deadline

An open letter to my students on meeting deadlines

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

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

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

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

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

deadline

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

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

The hard lesson of accountability

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

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

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

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

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

The answer was an overwhelming NO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Online learning can be a lonely endeavor for anyone.

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

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

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

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

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Why introducing yourself in class matters

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

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

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

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

What does that have to do with self introductions?

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

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

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

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

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

First impressions last…

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

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

… But so do the second, third….

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

 

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

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MMS 173: Epilogue – First Trimester 2013-2014

As I wrap up my assessment of the final projects of my students this trimester, I can’t help but look back in what has been a roller coaster ride on my part. It ended up as a scramble to get the course in order the whole time. And I still screwed something up in the end. I wasn’t able to establish a system for submitting all these projects. They were coming from all over the place and easy to lose track of. With their own deadline only to think about, I don’t know if students realize how difficult it is on my end as well (not that it’s really their problem).

 

A class of 90 students for a course of this nature is cumbersome. It was a big point of contention for me, which I hope, with a formalized schedule of offering starting this year, won’t be happening again. Fortunately (or unfortunately for some people), not all of those students made it through the course. As I look at my class list right now, I have a mortality of just over 40%. Now, now now… before people who aren’t really in the know raise the red flags, sure, for a traditional classroom-based course (or subject, depending on where you went to school), that is alarming and cause enough for a teacher to be sat down by the dean for a heart to heart conversation at the very least. But for an online course, it is quite common, sadly enough. Not to wash my hands of anything, but in most cases, it really isn’t the teacher’s fault, and not mine in this case, as far as I can see. In any event, as unsavory as some people might see it, that drop in attendance really did help me in making the class more manageable. Still cumbersome, but manageable.

Losing a rather huge chunk, however, did not seem to have made the class lose its diversity and liveliness. And even though the latter somewhat dipped after a month or so, there remained an active core who, even at the time of this writing that’s two weeks past the end of the trimester, continues to check in with me and the course site. And mind you, it’s not just for the following up of their grades and submissions, but also for actual discussions even after I’ve graded them. That’s unprecedented for me. At a time when some of my colleagues lament how their course sites turn into a trimester-long monologue because of passive undergraduate students, here I am wondering when my students will finally call it a trimester and start preparing for the next one.

 

Going over the final projects was draining. Looking back, it’s probably one of the reasons why I encouraged students to work in groups — less work for me to assess. It took nearly two days to finish and it wasn’t a very deep evaluation, at that. Heh, chances are, scores would generally be lower than they are now, if I did that. I’m thinking about going through it again, now, actually.

 

Anyway, after two days and nearly two liters of coffee, I went through an array of project exhibiting a wide range of skill and exerted effort. While I feel a little bad that there are some that would have been better had they taken the time to consult with me, I am quite impressed at the sight of this lot. As you can see in the first picture, money was spent on presentation, and I can’t ignore that. I probably should offer to return it to them, as these projects probably mean so much more to them than it does to me.

While I’m pretty much over the class now, there are other things I realize I should not take for granted when it comes to class policies:

    1. Some students have a hard time following instructions. It gets worse for every detail I forget to include in the instructions.
    2. It doesn’t matter when you set it. Most students will submit them at or near the deadline, anyways.
    3. No matter how hard you try to prepare all sorts of considerations, there will always be a grey area between saying a definite yes or no.
    4. Finding the right balance between having a fricking bleeding heart and being a heartless bastard (with a slight bias towards the latter, preferrably) will be a never-ending quest for me.
    5. A certain amount of accountability on the part of students is a really good thing.
    6. Demanding commitment when it comes to attending face to face sessions is another good thing.
    7. I’m not sure if honesty is the best policy, period. But I do know it can do wonders in class. Compliments and higher grades would hold more meaning to students. On the other hand, overly sensitive students might regard not-so-positive critique as sledgehammers to their souls.

It’s also nice how taking in former students to volunteer as mentors in the class worked well. But I can also see how there’s still a lot of room for improvement in its implementation. I am thankful for Blaise, Misael and Winter being game with it. I owe these guys a drink, at the very least. Perhaps they can be part of the course again later. And maybe one or two of the standouts in the recent class will be interested to be part of this group as well.

