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Digital Collective Autoethnography Study Blog 3: Peer feedback

I was able to get a few of my cohorts to provide some highly valuable feedback regarding my one-page proposal, which I posted here.

The level of discourse has so far been higher and more focused than what I have grown accustomed to in my own courses at UPOU. Limiting discussion posts isn’t something I would enforce myself, but I can see the benefits, provided the entire class is all in. But I digress. Below are the highlights of the feedback I received.

The concept of change management

As far as I know, the Digital Collective project is the first of its kind in UPOU. There is certainly nothing of its kind within the BAMS program. The idea of students themselves being a resource is not exactly new, given our efforts towards ePortfolio-based learning. However, students becoming active participants towards the production of new resources and the betterment of existing ones is entirely new. One can argue that this would undeniably bring about major changes to how we approach learning. I had focused acutely towards the production aspect of the project. I may not have given enough care for the human element.

Directly inviting/recruiting participants vs. volunteerism

I realize that self-motivated active volunteers are arguably the best kind of participants one could have in a project such as this. But such people are exceedingly rare in UPOU. That is why I went with the other approach. However, I had not thought much about how hand-picking participants would pose its own set of potential issues. Did it cause participants to see it as more of an obligation because they somehow felt like they owe me something, rather than an opportunity to enhance their learning experience in the university? Did they see it more as a distraction to their studies, rather than a means to actually be of help to it?

Dissonance of perspectives between me and the participants

As an online teacher and with experience managing the BAMS program, I have an opinion of what the community needs in order to thrive. That said, I remember my assumption that students would agree with that opinion cracked the first time when I discussed the BAMS program’s trimestral schedule. I hate it. But much to my surprise, there is an indication that majority of the BAMS students might actually prefer the trimestral schedule, rather than the conventional semestral schedule of UP. While I still disagree with them, looking back, I do understand why. Beyond ourselves, we as teachers/administrators need to account for the needs of the students and the university. Students, on the other hand, only need to look after themselves. And when the popular primary goal is to graduate at a quicker pace (something I do not share), as currently allowed by the university, then yes, the trimestral schedule could potentially allow that.

The point is, with all of my preaching about how the Digital Collective benefits everyone in the UPOU community, I did not seriously broach the question of whether or not the participants honestly cared as much as I did, or at least care enough to want to be a part of the project long enough to provide a meaningful contribution.

Facilitating vs. Managing

According to a cohort:

From my understanding of what you’ve written, you were not facilitating the project but managing it. To facilitate the project is to remove the obstacles for students to run it themselves, and I think this follows from the point about ownership. OER is (are?) excellent for autonomous learning, though it is something that needs to grow organically.

An excellent point. My purpose was to facilitate, however, what I did was management work. But to my partial defense, I believe it was necessary, as the project was an entirely new thing for everyone. I had to be particularly hands-on at the beginning. Letting go of the project to allow the students to run it themselves was an end goal. Unfortunately, we failed to meet that goal. I honestly don’t know how to allow this to organically grow in an ever-changing online community. That’s why I don’t think I can do away with managing the project. On the other hand, I probably should have had a conversation with the students about them taking over at some point.

Exploring student motivations

As already alluded to, I should have been more conscious about the motivations of the participants. Sharing motivations really was a one-sided affair, with me seeing little more than fairly passive agreeing by the students. I need to understand their personal motivations and agendas better, so as to allow students to better align their needs and wants with the project. It will help them develop that sense of ownership that is crucial for their sustained involvement.


I had been given a LOT to think about. I am impressed at how much my peers were able to catch just be scanning through my one-page proposal. In the coming months, I am going to find out just how valid these points are and how they can help answer what are to be my finalized set of research questions. And perhaps by then, I can think about rebooting The Digital Collective project.

Hopefully, I’ll still have people with me when the time comes…

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Digital Collective Autoethnography Study Blog 2: One-page proposal

We were required to submit a 500 word proposal. Below is my submission, word for word, along with paraphrases of our professor’s comments.


Enhancing student engagement in an online university: successes, failures and how to move forward

Submitted February 17, 2019
ED.S821: Research Methods in Education and Social Science Settings: Philosophy, methodology, techniques and tools

For the past few years, I have been working on and off with an idea to leverage technology and know-how learned in class to enhance student engagement and benefit different sectors in the university. I was allowed by my office to start a project to test the waters, so to speak. The project was centered on the idea of student co-creation of content that they can add to their portfolios, and at the same time, share the content as open educational resources (OER) with the greater learning community in my university. The goal was to build a self-sustaining community that can enable co-creation that will span multiple cycles.

I hand-picked a group of students whom I believed would be deeply interested to lay the groundwork for the project. Unfortunately, getting even those students to buy into the idea and then actually do work had proven to be more challenging than I had expected, leading to the project stalling at its infancy.

In light of the setback, I would like to look back to the efforts exerted by myself, as well as colleagues and students who were on board at the time. In intend to find answers to lingering questions in my mind:

  1. Have I overestimated the worth of this project to the students? If so, how much incentive do students need to take more active roles? (A more exploratory question, rather than one that can be answered by a simple yes or no.)
  2. What were the roadblocks that students faced in trying to participate? (Being an autoethnography study, the central focus needs to be me, rather than the students.)
  3. Was my approach ineffective? If so, how can I improve as a facilitator? (Our professor remarked that this may be too personal and difficult to draw out useful information from. On the other hand, I had a peer who finds it interesting. As of this posting, I still not need to further understand what our professor meant.)

Admittedly, at the time, my main focus was on the production aspect of the project. In my faith towards my hand-picked volunteer students, perhaps I had unwittingly had not paid as much attention to their circumstance as I should have. This study ought to provide an answer for that. It would especially be a huge oversight as nurturing a learning community is something I had studied in the past. I will most certainly have to revisit that.

A subjectivist approach will likely be taken. However, my suspicion, or to a certain extent, fear, is that this would be a good fit for attempting to apply complexity theory , as the subject project, is a (pseudo)community of individuals with a diverse array of circumstance which need to be accounted for. I will still have to study this intently before finalizing.
As far as data collection is concerned, my likely course of action will be to interview as many of the involved students as I can. I just need to come up with proper questions. It may require a significant amount of effort, but the group wasn’t that large. I think it’s doable.

Autoethnography will undoubtedly be an effective tool for this study, due to my role as the main proponent of the stalled project. Detaching myself will not be possible. How it moves forward still depends on me and how I deal with the other moving parts. I will be dealing with matters of human perception, behavior, and interaction which might be best presented through narratives.

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Autoethnography study blog 1: The Digital Collective

So, I’m nearly a month into my PhD studies. I started off pretty good, then got derailed by a bunch of things and am now trying to catch up. I’ll manage that, but I just had a thought. The depth and structure of the discussions we are expected to participate in class has been challenging, even by my standards. And now, I just realized that each post is actually substantial enough for me to re-post as a blog here, especially with the nature of the discussions at the moment. I wasn’t quite expecting to get into autoethnography, but it has proven to be intriguing. And it will definitely help me produce material for my personal website.

