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Life in an online university #9: Sympathy and empathy (Part 6)

Read Part 5 here.

Taken down a notch…

That time between 2009-2011 was extremely important for my professional growth and personal maturity. Perhaps a bit of that went to my head, as I started to believe I’d have little problem pursuing my PhD. It didn’t take long for me to be proven wrong, though.

I made attempts to apply in other PhD programmes early on. Under no circumstances was I going to study locally. So, I took a TOEFL IBT back in 2011. I accepted that it was going to be significantly more difficult to secure a PhD position abroad. Still, I anticipated I’d be studying again by the time the two-year validity of its results expired. Unfortunately, I failed to get my act together within that time frame and beyond.

I couldn’t establish any meaningful connection to anyone involved in the programmes I was interested in. All my expressions of interest and applications got rejected. I needed help and direction, but couldn't get much. It wasn't looking good. I gradually lost confidence. And I could not get any guidance that could help me solve that.

Actually, there was one time I did. I met a prof in a conference in Hungary back in 2014. He taught in a university in the US. After a lengthy discussion, several glasses of that nice Eger wine, ang getting egged on by others in the same table, he agreed to take me on as a student if I could get in. Unfortunately, after looking into it over the next year, I reached a conclusion that studying anywhere in the US would be unfeasible.

There was never a dull moment in my trip to Hungary back in 2014. Being in this wine cellar carved in solid stone in the company of people willing to help me was certainly a highlight.

That was demoralizing. I seriously considered quitting the academe and starting a new career path after that. Maybe I wasn't good enough, after all...

One last try?

It was not until mid-2017 when, upon my boss’s urging, I found myself exchanging emails with Lancaster University’s Don Passey about their PhD in E-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning programme. I consulted him for months up to the time he went to UPOU for a month as a visiting professor. By the time I completed my application requirements, I felt it was my best shot. I couldn’t see how I could do better. If I got rejected, I didn’t have what it takes to have a doctorate.

In November 2017, a week after I sent my application, Lancaster University sent me my notice of rejection.

At first, I thought it was because I applied too late. So, I asked if I could re-apply (for the following year or when I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to study for my dissertation). They said no. I was told my grades weren’t good enough, which I thought was strange. All this time, I had been preaching to students not to worry about their grades too much. But there I was, apparently suffering first-hand the consequence of mine not being high enough.

I was stunned by the apparent finality of it. Was my head so far out of the game? Did I really misspend enough of my youth to cost me this career advancement? Thankfully, I didn't feel sorry enough for myself to dwell on those questions for long. I quickly started, or rather resumed thinking about my next career. I’d been slowly building a multimedia home studio and workshop since I started teaching. It seemed interesting to start earning something with it. Lecturing gigs will likely be available, as well.

Then my thoughts led to the business of having to tell my bosses, as well as my dad, about my change of plans. That wasn't going to be fun.

I had to take care of one thing first, though. I promptly emailed Don presumably one last time to let him know about the unfavorable outcome of my application and thank him for his time. That was time he did not need to waste on me, but he did. And I'm forever grateful for that. Unexpectedly, he replied immediately and told me to stand by while he looked into it.

So, I put my departure plans on hold for a while longer.

To be continued...


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Life in an online university #8: Sympathy and empathy (Part 5)

(Read Part 4 here.)

Note to readers:
This is turning out to be much longer than I had envisioned. I initially thought this was going to be a 3-part blog. But at this rate, it can easily make it to 10 parts. I apologize if it's getting harder and harder to follow. But I still am keeping track of where this is going. I hope you can stick around longer. Thanks!


I wanted to figure out why my relationship with my teachers at Lancaster University differed from mine with students at UP Open University. There are obvious reasons, of course. I deal with professors in a highly regarded British university as a doctoral student. Whereas at UPOU, Filipino undergraduates deal with me, a masters level teacher.

This is not kind of thing you can read a lot of journal articles about. Maybe my colleagues have been in similar predicaments, but I doesn’t look like they’re as interested about this issue as I am. So, I had to look more inward. And then I actually published papers that covered it. The concept of hiya, a Filipino term that roughly translates to shame, shyness or embarrassment, rang through my papers and how it manifested often during my interactions with students. But is this communication hesitancy really by large, just a matter of culture negatively manifested? I needed to look further inward.


... hiya was highlighted as a factor detrimental to engagement of students and their interaction amongst each other. It is believed that this sense of shame may have stemmed from feelings insecurity or inferiority towards older and more knowledgeable peers, hindering students from interaction. Certain students hesitate to make themselves heard for fear of saying anything wrong.

Librero, A.F.D. (2020). Effects of culture on online engagement: The University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) setting. The International Journal on Open and Distance e-Learning (IJODeL), 1-11, 6(2), December 2020.

A boost of confidence and self-worth

Whether it’s a medical check-up, a short quiz or a thesis defense, I get anxious when I’m evaluated by other people. Throughout high school and college, I refused to take tests too seriously, perhaps as a defense mechanism. That, of course, took me to a path of mediocrity. Thank God my mom and dad stopped being stereotypical Asian parents after I finished elementary school. Otherwise, I seriously would have been seen as a failure for not graduating cum laude and not becoming a medical doctor, like I promised them when I was like ten years old.

It wasn’t until my time as a masters student when I started taking things more seriously. Now, I don’t know if I got serious enough. But I was certainly more conscious of the quality of my work. I started believing in the importance of due diligence and would always worry whenever it felt like I didn’t meet it. The defense mechanism was turning off.

Back in 2009, I was writing the course manual for LVM 202 (Development Controls and Construction) in UPOU’s Master of Land Valuation & Management programme. I spent a month in Australia as part of a writing team, hosted by Central Queensland University, to undergo training and immersion while drafting the manual. There was this one day when I had to stand in front of experts from the academe and the industry to get feedback on my draft. I don’t know about the other members of the writing team, but it felt a bit like a thesis defense to me. The year before, I didn’t even know that property valuation and assessment was an industry. But there I was, trying to write a course manual for a graduate degree program on it.

As the course number implies, mine was the second to be evaluated. The panel had quite a few things to say about the first one and its writer. Nothing bad. But throughout that time, I felt I was lagging behind my fellow writers. I wasn’t working as diligently as any of them. We had a running joke at the time. One time, we were brought to an animal sanctuary where koalas are kept. It was around morning. The koalas, were asleep at the time (like they are most of the day), hanging up the eucalyptus trees in funny and cute positions. After seeing that, one of us coined the phrase doing the koala, which meant someone was in the middle of a lecture, slumped to a chair, head hanging down and eyes closed.

This was my first time to see koalas in person. I liked them so much I imitated them throughout my stay in Australia.

I was doing the koala all the damn time. It wasn't like I did it on purpose, but I couldn’t help it. I’ve been falling asleep in class since high school. And I was painfully aware that I was missing significant chunks of potentially invaluable information for my writing. So, at that point, I anticipated getting more negative feedback than anyone else. I sucked, and I had no excuse for it. When it was my time, I remember squinting, getting ready to look away as I braced myself…

Al, the draft is very good… That was the first thing off the mouth of our head mentor.

Uh… it is? was the only reply I could come up with.

Some people think I have this habit of downplaying my own achievements. I don’t know about that. But this is one time I will concede that I sold myself short. In hindsight, I was probably making up for being narcoleptic through other means and took it for granted.

That was certainly a highlight of that stay in Australia. More importantly, I was given a boost of confidence and self-esteem that helped carry me through the following years as I gained more experience and expanded my portfolio. I would certainly need those for what was to come.

To be continued.


