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AC addresses complaints, reaffirms stand on online learning in Town Hall Session

Only two days after a question and answer session was hosted by political party Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon, Vice Chancellor for Academics (VCA) Dr. Robert Roleda—accompanied by other members of the Academics Council (AC) and University Chancellor Br. Bernard Oca FSC—participated in a Town Hall session held via Facebook Live last April 13 to clarify student concerns on the policies set by the AC on how Term 2 of Academic Year 2019-2020 would end.

Dr. Antonio Contreras, President of the Association of Faculty and Employees of DLSU (AFED) Inc., acknowledged the mixed reception of the University’s decision, but stressed, “We cannot give you a one-size-fits-all solution.” He expounded that while a number of students are unable to participate in online learning, the chosen course of action should not impede those in favor of finishing their course requirements through online learning.

“The only solution to that is actually to enable choice so that everyone can have what they want,” he noted.

‘Divided student opinion’

During the session, members of the AC explained how the policy was reached, citing  a survey conducted by AFED among faculty members, research on the expected course of COVID-19, and a proposal submitted by the University Student Government (USG). Contreras also gathered faculty sentiments through “email threads” and “opinion surveys”, which were analyzed in AFED’s proposal to the AC.

Contreras also highlighted a “glaring” finding in the USG’s proposal, which presented a “divided student opinion” on whether to continue, suspend, or end the term. “The opinions of the students are very different: one-third [preferred] option A, one-third option B, [and] one-third option C,” he emphasized.

Last April 5, the USG disseminated a survey which asked students to choose among three different options: continue online learning or classes until May 9; postpone online learning and classes until conditions improve; or outright end Term 2 with the option to receive a grade and allow for a one-month correctional term to catch up after the quarantine is lifted.

College of Liberal Arts President Jose Antonio Felipe, who served as moderator for the town hall, argued that the latter two options—suspending and ending the term—“were basically asking to end classes”, but Roleda countered that they were different—one option was to “end classes” entirely, while the other is to “suspend and continue later”, he said. 

In addition, Dean of Student Affairs Nelca Villarin revealed that there are students “who wrote to us that they are for online learning because they wanted to finish the term and graduate.” Contreras later on echoed a similar sentiment, believing that ending the term would “disenfranchise and marginalize the one-third [in favor of online learning].”

The current proposal, Villarin further explained, allows students to opt out of online learning for “whatever reason”. “That’s why our answer is really to give choice to students,” the VCA added.

“The only way we can meaningfully empower each student is to make sure that none of [their concerns] would be disregarded,” Contreras reiterated, justifying the reason for the options that were given by the AC—either to continue online learning or to defer the subjects, with the latter providing time to accomplish the remaining requirements once students feel they are ready to do so. Should students opt deferment, they are given a year to submit the remaining work.

Clarifying the policy

The University’s policy faced scrutiny during the online session as various questions were asked by Felipe and USG President Lance Dela Cruz. Among the issues they concentrated on was students who lacked stable internet access. 

Roleda admitted that the best decision for students would be to defer their subjects. Though, he assured students that a 4.00 on a deferred class—which no longer needs to be reenlisted nor paid for by the student—is still attainable.

Dela Cruz, on the other hand, raised the issue of students who do not want to defer their subjects as it could “overload or extend their stay in DLSU”—which, he claimed, would delay some students from seeking employment and providing financial support for their families. The USG’s proposal, however, also planned to suspend online learning, which could similarly induce delays by requiring make-up classes.

Contreras clarified that class deferment does not mean retaking the entire subject again, but instead that students only need to “complete requirements that [they] missed.”The defer option would also allow students to carry out their remaining requirements for up to a year, with face-to-face sessions, should conditions allow it.

The capability of faculty members to conduct online sessions was also raised by Felipe. Contreras, who admitted that some faculty members may not be ready—even if they are expected to be—asked students to be considerate to the faculty as they are also affected by the pandemic.

Additionally, the AFED President encouraged students to report to their respective department chairs should they experience such problems. Department chairs, Roleda added, could step in and cover for the faculty’s duties, such as uploading study materials and readings. “We can actually appoint substitutes for [that absent] faculty,” he furthered.

Another area of contention was fee allocations for the latter part of the second term. Villarin cited students asking about the plan for laboratory fees and Lasallian Recollection classes, to which she disclosed that the AC and University administrators have “ongoing discussions” about it.

Oca also assured that a breakdown of the second term’s tuition fees will be provided by the University’s Finance and Accounting Office soon. He promised, “We will find a way to get the information [available].”

Questioning ‘quality’

Nevertheless, Dela Cruz also relayed concerns from students who stated that online learning might “compromise the quality of education”, especially for subjects that are difficult to teach.

Contreras acknowledged that students “did not pay [just to have] online learning.” However, Oca said that due to present conditions, DLSU opted to maximize the platform. “During these times, the only mode is online learning…but the ideal is blended learning,” he explained, referring to a combination of face-to-face sessions and online learning activities.

Contreras also criticized the argument of delivering “quality” education, saying, “Kung quality ang habol, bakit ang ine-endorse ay tapusin ang term at bigyan ng passing grade?”

(If quality is what they are really after, why are the students endorsing to end the term and automatically give a passing grade?)

He assured that despite the circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty members are still committed to delivering students the “full service” and accomplishing the syllabus. “The product is not yet deliverable now, but we are going to make sure that it will be delivered, one way or another,” Contreras reaffirmed.

The administration’s commitment extends even to students who have completed their classes. Roleda explained, “In fact, even those who got a grade already but felt that they need some more face-to-face sessions, we can open it for them. These will be without additional fees.” 

As of press time, the USG conducted a survey last April 14 to once again gather student opinion on online learning for another proposal to the Academics Council. Meanwhile, the University has released a list of Frequently Asked Questions to clarify concerns on the current academic policies.

By Warren Chua

By Enrico Sebastian Salazar

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