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Grinding in isolation

Every now and then, I write something for my blog which snowballs into a huge personal rant that exposes me emotionally in manners that I might regret. I end up not posting these blogs. Even before I started typing this, it somehow felt like this was going to be another one of those. But I really want to have something new in my blog. This is, after all, my birth month. So, I will try my best to frame this into something that might be relevant to students, colleagues, friends and family who might actually spend time reading. I’m also going to break them down into parts with headers. That way, people can just read the parts they’re interested in and ignore the rest.

My birthdays… they are almost always depressing. Reasons vary each year. I never look forward to it, even when I was young. Anything nice that happens right around it, to me, is happenstance. It’s why I don’t like making a big deal about it. I almost never do anything special for myself. Contrary to what a few people might be suspecting, I still don’t believe I’m clinically depressed. I want to avoid even the remote chance of insulting those who actually deal with depression on a daily basis. But there really are days, like these recent ones, where getting through each day is such a chore, I wonder why I bother getting up in the morning.

This gloom is not what I want to write about, though. Instead, I would like to remind myself of the things I have set out to do and how I intend to have something to show for. And there are a lot to write about.

My studies

I am now six months into my PhD studies at Lancaster University. And there are at least another 42 to go through. I am lucky to have been allowed by UPOU to focus on this. But those first six months were rough. I didn’t feel like a real student until last month, with all my non-academic issues finally resolved. And even then, I do feel isolated from everyone else until now. It has had a significant effect on my academic performance. It’s funny. In my previous stints as a student, I found working with groups challenging. I was a bit anti-social and tended to keep to myself. Today, I find that behavior a liability.

My brilliant cohort at Lancaster University, all of whom are halfway across the world from me.

As of this writing, I am tasked to write a literature review paper. I’ve never done one before, so this will be an interesting experience. But hopefully, I won’t be as clueless as I was with the autoethnography paper in the first module, for which I just received my final score. Yes, I passed. I got a score that’s actually a bit higher than I anticipated — nearly earning distinction. That’s the good news. But I could have done much better, like many in my cohort. I found a critical flaw in my work. Fixing it would have allowed me to do a better job at tying everything more neatly. I only realized that literally hours before the deadline, so I unfortunately submitted and had no choice but to simply brace myself.

Again, I passed. But it wasn’t satisfying. Frustrating, yes, because I was on that line between doing good and doing great. But I’ll live. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Looking back, I’ve always been a slow starter. I’m never among those who make the best first impressions. But I always make it to the finish line. And that’s where I intend to be after 42 months.

At work

I realized that I’ve never really taken the time to read my colleagues’ papers. The good news is that my studies have given me a compelling reason to finally do so. And I’m going to start with IJODeL this month. I will also willingly attend a round table discussion on how UPOU will proceed with its MOOC-related endeavors. As long as it can be tied into my studies, I will always be open to do something here and there at work, even if I am on study leave. Just no administrative work, please.

My affiliations

I’ve been neglecting my affiliations with communities that I am supposed to be a part of. I probably should tie these loose ends. I can’t attend ICEM this year in Memphis, but I have to find a way to ensure my joining next year in Portugal. I still intend to help bring ICEM to the Philippines at some point because I believe there is a huge potential for a productive partnership with UPOU. I don’t even know if SEAD still considers me as a member. If I am, I’ll have to find a way to be more active. If not, the least I can do is thank Angelo Vermeulen for the opportunity to be part of it before I move on. On the other hand, I will always be a member of the UP Animal Science Society. I can never completely let go. I worked too damned hard for it when I was in college and then some. But I will have to ask for my brods and sisses’ pardon if I continue to lay low. Many of them, I consider friends, but I’m too out of place, as far as profession and even mindset are concerned.

My courses and students

I thought I would miss my classes. Perhaps in those first few weeks after stepping away, I did. But now, I fully realize how much I needed a break from it. The stressful grind of repetition was already getting too much for me to handle without compromising my sanity. I was admittedly distraught back in January and February. I was in the middle of dealing with my paperwork for Lancaster University and I felt there was a legitimate chance my enrollment might get suspended (which is a long story). I was also still coming to terms with the shortcomings of the last project I had undertaken with my current and former students, The Digital Collective.

However, I will promise that The Digital Collective will be revived. I’ve even started posting in its Facebook Page again. The process will be slow, and I doubt I will get all of the old band of students back together for this. But there will be progress. That, I can promise. I still believe it can do some good in UPOU. And the thing is, my continued pursuit of this will actually help me with my own studies in the coming years, as I had come to realize through my autoethnography PhD assignment. The best part of this is that I’m actually looking forward to it. Again, I don’t expect most of my former volunteers to return. But I do hope at least a handful of them will. We have at least one major production assignment to get back to.

