forms. At the same time, when you have a minor included in a group, you are obligated to help ensure that he or she safely makes it back home, especially at night. That is not easy to comply with. UP usually makes students sign waivers before taking them in field trips. I question the practice and how it can realistically protect the university. That is why I don’t want to bother with it. I’d rather not schedule anything at all.

I’m still, as of yet, unsure how this matter will be dealt with, if at all. However, I do think this has to be looked into more intently. When updating courses, we usually only have content in mind. It would seem now that we will also have to re-think how we teach some of our undergraduate courses. Don’t get me wrong. Change entails a lot of work which I’d rather not take on. But if it is deemed necessary, then it must be done.

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The five courses that impacted me the most

* This is a re-write of a past blog. Along with a few dozen others, I lost it when I screwed up my site’s database late last year.

 

Honestly speaking, I am taken aback by the seeming obsession of some UPOU students with their grades. It would be ok, if this obsession went hand in hand with a drive to achieve actual excellence. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

This got me thinking about my time as a student. I have been a part of UP for most of my life, the biggest chunk of it as a student. After a high school diploma, three degrees and more courses than I care to count, I still recall milestones that has shaped me, not just as an academic, but as a person. Some of these milestones came in the form of courses that I took.

 

Social Science II – Social, Economic and Political Thought
Grade: 4.0 (second take: 2.25)

This was probably the only instance where I strongly believed that I didn’t deserve my grade. I still don’t. The prof also had a reputation for having it in for children of fellow faculty. At the time, I am a UP faculty’s son. So was one of my classmates. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and took it as a personal challenge. My classmate promptly transferred to a different class. I will never definitively say that the prof was one spiteful little prick because I had no concrete proof. But one thing was certain, I went on to be handed a conditional failure, while my former classmate, who was  more or less my academic equal at the time, passed the course with no issues. Granted I didn’t really take the course seriously at the start, but by the second half of the semester, I carried that reference book wherever I went and read it. Too bad, it wasn’t enough.

I had the option to either take a removal examination from him or just start over and enroll again, but with a different prof. As I had already started to believe that he did have some sort of vendetta against students like (hey, I was young and didn’t want to blame myself), I opted for the latter. While I didn’t get a high grade either, it was ok. I didn’t exert much effort but still passed.

Another thing that bothered me was that this prof was the only person who has ever told me that I had terrible, terrible English. It was on my second long exam bluebook. I was under pressure and had too many things in my head to write about in an effort to answer his exam questions. So, there was bound to be a few grammatical errors. Damn, you can diss my handwriting. You can call me out if my answers are bullshit. But telling me I had terrible, terrible English hurt. It hurt even more than the time I was not deemed qualified to be in Advanced English classes back in high school. And along with that exclusion, I will remember that prof for the rest of my life because of his comment. In fact, it has become a source of motivation for me. I have been complimented for my English proficiency and writing abilities in different countries. I got a respectable score in the TOEFL iBT even without studying and coming in over half an hour late for the test. I had even been given the chance to write a full page article (and continue to enjoy an open invitation to write) for the country’s leading broadsheet. All of those, I dedicate to this prof like a knee to his gut. Nah, I’m just kidding… But in all seriousness, for each of my achievement that involved any sort of writing, I remember him. No other prof managed to motivate me quite like the way he did.

 

Animal Science 181 – Poultry Sanitation and Disease Control
Grade: 5.0 (second take: 3.0)

ANSC 181 was a curious case for me. It was one of the last major courses I needed to finish before graduating. It was also one of the most difficult in the bunch. So, there was a bit of pressure coming in. But what was really in my mind at the time was the professor. Dr. Batungbacal (which, no shit, literally translates to iron stone) was legendary in the former Institute of Animal Science. Despite that frail-looking frame of hers, as far as the students were concerned, nobody in the institute carried an air of intimidation the way she did. Her reputation always preceded her. The semester hadn’t even begun and I was already scared. That was a fatal mistake. Looking back after my first take, I realize that I had already failed the course even before it started. I would not make that mistake again. I barely passed the second time around, but that by itself, was considered quite the achievement. And I did so without the burden of pressure and intimidation during the first take. Seated literally in the middle of the classroom, I even had the nerve to doze off every now and then in her three hour lectures, much to the chagrin of my seatmates. That made life so much easier.

