Across numerous departments in the University, the availability of equipment needed by students for coursework has always been an issue.
In an online survey conducted by The LaSallian, a student from the College of Computer Studies (CCS) said that “most of the routers and switches [used in their classes] are older models, [so] keeping up with more modern equipment is challenging because we won’t be experiencing the latest updates.” Other students from the Gokongwei College of Engineering (GCOE) who use surveying equipment, ovens, soil testing apparatus, and hydraulics point out that “some of the equipment are worn out and outdated, and they are not able to serve their purpose.”
In the College of Liberal Arts, students from the Communication Department are among those who have really lamented the lack of equipment essential to several courses and electives that require production-related output. Dr. Maria Angeli Diaz, the laboratory head of the Communication Department, says so herself that “there are things the [Communication Department] has to improve on.” Dr. Cheryll Ruth Soriano, the department’s chair, expounds on Diaz’s statement, saying “sometimes students apparently want certain equipment and we don’t have it, therefore we lack [equipment].”
Facing the problem
The Communication Department in the University caters to two undergraduate degrees and one graduate masteral degree. Both research and output-based programs are at the center of studying communication.
To produce the projects needed to attain their degree, procuring the equipment necessary hits a hole in a student’s pocket when it is unavailable in the department’s equipment room. This is a situation that Soriano adamantly wants to avoid. “I want to make sure that those students who cannot afford to buy equipment of their own are not unnecessarily disadvantaged, and we have to cater to the needs specifically of those who cannot have equipment of their own,” she stated. With this, the Communication Department offers a number of facilities like the editing bay, the photo studio, the TV studio, and the radio studio. They also provide for the equipment of students, such as cameras, lenses, tripods, dollies, redheads, recorders, and microphones.
However, the fast-paced nature of technology poses a great challenge to the department. With the increasing innovations in facilities and equipment almost every year, it becomes problematic to be at par with the latest. As one communication student argued, “only limited equipment are made available to the students and they’re not of the highest quality; some are old models and others need fixing.”
Deconstructing the problem
With technological advancements quickly happening, Diaz says that the University’s practice of ordering equipment in bulk becomes difficult since doing so restricts the department’s choice on what and how many gears to acquire in succeeding years–specifically due to financial reasons. “For example, the latest [camera released] is the mirrorless [type], but what happens next year if the mirrorless camera is superseded by another one, what will I do with all my mirrorless cameras? Nobody wants to use them again,“ Diaz explains. With this in mind, the department carefully considers different criteria in order to mitigate risks.
The first thing it considers is the compatibility of the new equipment to the older ones. For instance, Sony camera lenses are not compatible with Canon cameras. This may be resolved through the use of lens adapter, which allows a photographer to use new camera lenses on an old camera body or to facilitate the interchange of camera lenses freely from one brand to another. However, it is not without consequences as some lens adapter users experience problems like having no control over the aperture to its host camera body and misalignment in camera mounts.
Second, the department must account for the compatibility of video formats generated by the camera in relation to the supported video formats of Adobe Premiere Pro, which is the software installed in the different labs. Some professors have recommended Sony cameras for procurement but the units record in 4K–four times the resolution of full HD. The format is not supported by Adobe Premiere Pro, which Diaz considers to be a liability that prevents them from bringing in Sony cameras as these might backfire during the post-production stage.
Finally, the durability of the equipment also plays a factor. Most of the cameras currently available in the equipment room are Canon, which is a brand known for its longevity. The lifespan of equipment may also be extended through proper care and maintenance.
With around 400 undergraduates enrolled in courses under the department, the purchasing of equipment needs to address both the long-term and short-term needs of the students. However, Soriano admits that because of the many factors considered before buying equipment, it “slows down the [procurement] process.” This adds to the burden of students who–as one student expresses–feel that they are provided with “some [equipment], but seeing our tuition fee rate, we are in need of a lot more for we need the experience for the real world.”
Allocation of budget
As of writing, most entry-level cameras can cost up to P40,000, while professional cameras are approximately P100,000. Purchasing supplementary equipment like additional lenses will further increase the cost of the department’s move to update its equipment. “We are investing a lot of money as well and we also want to be careful about spending the money especially because it’s the students’ money,” Soriano stresses.
While the tuition fee of one Communication major can already equate to the purchase of a quality camera, Diaz says that the laboratory fees indicated in the tuition fee serve as an account for each production facility. This includes the television, radio, visuals, and desktop accounts. “Every time you pay a lab fee, [it] goes to a different account, depending on what you enrolled in,” Diaz explains.
However, the allocation of budget differs for each account. For example, the television account is allocated with a small budget because only one subject uses the television studio, specifically Television Production (TELVPRO). As for the visuals account, many subjects make use of the budget for production purposes, thus, many students contribute to the account.
Lack of communication
There are a number of struggles that the Communication Department continues to face in providing adequate facilities and equipment for their students. However, their biggest dilemma is the lack of communication between the students and the department. “It’s very ironic that we are the department of Communication and we don’t communicate with each other,” Diaz said.
The laboratory head and the department chair only acquire information from several recommendations of professors, laboratory technicians, and exit interviews of graduating Communication majors in deciding which equipment to buy
“People know I am the lab coordinator. People know my email address and I get nothing,” Diaz says. Students are aware of the inadequacies, but are hesitant to voice these out to respective offices. Diaz highlights the significance of the undergraduates asserting their rights as they are the ones who pay for laboratory fees and equipment, therefore, they should have full access to these.
In hopes of a better communication line, Soriano has also hired a Communication graduate to setup a Facebook Group for Communication majors, which is expected to be up and running by the third term of the current academic year.