In this post, we were asked to write about a difficult or uncomfortable experience at work or school in the past which I would like to study further. Hahaha… I have quite a selection. But the most intriguing of them is my recent efforts in establishing the Digital Collective, which has definitely led to a high level of frustration and disappointment. I wasn’t expecting to get more mileage out of the experience so soon. But lucky me…

Below is my post word for word…

It was actually late last year, just before the start of the program, where I had a profound experience. I had been teaching in my university for more than 10 years, half of which I have spent dedicated to an undergraduate program, BA Multimedia Studies. Unlike in graduate programs, many of my students were quite young, ranging between 16-25. My belief is that they had needs and concerns which weren’t necessarily important for older students anymore. They need, or at least they claim to need causes and interests to foster, which are related, but not necessarily ingrained in their program’s curriculum.
So, I had this idea the channel their energies to help fulfill their wants, while at the same time, practice the knowledge and skills they have learned from their program, while at the same time, allow their output to benefit the greater learning community of the university. Hence, the birth of what I called the UPOU Digital Collective.

I had it all planned out, down to the part where it will eventually factor into my PhD studies here. This was actually my pitch during my discussion with one of the faculty members prior to applying.

Anyway, one of the key steps was to get a select group of students together — those whom I felt I could rely on. Our task was to produce an initial set of multimedia content as a proof of concept, as well as to map out their future tasks and what they need from the university to fulfill them. So, I worked to get a budget to get these students, as well as a handful of alumni to convene face to face for a two day workshop. I did my best to make clear what the expectations were, to which they agreed to. I also consulted with them to ensure I was meeting their own expectations and the project can fit into their own agenda, if any. I thought I did. It was tiring, and yet it felt fulfilling. I thought I had succeeded and my project was on its way to a successful start.

I was wrong.

I hardly heard anything from them again regarding the deliverables. It was particularly disheartening because I gave them everything I could. I know it’s not right for me to do so, but I even harbored thoughts of betrayal because I trusted them and perhaps it did not help that I believed this would impact my own studies. I was like… well, now what!?

At best, it was a major roadblock. At worst, it was a complete failure. But perhaps I can salvage this and write about it in Module 1. I would like to have a clear understanding of what happened. I cannot relate this with any specific principle or theory right now, but I would like to figure out what I did wrong, or did not do enough of. How can I do a better job at engaging students and motivate them well enough to produce, whether or not the project has a direct impact in their grades. As much as this was a downer, I still refuse to believe that this is simply the nature of our undergraduate students and we as teachers and mentors cannot do anything about the whole thing.

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The detour to 2019

Yes, each year hardly turns out being the same. But the past ones haven’t really been all that different from each other either. The milestones were different. The routine… not so much. But even that changes this year.

The last few years were a buildup for this one. And they were rough. It has been mentally and emotionally draining. I was making decisions and moves that affected people’s lives, as well as the university itself. And while I think I got things right most of the time, I had become progressively more worried about my being fit to keep making these decisions. The job had taken its toll on me, and it was pricey. And to top it all off, the pressure to continue my studies perpetually loomed over me, casting major uncertainties over my future.

I needed a break. A long one. And there were only two ways to have it. The first was to start my PhD (believe it or not). The second was to resign, and at some point look for another job — admittedly a scary proposition. But oh so many times did I come close to doing it..

I had struggled to find a doctoral program that suited me. It was even more difficult to find one that would admit me. One problem was my inability to come up with a solid topic to help me get admitted in PhD by research programs. Professors willing to support me to turn my ideas into a topic were far in between. What few I met were in universities which I either could not afford to be in or did not have openings for me. I got rejected quite a few times. . I could have returned to UP to study. But there was no way I was doing that. I would rather quit my job. Don’t get me wrong. There is no other place I would rather study in the country. But I have spent nearly my entire life living in or around a UP campus. It isn’t just school or my place of work. It has been my life. Whatever I got from UP before, I have given back. I need to get out, even if just temporarily, and then return with something new to offer back to the community. I don’t expect everyone to understand, but that’s how things go around here. I had to study, and do so abroad. Unfortunately, I felt that my window to do so was closing.

Fortunately, opportunity came, and in an unlikely manner.

After years of worry and suspicion, my son’s condition was more definitively diagnosed, or rather, there is now a more definite working impression. Aidan falls within the autism spectrum. It’s finality was… incredibly difficult to process or understand, let alone come to terms with, especially when there are no clear reasons how it happened. Why him? Why my family? Those first days of being hit with the news… There had been times before when I seriously considered that I may had already been gradually sinking into depression. If I were, this would have really brought me to the brink. I didn’t want to move, let alone get out of the house. To go online and do my job required great mental effort. I was barely functional. I’m still not sure what spurred me to get up one day, talk to the people I needed to talk to, and deal with important matters that required the most immediate decisions. But I am extremely thankful for it. Things could have definitely been worse.

This changed everything.

One of the few things which experts consistently say when caring for such a child is to build routines and a solid support system around him. I strongly believed that at the time, we already pretty much had those, or at least they would be relatively easy to attain here, near friends and family. Going abroad for three years was no longer an option. I was staying. We were keeping the house and will commit to the upkeep. My wife gets to remain in close contact with her immediate community and perhaps resurrect her professional life in some form or fashion. My dad would have more time to be a grandfather. We would finally get ourselves a newer and bigger car. I could stop worrying about who would adopt our Golden Retriever, Roxie. Settling these matters was a cathartic experience. It was such a relief.

Yes, the matter of my studies was still in limbo. However, I should know full well that being unable to move abroad is no longer an issue in this day and age. If anything, it actually provided a clearer path. My boss earlier broached the idea of me looking into studying in distance mode at Lancaster University. It was something which I was never against, but wasn’t overly excited about, either, even as I was in constant communication with a professor from there. However, thanks to all the life changes happening, it suddenly made the most sense. Even though I lodged in my application too late in order to be included in their 2018 uptake, I continued to pursue it for 2019. The process didn’t exactly go smoothly, but yes, I was lucky enough to be accepted. Reading that offer letter led to my biggest sigh of relief in years.

I remember reading that first sentence, closing my eyes, breathing in deeply, and slowly exhaling…

It also became an inspiration to renew my focus on research, leading to even more unlikely career milestones. My first book chapter was finally published. I was able to make it to Tallinn, Estonia and reconnect with friends at ICEM, which in turn has led to collaboration, and perhaps, partnership opportunities at an organizational level (we’ll see). These are things which seem to be seen as next level achievements in a faculty’s career. My only regret is that I have to undercut this momentum myself as I have to take my leave of absence, a week from the time of this writing.

I had also attempted to engage students and alumni again on a higher level and establish something that would be mutually beneficial to them and the university, and somehow tie the whole thing in with my PhD studies. Everybody would have won. I tried before and it didn’t work out. I tried again in the hopes of having a different outcome. I was even planning on spending more time with these students this year to help them with their projects. Unfortunately, things did not pan out as I had hoped. It was disappointing, since there were early signs of promise. Maybe later on my vision will really catch on. But it won’t be with these students and alumni. Their time is passed. Once again, my hope will rest on the future batches.

The (UPOU) Digital Collective website was among many projects I had in mind to do with UPOU students.

While I happily look forward to this year, I do wish my colleagues at FICS and ICTDO great fortitude in the while I’m out. There’s so much that needs to be done at UPOU and I am well aware of how much additional weight my hiatus applies to their already heavy workload. That is why I will maintain some presence when I’m needed. I can’t facilitate classes or do administrative work. But I could help out in other things. I owe them that, at the very least.

As for Aidan, I truly believe that he will be fine. Yes, he has development issues. But there are flashes of intelligence and awareness in him that gives me hope — a story for another blog entry, perhaps. The next few years will be challenging, but he will achieve normalcy once we find the best way to support his development. And the good news is that I will be physically around to help him.