I didn’t appreciate it back then, but the thing about Ma’am Bato (as we fondly called her to her back) was that she knew bullshit when she saw, smelled and heard it from her students. And she never hesitated to call students out on it, whether through clever sarcasm or straight shooting. Sometimes all she had to do was stare a hole through you. She had a knack for putting students in place with little or no effort. I always respected that.

I suppose that, as a teacher, I do take to her in some ways. And it is only now that I begin to understand where she was coming from all those years ago.

 

Computer Science A – Discrete Structures in Computer Science
Final Grade: 5.0 (second take: 1.5)

Computer Science D – Data Structures and Algorithms
Final Grade: 5.0 (second take: 2.25)

The Diploma in Computer Science program is peculiar. It lied between being a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree program. Coming in, it was also the first time I looked at myself as an adult learner. It was also the first time I realized what that really meant.

CMSC A and D were handled by the same prof during the same semester. In no way am I taking away from her abilities, but it was being under her when I realized that I no longer had it in me to sit through certain teaching styles, which sadly included her. Mathematics-related courses or subjects were difficult enough as they were. But them being taught the way they would be in high school, I could not take it anymore at age 22.

My failing both courses marked the first time I ever felt self-doubt about being able to earn this degree — something I initially thought was going to be easy, given my inclination towards computers. I re-took both courses, but with different teachers. CMSC D was taught in a similar manner as before, but with the class being particularly small (there were only two of us), mentoring was a lot more hands-on. I think I responded well to that. CMSC A, on the other hand, was taught in an almost radically different manner, in which I surprisingly excelled at. This was my first encounter with Prof. Connie Khan who went on to be part of my panel when I took my Master’s and my senior colleague at UPOU.

I may have forgotten how to prove mathematical equations or write good pseudocode over the years. But as a teacher, I realize that there is no one-size-fits all as far as methods are concerned. My own experiences in failing to connect with my profs is the driving force for my need to employ any means necessary to reach out to my students and help them get through my courses.

 

Environmental Science 255 – Environmental Psychology
Final Grade: 2.0

It might be a little strange for some to see me conclude this list with a course in which I got a decent grade in the first take. But the thing to take note here is that ENS 255 was a Master’s level course. Anything lower than a 2.0 was practically a failing mark.

I was finishing my course work in the MS Environmental Science program. Environmental Psychology was not part of my curriculum, but I thought it was interesting. So, I took it as an extra course. And yes, I still believe that it is one of the more interesting graduate courses that I have ever taken. I thought I was doing well enough — I made sure I attended all the classes, took the time to read books, submitted requirements and all that.

The main requirement for the course was a term paper to be presented and submitted at the end of the semester. I did those and ended my oral presentation with a fair amount of confidence. And then it came… my prof asked, So, where is the psychology component in your report?

I had no answer. And I was not alone in the class. She asked the same question to my other classmates. No good answer, either. Our prof, may she rest in peace, had that look of disappointment and exasperation that broke my heart. I failed her. I failed myself. It was kind of her to give me a final grade of 2.0. I didn’t deserve it. It was too high. She could have given me a 2.5 or something and I still wouldn’t have complained.

I learned a hard lesson here. For the first, time, I truly realized that you cannot achieve excellence through effort alone. Second, more than ever, I realized the importance of communicating with my teacher. I was never good at it, and it almost caused my downfall at the end. I could have asked my prof for help and avoid the embarrassment, but I didn’t. And I paid for it.

When I first thought about writing this blog, especially given the title I had in mind, I didn’t realize this would end up being a list of the courses I performed especially poorly in. But it makes sense. Unlike in the courses I did well in, these were the ones where I faced real adversity which weren’t overcome, at least not at first. The immediate rebounds were not always spectacular, but the long term effects of these ordeals were the ones that built character. And while it is true that these grades on my transcript almost left me ineligible to teach at UP, I do believe that these are what actually make me a better teacher today.