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Life in an online university #6: Sympathy and empathy (Part 3)

While it was never my first choice, personal circumstances led me to taking up my PhD in distance mode. Time will tell whether or not this will end up being a good choice. But I would need to make the most out of it. I had thought that my experience as an online teacher would be an advantage. This made me feel secure enough to feel more relaxed coming in.

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Life in an online university #5: Sympathy and empathy (Part 2)

I was one of them.

Not that I thought it was a smooth ride overall, but I think things started out nicely. Within a few years, I had built enough confidence to start teaching with a bit more authority. But the change in dynamics was significant as I moved from handling graduate to undergraduate students. This is something that may be worth talking about in greater depth later on, but to put it succinctly, undergraduates have noticeably different motivations for being in UPOU. And as the proportion of younger students got bigger, prevailing mentalities also changed.

My desire to learn and get better at my craft was at the level of a graduate student's – something only a relatively small contingent of the undergraduates would likely share. Of course, being gung ho, I paid little mind at first. So, in time, it got frustrating whenever I felt my classes didn’t share my enthusiasm (which was almost always the case!). It got disappointing when, as opposed to graduate students being more conscious of what they’re learning, the bulk of my communication with undergraduates were about grades and deadlines. I felt that was mentally debilitating. In hindsight, it should not have surprised me. It's not like it was dramatically different back in my day. If I could go back, I'd have been more accepting of it and not have pushed so hard to force students to keep up with me. But to endure this from the other side was heart-breaking.

To this day, some of my former students are likely still intimidated by me. I think that’s strange. I admit to pushing students to be at their best, but I’m nothing like the legit terrors, a few of whom I survived in UPLB which nobody in UPOU is like. It's not my style to personally attack or belittle anybody in the forums. I just shoot straight. If students take that as hostility, then I worry for their future. In any case, the bottom-line had become evident to me. During my early years, I could totally relate to my students. Most of them were my age, or maybe even older, already employed and supporting their own families. Along with their life status, their motivations were similar to mine. So it was no surprise that these were students whom I’d have no problem relating to and having a beer with at the end of a face to face session.

While I did look forward to the change in student demographics, with the BAMS programme studentship becoming predominantly younger and less experienced, I also felt sad about it. And I suppose this was the start of my struggle to connect. For the most part, later on, I could no longer relate to the students as much as I did before. As my grasp continued to weaken, I started to wonder… was the ability to connect with students even important for me to be able to do my job? So what, if I see posts of students clamoring for free tuition fees, representation and whatnot? So what, if some students face difficulties outside the online classroom? Such things didn’t concern me or my ability to teach. On the other hand, what does detaching leave me with? Without the prospect of actively learning from my own classes, how else would I be able to put up with the repetition required in teaching?

I remember reading student evaluation comments about me and my classes. Unlike other UP campuses, we don’t get a lot of them, so those that we do get tend to stick in our memories a bit longer. There was one comment from one of my last classes before going on hiatus, which probably reflected my detachment. The student felt that I was left bitter after a bad experience from a previous class and I was taking it out on his/her class. It’s a rather dramatic way of putting it, but not completely false. I was neither bitter nor was I lashing out. I simply stopped caring too much of what my students thought, let alone learned. And it was fortunate that I was on my way to the sidelines for an extended period. I needed a break.

To be continued...


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MMS 199: our new course where students show us what they got

The most recent revision of UPOU's Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies programme was the product of the efforts of all the faculty at the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies. The junior faculty, in particular, brought about the most meaningful changes and additions. One of my ideas was the the addition of MMS 199 (Undergraduate Seminar on Multimedia Studies), a single unit course, into the curriculum as a core major course. I remember the 199 and 299 courses I took in the past. I took them for granted at the time. But in hindsight, I believe that those little courses were quite helpful in starting me out in this long learning process of doing research. I learned a lot from studying other peoples' work.

Going on study leave meant that I probably wouldn't be able to have any significant involvement in the development of the course. Fortunately, I was offered the chance to help out when it was deployed for the first time recently -- an offer I happily accepted. The approach to teaching the course had to veer a little from how 199 courses are traditionally taught in other campuses (or at least how they were taught back in my day), though. Instead of getting everyone pick a third party research paper to talk about, students were given the choice of presenting their own special project proposals or manuscripts, which could be helpful to them. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, students did not get any feedback prior to the posting their presentations. That is why you are going to notice that many of the presentations below are still a bit rough in terms of the quality of production and content.

Generally speaking, these students still have some ways to go. I had found that they will need continued guidance in order to conduct multimedia research more effectively. I wonder how much of this weakness is inherent to the students and how much of it is because of the programme itself. Perhaps this is something UPOU must continue to investigate.

Just as importantly, as I have told them, what was groundbreaking in multimedia 10 years ago is child's play today. If any of us intend to remain as marketable multimedia practitioners, we need to keep up with the times. We are expected to do better than the average Tiktok or Instagram user. If we want to compete, creating content and its continued improvement, regardless of context, has to be second nature for us. It's something I constantly struggle with, myself.

With all that said, I am happy with the class outcomes. I've even learned a thing or two from the class. I'm proud of the students who recorded the video presentations below. Most of them were taken out of their comfort zones for this. I've also asked them to keep these videos up. These are things they can come back to, and possibly re-use at some point in the future. It is also my hope that these videos serve as reference points for succeeding classes as they try to do the same for themselves. I have a good feeling about this new course. Even if it's just one unit, I think it can be the thing that fills the gaps left by other major courses in the BAMS programme.


Neo-Marketing: The impact of multimedia marketing elements in increasing sales for small-scale resume writing business
by Noli Porcincula
Customers Satisfaction in Online Retailing
by Alexis Aisa Castro
How co-learning spaces/virtual classroom impacts students productivity
by Carm Lichelle Santos
Prototyping an Interactive Learning Module Using the DepEd Self-Learning Module
by Ana Marie Alferez
Gamification
by Lucky Angelo Vengua
Coding Identities
by Al Christian Agngarayngay
Anonymity and Toxicity in Video Games
by Erik Noel Fruto
Maria Orosa: A game-based biography
by Paulyn Louise San Pedro
Enhancing the user experience in an art gallery exhibition with QR code
by Camille Encarnacion
Multimedia and the Environment
by Marion Dave Manio
Documentation of COVID-19 pandemic impacts on people diagnosed with mental illness: development of an interactive magazine
by Luis Manuel Torrejon
Leveraging omni-channel experience in promoting computer science and educational robotics
by Rosendy Duque
Filipino minors in social media: the trials and tribulations of the pursuit for relevance
by Mercedes Olavides

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Life in an online university #4: Sympathy and Empathy (Part 1)

I am one of them.

I remember this being my mindset going into UP Open University. With the way the University of the Philippines is structured, there is a separation of faculty from the rest of the staff and the students. I tried to reject that separation early on. I did not want to be called sir or prof and my skin crawled whenever somebody did. At times, I wonder if it was imposter’s syndrome. But it doesn’t seem like it. I’ve always known who and what I was. I knew I could do the job. Maybe it was because of my father. After all, I came aboard just after the end of his second and last term as UPOU’s chancellor. Some of the staff, I've known since high school and even way earlier. Every single person working in the university knew my last name and everything attached to it. I wanted to distance myself from that baggage. Being known as the brat who got in just because he was the boss’s kid was far from desirable.

I entered UPOU as part of the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies in late 2007.