We’ll be getting The Digital Collective back on track.

Finally, I need to find time to make revisions to my manuals in Photography and Audio. The courses themselves, I believe I’ve been able to let go, for the most part. But the manuals are mine and ensuring their relevance will always be my responsibility. Initially, I had hoped to release a community edition of these manuals with the help of The Digital Collective. But it’s become apparent that in order to accomplish anything related to these manuals in a timely fashion, I have to do it myself.

Personal interests

Photography has sort of taken a back seat in my life. It doesn’t excite me as much as it did before. Going out to shoot has become more of a chore, even during my most recent travels in Finland, Taiwan and England. So, it’s strange that in spite of that, I still think about acquiring a full frame DSLR camera. It probably won’t happen anytime soon. But still…

While I haven’t regressed, it feels like something’s missing in my most recent photography.

I think I’ll be able to get by without selling some of my guitar gear, which is a relief. Aside from the sentimental value of those actually worth selling, I really don’t want to go through the actual process of having to sell. My overall previous experience hasn’t been good. I don’t want to add to that. Well, actually, I have sold something – an LAG acoustic to one of my nephews. I sold really low. But hey, that’s family. I also wanted to make sure that he gets the best out of how much his dad is willing to spend. Not that this particular guitar is the best ever, but it is good enough to make learning how to play more pleasurable. The problem with cheap pieces of shit guitars is that they aren’t well made, painful to play and poorly intonated. All of them take away from the total enjoyment a person gets out of playing music. And following that same logic, I doubt I’ll hold on to the RJ mini-guitar I bought last year. My son deserves to play on something better, should he actually develop an interest in playing later on. I don’t think it’s worth selling, so who knows… I might give it away.

My nephew is the new owner of this one.

What I would like to do right now is to finally sit down on work on the songs that I’ve had in my head since I was a teenager. If I can sit down and record two of them this month, then I’ll be pretty happy. They’re not hard to play, so I’m not worried too much about my guitar chops (or lack thereof). It’s the singing which I dread. I haven’t been a decent singer since my 20’s. I’ll just have to see if I can still do anything presentable with my vocals. I would also like to record the short sound and music clips I had intended to make available through The Digital Collective — things people in UPOU can use.

I’ll be squeezing these little audio projects in while studying.
Result of the mix above.

I’m also starting to get back into reading books again. By this, I mean materials outside the required readings in my PhD. I already have a huge backlog thanks to Humble Bundle. Them being eBooks doesn’t make things more conducive for reading, but they are pretty convenient. I’m currently halfway through Sword of Destiny from The Witcher series and started with Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. I’ll get to the design books from Humble Bundle after.

I should seriously remind myself that, after some refreshing and brushing up, I am still an environmental scientist and ecologist. I’m never going to be able to do that within UPOU, but maybe I still can somewhere else.

I haven’t done any carpentry recently. The house is in need of a bunch of repairs and modifications, which I think I can do on my own. I just need the funds.

Family

Aidan’s progress, while not insignificant, remains erratic. One of his school’s teachers said something important a few weeks ago. The child will have bad days, yes. But so will the parents. I’ve had so many this year and I hate myself for having them. The slow grind of repetition and erratic development gets to me everyday. Any father of an autistic child would understand. Any loving father of an autistic child would find a way to soldier on.

His compulsion to act on his curiosity is relentless, which a parent must match with patience and vigilance to keep him (and everything else!) safe.

Perhaps I’m feeling the grind more, not just because Aidan is getting bigger, faster and stronger, but also because I have attempted to take some of the load off from my wife. She has finally started anew doing her own thing, with her workshops. I’m still heavily involved, though… as financier, driver, porter and babysitter. Just a bit more than I initially bargained for, to be honest. She also has found herself in an environment-conscious crowd, which was what spurred memories of mine as an environmental science student. Maybe one day I will engage with that crowd more actively. But for now, I’ll be staying in my lane. More autonomy for my wife from me would also be nice, I think.

Vanni at the Green Unconference at Taguig last June 8.

I’ve also started preparing to bring my family to the UK next year with me for maybe a month. It’s a bit challenging as my income decreased significantly when I went on study leave. I can barely get by as it is. But next year will be the best time for them. I’m fairly sure I already have the plane far covered. But if anyone has tips on how to make the actual stay cost effective (the accommodations alone will be murderous), I’d love to hear them.