Of course, at the time, I certainly did not see these experiences in a good light. And while I never had the sense of self-entitlement nor the arrogance to question any of these grades, I admit that there would be times when I was not above laying blame over everything except myself. Self-accountability is a sign of maturity that, while I understood its need early on, took me a while to genuinely take into heart.

Knowing what I went through myself, I cannot expect students today to be happy the moment they see low grades in their records. However, it is my hope that, in the future, they will also revisit what they went through and at least try to see the good in them. They might be surprised.

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The philosophy of the pig

Last week, I had a brief conversation with one of my former teachers in UP Los Baños, Dr. Pidz Agbisit, who is now the Director for the Animal and Dairy Sciences Cluster in the College of Agriculture. We were having a little discussion on some opportunities for collaboration. We’ll see where that leads to in the coming months. I don’t get to spend much time with people from my college days anymore, but it’s always interesting when I do.

Pidz is someone who I have always looked up to, both as a former mentor and as a senior brod in the UP Animal Science Society. Some of the little things I do in my online classes were adapted from my experiences as his student. Not being able to apply much of what I learned in college at work, this, to my estimation, was my most important take-away from him.

I am reminded of one of his lectures in Swine Production class. He talked about a certain behavior observed among pigs. I don’t know if he actually tells it this way, but this is how I remember it:

Let’s say you have a swinehouse with 100 pens and at full capacity and all 100 pigs are just standing or lying around quietly minding their own business. Now, go inside and feed one pig. It doesn’t matter which one. You can even feed the one on at the farthest corner of the house. When you do, it will not take long before all the other 99 pigs would rise up and LOUDLY squeal in anticipation. It would be as if all these 99 other pigs rose in protest of the injustice of them being left out, demanding to be fed immediately. The noise will not settle down until each and every pig is fed.

That is what Pidz called the philosophy of the pig.

I’ve forgotten all but four of the swine breeds commonly raised for production. I don’t know how to how conduct a feasibility study for swine production anymore, at least not without studying it again. Feed formulation? Right now, even the basics are out of the question. But the the philosophy of the pig… it wasn’t really part of any of his syllabus, nor did he include it in the exams. And yet, it is what I have continued to hold on to even after nearly twenty years.

I wonder why?

 

 

* feature image credit goes to Dr. Orville Bondoc and his book, DNA BARCODING: Livestock and Poultry Breeds and Strains: Going beyond taxonomic classifications.

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An open letter to my students on meeting deadlines

In May 2014, I started to serve as Chairperson for the BA Multimedia Studies program of UPOU. It was strange every time a BAMS student congratulated me for my promotion. I would thank them, but I would explain to them why it was not a promotion. I had already been serving as the Chair for the Diploma in Computer Science program and I was quite content over there. Students over there need very little guidance and there isn’t a lot of things in DCS that needed guiding. Whereas BAMS…. ugh. Let’s just say there is an unending supply of issues that need addressing.

At best it was a move sideways. If anything, the only thing the move adds is workload… a heavy workload. But the previous BAMS PC was leaving UPOU and my colleagues seemed to believe that I was the one left who was suited to take over.

My first trimester as BAMS PC was particularly draining. Aside from my predecessor, another colleague went on hiatus and I had to assume his role as well, and that included handling Multimedia Studies 100, the first major course all BAMS students have to take. Before I even realized it, I was doing the work of two faculty members.

This was also the first time we admitted passers of the most recent UP College Admission Test who explicitly wanted to come in. The influx of more students fresh out of high school has led me to believe major changes for UPOU are in order, but that is something for me to write about in another time. What I will say right now, however, is that this was a new frontier for me in so many ways.

I thought MMS 100 went as well as I could hope. But it wasn’t bereft of kinks. Most of the people in the class were new students, a few of which couldn’t seem to grasp a few things, including what the word deadline meant. Others had trouble following instructions, and yet hope, or worse, expect that I turn a blind eye on it.