And so, with this blog, I conclude Multimedia Studies 173 of the first trimester, AY 2013-2014. For some students, it will be their last encounter with me. Others will see me in one or two more courses. And for mortalities who want to graduate, let’s hope things will be better next time.

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Broadening research perspectives through the Gaia Hypothesis

I’ve always found the concept of the Gaia Hypothesis fascinating since hearing about it more than ten years ago (yes, I’m a late bloomer). For the uninitiated, James Lovelock proposed that the Earth is actually a self-sustaining and self-regulating organism (a superorganism, if you will), made possible by its living inhabitants, or more specifically, their interaction with the planet’s non-living components. My rather simplistic explanation belies its actual complexity, which I will not even try to tackle here. Suffice to say that the Gaia Hypothesis offers a holistic, if not New Age-y way of looking at life on Earth.

What piqued my curiosity yesterday is whether or not one can apply this hypothesis on a smaller scale. Is it possible to achieve some sort of homeostasis within a living space to maintain the overall well-being of its occupants? Of course, a single living space can’t really be self-sustaining in a literal sense. But maybe it is possible that, through the establishment of meaningful relationships between biology and technology, one can be helped to maintain conducive living conditions with greater efficiency as opposed to relying solely on conventional amenities, such as active air conditioning and lighting. Furthermore, with a geophysiology on such a small scale, information and communication technology can perhaps augment cybernetic feedback between these components.
So, I guess what I am trying to ask myself now is, would it be possible for one to look at a living space, be it a house, a dormitory, a net café, an office or whatever, along with everything in it, as a single entity? Can it give us a deeper understanding with regards to sustainable design as opposed to traditional architecture and construction? I’m sure there are people out there who have gotten into this. I only wish more people (least of all me) knew about it.

This whole thing about green living spaces and well-being has for the most part occupied my mind ever since I arrived here in Europe. And as I near the end of my short residency here at FoAM, I can expect pretty much the same in the coming months, long after I make it back home in the Philippines. But at least for now, it is interesting to see this parallel which never even occurred to me until yesterday.

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Biomodd and new research ideas

While I don’t spend a lot of time with Angelo Vermeulen and Diego Maranan, being scattered across the world and all, these two are all but family to me. But the thing is, I always feel a certain initial level of inadequacy when working with them at the same time. I do not have the gift of spontaneity, or at least the ability to effectively communicate brilliant ideas and thoughts as quickly and naturally as they do. I start slowly, and then catch up near the end. Not the best way to go about things, I admit – but that’s how I always seem to do it and I’ve gotten by fine so far.

Biomodd had already been little more than a fond memory – two years since Biomodd[LBA2] and more than a year since [C]Biomodd. I sort of hinted at Angelo that I would love to be a part of other iterations, but I didn’t really expect anything to happen. I guess I should have realized that considering the pace Angelo has sustained for years, it would have been only a matter of time before he would present such an opportunity.

Biomodd[TUDelft3] has been given the go signal and both Diego and myself have been asked to fly to the Netherlands and participate. Now, that by itself has already filled me with both excitement and apprehension. It’s going to be a huge personal and professional experience. But to follow that up, we have also been encouraged to stay a while longer there (which I was planning on, anyway) and look into entering some sort of mini-residency to pursue our research ideas (which wasn’t exactly part of my plan).

Now, I have worked with Diego a number of times. But aside from a small conference paper, we have never done real research together, mainly because of different approaches and interests. So, the question I had the past few weeks was whether or not it was possible for us to bridge our respective fields and come up with something that still interests both of us. Our colleagues at UPOU know of him as an accomplished dancer. But it’s just a small part of his interests. Movement would be a more apt term (as my girlfriend would point out). I somehow related that to ergonomics. And what if we concerned ourselves to not just body motion, but that of the environment as well? I immediately thought of how such a consideration would give a more holistic approach in dealing with green living spaces – something I’ve been casually exploring recently. Diego liked the idea, and so did Angelo. We actually came up with our residency proposal in one sitting. I guess that resoundingly answered my question.

Even if this mini-residency doesn’t push through, I have already been presented a few good directions in terms of what I want to do with my career. And for that, all involved parties have my gratitude.

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