I was facing a little roadblock, though. In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I realized that Computer Science was not really my calling after all. In fact, I had just earned my Master’s degree in Environmental Science from UP Los Baños when I applied for a faculty position at UPOU. The hope was to be involved in their programmes in Environment and Natural Resources Management and R&D Management. I had hoped to stay away from their Computer Science and Information Systems programmes, but those were exactly where I was going to end up starting with, anyway. I was not fully aware of what happened, and I won’t lie. It was disappointing. But I needed the job. I also did not want to seem ungrateful for the opportunity. I had heard that there were people who really went out of their way to get me in. That was the first time I really felt wanted in a professional capacity by any company. Part of me wanted to prove to them that I was worth their effort. So, I dealt with my disappointment and took the job anyway. Besides, given some time, maybe I’d have the chance to work with other fields. And if it it didn’t work out, at least I’d have earned some experience to be more attractive to other employers. However, at that moment, I had a less than ideal reality that needed facing.

On the bright side, at some point, it occurred to me that my predicament could actually work in my favor. Rather than try to hide my shortcomings in Computer Science and risk suffering from Impostor’s Syndrome, or worse, get exposed by my students, I decided to be more upfront. First thing I did was embrace the facilitator vs teacher dichotomy, where UPOU faculty would rather choose to be the former. I was by no means an expert in the field, but I could help ensure that students will be able to learn what they needed to learn to make it through my courses. And by admitting it was likely that I was learning things the same time they were, I felt I was truly one of them. I just happened to be the guy writing numbers on the grade sheets. It wasn’t a perfect run by any stretch of the imagination. But I did well enough. I think I also had a generally good relationship with my students back then. I still keep in touch with a few of them in Facebook to this day. But most importantly, the experience would also shape how I approached online learning from that point on.

I still found myself in a similar predicament in my move to the Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies programme, not being formally trained to handle any of the courses in it's curriculum. Unlike with Computer Science, I had little to no relevant formal education to lean on. But the thing is, nobody was. Not really. Multimedia Studies was the first of its kind in the University of the Philippines system, and perhaps the entire country. Many of us had expertise in related fields, but all of us needed to frame our knowledge in the context of what BAMS is supposed to be about. But what I lacked in education, I made up for with enthusiasm and passion. I was a computer hardware enthusiast. I’ve been an avid gamer since I was a little kid back in the 1980s. I was also eager to improve my multimedia production skills.

Just now, I was going through old files, and I found the attachments I included when I applied in UPOU. Some of them were articles I wrote during my years with PinoyPC, an old community website for Filipino computer hardware enthusiasts. It would seem that I was already immersed in and writing about multimedia long before I started teaching. This may have meant that I had started saying my long goodbye to the field of environmental science. But at the same time, I felt that I had found my niche at UPOU which I could stay and thrive in for the rest of my career. I felt that most BAMS students back then were of the same standing, if not superior. Most of them were people looking into taking their careers to different directions. But there were also those already carrying tons of relevant experience, dwarfing my own, but have not put in the necessary time under the rigors of the academe I was the faculty in charge, but I was truly going to learn right alongside my own students. It was an exciting time.

To be continued...


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Life in an online university #3: My main problem as an online student

I was going over discussion forums in the recent courses I had handled. They are typically sparse at UPOU. And what posts there are usually feels stiff. What I mean by that is posts almost always seem forced. It’s rare for them to be written in a conversational manner. It is as if, students’ frame of mind when posting is that it’s a written assignment or exam rather than them trying to talk to a classmate or a teacher. Anticipating a response to their post is more likely to be a cause for anxiety and dread rather than excitement. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. And yet, as if I was contradicting myself, I feel disappointment when I see colleagues do away with discussion forums in their own courses.

My last forums were particularly puzzling. Following some basic guidelines, students took turn posting video presentations and reviewing their peers’ presentations. I was hoping for a lively exchange of comments, and ideas amongst themselves. While there were good moments and diligently written posts, it was a generally formal and even cold affair. I get it to a certain extent. My guidelines pretty much made things seem like it should be treated as a written assignment, despite my efforts to encourage students not to treat it as such. What got to me was the impersonality of it all. Even the pleasantries felt canned. Sometimes, they don’t even address peers by name. I’m not necessarily faulting the students for this, but I do find it strange. Even in other social media platforms, warm and lively interactions do not happen often. I am in Facebook groups and Messenger chat groups populated by Gen-Xers and Boomers that see more activity in a single day than the UPOU-related groups that I am able to observe experience in weeks. It makes me believe that when compared to the other campuses of the University of the Philippines, for all information and communication technologies it wields, UPOU is a laggard when it comes to fostering strong and long-lasting bonds in its supposed community. And that is something I have dedicated much of my teaching career in addressing (something I am bound to write about at greater length in the future).

Lately, though, I had been looking more inward. I am actually only one of a good number of UPOU faculty who went on leave in recent years to earn their doctorate degrees. A bunch of them were privileged enough to do so abroad. Not that they did not face any difficulties, but with few to no exceptions, they had, or are still having the time of their lives. Circumstances did not allow me to enjoy the same privilege. I got pretty close, but none of my prospects panned out. However, an opportunity arose that would let me study in a British university, albeit in distance mode. With no other visible option and me not getting any younger, I took it with no hesitation. I almost didn’t get admitted either, mind you. But that was thankfully resolved and here I am right now at home, but a PhD student in Lancaster University. Now, why am I not having the time of my life?

I remember when I set foot in Lancaster University for the first time. I get that it was a Sunday afternoon and most of the students were on break, but boy did it look depressing. I was quite relieved and happy that things quickly turned around the following day. By the time I left, I finally felt like a real student.

My most fulfilling period as a PhD student so far was during my cohort’s residential. It’s a week-long period where we actually find ourselves in the physical campus in Lancaster. I’m not saying I was at my peak performance as a student during that time. But that was the time when I could really convince myself that I was a real graduate student, in the constant presence of peers and mentors. And I actually had fun. This residential comes along at least twice for a student. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic took away that second time. The university attempted to re-create that vibe online for us, down to the scheduling of activities. But I don’t think it worked that well. Being the person physically farthest from the campus, the time difference alone put me off. I couldn’t keep up in real-time. The sessions were recorded, thankfully. But watching recordings defeats the purpose of trying to recreate a residential schedule. I felt so detached from everyone else. And I wondered if there were others in my cohort who felt the same. Even among colleagues, it gets difficult. Being on study leave means being purposefully taken out of work-related matters. It was a huge relief especially at the beginning. However, when the bulk of my direct interpersonal interactions happen in the workplace, I can't help but feel left out and rendered irrelevant. I was practically begging to get back to work just a few months ago. Unfortunately, I am contractually bound from doing so, even if it was integral to my PhD studies. That got me frustrated and angry. It's strange relating those feelings now, academically stranded as I write these blogs instead of working on my PhD study proposal...

I know a little bit about feeling isolated. I've dealt with it most of my life.

So, it occurred to me. My biggest problem as an online student is the isolation – being halfway across the world from everyone else. I've talked about this before. The feeling of isolation is nothing new to me. But this feels particularly bad, made even worse by the pandemic. I don’t care that there’s Zoom, WhatsApp and whatnot. It’s not the same. I don’t know how much my superiors and colleagues understand that. Those fortunate enough to be in other physical campuses as students for any appreciable amount of time have the advantage of deeper immersion. They are able to expand their own personal, professional and academic networks and are more constantly able to nurture them. At best, that is awfully difficult to achieve online, at least for me. At worst, it’s impossible, at least without monumental effort and whatever that right virtual environment would be for us. Maybe I do have a small mind as some memes would tell me, but small talk is important to me as I can't solely focus on work or study for any extended period of time. But such things hardly prosper in online chats and groups predicated by academic and professional purposes. It might even be frowned upon in some. And all the while, I’m trying to downplay how other aspects of my life diverts my attention and energy that I need to work through the difficulties.

While a bit of solitude can be good for our sanity, too much of it messes with you head. Even the most introverted people need to step back into the crowd once in a while.