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The actual concept of the word ‘deadline’ seems to be lost to some students.

While I couldn’t be bothered to be angry with the students, I did find the whole thing exasperating. That prompted me to write the following for them:

The hard lesson of accountability

Class, this will probably be the most serious post I will ever write here, so please pay attention. I might be tired right now, but rest assured, I do not write this out of anger or any other negative feeling.

I can imagine I’m probably not very popular right now in class because of my seemingly hard-line stance with regards to your most recent assignment. But let me tell you…. none of this is new to me.

You are all talented and intelligent people. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. But that is only half the battle.

There was this time when I found myself in a similar situation. I didn’t know any better back then. So, out of exasperation, I actually went to Facebook and mulled in the open, that went something like this:

If there are students making excuses and asking for consideration about deadlines and submissions, and giving failing marks. Should I be lenient?

The answer was an overwhelming NO.

And mind you, many of my friends are alumni from UP and other prominent universities who know exactly what some of you are feeling right now. This is a reflection of a harsh reality:

Nobody feels sorry for UP students having trouble with their academics and schedules.

While some of you might be complaining of high tuition fees, the fact of the matter is that despite that you are still largely subsidized by revenues from taxes. Nobody likes the feeling of strangers wasting their money. When you slack, you waste other people’s money.

Soon enough you are going to be vocal social commentators on what is wrong with this country, this university or even me (yes, it’s happened in the past). And if you aren’t already, one day you will be an angry taxpayer reading and watching about graft and corruption. And then you will understand where I’m coming from to the fullest.

Here is the thing. I set ground rules right at the beginning. Nobody complained back then. That means you unconditionally accepted my terms and I hold you to that, even if you didn’t bother reading them.

Again, excuses are supposed to be made prior to a deadline, to help ensure that I can work a compromise with you. I even gave consideration to someone who asked for it two hours before the deadline. In a previous class, a student even messaged me literally five minutes before the deadline about his difficulty in uploading his assignment (something which I will no longer entertain again). I relent as long as I think I can work something out with him or her. But alas, that is no longer possible after the deadline lapses. Just like you, I have my own deadlines to meet. I compromise my own ability to meet them everytime I accommodate you.

Now, how about understanding instructions? Same thing. The support forum is more than just for asking why this quiz item or youtube link isn’t working. It’s for seeking clarifications about how to go about with your requirements, not just with me, but with the entire class. Let me tell you, collaborative learning is a thing of beauty to witness when it happens. It’s a little sad that it’s only really picking up right now, in the wake of the mishaps in [your last assignment] and with less than a month left in the trimester.

Now, while it doesn’t really anger me because I believe they still have a right to do so, I really can’t help but roll my eyes and smile when students who didn’t bother reading instructions intently or seek clarification or failed to meet a deadline they implicitly agreed to still has the nerve to ask for consideration.

Now, please, stop sending me messages asking me to reconsider crediting assignments that are either late or are not displaying properly. I’ve read them all. In turn, I will point out to you that both aspects are completely your responsibilities.

Looking back, I don’t know if I got through to my students. To a handful, I most likely did. But as for the rest who remained silent, I guess I’ll only know if and when I see them wearing their sablay. But in some ways, I really am glad I caught this early on in this batch of students’ residency. I can only hope that this early lesson in accountability is well-learned for all our sakes.

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On mental and emotional health and my inability to address them in class

I would like to think that, over the years, I have significantly improved as an online communicator within an academic context. Having to deal with such a diverse set of students kind of forced me into it. However, there is something that I will openly admit that I am not at all qualified to deal with.

I didn’t really care about it at the beginning. But through time, I noticed more and more that there is almost always some student in a given class who seem a bit odd, given what online behavior I observe from them. Usually, I leave it at that, especially if they do well.

I don’t know if it’s because of my constant prodding in online discussions or if they have become more open about such things, but in the last few years, students have started approaching me about their issues. Usually, it’s about their difficulties in managing their time and emergencies which affect their academic performance. Other times, they just find themselves not knowing what to do or even where to ask for help. Perhaps kids these days are less conscious of this compared to us who grew up before broadband Internet was a thing, but the World Wide Web can sometimes be a lonely place to be in. I learned that first hand. That appreciation has probably helped me connect to students better.

