Graphics by Renz Joshua Palalimpa

Teachers and students continue to bear the brunt of remote learning in UP: the faculty beating the deadline of course pack completions, and scholars further relying their chances on luck in enlistment. 

UP faculty members have been burning the midnight oil over the past month to complete their course packs in time for the opening of classes. 

With distance learning, teachers are expected to have the entire semester mapped out by Sept. 10 even without a clear picture of their students’ profiles next semester. 

This is because course packs have been UP’s primary answer to making remote learning accessible to students, including those with little to no access to the internet. 

Course packs will contain everything a student should need for remote learning: from course guides, learning resources, study and activity guides, to assignment guides. In the first week of classes, students can expect to have either a printed or digital copy of a semester’s worth of readings, homeworks, and exams. 

As the administration has yet to provide proper technical support to faculty members with insufficient resources, many of them question whether UP’s preparations are enough. 

Teachers are also contending with the implementation of course packs this coming semester as they crunch for time to prepare. 

Course pack as a one-size-fits-all response to remote learning 

Christian Arranz, an instructor at the Department of Mining, Metallurgical, and Materials Engineering (DMMME), will be teaching four sections of 18 students each this semester with most of his lessons done asynchronously. Asynchronous learning is a non-real time mode of lesson delivery. 

He fears that students would find it even harder to open up whenever they encounter difficult topics. 

“We teachers just look at the students’ facial reactions in class and we notice who’s having difficulty. Hindi ‘yun kaya sa remote setting,” Arranz said. 

Students’ feedback, he said, is just as important as the delivery of classes. But when all learning materials are already pre-packaged to students in the beginning of the semester, teachers like Arranz feel course packs are no longer student-oriented, which defeats the purpose of learning. 

This is why teachers are stuck in a limbo, desperately hoping the course packs they have rushed in the past month will suit the diverse situations of their students. 

“Every time I think about a certain lecture or activity, I always think, ‘Oh, paano yung walang maayos na internet? Paano yung walang laptop?’” Arranz said.

Aside from preparation woes, teachers are also left guessing how distribution will go for students who will acquire physical copies of course packs even after a memorandum on course packs dated Aug. 20 by the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) has been posted by the Office of the Faculty Regent.

What has only been clear is that students with internet connection can access their course packs in Learning Management Systems such as UVLÉ for UPD. 

As teachers brace for the university’s first remote semester, many resort to handling smaller class sizes that will hopefully allow them to guide their students doing independent learning. 

Smaller class sizes

The best practice is for teachers to have nine units of teaching load with 10 to 15 students per class in an online faculty consultation last Aug. 24, said All UP Academic Employees Union Vice President of the UPD faculty Mary Grace Concepcion during the UP Faculty Regent’s online consultation.

Although there are no longer classroom restrictions and conflict of real-time class schedules in remote learning, Concepcion said professors should handle fewer students in a class to avoid spreading themselves too thin.  

The UP administration has yet to give a clear stand on proposals to reduce teaching load for this semester. 

But UP Faculty Regent Ramon Guillermo believes the lack of class slots may have a ‘developing impact’ on students’ enrollment process. Since professors cannot handle the usual class size as before, students are scrambling to get required course units during enlistment. 

Such is the case with STS 1, or Science, Technology, and Society Course. STS is one of the General Education courses required for all UP students, so competition for the slots for this course has always been tight.

INFOG

STS 1 class sizes in UP Diliman reduced from a total of 928 slots in the first semester of AY 2019-2020 to a total of 270 slots this coming semester. This will be a 70.91% drop in the total number of STS 1 slots offered in the Computer Registration System (CRS). 

Although limited class slots are not new to scholars, the sudden decrease in STS 1 slots this semester is largely due to the current logistical difficulties of meeting larger classes, says Department of Anthropology Assistant Professor Felipe Jocano Jr. 

With the remote set-up, teachers will now have to rely on the stability of their internet connection for the quality of communication with their students. However, conference applications such as Zoom use roughly 810 MB to 2.4 GB of data per hour. Data usage also tends to spike up in group meetings, especially when more people are in the call. 

Jocano, an STS 1 teacher, added that since course packs already require constant writing and oral feedback, the faculty of the Science and Society program decided to cap off class sizes to 25 students. Teachers’ available internet services tend to become erratic when handling a large group of people, especially if using Zoom. 

“Every time we are asked to accept students beyond the cap, we are put in a dilemma – turn down the student in order to be able to do a good job, or accept the student and take chances on the additional effort,” Jocano said on handling large class sizes even before the pandemic. 

However, Jocano remains hopeful that STS 1 professors will go back to handling their regular class size in the second semester. 

After citing student cases of getting delayed after being unable to get in their required subjects, Guillermo questions the university’s readiness to the new set-up. 

“Ang tanong dito, hindi pala tayo handa na maglunsad ng edukasyon na nag-ensure lahat ng nangangailangan makakakuha ng subject?” he said during the online faculty consultation last Aug. 24. 

UP has also suspended the change of matriculation for the first semester due to logistics of remote learning, which may hinder some students from asking for the teacher’s prerogative to be enrolled in their class.  

Guillermo added it would be unreasonable to overburden the faculty in the middle of a pandemic. “Kaya kailangan gumawa ng paraan agad ang admin para ma-address ang problema,” he said.   

No Student Left Behind? #NoTeacherLeftBehind too 

After the online consultation, some UP teachers pushed for alternatives. Some proposed to make course packs optional, or postpone the opening of class to a later date until UP can readily support its faculty.

Concepcion raised that as much as professors and instructors want to teach, the obstacles upending them make remote learning difficult. 

“We will always move the opening of class if the admin would not give us an enabling condition to not just work on our course pack but to teach for the entire semester,” Concepcion said. 

Until the university lays out a clear direction for remote learning, instructors like Arranz have no other choice but to carry the heavy burden of ensuring students get quality education in the middle of a pandemic. 

“Nakapanghihinayang lang din na hindi ito [couse pack] yung pinakamagandang kaya naming maibibigay, pero ito ‘yung pinaka-kaya naming maibibigay dahil sa gipit na situwasyon at oras,” Arranz said.

The UP system will still push through with opening classes on Sept. 10 after the Board of Regents gave the go signal for a year-long of remote learning. 

This comes despite protests from teachers and students that maintained experiencing a pandemic does not call for lowered standards and compromised quality of education. 

The Congressional of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND-UP) suggests that if classes get postponed, faculty members can provide bridging programs and capsule courses to equip students for the eventual opening of classes. 

Teachers have been pulling out all the stops in preparing for a purely remote semester. But for now, they can only hope that the situation gets better and their burden lighter.

With reports from Reynan Dale and Almira Coleen Mendoza

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