He’s a handful. But he’ll be fine.

It’s interesting to me how everything unfolded and is turning out ok, heading to 2019. I’m not saying it’s smooth sailing from here on. After all, I’m about to take on things that will undoubtedly pose its own set of challenges. But it would be nice to deal with as little turbulence as possible in these next years. Here’s to hoping.

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Farewell and thank you, Ma’am Liza.

I had strong second thoughts about attending my high school alumni homecoming last December 8. I always do, because I have mixed feelings towards my time in UP Rural High School. I don’t hate it. But I didn’t particularly enjoy it, either. However, one of the few things about high school that I cherish to this day is the respect I had for many of my teachers. And there was one algebra teacher in particular that comes to mind.

Little did I know at the time of the past and future ties I would eventually have with Ma’am Liza Carascal. She was a family friend. I found out because she told me during my first day in her class in my sophomore year, which was embarrassing because I had no idea at the time. It was of course, confirmed by my mom the same day when I got home from school and asked her. But it was only a few years ago did I have an idea how far back that friendship went. I was rummaging through my mom’s old things. She was a bit of a pack rat and quite the documenter. She’d probably have loved social media if she were alive today. I found her old scrapbooks covering my childhood. I find out that Ma’am Liza was actually among her first visitors right after I was born.

Mom’s handwriting. She listed Ma’am Liza among the first people to visit her after giving birth to me in 1977.

It would be years after high school when I crossed paths with her again.

She transferred to UPOU full-time after a while, but by the time I came in as a faculty there, she had already returned to UPRHS to serve as its principal – something which suited her incredibly well and will likely be best remembered for for in the years to come. However, she still maintained multiple roles in UPOU, as an affiliate faculty and part of the UPOU Foundation, Inc. It was in these capacities in which I interacted with her professionally. I admit that, at times, I shied away from her – again, because I had moved on a lot from high school and was not particularly interested in revisiting that part of my life, of which she was a huge reminder of.

Hanoi, Vietnam in 2010. It was one of my first trips as a UPOU faculty. Aside from learning how awkward I look beside my petite bosses and not to trust that strangers will be able to take good pictures for you, I got to know Ma’am Liza more. She was quite the shopaholic.

True enough, nearly every chance she got, she kept talking about Mutyang Rural. She’d say it needed help from alumni such as myself. She’d ask me to hold this or that seminar or workshop for students and teachers in Rural. She’d also ask about my batch and why we weren’t as united as we were supposed to be (in hindsight, she probably said this to everyone regardless of batch in the hopes of spurring us to move). I’d just smile at her. But I didn’t have it in me to tell her the truth of the matter. She lived and breathed Rural and cared for its students like no other, me included. I couldn’t live with myself if I ended up disappointing her in any way. So, it was a few years ago, when I promised her that I will make it a point to start giving back to my alma mater. I would make it a point to play a more active role as an alumnus in the coming years.

Ma’am Liza with me and some of my batchmates in her office after discussing plans for our Silver jubilee. This was a little over a year ago.

But I was still not particularly fond of attending the Alumni Homecoming.

Even last year, with my batch’s 25th anniversary and turn to host the event looming, I wasn’t planning on attending. But who else was going to convince me otherwise? In the middle of an important yet unrelated meeting, she reminded me of it and told me that she expected me to be there.

I did eventually make it there last December 8. Yes, it was partly because of some sense of obligation to my batch. But it was mainly because Ma’am Liza asked me to. That’s why at the end of the event after the homecoming event responsibilities for 2019 was turned over to us, I broke off from my batch’s ranks, went to her and gave her a hug. I thanked her and told her Ma’am pumunta po ako! (Ma’am, I made it!). She laughed and replied Oo nga. Salamat! (Yes, you did. Thank you for coming!).

Little did I know that it would be the last time I would see her alive.

She’d been looking weak during the months prior. But it was not that surprising to me. She had a huge amount of work on her plate. Stress constantly looms over our shoulders in our line of work. She looked visibly tired during the Homecoming, but soldiered on through it to continue lauding the achievements of the school and campaigning for additional support from UPLB and the alumni — her duty to her school and its wards. Again, I was sensing something was wrong, but I didn’t realize the severity of her condition. She had battled health issues before and I had believed the worst of it was over. She’d be retiring soon and have lots of time to enjoy it. I was wrong.

From what I’m gathering, I believe she probably knew she didn’t have much time left. Yes, she did slow down. Who wouldn’t? But she chose to continue working as aggressively as she possibly could. In her mind, much work still needed to be done, all the while not wanting people around her to know something was wrong, much like she did during her first bout with the sickness. I can’t imagine how lonely and frustrating walking that final road could be. And yet, she was at it until the end. Because of that, as I am writing this, I have found an even higher level of respect for her.

Today, I grieve for my math teacher, mentor and colleague. And I deeply regret not being able to tell her any of the things I’ve written here. But I am glad that warm and happy hug was my final memory of her. Perhaps my mom has returned the favor of being among the first to welcome her, wherever they may be in the afterlife.

From this point on, she will be an inspiration for us who has worn the black, white and blue colors of UPRHS and those who stood and worked alongside her. And it is an honor for me to have been both.

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Congratulations to the BA Multimedia Studies Class of 2018

This is the last batch whom I will be marching with, at least for a while. As I look at this picture, most of their faces felt unusually familiar, perhaps more so than previous batches. Obviously, I know all of them. But the sight of them elicited emotions not quite like last year.

And then it occurred to me… some of them were students in my MMS 100 class. That means they never had anyone else as their program chair. Even though Diego was already the one who marshaled them to the ceremony, I was the one who did the most in guiding these students through BAMS.

Some of them were students in my earliest classes in BAMS. One of them I even distinctly remember proctoring for when he took the UgAT all those years ago. A few of them were my baptism of fire in dealing with the difficult issue of mental health. I would like to think that while my record isn’t spotless, I was able to do more good than harm to them.

Each of them have stories of adversity and success. I know many of them and not having the right to tell is almost painful, because I am so proud of these people. It was good to finally see them switch their Sablay to the left shoulder.

The personal highlight for me here as that I had four advisees graduate this year, which I believe the most I’ve ever had so far. Gimson was honestly someone I almost gave up on. But that would have been a crime to do to someone who himself would not. For whatever he lacked, he made up for with determination. Jewel, Igie and Shari, on the other hand, were a curious case for me. The first time I knew them, they were kids to me — just about the same age as my eldest nieces. They did a LOT of growing up these past two or three years. It almost felt weird standing by their sides tonight and regard them as young women moving on with their lives after UPOU and BAMS. I’m going to miss teasing them like I did my own friends back in college.

Last, but not least, is again, Shari. Seeing an advisee earn Latin honors is always a matter of pride for me. And to see her up there as the only one who did it this year… No, I won’t take any credit for it. She pretty much did it on her own. But getting there wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Much like what happened with Aia last year, there were a few… loose ends that needed tying. Once again, I was asked to look into it and write an endorsement, should I choose to fight for her case. I will share with you the ending statements of my letter to the University Council:

“On another note, Ms. San Pablo was directly under my supervision in a number of courses, as well as her special project. All throughout, she had shown above average aptitude, diligence and initiative – hallmarks that I look for in a UP student. And it is with this faith in her for which I laid out the above explanation. Thank you…”

Some of them I will continue to be interacting with, mostly through here in the UPOU Digital Collective. While they may never really regard me completely as such, it will be interesting for me to be with them more as peers or even friends rather than as students. But for the others who will be really moving on, I truly hope they succeed in whatever they set out to do. And I hope the BAMS program has helped them prepare.

