I just realized something. I rarely write about my experiences in an online university in detail, at least not outside the context of research or course content. So, I figured that this was as good a time as any to start.
My first foray into distance learning happened around 2000. I was a graduate student who had overestimated my aptitude and found myself struggling in the Diploma in Computer Science program at University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). Throughout my time as a student across three degree programs (and a fourth that’s currently on-going), I received a failing mark three times. And two of them happened in the same term in this Computer Science program. It was a sobering realization that perhaps computer programming and software development was not my path after all, but that is another story. Failing two courses in a tightly scheduled programme meant I had to somehow catch up. One of the things I needed to do was to cross-register to the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU), which was pretty new at the time. I enrolled in Computer Science G – Management Information Systems (which is now CMSC 209). But again, this was back in 2000-2001. We registered over the counter. There was no online learning management system. We rarely used email. I don’t even clearly recall if I already had a mobile phone at the time. What we had were our printed course packs and scheduled monthly face to face sessions for lectures and submitting requirements. Normally, there would hardly be any communication among teachers and peers in between sessions. This was how UPOU students typically did its business back in the day.
While relatively short, this experience with distance learning as a student had a significant impact over my mindset towards distance learning in the coming years. It gave me some confidence as I joined UPOU as a faculty member seven years later. Not only did I remain unfazed despite the fact that my entry coincided with the university’s complete shift to full online learning. I was looking forward to it. I felt I had the tech savvy. And just as importantly, I knew how it is to be a distance learner. Therefore, I strongly believed that I would have a better read of my class than those who have only taught, or as we would prefer to call it, facilitated a class in distance mode. It was an interesting ride, to say the least. Now, looking back at 12 years of teaching online, I do think I had some success with being more in-tune with the pulse of my classes. After all, I was one of them. But it wasn’t until I signed up in an online PhD programme that I became more aware of my weaknesses. And it is this current journey I am taking which is making me realize how much room I still have for improvement both as a student and as a teacher in an online environment.
My career at UPOU is far from over. If anything, the circumstance of my studying right now assures that (I won’t be able to leave even if I wanted to — like I do half the time). But I feel that even at this stage, I have a lot of thoughts that I want to put into words. Yes, I have written research papers, but I am referring to the less empirical side of this thing called online learning. I would like to veer away from research and theory, spend less time trying to edit and vet myself. Seriously, I am tired of trying to incorporate research into everything I do at work. Instead, I would like to share anecdotes and opinions which, in their own way, might still provide some insight for those who are somewhat interested in it, but do not know enough to decide whether or not to commit yet. Or perhaps there are those who are already into it but are still a bit confused with how to go about their business, to whom I would like to assure that they are not alone. I already have three or so entries to this blog series in mind. I will likely go beyond that. How far, I don’t know yet. WE’ll see. This is going to be an uneven series, as I will be writing off the cuff most of the time and will not likely put in too much effort editing. It will certainly be a fun and light departure from the rigors of academic writing. I can’t promise to be fully coherent at all times, but I do hope you can join me in this little journey. Maybe you could also let me know what you think. It would also be great if I could learn from you as well.