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DLSU provides online teaching assistance, connectivity support for faculty

Students were not the only ones unprepared for the transition of colleges and universities to flexible or distance learning. Across the country, faculty from higher education institutions (HEIs) are faced with the herculean task of continuing teaching through a fully online mode of instruction.

While the Commission on Higher Education rolled out assistance to help smaller HEIs, DLSU set out with its own response. To maintain “quality” education under flexible learning, the University unveiled the Lasallians Remote and Engaged Approach for Connectivity in Higher Education in a Help Desk Announcement last May 28, offering vital assistance for University faculty to deliver online courses for Term 3 of Academic Year (AY) 2019-2020.

‘Emergency remote teaching’

The rapid shift in learning policy last term heralded a sudden transformation of the classroom from a physical space into a virtual one, with faculty members adopting Online Distance Learning (ODL) to allow students to complete the term. Academic Support for Instructional Services and Technology (ASIST) Director Dr. Jasper Alontaga shares that regardless of technological competency, teachers had to quickly adapt to online teaching.

“Everyone was caught off-guard of the cancellation of classes,” he says, admitting that this “emergency remote teaching” approach was not an ideal way to migrate to online learning.

Although faculty members are knowledgeable about the content of the subjects they teach and expectedly have a fairly good grasp of the topics covered in a course, Alontaga points out that translating these materials into lessons that can be delivered online poses a more complex challenge.

“Sometimes, teachers can know the subject, but struggle [with] how to teach the subject [online],” he expounds. Even familiar components of instruction such as recitation activities or exams have been administered differently due to the challenge of “transactional distance” online between faculty and student, as Alontaga describes.

Carmelea See, an assistant professor from the Educational Leadership and Management Department, has observed this in her online classes from last term. She reveals her difficulty getting the attention of students, “Students are not entirely invested…When we moved online, it became much more of a challenge, because I already know that [many] of them [may] be shifting out.”

Online learning assistance

Recognizing the need to train faculty in online teaching, the ASIST AnimoSpace Online Certification Course, AnimoSpace Lounge for Teachers, and AnimoSpace Online Course Preparation Faculty Assistance Program were launched as a platform for faculty to expand their knowledge and practice of ODL. The AnimoSpace Online Course Preparation Faculty Assistance Program’s training services, according to Alontaga, can be availed by faculty once they agree upon the terms detailing the nature of their engagement, such as how long an instructional coach or course content developer would assist the faculty.

Instructional coaches, who Alontaga reveals are volunteer faculty members who are already well-versed with AnimoSpace, would guide their colleagues in navigating the platform and assist them in online course preparation.

These coaches also serve as course quality assurance reviewers to evaluate faculty performance based on the Quality Criteria for online courses and instructional design developed by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academics (VCA). VCA Dr. Robert Roleda believes that DLSU’s online classes should have a “strong element” of faculty-to-student, student-to-student, and student-to-material interactions.

Meanwhile, for technical concerns, faculty may turn to course content developers in the form of fellow faculty members who volunteered to assist in creating e-learning materials like video lectures on AnimoSpace and in using assessment and virtual class tools for ODL.

In recognition for their efforts, the volunteer faculty can receive an honorarium or be given one unit deloading for each instructional course, according to Alontaga.

Response team contributions

According to Alontaga, faculty members who opt not to avail of the AnimoSpace assistance initiative may instead direct their inquiries to a trained response team through the AnimoSpace Lounge for Teachers.

Techniques on “encouraging student participation” and “authentic assessment” for graded outputs were among the key points shared during training sessions, cites Engr. Michael Manguerra, an assistant professor from the Manufacturing Engineering and Management Department and a response team member.

Meanwhile, Electronics and Communications Engineering Department Assistant Professor Engr. Elmer Magsino, another member of the response team, shares that he has often been approached by department colleagues on “how to make better use” of AnimoSpace.

As of writing, the ASIST AnimoSpace response team consists of only six members, which may limit their capacity to assist faculty. They follow a designated consultation schedule, serving as a virtual support center throughout the term.

Additionally, in an effort to improve online teaching methods, some colleges and departments have themselves begun hosting sharing sessions on best practices, according to See.

Drawing from her experiences the previous term, she has found that one strategy is to “break things apart [into] smaller digestible chunks”, furthering that faculty can consider “[looking] at challenges from the students’ point-of-view [on] how they [might] take [one’s] instruction.”

Essential connectivity support

According to a survey conducted last Term 2 by the Association of Faculty and Educators of DLSU Inc., 60.4 percent of faculty reported having internet connection with some connectivity issues, while 51.3 percent indicated the need for an internet connection upgrade to conduct online classes and comply with work from home arrangements.

To address these concerns, Roleda confirms that DLSU has negotiated with telecommunication giants Globe and Smart to purchase pocket WiFi devices, which are loaned to faculty or even students in need.

Furthermore, a P1,500 cash subsidy was provided to buy load for the devices, while a soft loan for laptops, to be payable for one year with no interest, is still under discussion.

DLSU’s connectivity support has also been beneficial to facilitate online delivery of lessons. See notes that many faculty members would have otherwise relied only on mobile data plans. “None of us were expecting [the support], so it helps a lot,” she states.

Some department-specific arrangements have also been made to accommodate faculty who may be unable to deliver online lessons, setting up working groups wherein one with connectivity issues is assigned to prepare the materials, while the other with stable internet is tasked to deliver them synchronously.

Even with the availability of connectivity support, faculty have still been advised to find an appropriate balance between asynchronous activities and synchronous sessions, as Roleda maintains that both are essential modes of delivery in consideration of connectivity issues and quality assurance criteria.

With all the University’s efforts in making online classes possible, DLSU manages to retain both its students and faculty, avoiding the need to downsize and providing job security for its personnel. As many companies make the difficult decision between laying off employees or absorbing financial losses amid economic instability, Magsino is grateful that “DLSU is staying afloat,” allowing faculty and staff to “still [be] here so far.”

By John Robert Lee

By Eliza Santos

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