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Presenting the UPOU Digital Collective at ICEM 2018

Hardly anything went according to plan. I’d decided on attending ICEM 2018 the moment  it was announced. It was just as well, as with anything that involves a trip to Europe, you need to prepare well in advance. I already knew back then what I’d be presenting. However, circumstances would not permit me to do what I needed to do in a timely fashion. I had to focus on the curricular revision of the BAMS program. I had to be part of a Business Analytics course writing team. My classes were unusually large. The funding I needed wasn’t coming. There was always something. My project ended up losing steam, stalling for several months.

My visa application, which I wrote about here, was probably the only thing that really went my way. I wasn’t able to properly book my flight and accommodations as I did not receive my grant in time. More importantly, this was the first time I headed to a conference without a full paper on hand. And it sucks that I failed to submit something ICEM could consider for publishing. And up until a day before my session, I wasn’t even sure what I’d be presenting exactly. I had no results to show.

 

The UPOUDC website is nowhere near being ready.

 

My plans for the UPOU Digital Collective is, by far, the thing I have been most passionate above as far as my recent work in the university is concerned. And rather than immediately seek out my friends in ICEM, there I was, in a room at the Hotel Metropol in Tallinn, Estonia, cramming for my presentation, not really knowing what to include. I hated it, not just because I was cramming, but also because in my unpreparedness, I wouldn’t be able to present my project the way I wanted.

I did come up with an idea, though. I couldn’t show any results. But then I realized that instead of that, I could take a retrospective approach. Student co-creation and collaboration was actually not new anymore in UPOU. I myself have had experience with it dating back to when I started teaching. In fact, up until that point, I had taken for granted that with projects such as Biomodd and the UPOU Community Site, I had actually been into it early on in my academic career. I hadn’t always been successful, but even in failure, there were vital lessons that I learned which are worth looking back into in the hopes of avoiding them as we go forward with UPOUDC. I ended up having more to say than I would have thought.

 

ICEM seems to cycle between big and small conferences, which I suppose is more a function of the partner institution. This one, due to a few good reasons I’m told, was fairly small, at least in terms of attendance. There could not have been more than a hundred who attended at least at one point. The floor plan of the venue also felt a little awkward.

That said, what more than made up for the shortcomings was the actual quality of the attendance. While a little daunting in the past, it felt pretty good, surrounded by brilliant and like-minded people from all over the world willing to listen to what you have to say.

Estonia itself is an intriguing country. My province, Laguna, in the Philippines, has more than twice as many people in less than half the land area. Tallinn itself, I think, is quite sparsely populated for a capital. I didn’t get the chance to see the countryside, so I can only imagine how it looks. In any case, they are world leaders in education, right up there with Finland, Denmark, Japan and Canada. Their GDP per capita is also more than three times as high as that of ours. But the way the people from Tallinn University put it, they sort of consider themselves a poor country, of which I couldn’t help but smile. While I concede that I may be ignorant of their history and what they went through, all I could think of was that these guys should have a wider perspective on the matter. Conditions probably weren’t that good back when they were under the Soviet Union. But seriously, even though it is obvious they still have some work to do, when you’ve got people from Finland, a country they look up to, asking how they maintain progress to be right on par with them and with the momentum to have an apparent chance of surpassing them, it can’t possibly be that bad.

 

My session

My presentation went surprisingly well. Ironically, I ended up having twice the number of slides I would usually have for a 15-20 minute presentation. It had been years since I found myself in a session full of attentive people, nearly all of which were my seniors in either or both age and stature. I predictably went over the allotted time, but my peers were gracious enough to allow me to finish and even ask questions and offer suggestions. Someone from Hungary even recognized Biomodd, saying he was familiar with what the Biomodd London team has been doing recently. It has also been a while since I’ve been really engaged in a conference. I learned quite a bit in those three or four days. Already, I am thinking of how I will move from then to the next three or four years. Establishing and maintaining a persistent environment for co-creation is definitely something I will have to be into for a good amount of time. With enough luck, I’ll succeed. If not, the least I can hope for is to understand what works and what doesn’t, so others will have a better chance of succeeding in the future.

 

Maybe someday, ICEM, or at least some of its members, will make it to the Philippines. I believe there is a lot we can learn from them. These are people with extensive experience with technology and the ways of integrating them to the classroom, physical or otherwise. At the same time, maybe a visit can give them a better perspective of how things are in this part of Asia and reach an even greater audience. I would also like to see more of its members work in their respective institutions. The thought of these things are exciting to me. Which is weird… this is work — something I have wanted less and less off over the past few years.

For now, I go home knowing that we are on to something in the UPOU Digital Collective. It’s time for me to focus on it and see how my work on the project can carry over to my studies starting next year. Perhaps next time, whether it be in Memphis, Tennessee or Portugal, I’ll be able to show the results I had wanted them to see last week.

 

 

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My Schengen Visa Application (Estonia c/o Norway)

I love traveling to Europe. I’ve been lucky enough to make the trip a number of times, and they all leave lasting memories for me to fondly remember. But what I do hate is the preparation. After the initial excitement fades, the weeks leading to the actual departure is riddled with anxiety and second thoughts about pushing through. Can I afford it? What am I going to do if something goes wrong? Isn’t there something more important for me to spend my money on first? Will I be able to eat anything there? All these questions circulate in my head.

The anxiety comes to a head when I start the Schengen Visa Application process. In my experience, it was by far, the most tedious process to go through as far as visa applications went. My first two times were in the Netherlands embassy which subjected me and my documents through a long and strict process. I’m not complaining, though. I distinctly remember sharing the waiting area with a lot of people having a more difficult time. The third time was in the Belgian embassy, which was even stricter and dealing with them was a less pleasant experience. By the time I prepared for my fourth trip, this time to Hungary and Austria, VFS Global had taken over just about all the embassies of the countries in the Schengen area, at least as far as dealing directly with applicants are concerned. With the whole thing now having a middleman, the overall cost of applying for a Schengen visa increased. But in exchange, you get a friendlier vibe where you get the feeling that you’re being assisted by people to ensure approval rather than being interrogated with the intention of being caught with something that would be grounds for the rejection of your application. It also sped up the process with the booking of appointments being so much less of a pain, with queues being significantly shorter, without processing time having any apparent delay due to having a middleman.

I recently went through the process for a fifth time. I was now heading to Estonia, who’s represented by the Norweigian embassy in the Philippines. It meant I’d be heading back to VFS Global in Manila, but before that, I encountered Norway’s online application form. It was a lot more convenient than what I was used to in the past. Printing the form wasn’t even necessary. I did leave it hanging longer than I wanted, though, due to circumstances affecting my schedule and finances.

Scheduling my appointment to submit the necessary documents was also easy. It’s probably even possible to set it the day after on many cases, which is just as well. I tend to err towards the side of caution, making sure I already have all the documents I need in hand before setting that appointment. In that regard, there was nothing outside the usual for Schengen visa applications — invitation, certificate of employment, permission from your employer, bank statement, itinerary… those sorts of things. I did note that I didn’t need to submit a copy of my income tax return this time (I’ve needed to in two out of the four previous applications).