My personal issues as a student are things which I have to deal with on my own, for the most part. But what about my other side? This leads me back to the cold class and the others like it which I've handled over the years which I was talking about earlier. It makes me wonder just how do the my students regard their peers in an online classroom? Do they fully appreciate them as human beings they could interact with anytime, maybe even rely on in times of need? Or are they little more than names who matter little to them as they go about their own business trying to earn their degree. From our end, are we at UPOU truly capable of fostering connectedness that will not just counteract feelings of isolation, but also build a vibrant community for both learning and camaraderie? Should we as a space for learning sacrifice the chance for a more democratic environment where students can feel comfortable enough to freely speak their minds for the teacher in front of them and the classmates beside them and be themselves for the sake of order and hierarchy, or perhaps even convenience?

Then again, I still have to wonder as well. Does this actually matter to UPOU? Or do we have way too many other things to worry about? I honestly don't know. And not knowing is frustrating.


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Life in an online university #2: the changing virtual landscape

It's tricky for me to compare my time in the Diploma in Computer Science to that of the Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies programme. The student demographic was different. I was also different. Also, while the curriculum and scheduling of DCS was already established, BAMS was still in a state of flux. What did remain constant was how I wanted to approach online teaching and learning. I wanted students to make the most of the time they had in class. I wanted them to be more participatory, rather than passively go through the contents of my courses. I wanted to see the makings of a real online community. It would be glorious…

Of course, things didn’t exactly go according to plan, but that is another story. But it was, again, a learning experience for me. It was a mix of mistakes of varying degrees, as well as successes, some of which were quite significant. But one thing I did my best to keep constant was my finger on the pulse of the growing student population in the BAMS program, and for that matter, the community at large. That by itself was not straightforward, either.


When I started out, half of the students in my classes were either of my age or older than me. I really enjoyed this period. As they got rarer, I enjoyed holding face to face sessions, as I truly learned from students (especially the older and more experienced ones) as much as they did from me. There would even be a few of them who I felt were more knowledgeable than I was with the topics in class, whom I made sure to refer or defer to. And at the end of the day, I had no issue going out and having a drink with them. I saw them as peers rather than students, after all. I know nobody can escape aging. But it wasn’t just about me getting older each year. Students in BAMS also seemed to get younger for each passing batch. True enough, by now, majority of undergraduate students in UPOU came straight from high school. It still shocks me whenever I recall seeing 15 and 16 year old kids in my class. We weren’t really meant to cater to such students at the beginning. Furthermore, UPOU somehow thought it was a good idea for its undergraduate programmes to shift from 16-week semestral to 12-week trimestral schedules. This change was huge (and something I will inevitably unload on at some point here). And throughout that time, emerging issues started engulfing the university. Mental health suddenly became important, and we were ill-equipped to deal with it. New rules were also being imposed. Measures such as anti-plagiarism and ethics, are necessary, but has required significant adjustments from everyone involved. I’m not even going to touch the myriad of technical issues that we had to face and solve (but I will later on). Looking back, it’s hard not to regard the whole thing as anything less than an upheaval. Finding a way to adapt was not optional at that point. And we're still at it.

On top of everything else, COVID-19 also brought tension to the UPOU community, especially during the early stages of the pandemic.


As if those were not enough, we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic, bringing about what is perhaps the greatest global disruption of our lifetime. The Philippines has been subjected to harsh measures by a government that seems slow to learn and adapt from early mistakes and miscalculations. I was already on leave by the time COVID-19 hit. But I still get news from work and how my colleagues are doing. Also, to a fair extent, I remain in contact with some of our students and alumni, keeping my hand on their pulse, so to speak. And just as importantly, while I had (and still have) time off from teaching, I still found myself significantly affected by the pandemic as an online student in another university. At this point I wasn’t just trying to read from my students anymore. I was experiencing things first-hand right along with them.

With COVID-19 casting its dark shadow over us, it’s hard for me to predict what changes will come next. Will physical campuses revert to how they operated pre-2020? Or is what a government official called flexible learning now part of our education system permanently? I also wonder what additional burdens UPOU, being part of a state university, will be expected to carry as we move forward. Such questions loom over my reality as a denizen of the online classroom. And it is from this perspective that I write this blog in which I would be honored to have your company.


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Life in an online university #1: Foreword

I just realized something. I rarely write about my experiences in an online university in detail, at least not outside the context of research or course content. So, I figured that this was as good a time as any to start.

My first foray into distance learning happened around 2000. I was a graduate student who had overestimated my aptitude and found myself struggling in the Diploma in Computer Science program at University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). Throughout my time as a student across three degree programs (and a fourth that’s currently on-going), I received a failing mark three times. And two of them happened in the same term in this Computer Science program. It was a sobering realization that perhaps computer programming and software development was not my path after all, but that is another story. Failing two courses in a tightly scheduled programme meant I had to somehow catch up. One of the things I needed to do was to cross-register to the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU), which was pretty new at the time. I enrolled in Computer Science G  - Management Information Systems (which is now CMSC 209). But again, this was back in 2000-2001. We registered over the counter. There was no online learning management system. We rarely used email. I don't even clearly recall if I already had a mobile phone at the time. What we had were our printed course packs and scheduled monthly face to face sessions for lectures and submitting requirements. Normally, there would hardly be any communication among teachers and peers in between sessions. This was how UPOU students typically did its business back in the day.

The venerable UPOU printed course modules. These were practically bibles for students even from other universities back in the day.

While relatively short, this experience with distance learning as a student had a significant impact over my mindset towards distance learning in the coming years. It gave me some confidence as I joined UPOU as a faculty member seven years later. Not only did I remain unfazed despite the fact that my entry coincided with the university’s complete shift to full online learning. I was looking forward to it. I felt I had the tech savvy. And just as importantly, I knew how it is to be a distance learner. Therefore, I strongly believed that I would have a better read of my class than those who have only taught, or as we would prefer to call it, facilitated a class in distance mode. It was an interesting ride, to say the least. Now, looking back at 12 years of teaching online, I do think I had some success with being more in-tune with the pulse of my classes. After all, I was one of them. But it wasn’t until I signed up in an online PhD programme that I became more aware of my weaknesses. And it is this current journey I am taking which is making me realize how much room I still have for improvement both as a student and as a teacher in an online environment.

Teacher at UP Open University/Student at Lancaster University.

My career at UPOU is far from over. If anything, the circumstance of my studying right now assures that (I won’t be able to leave even if I wanted to -- like I do half the time). But I feel that even at this stage, I have a lot of thoughts that I want to put into words. Yes, I have written research papers, but I am referring to the less empirical side of this thing called online learning. I would like to veer away from research and theory, spend less time trying to edit and vet myself. Seriously, I am tired of trying to incorporate research into everything I do at work. Instead, I would like to share anecdotes and opinions which, in their own way, might still provide some insight for those who are somewhat interested in it, but do not know enough to decide whether or not to commit yet. Or perhaps there are those who are already into it but are still a bit confused with how to go about their business, to whom I would like to assure that they are not alone. I already have three or so entries to this blog series in mind. I will likely go beyond that. How far, I don’t know yet. WE'll see. This is going to be an uneven series, as I will be writing off the cuff most of the time and will not likely put in too much effort editing. It will certainly be a fun and light departure from the rigors of academic writing. I can't promise to be fully coherent at all times, but I do hope you can join me in this little journey. Maybe you could also let me know what you think. It would also be great if I could learn from you as well.


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The silver angel candleholder

I've been slowly sorting through some of the old stuff in the house, figuring out what to keep and what to dispose of. Today, I found this in one of the boxes in the storage room. And around it is a personal story.

