A Varsitarian poll of nearly 300 faculty members found that majority were confident of teaching this term, but want financial assistance or subsidies for internet connection, electricity and new equipment.

In the survey, conducted online from July 20 to 27, 56.1 percent of faculty respondents indicated that they could teach confidently using online methods, while 70.2 percent said they were satisfied with the seminars and training provided by the University.

Sixty-three percent said their internet connections were adequate for online learning, while 69.6 percent said the University should also provide financial assistance for internet and electricity as well as subsidies for electronic gadgets.

In a letter to the Thomasian community on May 26, UST Rector Fr. Richard Ang, O.P. said the first semester of Academic Year 2020-2021 would be delivered through “Enriched Virtual Mode,” with instruction given remotely using online and offline strategies.

Ang said Enriched Virtual Mode should be anchored on the principles of “communion and encounter, one that promotes dialogue and ensures accessibility and flexibility in learning.”

Assoc. Prof. Rene Luis Tadle, a philosophy faculty member and lead convenor of the Council of Teachers and Staff of the Colleges and Universities of the Philippines (CoTeSCUP), said the request for financial assistance and subsidies was “reasonable.”

“Working at home entails additional expenses – mostly on electricity, upgrading of gadgets, etc… Allowance for faculty members to upgrade their internet connectivity is also proposed to improve their online instruction,” he said in an interview online.

Theology instructor Joseph Albert Reyes said UST’s webinars equipped faculty members with techniques and strategies in preparation for online classes.

“It was a big help for me to be updated and upgraded on the latest technologies and techniques I need to conduct a good online class. As a non-tenured faculty member, I am satisfied with what was provided to us,” he said.

‘Creativity needed’

In interviews and survey responses, faculty members handling a variety of courses said they would have to adapt significantly to remote and online teaching, given its limitations.

Jan Raen Ledesma, a literature instructor, said the effectiveness of online classes would be up to a faculty member’s creativity.

“Although consultations can be done online, of course, there is nothing that [compares with] the face-to-face communication that we are all much used to. These are just some of the limitations for literary studies,” Ledesma said.

Faculty members handling laboratory courses need to “rise up to the challenge,” said Jorge Anton Ordas, a biology instructor.

“We already have activities that include simulations of the lab exercises, alternative activities that could mimic skills-based exercises, and the use of computer software,” he said in an online interview with the Varsitarian.

“For subjects like zoology for example that includes numerous dissections of different animals, that requires a lot of creativity for effective online delivery,” he added.

A Conservatory of Music professor however was concerned over how students would be evaluated online, as most classes would be “performative” in nature.

“Most of our lessons and classes are skills-based, it’s very difficult for us to gauge students’ progress,” the professor said.

Blackboard vs Zoom

A professor from the Institute of Religion raised concerns over the Blackboard learning management system prescribed by the University, pointing out that access issues forced some faculty members to use other web-conferencing applications last term.

“Some students in the online part of the 2nd semester of AY 2019-2020 reported not being able to access Blackboard,” the professor said in the survey.

A Conservatory faculty suggested using Zoom, because it has better audio features compared with Blackboard’s “Collaborate” application.

“[T]he best is Zoom because of its noise-cancelling provision,” the professor said.

Literature’s Ledesma warned that technical problems in online platforms might affect the effectiveness of learning this semester.

“Technical difficulties and unfamiliarity with the online platform that the University is using for its online classes can possibly affect the facilitation and transmission of learning for both teachers and students,” he said.

Cooperative learning

Assoc. Prof. Richard Pazcoguin, director of the Center for Campus Ministry and a theology faculty member, warned that students might experience difficulties that might not become readily apparent in the online setting.

“Online learning might make some students feel isolated, misunderstood or left behind in various ways, without the teacher having knowledge of it… there really is a very limited way to monitor student activity,” he said.

Reyes, the theology instructor, called for cooperative learning amid the “new normal” in the educational sector.

“The very challenges for both the learners and the teachers are enthusiasm and adjustment with the new environment of learning,” he said.

For Ordas of the biology department, the experience of the University in conducting virtual classes in the second term of the previous academic year, as well as the special term, provided valuable lessons and insights.

“Thus, I think we are now more prepared than before for this incoming academic year,” Ordas said. Camille M. Marcelo, Joenner Paulo L. Enriquez and Nuel Angelo D. Sabate


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