No longer just for adult learners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The five courses that impacted me the most

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Environmental Science 255 – Environmental Psychology
Final Grade: 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The philosophy of the pig

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

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

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

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

That is what Pidz called the philosophy of the pig.

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

I wonder why?

 

 

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

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An open letter to my students on meeting deadlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hard lesson of accountability

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

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

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

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

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

The answer was an overwhelming NO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Online learning can be a lonely endeavor for anyone.

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

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

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

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

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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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