After graduating from college, I couldn't get a job. It was the height of the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s. At the time, most of the job openings offered in the animal industry were sales related. And as anyone who knows me well enough can attest to, that is something I was never really built for. So after failing to find a job I wanted and getting rejected trying to apply for jobs I didn't want, I went back to UPLB at the behest of my dad and briefly worked as an assistant at the UPLB Foundation, Inc. I was paid 55 Pesos per hour (for my non-Filipino friends, that was a little under US$1.50 at the time). I wasn't planning on taking that job seriously, but my boss, the character that he is, told on my dad I was slacking of, wearing shredded jeans at work and all that. 😄

With the Librero name half-jokingly on the line, I straightened up, stopped wearing the shredded jeans and worked hard over long hours. I even gave up my computer games during that stretch. One time I had the car for the day but was so focused on my work trying to earn that extra 55 Pesos, I forgot to pick up my mom from her office -- and this was after her stroke, so her days of walking herself home was over. My dad had to hurriedly head back from Manila to pick her up and was furious, but didn't berate me too much as he begrudgingly accepted the reason behind my negligence. But needless to say, I didn't let that happen again.

I finally got my first paycheck near the middle of May 1998. It wasn't worth much, but boy did I feel rich, lol. My parents' 26th wedding anniversary was looming, so I knew exactly what to spend on first. So one Saturday, I went to the mall and aimlessly walked around for hours, not knowing what to get. Passing through a Unisilver (or maybe SIlverworks) stall, it occurred to me that I wasn't able to give them anything for their silver anniversary, so this would be a good time to make up for it. Anything made of silver or even silver-plated would cost a good chunk of my earnings, but I didn't care. Eventually, I settled with this angel candleholder. I probably chose this for that balance between being substantial enough (at almost 20cm) without costing me everything I had. In hindsight, maybe it would've been fine spending on something a lot fancier, because this is now the only thing I remember spending on back then, anyway. Still, this was the first and one of the most meaningful gifts that I ever gave my parents (at least on my part). It is also a memory of my personal growth at that point in my life.

So, yes…. This definitely stays with me and will go out of storage and back to one of the display shelves here in the house.

Why playing this song has meaning to me

Every now and then, I get asked what music my dad listened to or what his favorite song was. Even up until his wake, someone asked. Unfortunately, I have no straight answer for it. But it does make for an interesting story.

His wife, Jeanette, will likely have a more definite opinion on this. But I have a feeling she had a significant influence over what dad listened to at that point in his life. A more accurate answer lies during the time when he had total control over what gets played in the car the old stereo we used to have at home. His tape and vinyl collection was made up of old standards and folk music which were already considered classics back in the 1980s and 1990s – Elvis Presley, Ray Conniff, John Denver, The Carpenters, Peter Paul and Mary, The Cascades, The Mamas and the Papas, ABBA, and a whole bunch of more eclectic music unfamiliar to me. He also liked local artists like Freddie Aguilar, Sampaguita and ASIN. He also liked contemporary and new age instrumental music – Kitaro, Enya, Yanni and a whole bunch of Celtic music. Those used to play non-stop in the car back when he was the only one in the family who could drive and when he was one of the bosses at UPOU who had a service vehicle assigned to him. I have an appreciation for all the above. But they’re not exactly the kind of music I would play for others to listen with me. And then there was the issue of him not having the same level of appreciation for the music that I like, lol.

It’s tough to pinpoint that favorite song, though. He’s the kind of guy who plays an album from start to finish, with hardly any exceptions. When he’s in a restaurant or bar and the house band starts taking requests, he routinely asked for Freddie Aguilar’s Anak. But I don’t think that’s his favourite. I think it’s more of a cross between a prank and him feeding his own curiosity. He certainly does not miss the opportunity to make that request in other countries to see if the band knows the song. But it leads me to the part that is more meaningful to me.

I myself started to have more interest in music in high school. And this was the time when I started sneaking in my own tapes in the car. I got more open with it when I started to learn how to drive. Predictably, if not disappointingly enough, he didn’t like nearly all of it. But he did like one album. It was my old tape of U2’s The Joshua Tree. I finally found the core of what little common ground we had with music. I tried getting him into U2’s other albums like The Unforgettable Fire, Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby!, but he always went back to the The Joshua Tree. I get it. To this day, it remains as one of my favorite albums of all time. He’d play that tape from start to finish and even ask me where it was, whenever I took it from the car. In that album, he had a clear favorite. Perhaps it was because of the mellowness it brings back right after the loudest track in the album. But mostly, my dad liked Running to Stand Still because of the lyrics which was filled with what I call Bono-isms – figures of speech and juxtapositions that were quite clever at the time.

Listening to myself now, I can imagine being worse back then, but I’m glad I got to perform this for him and our friends and colleagues at UPOU when he retired eight years ago. I believe that was also the first time that I told this story. Doing those back when he was still with us relieved me of what would have been another regret. But somehow I feel compelled to try and record this, at least for my own sake. My dad has passed on, but I hope this can mean something to those who knew him well enough.

DRAFT: On speaking in public and recording myself

In a course I'm currently involved in building, I’ve posted a number of articles that provide tips on how to do a better job with presentations and speaking in public. I’m sure you will also be able to find a lot of other resources should you look for them. But I also attempted to share the things that have helped me personally. I can hold my own as a writer. But speaking is a different matter. I’m not a natural orator. Words flow better from my mind to my fingertips than to my mouth. Worse, I was awfully shy and modest growing up. I constantly feared looking stupid in front of people. Talking when under pressure filled me with great anxiety. I dreaded oral presentations and exams as a student. I also remember my very first paper presentation in a conference in Vietnam. It was probably no worse than some other presentations, but the ordeal felt awful. Thankfully, I overcame a lot of these weaknesses in time. I’ll never claim to be a great public speaker. In fact, I remain highly introverted, not wanting to have to deal with talking to people too much. Speaking spontaneously, let alone doing so in public, remains a challenge. But I can manage my fears and anxieties better now. And I think that’s what many of you need to do as well. Looking back, I believe there have been a handful of things I kept in mind which have helped significantly, and I would like to share them with you here.

Practice

Yes, people do rehearse in front of the mirror until they get everything right. But I’m not so sure that it’s absolutely necessary to go that far. Even imagining yourself speaking can help. In that paper presentation in Vietnam, I had not realized that I prepared too many slides and ended up spending more time that was allotted to me. It got so bad that I used up all the unspent minutes by the previous presenters and still got cut off by the moderator. Not being able to finish your presentation for any reason is never a good thing. Practicing, even if it’s just in your head, can give you a good idea of how long it will take you to present your slides. I usually do this maybe twice or thrice as the day of presentation approaches. This becomes even more important to me if I’m not given a lot of time for the presentation. Even for a pre-recorded presentation, this can be helpful as it allows you to spend less time trying to edit your video, deciding what to remove so it meets the time limit. I learned that with my style, it typically wouldn’t be a good idea to prepare more than 10 sparse slides for a 10-15 minute presentation. Try doing the same and figure out your own pace.

Repetition

Compared to those in other campuses, we UPOU Faculty typically don’t often get to hold classroom sessions. I know I didn’t. So, for a time, I sought it out, offering every chance I got to hold face to face sessions because I wanted to get better. If you are a long-time follower of any online personality, be it a podcaster, reviewer or influencer (or perhaps you are one yourself), you would notice how their content improves over time. You can feel that they talk with more and more confidence over time. A bit of self-reflection and critique allows one to go back and assess their strengths and weaknesses, then adjust accordingly. Along with practice, this improvement over time is a function of repetition. Over time, you figure out what equipment works better for you, what mannerisms you need to manage, and what good attributes you have that need to continue to take advantage of. Repetition also helps build expand your comfort zone and be more confident in front of a microphone and camera. I'm not saying this is easy. In fact, those first tries will potentially be an excruciating experience. But as long as you keep going, if done right, chances are, it will get easier.

