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Online Uni Life #2: The changing virtual landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

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