So, I set my appointment on Wednesday, August 22. I could have booked it the following day, but opted for August 24, Friday, 8:45AM instead. I arrived at the building early (6:45AM) to avoid traffic. So I tried to take a short nap in the car. By 7:45AM, I went to the entrance to check if they’d let me in early. They did. Once again, I noted how friendlier VFS Global staff are, compared to those in the actual embassies. Considering how much they charge for processing visas (on top of the 60 Euros charged upon submission of the online form, I paid nearly 2,000 Pesos for the processing and courier fee), I suppose it’s something I should expect. I also noted that people are now allowed to use their mobile devices more freely. Picture taking is probably the only thing that’s explicitly prohibited now. There’s no need to check bags in a locker anymore. If I knew that prior, I’d probably have been able to bring in a book to read. I was hoping that I’d be processed early. But it looked like everyone who booked appointments before me were there, as well. But to VFS Global’s credit, I was called right on the clock at 8:45AM. And in 15 minutes, all my documents were inspected and accepted. By 9:20AM, I was done with my biometrics and was on my way to the parking area.

That was pretty fast. But what I found even more surprising was that by Monday, September 27, I had already received a text message that my visa has been approved. And by the following day, my passport had been delivered. I got it back within three business days. This was the fastest visa application I’ve ever gone through.

This was not the end of my headaches as I had other problems to deal with regarding my travel plan, but this part was surprisingly quick and hassle-free. It certainly helped in lowering my anxiety. I have a few other visa applications looming already. But this experience has given me confidence that they won’t be much of a problem when the time comes.

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Tribute to the old man

I thought writing about one’s father would be relatively easy. That’s why I took my time, thinking the process would be quick when the thoughts start flowing freely. It has always been the method that felt natural to me. It’s how my best work comes about.

Then I realized what’s behind my difficulty. It’s easy to tell a few stories about my dad every now and then. But to write an entire piece that sums the man up as you have known him all your life… that’s something totally different… and much longer than I initially planned.  Let’s see how it goes.

As the person alive who had lived with my dad the longest, it would be easy for some to believe that I would be the one who knows him best. But the thing is, it is not as simple as that. We never really talked that much until these last 10 year. It just wasn’t our thing. And I learned more about him in those last 10 years than I ever did 30 years prior.

Like just about everyone who has lived a full and productive life, there are different facets to my dad. He’s been with me all my life. But I’ve only been with him for just a little over half of his. Even before he became Lex the dad, to our family he was a son, a brother, a cousin, an uncle, and of course, a husband to my mother. To the rest of the world, he was first a poor boy living in a remote island on the northern edge of the country post World War II who, with the help of his older brother, somehow made it to UP Los Baños to study and ultimately earn a college degree, and subsequently dedicate his professional life in the academe. And it is this facet that has existed for five decades, which he is best known for – the era where I happen to be intertwined with.

Probably taken in the late 1970s while dad was a PhD student at Indiana University., because while he would wear that matching brown suit anywhere, what other reason would there be for me to be wearing that sweater…

 

From the outside

Everyone who knows him will know Dr. Felix Librero, the career academic, educated at UP Los Baños and Indiana University, reaching the peak of his career as Chancellor of the UP Open University, and going on to sit in the Board of Regents before retiring in 2013. He still teaches as Professor Emeritus with us to this day. You can probably read about his exploits in the academe elsewhere from those who have a better understanding of his work.

But what about Lex, the person and family man?

To the casual passers-by during the 1970s and 1980s, he’d probably be recognized for the IU alumnus ring and belt buckle, the glasses, the patterned shirts and jackets and the custom-made hard-heeled boots whose steps you’d hear from the opposite wing of the now CDC Building at UPLB.

There’s that early 1970s Toyota Corona – our first family car. It was red when he bought it. But until now, I do not know why he had it painted bright orange or why he made the dashboard look like what you’d see on jeepneys. And then he had that thing in the car that loudly played these beeping melodies when you shifted the gear to reverse or hit the signal light lever. It was definitely easy to know whenever he was leaving the office or the house. Thankfully, dad’s tastes became much less gaudy by the time we got our second car, a 1984 Nissan Stanza, back in the early 1990s. But man, that car went through a lot with us, as well.

It’s difficult for me to gauge how my dad was regarded by his students. I’m sure some were intimidated by him. Others probably endlessly wondered how on earth he’s able to be on top of his classes, with stories of him looking like he’s sleeping through a student’s oral recitation, and then suddenly opening his eyes with full knowledge of what just transpired. And as I got older, I always got a kick out of telling his current and former students stories of my dad’s reactions while reading papers submitted to him. I usually stay up late while my dad starts his day really early. So, there were days when by the time I was getting ready to go to bed, he’d have started checking his students’ works. And sometimes, I’d overhear some colorful verbal commentary, then proceed to ask said students when was the last time they were in his class.  I also found it hilarious whenever a student somehow found his or her way to our doorstep neither invited nor expected nor wanted, nervously holding a thick thesis draft. They’d usually receive greetings such as, why am I just getting this now!? or how the hell did you find out where I live!? Student life back then was definitely interesting.

On the other hand, our house was frequented by a lot of students back in the day. Both my parents made it a point to welcome them, particularly the foreigners. Had I not known any better, I’d have thought that my dad was either a father or elder brother figure to the foreign students, many of whom found themselves alone, especially during breaks. That is why, to this day, he is respected and loved by his former students, many of whom are now very successful in their own careers. Even I get to reap his rewards from time to time.

I have no idea how many people my dad has worked with.  There are those, of course, from UPLB’s College of Development and Communication and its earlier incarnations, when it was under the College of Agriculture. By association with his wife, there is the School of Environmental Science and Management. And of course there are those linkages to all the other units under UPLB. It was in these offices where I have the least understanding, as far as his work and dealings went. I was too young to even care. That only changed when I made it to college. I took up BS Agriculture and majored in Animal Science. And to my mild surprise, many of the faculty were people whom I already knew from childhood. The rest, I knew of thanks to both my parents. I did my best to avoid being labeled as Lex’s or Cely’s son, but when I had to acknowledge it, there was no denying that there was a certain weight to it.

Although he spent just as much time at UPLB, it is with the UP Open University where I think he did his most meaningful work.  Somehow, I always knew he’d be Chancellor one day. And while I had UPLB in mind early on, in hindsight, I am glad that it turned out to be UPOU.  He was a hard worker – much more than I’ll ever be. On the other hand, he wanted his work to matter. And matter it did, while at the front lines doing pioneer work for UP and the country suited him. Maybe there were parallels between him fighting for the existence of a campus during its infancy and his personal struggle to live a life better than what he had as a boy in Itbayat, Batanes. Maybe that’s why UPOU suited him well.

 

Relatives

I have no idea how big our extended family is. But there are only a handful of us at the core. And to all of them from my generation, he was their Uncle Lex. We looked up to him, his older brother, our Uncle Flor, and their younger sister,  Auntie Nita.

Our elders shortly before Uncle Flor’s passing.

While they manifest it differently, the two brothers can at times be walking self-contradictions. Two accomplished forward-thinking academics that somehow find themselves clinging to certain bits of tradition. They are both a strange blend of warmth and stoicism.

As young men… Dad on his wedding day with my Uncle Flor back in 1972.

While I won’t pretend to remember most of them, their conversations are always fascinating to listen to, especially when I was a teenager. I smile quietly when a discussion starts to turn into an argument, and then my dad would discreetly acquiesce, just like a younger brother in our family would. And then I would feel sad. There were even a few times when it got bad for me that I’d excuse myself and tear up a bit alone, because I was envious. I would never experience being in a conversation quite like those.