Get used to listening to your own voice

I remember the first time I ever recorded my own voice. I was around 14 years old. My mini stereo system (a gift from my parents for passing my high school entrance exam) came with a microphone. I was curious about using it. So, one day, I experimented with it and recorded mine and a few of my cousins talking. I was feeling quite good about it. I had a respectable singing voice at the time and was pretty sure I was going to sound good. Then I rewound the tape and pressed play. My cousins’ voices were the first to play and sounded fine to me. But then I cringed the moment I heard myself. My voice was starting to change at the time, but I still sounded a bit too effeminate for my liking. Yes, this was the early 1990s and I had very different sensibilities back then, like most kids of the same age. The point is, it was the start of my love-hate relationship with my voice. I didn't mind singing and playing the guitar. But stick a microphone in front of me and I'd mentally fall apart.

Chances are, you have comparable stories. And in all likelihood, they’re also rooted in this dissonance between what’s called your inward voice and outward voice. This talk from Rebecca Kleinberger offers an easy to understand explanation for this:

I wish there was a sure-fire way of overcoming your disdain towards the sound of your own outward voice. Lately, I had been trying to overcome it by singing on stage and recording myself performing. But I honestly don't know when the benefit repetition will kick in when the sound of my voice is pretty much set. In the Netflix documentary series, Song Exploder, an episode was dedicated to the R.E.M. hit, Losing My Religion. The band’s singer, Michael Stipe, was so effusive of his bandmates as he reviewed the instrument and backing vocal tracks of the song. But then he was also made to listen to a few verses of his lead vocal track with no accompaniment. He could not hide his discomfort as the camera zoomed in to the array of different pained expressions in his face as he listened. Perhaps we can look at that scene as a message that even the best and most accomplished share the same insecurities as the rest of us. It is a sign that it’s normal. And if we believe that it is normal, perhaps we’ll have an easier time trying to get used to it so we can move forward to do what we need to do – to put our voice on tape (or disk) and work on it without it being an excruciating experience

Do not start your presentation with an apology

I distinctly remember the most important lesson I learned in my undergraduate seminar class back in college. It wasn’t anything about whatever journal article I reported on. It was the feedback given to me by one of my classmates. Typical of me back then, I did not take it seriously. I randomly pulled a handful of journals scanned through them until I found something remotely related to my major. Then I haphazardly went through the article a few times and thought I’d be fine. Panic sunk in while listening to the earlier presenters who had clearly taken their time to prepare. So the moment I stood in front of the class, the first thing I said was to the extent of, I’m sorry I wasn’t able prepare enough, but I’ll try to do my best… and then I fumbled through the presentation. While we upheld this time-honored unspoken agreement of classmates not making things harder for each other in such situations, at some point we are forced to critique someone else. For my presentation, the proverbial straw was drawn by my former corps commander in ROTC. I didn’t know him well personally, but I instinctively respected him thanks to two years worth of military drill days.  And with little to no hesitation, he said that I should never apologize for shortcomings, or at least not at the beginning, as it immediately sets your presentation’s tone for the worse and recovering from it would be difficult. More importantly, the truth of the matter was that I wasn’t truly apologizing. I was making excuses. And it is embarrassing. Funnily enough, he apologized immediately after saying that if I found his words offensive. I had to smile to and be like… no, sir. It’s the most important lesson I learned throughout that class. I always want to be honest with my audience. Nut at the same time, there really are some things I should try to keep to myself.

Your slides are for bullet points. It’s not your script.

One of my peeves, which admittedly I was also guilty of doing early on, is presenters dumping long passages of text on their presentation slides and then proceed to reading all of them aloud in front of the audience. It’s a sign of lack of preparation or poor technique. It can also prompt your audience to just ignore whatever you’re saying and just read the slides themselves… and that is assuming they can. I’ve seen slides with text so small only the speaker who’s right in front of the projection or his monitor screen can read them. Keep the contents of your slides short and easy to read while you yourself talk about the details.

Loosen up and breathe!

It seems like a small and silly thing. But when anxiety starts building up as the time to speak in front of an audience to present your work draws near, I close my eyes and constantly take slow deep breaths. I also do a few stretches if I feel like it. I never want to start any presentation while I’m tense and stiff because it ensures an internal uphill battle. Breathing somewhat slows my heartbeat and calms my nerves. Even when I’m not nervous, it still helps. Ensuring I’m feeling loose and relaxed makes it easier for me to connect with my audience as I can put my attention to them more rather than myself. It also induces me to talk more deliberately, lowering my tendency to try to talk fast and stutter.

Do keep in mind, however, that it might not be a good idea to breathe the same way when you’re already up there in front of the audience. Keep it deliberate, but don’t pause for that long deep inhalation and then let it all out quickly just before your next spoken lines. When you listen to good voice actors, podcasters or radio show hosts, sometimes you wonder how they keep the breathing noises to a minimum. Of course, you can make corrections and remove those noises in post processing. And yes, you can have a good amount of success with it. But like with a good general performance, a naturally quiet breathing technique makes your life much easier in post. This video does a much better job driving the point I am making:


Develop ways of recovering from difficulties on-the-fly

One big advantage for pre-recorded presentation is that if something goes wrong, you can easily go back and do another take, or at least do some edits. But when doing it live or if you’re in any other instance where you’re not in a good position to make corrections in post, you’ll need other ways to compensate. It’s tough to climb out of any proverbial hole in front of an audience. Dead air, bad video and sound are quite effective in ruining any sort of connection or engagement that you’ve already established with your audience. I’ve seen different ways of handling these, all of which seem to involve wit and humor. I usually resort to small-talk and making fun of both myself and whoever’s seated nearby. It’s hit and miss. However, one of the best that I’ve seen in recent memory in managing these mishaps is progressive metal artist Devin Townsend. For context, this is typical of what he’s capable as a live singer ang guitarist:

However, as a touring musician he is not immune to both technical and performance difficulties on the ground. YouTube has a lot of video clips of him and his band masterfully dealing with all sorts of difficulties, be it technical, such as this:

… or even mid-performance as he struggles with one of his own songs.

Despite that, in large part because of the way he handled matters, his audience loved him even more. Granted, the ability do pull this off does not magically come to you out of nowhere. It is important to make the time to build some connection with your audience, that is why, after everything I’ve already said here, perhaps the most important thing you can do is…

Care

I suppose that, in a way, this sums up everything that has been mentioned. Perhaps what separates good presentations from the bad is how much care was taken in creating them. How passionate are you with what you’re going to talk about in your presentation? To what lengths would you go to ensure that your audience stay engaged with you and your content? It’s not easy, especially for us and the type of content we are going for. Presentations dealing with academic or technical information require wit, rather than a pretty face or a hot body. But I will say this. Sometimes, you’re going to have a bad take or performance. You’re not going to do well in your presentation. But if your audience sees and appreciates what you’re trying to do, chances are, they could still look past your shortcomings and value your message. If you’ve watched Elon Musk do product reveals, you can easily surmise that he’s not a very good public speaker – which is quite common for people within the autism spectrum. He’s definitely no Steve Jobs. But it’s easy to appreciate how he powers through his weakness through sheer passion and wits. He mumbles and stutters making it harder to follow what he’s trying to say. But he is no less compelling than Jobs. We believe him and believe in him anyway. And isn’t that what we’re all ultimately after from our own audiences?

Again, let me lay out my disclaimer. This is totally an opinion piece. Perhaps later on, I can make my opinions much more informed. But I can attest that these things have helped me as an oral communicator. And it is my hope that these can be of some help to you.