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Online learning can be a lonely endeavor for anyone.

Those things, I can help to a certain degree. However, along with the usual issues, students have also started opening up about the more personal issue of mental and emotional health. UPOU’s admission system obviously does not screen  for it. Worse, UPOU has no provisions for assisting affected students. I am certainly not trained to do so.

That is why I feel troubled whenever a student contacts me and talks about their bipolar disorder or their recent breakdown. I don’t really know how to deal with that. Physical disabilities can be overcome, even if a course requires some sort of field work. But when a students says he or she is unable to study due to a mental condition, that reading and retention is not possible, how can you deal with that, especially when you are pressured to work within a short trimestral timetable?

I have been lucky, so far. The students I know of who are dealing with such issues are open about it and readily communicate with me. But I cannot expect that things will be like this forever. At some point, there is likely going to be that one bad case which I will not be equipped to handle. If and when that time comes, what am I going to do?

I do not want to wait for that time to come. That is why I have become a lot more vocal about this among my colleagues. If UPOU will not tighten its screening of incoming students, then it should at least implement measures to help ensure that its teachers are supported in order to cater to such students more effectively.

Why introducing yourself in class matters

I once had a discussion with my FICS colleagues about the importance of self introductions — something which I doubt anybody really discussed with you. This prompted me to engage MMS 200 students, the ones supposedly on their way to graduation, to discuss how they have regarded their self-introductions in all the courses they have come across.

I personally adopt a pattern — I say my name, educational and professional background, and then relate them to whatever course I was handling. I never found copying from an old site and then pasting it to the new one to be satisfying. So, my introductions to change a bit as time goes by.

The sentiments the students shared were a bit disappointing and I explained to them why. Now, after thinking about it for weeks, I’ve decided to openly share my reasons to those willing to read on.

The fact of the matter is, we are in an online university. I have had an above average level of motivation to get to know students in person and more willing to facilitate F2F sessions to meet you in person. Despite that, I have only met a small fraction of BAMS students in person.

What does that have to do with self introductions?

The thing is, just like in social media and bulletin board/forum systems, in these course sites, what we post is just about the only thing we have to hold you to. For most of you, I wouldn’t know where you live, how many kids you have or how good looking your spouse or significant other is. I wouldn’t have a full picture of who and what you are.

Your words are the only things we as teachers can associate you with.

Therefore, if you share your life story, even though it’s corny for some (or even me in some instances), I will know where you’re coming from everytime I read anything you post. While by no means am I fully equipped to deal with it, knowing that you may have certain handicaps help me accommodate you better.

The less you say, the less we notice or even care.

That is why I find it annoying when some student who I almost never heard from in the duration of a course gets a low final grade suddenly floods me with all sorts of excuses in order to coax any sort of consideration. Well, if he or she said those things early on, he or she probably wouldn’t be in that predicament, right? It is sadly more common than I would want it to be. Heck, I don’t want any such instances to occur, at all.

First impressions last…

Unless you’re encountering a prof for a second or third time, your self introduction is your first impression. If you don’t make it count, you automatically subject yourself to an uphill battle to prove yourself for the rest of the trimester.

That is why it is likely that the majority of the so-called uno-club members of BAMS are particular with their self introductions.

… But so do the second, third….

A BAMS student would typically go through me 2 or 3 times before graduating. And I do observe how your self introductions evolve. For me, it is a good indicator of how you have progressed mentally and emotionally over your years of residency. So, in my mind, I can be like, oh, he sounds different and more determined now and he seems poised to do much better… or… geezus he still sounds like a slacker…

 

The self-introduction is a symbol of how you carry yourself as a student and as a person. Its quality, as well as any reason or excuse you might have regarding it, is a reflection of what you are. And if you think it doesn’t matter, well… best of luck to you, then.


Copyright 2018 Al Francis D. Librero © All Rights Reserved.

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