Librero Family, mid-1980s

My Uncle Flor’s recent passing meant the mantle of padre the familia got passed on to him. And this is one of the few parts of this writing that is not retrospective. He highly values how his brother carried that mantle, but he is a different man dealing with different circumstances.  And we look forward to what he has planned for us to do.

Much of what I know of him as a family man, however, are from memories of how he embraced my mother’s side of the family. The Dinulos family is different in many ways. I’m not even sure how I would begin to qualify that. They can be a handful, for sure. And it wasn’t until I got older when I realized how much he loved the family. His affection, patience and generosity practically had no bounds. His nieces and nephews on the Librero side became close to him as adults. But it was in the Dinulos side where he embraced being an uncle to children. That is why to this day, his nephews, nieces and even some second degree grandchildren all grown up with their own families, still ask me where their Tito Felix is when I go to gatherings without him.

Dinulos Family, early 1990s

Even though he has sort of detached himself from the Dinulos family, he will always be regarded with love and respect by those whose lives he’s touched.

 

The Household

From time to time, I still get asked what it was like in the Librero household.  Between that time getting further and further into the past and the clouds of nostalgia and personal biases blurring my perspective, it’s easy for me to give wrong impressions.

I arrived five years into my parents’ marriage – which is quite late for any couple who’s ever wanted kids from the get go. I can imagine them at some point attempting to come to terms with the possibility of ending up childless, like the elder Librero couple, my Uncle Flor and Aunt Aida. However, I would be both their first and last. I also get asked why that is so. The only reason I know is what I’ve been told repeatedly — after I was born, mom was diagnosed with diabetes. Her mother and eldest sister also having the same affliction implied that it may be hereditary. It’s easy to understand that the possibility of passing the disease on to a child along with the overall risk to my mom’s well-being throughout a second pregnancy would be too much to overlook.

However, I don’t remember a time when it was just the three of us in the house. The only time it actually happened was when my dad took up his PhD in Indiana University, and I have next to zero memories from that time. My earliest coherent memories in the Librero household were those with my parents and grandmother – my dad’s mother Jacinta. And then at almost any given point in time, there’d be someone else living with us – cousins, nephews and nieces. There were also housekeepers. With the exception of the older housekeepers who worked for us, my parents’ sent all of them to school. With the relatives, I understood it perfectly. But the housekeepers – I saw no obligation to do so. At least one housekeeper even managed to finish college thanks to my dad’s support. If not for their constant responsibilities in the house, you’d think they were part of the family. I was taught to always treat them with respect and regard them more as relatives rather than servants. That is why I would like to believe that everyone who lived with us was treated well and have fond memories of my family. And they have my dad to thank for that.

 

The Family

Even though my grandmother was an integral part of our family who I owe so much to, for me during my formative years, it was really about me and my parents. And yet, I have never really drawn out a full cohesive thought about us. And this is where my difficulties in articulation lie.

They were two awfully different people with different sensibilities. And looking back now, I’m actually amazed. As a boy growing up, I thought to myself that, damn, my parents have a perfect marriage. I thought they were generally well-liked by the people around us. They always did as many things together as possible. And not once do I ever remember them fighting or having heated arguments. Never. Now, it’s probably silly to even think that it was actually the case. Looking back now, I’m sure there were a lot of arguments between them. But they never let me see any of it.

One of the biggest family goals my parents set out to do was to build their own home. By the time I was in high school, we had lived in six different places that I know of. And they wanted to settle down to a more permanent home. After a series of buying and selling property they chose to build a house relatively near the UPLB campus. Personally, I loved living in-campus and I was sad to leave after the house was completed by the end of 1996. To this day, I have a love-hate relationship with this house. The maintenance has been driving me insane ever since dad turned the house over to me. But after 20 years of living under its protective roof, I have developed an appreciation for it and where my parents were coming from in their sense of urgency to build it.

The Librero house under construction in 1996.

Unfortunately, our move to this house coincided with the series of life challenges that we would have to face for the next several years. From my perspective, there were two great tests of their marriage, and it involved their hearts – literally.

Dad was a heavy smoker back in the day. Back when Seven Stars Lights were sold locally, they had a redemption booth where you could get various items in exchange for empty packs of their cigarettes. For years, we had a LOT of Seven Stars towels and apparel at home. I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually found a towel among our old junk today. At some point he found the willpower to just stop. He also cut down on his alcohol and started taking maintenance meds. Unfortunately, the change in lifestyle ended up being too late. The damage had been done. And of all days, back in 1997, he would have to suffer a heart attack on Christmas Day.

I remember waking up that morning. I was still struggling to get up from bed as a bunch of chores were waiting for me. We were expecting relatives, as we always had a family get-together every Christmas. Dad would have been on the road already to pick up a few of my aunts and cousins. Then suddenly, mom was ushering me to the phone. She said I needed to talk to dad because I need to pick him up. That was confusing. Dad told me that he needed me to get to him because he was in no condition to drive. I immediately launched to walk as fast as I could not even realizing I was just wearing this worn out shirt and small shorts which I slept in (this is probably why to this day, I refuse to sleep in anything I wouldn’t be caught dead in – I now have this habit of trying to be ready to quickly go out in case of any emergency). I found our car parked by Lopez Avenue, close to Collegio de Los Baños and my dad was already seated on the passenger’s side. That’s when I knew it was bad. I was still half hoping that he just needed company. But no, it was actually the first time he asked me to drive for him, and I wish it had been under less grim circumstances.

It’s a bit of a blur to me what happened between getting in the driver’s seat and getting him to the UPLB Infirmary’s emergency room. I don’t remember if we picked mom up before heading to campus or if we went straight to the Infirmary before I headed back home to pick her up. I think it was the former because it wouldn’t make sense to delay his arrival to the Infirmary any further. I know that it’s sort of contrary to my dad’s own account. But hey, who would you believe more in this case?

I had hoped that everything would turn out fine within the day. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Dad would eventually have to undergo bypass surgery at the Philippine Heart Center. He wrote about it at length and has told the story a number of times. I could probably add quite a few pages to that story, but that’s for another time. Without going into the details, it was a long and fairly difficult road to recovery for him.

Mom was there every step of the way. But the disadvantage of a small family became apparent. I was tasked to man the house the whole time, only heading to the hospital if necessary. She had no relief. I wouldn’t have minded trading places with her. But for her, not being in the same building for any extended period was not an option. It also felt like my parents made it a point to shield me from as much of the burden as they possibly could. I don’t know how she would have managed had the people from UPOU and UPLB not lent assistance, and for that we are eternally grateful. Even so, I couldn’t imagine how heavy the weight on her shoulders were as dad lay in the ICU. She held it together incredibly well. But it was heartbreaking when she broke down in tears on my shoulders the moment she saw me finally make it to the Heart Center to visit and help with paperwork. She was exhausted and yet, I could offer no real relief. The best I could do was make it up a bit when dad was finally discharged from the hospital and sent back home. And it was a fairly long road to recovery for him.

I would not be surprised if this was the point where my mom’s own ordeal started.

She herself would suffer a mild stroke not long after dad’s bout. And it was now his turn to tend to her. But instead of looking forward to recovery, what ensued was a gradual decline in health that was painful for all of us to watch. Dad talked to me about it early on, warning me that her path was not going to be the same as his. Even so, that could not have prepared me for the next 3-4 years.