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My most awful Lazada experience (so far). And also... Viewsonic monitor impressions.

(Originally written back in November 2020.)

One big thing I miss about being a kid is that I can just give up, cry and let my mom or dad save the day and tell me everything will be fine. Those days are long gone.

I remember my first Viewsonic issue several years ago. A unit was reserved for me at the old Rising Sun Computers over at Shaw Blvd. So, I arrive there at an agreed upon day. I remember the concerned look of my friend Rose upon seeing me, who worked there at the time. The monitor set aside for me was being inspected. Unfortunately, the monitor showed dead pixels, which may as well be a death sentence for brand new LCD monitors. The big problem was that it was the only one they had left in stock and they did not have any monitor of the same size from different brands either. It was really sweet for Rose to make so many calls to try and source out another unit for me. Any other 19 incher would have been fine at that point. It seems difficult to imagine now, but 19" widescreen LCD monitors were larger than the usual 14 and 17 inchers and relatively rare at the time -- definitely in high demand at the time. Ultimately, other than go home empty-handed, my only option was to drive to Gilmore at rush hour. Rose tracked down a Samsung 940BW in one of the shops there so I went for it. That monitor served me well for several years before being passed on to a nephew who himself got to use it for a little while longer before wearing out. That day, I also promised to myself I'd never try to buy a Viewsonic monitor again.

After like 15 years, I broke that promise. I wanted a 32" monitor, which today is also not as common as the 24- and 27-inchers. I was initially looking at the Philips BDM3201FD, but it suddenly went out of stock in nearby PC Express branches. I was also on the fence about it still being an FHD monitor. I didn't want to go to Manila for this, with the pandemic happening and me possibly not being fully informed about how things are over there. So, I reluctantly browsed Lazada for options. This is when I came across the Viewsonic VX3276-2K-mhd. Now, this monitor has a lot going for it -- a 2K IPS screen that has a refresh rate of up to 75Hz, really thin bezels at a surprising price point. But... it's a Viewsonic. Reading user reviews over at Amazon revealed issues -- suspect quality control, bad customer service (at least in America), and being prone to backlight bleed. Those who know me would probably think that it's doubtful I'd pull the trigger on this. I was really tentative, that's for sure. But against what would have been my better judgment, I pulled the trigger during the Lazada 9.9 Sale. Despite worrying about alleged quality issues and having to trust a courier to deliver a large and fairly fragile device. The official Viewsonic Flagship Store in Lazada did not exist yet at this time. I chose to buy from a seller called Digi-Serv Solutions, Inc. (DSSI). I had purchased from them a few times before, and was pretty happy with them since they sell genuine items and ship fast.

My first post-purchase worry was how long the delivery was taking. It was projected to arrive here within a week. After a week of waiting, I attempted to contact the seller to ask for an update. This is when things started to go awry.

Now, the words and phrasing are sort of ok. But as a whole, to me, it sounded like they just washed their hands off this. None of this is their fault. This is not the kind of thing you say to potentially anxious customers. But I let it slide. After three more days -- still nothing. So I sent another message. And this is where I got triggered.

Whoever is handling this is apparently copying and pasting from a list of canned responses. That, by itself is sort of ok and is common practice. But I didn't like seeing this the first time and now this person had the gall to tell me to not give them a bad rating because it's not their fault, AND suggest I go Like their Facebook Page. These are things you write to a happy customer, not someone who's still anxiously waiting for a delayed delivery. This is when I started to be more confrontational. I do believe I was still being reasonable, though.

The monitor finally made it on September 22 -- more than 12 days after its purchase. I would have really wanted this to be the end of the story. But sadly, it was just the beginning. Now, Lazada has a limited 7-day return policy from the date of delivery. It's not the best, but it's still better than having no protection at all. The monitor performed flawlessly throughout that time. But literally, on the 8th day, this started to show:

Funnily enough, at first, I thought I just inadvertently activated some cool Windows 10 effect. I was playing some music when I noticed this first and thought it was an EQ visualizer. The dread came when I saw it keep going even without any audio on. An image burn-in also happened a few times for good measure. At this point, it became clear that I definitely had a lemon in my hands.

Prior to this, I had already sworn not to deal with Digi-Serv again, but it looked like I had no choice. So I reported this to them, again through the Lazada chat. And this is their response:

I don't want to bore you with the entire chat, but this particular exchange ended here:

I thought this was fishy. All the computer stores I've bought from have assisted me with RMAs in the past. This was the first time I've been told by one to go straight to a service center. The problem is the company handling service, Inno Vista, don't give away the address of their service centers. But I was willing to put up with it, because again, I didn't want to deal with Digiserv again. Unfortunately, emailing Viewsonic customer service yielded this:

I couldn't believe it. I was just given the runaround.

What came next was a lot of angry messages to Digi-Serv and failed attempts to call Inno Vista's phone numbers. I was legitimately angry. And I'm not sure how I managed to avoid using abusive language throughout this time. I won't share the details, but I can pull them up if anyone's interested. I managed to communicate with someone manning the Viewsonic PH page at Facebook. It seemed promising at first, but in the end, it didn't amount to anything useful. What made it worse was that I was being told different things. Below are excerpts which is about a day apart. Keep in mind, I posted this cap in Facebook on October 20 -- nearly 3 weeks after the monitor's issue came up. And I was getting nowhere.

By this time, the monitor got worse and rendered unusable:

Yes. It's ultimately a backlight issue, after all. My god.

The Viewsonic PH page tried to help by giving me Inno Vista's numbers. Unfortunately, these were the same ones in the Viewsonic website which I tried before to no avail. However, as I had nothing to lose, I tried again. I finally managed to connect through one of the numbers. And this is when I finally found progress. After explaining the situation, the person I was talking to told me that he's got a record of my issue. Now... in my head, I was like, so why the f**k am I not getting anywhere!? But I did not respond to that and let him sort it out. He called me back after in less than an hour to tell me it's sorted out. Apparently, Digiserv didn't want to handle the RMA because they didn't want to spend for the courier charges to send the big monitor back and forth. I thought it was kind of BS, especially since I had already been asking about this. They could have been more upfront about it and I'd have understood.

It was when I brought in the boxed monitor to the nearest LBC branch when I fully realized the reasoning behind Digiserv's dodginess. LBC will not ship a large box without a crate. Now, I can build a crate myself. The issue is that when I asked a rough shipping cost estimate, the LBC people said maybe P2,500-3,000, excluding insurance of 500 which only covers 10,000. The monitor is well worth more than that. So, that's around 6,000-7,000 Pesos and 6-10 days transit time for two deliveries (to Digiserve and then back to me). That excludes time Digiserv could make me wait if they unilaterally decide to go through the standard 2-3 week processing time for claiming a warranty. I'd only need a quarter of that cost and presumably a single day if I drove there myself.

F**k that. Fine, I'm bringing the damn monitor in person. I told myself. This would break my avoidance of Metro Manila since the start of the quarantine, but it felt like this was my best option.

The only remaining question is whether or not the monitor would be replaced on the spot. According to Inno Vista through email, it should be. But I never got a clear answer from Digiserv. But I eventually made the trip last October 31 and hoped for the best.