Closing

This is a lot. I’d be surprised if I manage doing them all within the year, let alone this month. But hopefully, the learning experience, as well as the reward of finishing these tasks, will be incentive enough for me to get up from bed during those bad depressing days.

I write not to ask for sympathy, advice, or any sort of assurance that tomorrow will be a better day. But I would like to somehow be better connected with you. All these things I plan on doing or getting back into is pretty much a reaction. Going on study leave to purse a doctorate degree online has brought about a sense of isolation that is not quite like anything I’ve experienced in the past. I’d like to combat that. And I would be grateful for any help.

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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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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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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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DSCF1358

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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DSCF1377

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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yennefer

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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UPOU Seal (500 pixels)

The BAMS Survival Guide

Update for 2019:

While valid at the time of writing, I am afraid much of what I wrote here is already outdated and may not be consistent with current policies. For your academic advising needs, please visit the UPOU FICS website and consult the BAMS Program Chair. 

Thank you.

Version 0.21 (May 8, 2016)

changes:

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

Disclaimer:

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

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

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

Thank you.

[nextpage title=”Introduction” ]

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Francis Librero
BAMS Program Chair, 2014 to present


I, Student

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

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

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

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

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[nextpage title=”General Pointers” ]

General Pointers

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

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

Let me start with the most important thing:

  • MATUTO KAYO MAGBASA AT INTINDIHIN ANG INYONG BINABASA.

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

  • SEEK CLARIFICATIONS WHENEVER NECESSARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • UPOU AND ITS PROFESSORS ARE NOT “THE ENEMY”

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

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

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

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

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

On the other hand…

  • STUDENTS ARE NOT CLIENTS

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

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

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

People and Names

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

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

I’ll make it easy for you.

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

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

Acronyms

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

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

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

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Transfer of Credits

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

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

  • It is typically automatic for students previously from another UP campus, or those from the Associate in Arts program to have their GE courses get credited, unless they were taken from a long time ago. How long? Course contents have varying degrees of shelf lives. Math lessons can stay relevant for decades or even centuries. On the other hand, content information technology related courses can be rendered obsolete within a year or two. UPOU, therefore has to review requests on a tedious case to case basis.
  • Students who took bachelor’s level courses outside UP will typically have to take validation exams for each course he or she wants transferred. Keep in mind that these exams assess how well you might do in the pertinent UP course, not how well you did in your previous school. Therefore, it will be very much possible for you to encounter types of questions dramatically different from what you have previously encountered. Is that fair? From your perspective, probably not. For everyone else, of course it is.

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[nextpage title=”Enrollment” ]

Enrollment

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

Academic Load

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

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

Reality Check:

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

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

Curriculum vs. BAMS Self-advising Checklist

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

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

Prerequisites

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

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

Waiving of Prerequisites

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

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

Reality Check:

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

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

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

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


Cross-registration

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

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

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

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

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

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Making Sense of the BAMS Curriculum

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

MMS 120 Communication and Culture

Student notes:

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

MMS 121 Multimedia and Popular Culture

Student notes:

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

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

Faculty notes:

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

Student notes:

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

 

MMS 131 – Introduction to Knowledge Management

Faculty notes:

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

Student notes:

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

The 140 Series of Courses

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

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

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

The Production Courses

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

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

Program Chair Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

MMS 198 – Special Topics

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

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

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

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

Mobile Videography

Faculty notes:

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

 

MMS 200 – Special Project

Faculty notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From AA to BAMS

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

UNLEARN YOUR BAD HABITS!

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

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

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

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Frequently Asked Questions 

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

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

  • How about 18 units?

Are you kidding me?

  • Will the credits from my previous school be transferred?

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

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

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

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

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

  • What courses can I take?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reaper Screenshot - Nasan Ka Kaya

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

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

 

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

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

Reaper Screenshot - Nasan Ka Kaya

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

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

 

Drums

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

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

 

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

 

 

Bass Guitar

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

 

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

 

Acoustic Guitar

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

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

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

ADL_1417

My makeshift recording room

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Electric Guitars

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Vocals

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

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

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

 

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

 

Panning

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

 

Automation

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

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

 

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

 

Final Words

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

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

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

 

 

 

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No longer just for adult learners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The five courses that impacted me the most

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Environmental Science 255 – Environmental Psychology
Final Grade: 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The philosophy of the pig

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

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

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

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

That is what Pidz called the philosophy of the pig.

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

I wonder why?

 

 

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

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