I will not go into the details of what transpired during my mom’s final years. Let’s just say that I don’t find it pretty. But I will tell you about how my dad handled the whole thing. For reasons I don’t completely agree with, he continued to shield me from much of the burdens at hand. Mom had to stop working, leaving dad as the sole breadwinner. I had struggled to get a job after graduating from college, so I resorted to keep studying instead. I was no help in this regard and ended up being one of the drains from the family finances. At the same time, we probably had more people in the household than ever and dad had to take care of all of them. I don’t know how long he had to endure spending more money than he was earning. He was already a Vice Chancellor, and then Chancellor by then, so the income was already quite ok. But if you’re supporting a son, two or three housekeepers and caregivers, two relatives, and a wife with ever increasing medical bills, there’s no way that income would suffice. How he managed that, I will never fathom. And then there was the emotional toll of it all. Yet, outside a few sighs or shrugs of frustration, I never saw him complain. Not even once. And the household stayed very much afloat. Grace under adversity. That’s my dad’s strength of character for you.

Mom sadly passed away in June 2003. Shortly thereafter, at least for a time, it was just me and my dad in the house.

 

Father and Son

Except for a few facial features, my physical attributes came pretty much from my mother’s side. But how I am as a person… by far, I do take to my dad. The only thing I failed to inherit from him is his diligence, which is unfortunate. I can only wonder where I am now if I had his work ethic.

Dad never really knew his own father. He had no real first-hand experience as a father’s son. He had his kuya, but it’s not the same.

It’s fascinating to hear his stories of me and him raising me when I was too young to remember anything. I honestly don’t remember the last time he actually had to take the belt out on behalf of my misbehaving behind. But the fear of it lingers in some form to this day. Even as an adult, I’d spring in attention even with the imagination of him calling my name.

I don’t think I was a bad kid. But I’m sure I had my moments. There was this one time when I tried running away after getting scolded repeatedly by my mom, only to realize I didn’t have it in me. So I resorted to refusing to get back in the house instead. What ensued was a cat and mouse game between me and my dad in the middle of the night that probably lasted an hour, which I find hilarious in hindsight. He didn’t get physical, but I’m sure it took quite a bit of patience to talk me down.

I also had a cute rebellious phase as a teenager, just like everyone else. It was a confusing period because there were times when it felt like they had me in a ball and chain, while there were times when I thought they left me to fend for myself as I struggled with school. It took a long while before I had a better understanding of what my parents were trying to do. had long since realized how much leeway he gave me. The mere fact that he relieved me of the pressure of doing well in high school meant a lot to me. I didn’t do particularly well, as it was the start of my life phase of hating school. He understood that and let me be. It was enough that I just make it through.

Perhaps the first profound lessons he gave me were of responsibility and accountability. There was the time when I was getting to college. I had the unfortunate predicament of losing my admission documents. I left it in the living room, took a nap, and then couldn’t find it anymore afterwards. This was my first registration period. I was already getting an earful from my mom telling me how careless I was. And it was at that moment when he broke his silence.

That’s not carelessness. That’s stupidity.

That cut deep. I couldn’t even speak for the rest of the day. He eventually pulled a few strings at UPLB to help me out so I could proceed with my enrollment. A few days after, my documents actually reappeared… gnawed on by a rat. I’m sure you can imagine the looks I got from the Office of the University Registrar every time I used a rat ate my documents as an excuse. Everything turned out fine in the end. But it was a lesson dad made me learn well. It was my first step towards manhood.

I would continue to make more mistakes throughout college, and while he’d never directly impose, he was always there to save me if he needed to. I was raised to be independent-minded, though sometimes I wish he’d intervened more when I was growing up. Some of you may be surprised to know, but I hardly had any help from him in my studies, particularly with the theses work. He never actually taught me how to write. Perhaps there really is some gene that I inherited from him, which allows me to hold my own if a situation calls for it. But we do have different styles and approaches.

I tried reading his book, and had a hard time understanding it. I’d ask a few questions here and there and get lucky when I get a useful tip. But all that writing was me (with the guidance of my advisers). It felt really strange that the most visible support he gave me while working on my Master’s thesis was delivering food to my panel during my final defense.

At the time, I actually had mixed feelings towards that. It’s difficult to explain, but I will try.

Fellow children of UP faculty would understand and relate this best. I had the strong urge to get out of my parents’ shadow. Even though I eventually chose to study in UPLB, I picked a different field and swore never to be a teacher in UP. Obviously, I failed to keep that vow, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Little did I know back then that teaching would eventually be my calling.

I also wanted to finally practice the virtue of being responsible for myself and not dragging other people to my own problems. I was raised to value independence and I did not want to fail at it. And I probably went overboard with it once or twice.

I forget the exact year, but I was a Master’s student back then. I got really sick while dad was out of the country, probably Indonesia. The stubborn idiot with a hospital phobia that I am, I waited three days for my fever to subside. But at least I had the mind to ask my dad’s driver, Naldo, to check on me in case I need to be taken to the hospital. And indeed he did. It turned out that I had Dengue fever and I had to be confined. Interestingly enough, it was none other than Dr. Reaño, the same doctor who admitted my dad when we rushed him to the Infirmary when he had a heart attack who had me checked and set up for confinement.

I asked Naldo not to let my dad know, at least not until he picked him up at the airport when he goes back home. I didn’t want him having to cut his trip short on my account. Not once did I think that I was lying on my deathbed in the Infirmary’s isolation ward. Even though it was a horrible ordeal, I didn’t think it was that serious, especially since my blood platelet count remained high enough for me not to need a blood transfusion. All I could think of was this one day some years back…

Dad never got to set foot to Europe. But he had one real chance. He was all set to go to Rome for an engagement and had prepared for it well in advance. Mom was already bed-ridden and emotionally erratic by then. She seemed ok with his trip at first. But on the actual day for him to fly, mom threw a fit and begged him not to go. And he begrudgingly acquiesced. After a while, me being my usual self, getting up late, was surprised to see him in the house and I was like, huh, dy… aren’t you supposed to be on a plane to Italy by now? A heavy sigh was all I got from him. But he was visibly angry.

I didn’t (and still don’t) want to ever do anything remotely similar to him. Never will I let myself be a burden to anyone, let alone my father.

In my devotion to that single-minded goal, I failed to take into account the emotional effect of a parent’s realization of not knowing – in this case not knowing his son got confined to a hospital for the first time in twenty years, being treated for a disease known to result in death. He did not know that my platelet count was holding and while I was in pain, I was in no further danger. After all, how could he? I didn’t want him to know.

He came in the isolation ward mad — really mad. To his credit, he managed to exert a huge amount of restraint. Just by looking at him, I realized my miscalculation. I listened to everything he had to say, but it wasn’t needed. I was wrong. Letting him know, but assuring him I’ll be fine, would have been the right move.

 

Getting Married

His decision to re-marry after a few years of being widowed was something I did not really expect. I did not know Jeanette well enough during that time. It was admittedly an awkward dynamic, especially at first. Never did I believe she was a bad person. But she was so different from my mom. Her company took time to get used to. But I would like to think that everything turned out fine. Nobody I knew deserved to be happy as my dad should be. I wanted to make sure that it happened.

On his 75th birthday

The best thing that Jeanette did for my dad was to teach him to appreciate life more – try new things. I was worried when it suddenly felt like he had withdrawn from my mother’s side of the family. Thankfully, whatever I thought he would miss was compensated by his being accepted by Jeanette’s folks. And I will be forever thankful to her for that.