The drive from my house in Los Baños, Laguna to Digiserv's warehouse in Malabon, Metro Manila was not as big of a hassle as I thought, considering the distance and the road I needed to take. And thanks to Google Maps, I didn't get lost or anything. Now, Digiserv is a large Lazada seller. And while their warehouse is nowhere near as pretty as the stores we see in malls, I couldn't help but be impressed. I didn't take pictures out of respect, but in the area I waited, there were like 8 or 10 people bubble-wrapping items non-stop, slowly eating away at a huge stockpile of boxes of IT equipment. At the same time, I really realized that from the looks of things, there's little chance that an outfit like Digiserv would prioritize after-sales support for customers. But to be fair, the person who attended to me was fairly friendly. Whoever I was chatting with over the past month didn't go to work that day. That was a little disappointing because aside from losing the chance to clear the air a bit, it risked breaking the continuity of the discussion and agreed upon terms, which turned out to be the case. At first, I was told to wait for 2-3 weeks for a replacement. I was ramping myself up for a heated argument just in case. But first, I explained to him that the arrangement with Innovista is that Digiserv will replace the monitor on the spot and showed him my communication with Inno Vista. So he went to the back of the warehouse to make some more calls. Fortunately, the Digiserv guy verified this and did not dispute. I said my thanks and left as soon as I could. I also made sure to send an email to the guy at Inno Vista to thank him. He's the reason why I didn't need to file a DTI complaint and didn't have to wait for another 2-3 weeks for a replacement.

After more than a week of using and testing the monitor, I am hoping that this unit will continue to work properly within the foreseeable future. It's not necessarily Viewsonic's fault, but after being burned like this, I'm fairly sure I'm going to be more resolved when I say that I will not buy a Viewsonic monitor again. I will never buy anything from Digiserv again. And it will be a while before I purchase fragile electronic devices online again.

I am strangely undecided about what message or moral I can offer in the aftermath. To be clear, I don't blame Digi-Serv or Vewsonic for my receiving a defective monitor. I know it happens. But I absolutely hate how I was given the runaround. I wasn't demanding for a refund. All I wanted was a way to have the monitor repaired or replaced, as prescribed by the manufacturer's warranty. And it took more than three weeks for me to get a clear answer for just that. We all have to be careful with online purchases. I consider myself to be a cautious, perhaps even a smart buyer in Lazada or any other online store. But this still happened. At the very least, if you're intent on buying a monitor online, like I did, look at the official flagship stores first. As of this writing, Viewsonic actually sells the VX3276 cheaper than Digi-Serv, which already has a competitive price. You also get to directly coordinate with Inno Vista/Viewsonic in case issues arise. But perhaps most importantly, even at your angriest, it pays to keep cool. Things like this are bad, but hardly the end of the world as we know it. Stay rational and level-headed when trying to shift through BS, while at the same time stay aware of your rights as a consumer. In this regard, I am incredibly envious of other countries, but that doesn't mean we're completely powerless in the Philippines. We have some protection. Learn them and know when to invoke them. And you will be able to get through things like this.

UPDATE (April 27, 2021):

I held off from posting this blog for nearly six months. I thought it was a good idea to wait to check if I'd still be mad about the whole thing. And if I were, at least I have the opportunity to change the overall tone of this article. Nope, I still mean everything I wrote above. But it is also a good way to check how the monitor itself held up after months of continuous use. The screen itself is still fine. The issue backlight bleed along the edges is true, and may be a design issue that's normal to see in this particular model. But it's only barely noticeable in the dark so it's not a big deal for me. I'm pretty satisfied with the performance whether I be working, gaming or just procrastinating over Facebook or YouTube. I do, however one big cause for concern. After building a new desk for myself, I got myself an articulating monitor arm and mounted my monitor on it. I got worried a bit during installation because one of the bolts did not screw in properly at the back of the monitor. But when it held fine during those first couple of weeks, I forgot about it. Recently, I inspected the back again and was surprised to see that although the monitor is still attached to the arm the way it was from the start, the back panel of the monitor itself seem to be bending, or worse, maybe even coming apart.

The arm attachment can't be bolted flush to the monitor. But that's not the only issue.

It would appear that this is a monitor you might not want to keep on an arm long term. This is what will now stop me from recommending this monitor to anybody. It is better to buy a higher quality 27" monitor than this Viewsonic for the same amount of money. I wasn't quite sure what I'm going to do about this. But it seems like my older monitor which my wife now uses needs to be replaced. Now, since it looks like this will be ok on its own stand.... this monitor might be better off on her desk. With a little bit of self interest and budget hocus pocus, this might not end up being a complete loss -- and hopefully a win-win. Either way, I'll be fine. But here's some unsolicited advice for you. If you make use of your computer monitor the same way that I do, turned on everyday for extended periods and mounted on an arm, put up more money or get a smaller monitor. We tend to stop thinking about how much we spent for something when it ends up being a really good purchase in the end. But regrets over bad ones, we tend to remember and feel bad about for a long time.

Gratitude from the Librero family... and what comes next for us

What I saw this past week went way beyond professional courtesy. Despite my obviously skewed perspective in the matter, I can honestly that this does not happen for anybody, even among his peers. I can only imagine how farther family and friends across the globe, along with both UP Open University and UP Los Baños would have taken things had there not been a tightened lockdown looming over us. And for that, the Librero clan is eternally grateful.

What we refer to as the Librero clan is made up of the different families he had blood ties with. There is of course the Librero family itself. And then we have the Malupa and the Millan, then the Dinulos and Juanillas, and finally with the Garcia family. And on behalf of all these families, I would like to express our gratitude to everyone present here, as well as those who had wanted to be with us, but were unable to do so. I am also happy that most of the families considered to be part of the Librero clan are represented here today. My dad talked more about us to the people he worked with than he did to us about his work. Thanks to those who spoke, my family has heard first-hand accounts of his career achievements. I myself do not know all of it. I don’t think any single person does. He himself had probably forgotten a lot of them by the end of his life.

UPOU was kind enough to arrange for this. Unfortunately, the recent surge in COVID-19 cases has kept people from coming.


I do not remember to whom I should attribute this to… This was around 2004 or 2005. What I do remember is it was in Indonesia when my dad took me with him to attend a number of engagements across the country. It was in one of those dinners. He probably excused himself briefly to go to the toilet or something. And while he was away, someone referred to him one of the foremost experts in the field of development communication in the whole of Asia. Maybe some of his peers can, but me personally, I have never been in a position to judge for myself. But what I do know first hand is how he is treated by his peers. At home, he had always played host to people. Our house, whether it be that small apartment, or later on a larger house at Doña Aurora St. in UPLB to where I live now outside the campus, was constantly frequented by his friends, colleagues and students. Going with him in those overseas trips allowed me to see how things were the other way around. I remember that first time. It was 2001. I don’t remember being particularly excited about it, as it would’ve been an added strain to the family finances because of my mom’s medical bills. But it was she who convinced me to go. She told me it was high time I saw for myself how he was practically treated like a prince in other places. And true enough, right outside the airport’s arrival area in Bangkok was a former PhD student, himself already an accomplished university professor by then, waiting to pick us up and along with the rest of my dad's other former Thai students, he made sure we were taken care of the whole time we were there. That tends to leave an impression on a young man realizing how little he knew about his own father outside his own household. And now, after hearing and reading all the tributes for themselves, I hope that the rest of my family are now having a similar realization of how well respected and loved my dad was, as I did back then.

I suppose the next question is where do we go from here. He did not really leave a lot of things hanging. When he retired, he could’ve said he’d already done everything he set out to do and nobody would’ve been able to argue. But there are a few things he along with his brother would probably want his family to do. For starters, we would like to put together all the tributes we have been showering on his name. He occasionally wrote on a journal, but not nearly enough to put together an autobiography. But all our words put together can perhaps be pieced together to come up with something close. He would also want us to find ways to continue helping students in any capacity we can. And that is what I would like to do. I would also welcome those who would be interested in joining me. But perhaps most importantly, he would want each and every one of us to continue the work he had started. And I am sure we will.


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

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