Dad called my decision to get married myself as being a high point of my life. It certainly took more years and one false alarm too many before it happened. While Vanni and I were making plans, he talked to me one night and gave me a strange apology. He handed me some money (which I didn’t want to accept), and said he was sorry that he can’t be of bigger help with the wedding. It was difficult to process that. All I could do was ask myself this question… what else could I possibly need from the man who has given me everything?

My father-in-law, wife, me and my dad on my wedding day.

He had to carry me for 30 years before I could even begin stand on my own in the face of the world. Along with my mother, everything that’s good about me, I owe to him. That is why, if anything, it was me who needed to give back.

 

The Grandson’s Arrival

When I was young, I had a dream of having the money to buy my parents a pickup truck. They often talked about getting a piece of land and turn it to an orchard. A pickup would have been the perfect vehicle for them. Unfortunately, neither came true.

Dad was always great with kids, from all of my cousins down to Jeanette’s niece. Unfortunately, as time went by and as I grew older, it had gradually become less and likely that he’d have the chance to be with his own real grandkids. On my wedding day, Uncle Flor was quite transparent about expecting  a grandson from me and Vanni, unfortunately piling on some more pressure on my already anxious new wife. I’m sure dad felt the same way, but was gracious enough to keep most of those feelings to himself.

After a year of trying, I was starting to think about the possibility of being childless myself. We Libreros aren’t a prolific family, and it was becoming likely that I would be the last in our bloodline carrying the family name. I don’t think I could wait five years, like my parents did with me. While I figured out how to come to terms with that, I could only imagine how much harder it was on my wife, who believed the problem was on her end (I do not discount the possibility that I also have a problem, myself). I did my best to show that we’ll be fine either way. But this was something she wanted more badly than me. That is why it was such a huge relief for her that we were finally able to conceive, 15 months into our marriage. The child being a boy also gave us a chance to keep the family name alive, much to the happiness of the Librero patriarchs.

With a day-old Aidan.

Dad was the first person I called right after Aidan Kanarem was born on April 18, 2014. He was one of the first to hold the baby outside those of us who were present during the birthing. And it was a great feeling seeing how happy he was that day. And from that time, I have made it a point to make sure he would have as big a role as he wanted in raising the boy. At the very least, Aidan should get to know his lolo and spend as much time with him as he can. It is one of the first important pieces of happiness I can give my boy and possibly last big piece that I owe my dad.

At the beach on Aidan’s 4th birthday

 

So, who is Lex?

Uncle Flor once told me that he saw himself as the measuring stick for his brother. He peaked as a Dean of the College of Human Ecology at UPLB. He expected my dad to match that level. It was his subtle way of saying that he expected me to match that, as well. But at the same time, it was his way of expressing pride seeing his brother match, and then surpass him.

Son, brother, uncle, husband, father, grandfather, colleague, teacher, mentor, leader – Lex Librero is all of those – a life of 75 years well-spent – the embodiment of success with all aspects of life even in the face of adversity. And still have more to look forward to. That is something for his peers to honor and the rest of us to aspire to.

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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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Tools of the Trade for BAMS Students

One of the most frequently asked, if not obvious questions which students have is what equipment do they need when taking BAMS courses. I had always been hesitant to address such questions head on, as UP had always espoused a certain neutrality when it comes to employing any sort of tools in teaching.

I get it. UP students shouldn’t be expected to spend huge amounts of money on equipment in order to pass all their courses. It’s great if it would be possible to graduate with minimal expenses beyond tuition.

Unfortunately, this often makes matters more difficult at a later point. Students are expected to produce artifacts that meets certain standards which can be challenging, perhaps at times, more challenging than it’s supposed to be. Some make do with subpar output, hoping it will be enough to pass. Some end up buying what they need, anyway. It’s just too bad that there are instances where the acquisition of gear happens too late and ends up not being of much help, anyway. Lucky are those who are able to afford their decision to invest in their equipment early on, despite my hesitation to give them proper guidance.

I’d like to change my approach now. Instead of sidestepping the issue, maybe taking a definite stance regarding equipment will be of more benefit.

 

The Essentials

Being in an online campus, it goes without saying that a computer and an Internet connection are the two things that a student cannot do without. Now, while it is possible to get through most courses being dependent on computer shops and net cafés, that is far from ideal. It is highly likely for students to find themselves in situations where accessibility at any given time is necessary.

 

Workstation

A desktop or laptop with ample processing power and storage to meet system requirements of your applications will be necessary. Now, just how much ample really is depends on the software and other peripherals that you might be using. Check their respective product information to find out. Some of the teachers may also prescribe specific requirements, as dictated by the needs of the courses they handle. Make sure to keep an eye for those.

 

Internet Connection

As with workstations, ample bandwidth is required. But there is no definite consensus on how much that exactly is. It really depends on what you’re doing. But if your connection allows you to stream high definition video flawlessly, or if you can join a video chat session with high audio and video quality, chances are, you are going to be fine.

 

Studying at your Workplace

For working students, there is the appeal of being able to study from the office. Now, without even discussing the ethics, not to mention company policies pertinent to the practice, this poses additional issues. Depending on your company, there may be restrictions regarding what applications you are able to use with your office computer. It is also likely that your IT department has measures in place that will restrict access to anything your company deems inappropriate in the work place. And yes, that can include anything from the UPOU domain. Before using office facilities for the purpose of studying, please make sure that your management is ok with it first.

 

Using Mobile Devices

Over the years, mobile devices have become more and more ubiquitous. Students have started to rely heavily on tablets and even smart phones for their schoolwork. And why not? The modern mobile device has proven to be powerful multi-purpose tools, useful for a wide array of tasks. While UPOU has already taken steps in supporting mobile devices, appropriate learning experience is still far from guaranteed. Desktop and laptop computers remain as the recommended primary platform for your learning needs.

Going the Extra Mile

Again, it is true that it’s possible to get through just about anything with a computer and your mobile phone. But as you may already be aware of, there’s getting by to survive, and then there’s excellence. Yes, excellence is something that comes from within. But at the same time, achieving excellence usually require an additional set of tools. This hold particularly true in the field of multimedia.

These are some of what can be considered as equipment needed to go the extra mile:

  1. A big computer screen – one of the limitations of laptops (even more so with mobile devices), is the size of their LCD screens. There is something to be said about the user experience when working with one or more monitors with screen sizes of 24 inches or higher. It allows for a more immersive experience and greater attention to detail than with a 13 inch screen (let alone those 4-5 inch touchscreens on your phones).
  2. Camera – A discrete camera is necessary in learning how to consistently shoot high quality photos and videos as prescribed by some of the courses in the BAMS program. The DSLR has been the symbol of good photography work for many students. It certainly helps. But that is not your only option. Smaller mirrorless cameras can now allow you to do as good a job as the DSLR.
  3. Microphone or field recorder – As observed in past student output, sometimes, a decent microphone would have been the biggest difference maker in building audio and video projects.
  4. Audio interface and monitor speakers – audio may as well be the final frontier or the unknown for many BAMS students. It is typically the least appreciated modality in media, which the BAMS program intends to rectify among students. However, good audio cannot be created or even appreciated with flimsy earphones and your computer’s cheap sound card.
  5. Pen tablet – it definitely poses a learning curve, but it is all but necessary if you require a high level of precision for your image editing work.

 

One can certainly opt to go for more specialized equipment. But all of the above, in my honest opinion, will be more than enough to allow for a higher ceiling in terms of work quality. In the end, it is the student’s decision to go with whatever he or she wants.

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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.

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

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