Looking back at and moving forward with online learning

On March 9, 2020, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno suspended classes in response to rising COVID-19 cases. What started out as a one-week class interruption would turn into a two-week class disruption and, until now, an indefinite hiatus on face-to-face classes. As a result, educational institutions have been forced to shift to an online learning setup. After a sudden shift, the University administration, together with the University Student Government (USG) has done numerous constituency checks and policy amendments.

With over a year of online learning already passed, The LaSallian explores how DLSU sustains its learning management system and its plans in case face-to-face classes would one day return.

Bridging gaps

When the University first implemented full online learning, there had yet to be proper guidelines, admits Vice Chancellor for Academics Dr. Robert Roleda. “But even then, in about a few weeks’ time, we came up with a course design and instructional design guidelines…to maintain quality and also to express the kind of online learning that you want to have.” After a year of constant improvements to the system, he believes that the Academics Council (AC) now provides a system geared toward effective learning. 

It was during this rough transition that the USG, led by former President Lance Dela Cruz, rallied for an academic freeze, which he believed was the “best option” at the time. “It was a period when our students were still adjusting—some of our students were directly affected by the pandemic,” he says. “The message that we were trying to give was to ensure that our academic policies remained humane, compassionate, and sensitive to the situation that our students were in.” 

Under his term, the USG disseminated surveys to gauge the sentiments of the student body on continuing or suspending classes indefinitely—even asking whether they wanted to end the term early instead. Dela Cruz admits that, in hindsight, they could have done better. “For instance, we could have made a more compelling case through the better use of data, through better planning, and through ensuring that we had a consensus,” he expounds. 

Although the suspension proposals were ultimately not approved by the AC, Dela Cruz still believes that the University was able to deliver a system that was effective. He points out, however, that improvements are still needed in the enlistment and enrollment system, and the filing of grievances. He states that although DLSU did a “good job delivering online learning,” student leaders should “demand better from the University.”

Meanwhile, incumbent USG President Maegan Ragudo says that their call for a “brief suspension of academic work” was a way to “step back and assess the situation, its consequences, and how we (the Lasallian community) will move forward.” 

Both the former and incumbent USG presidents believe that the University could have better handled the situation through conducting constituency checks and acquiring more reliable data.

On academic integrity and management

According to Roleda, another major issue in online learning is implementing examinations; for faculty, it is the need to maintain the test’s “integrity”, while for students, it lies in coping with the anxiety from the new testing method. 

“Just the thought of workload piling up may give anxiety to students,” shares Iñigo De Guzman (III, IE-SM). “I have also come across a professor who gave quizzes on a Sunday. If we were in face-to-face classes, these would not be allowed.“ 

With complaints like this, the Academic Council recognizes the need for improvement and assistance in these areas and has set up a tripartite subcommittee composed of representatives from the AC, administrators, and faculty from different departments and colleges, as well as students. Roleda explained that they will play a huge role in the decision making.

“We hope that they can reach consensus on how we should manage our exam policies,” he also added.

Meanwhile, Ragudo reveals that students have asked for a better allocation of the 7.5 hours course requirement per week. She says that one way to improve the work-life balance of students is to have flexible requirements. She adds that the USG is putting forth data-driven policy proposals which could promote safe spaces for mental health and pandemic recovery modules within courses.

Sustaining engagements

Generally, there are two main problems with student engagement in an online learning environment: accessibility and proper collaboration. 

According to Ragudo, “most students struggled with continuing their studies due to the financial and technological constraints from the pandemic.” Primarily, she is concerned with the increase in leave of absences of students who cannot afford a college education.

Thus, Ragudo thinks that the curriculum must be redesigned “to account for the diversity of learning needs.” “Ultimately, the goal here is to promote a more holistic, well-rounded, and compassionate learning amidst a pandemic,” she said.

Another issue is the lack of collaboration among class participants. In fact, recently, a video went viral where an oblivious student was heard to be playing a video game through his class’ Zoom call. 

While Roleda is confident that the learning management system is effective and ensures “continued engagement”, he shares that the University is set to improve engagement with and among students. Roleda believes that “education is social,” and that the hallmark of education in the University is centered on collaborating with others. 

Future of learning

When asked about the future of online learning, Roleda states, “The long-term plan of DLSU even before the pandemic is really to go into blended learning.” This means students can expect their lessons to be delivered 50 percent through online channels and 50 percent through traditional face-to-face classes.

However, uncertainties surrounding vaccine deployment prevent Roleda from providing a clear timeline. “No one can answer [when we will shift to blended learning]…because we don’t know how the virus will play out,” he said. 

In an email dated June 9, the Office of the Chancellor has opened up vaccine pre-registration for DLSU senior high school, undergraduate, graduate, and College of Law students. Nevertheless, concrete details have yet to be announced.

In the meantime, certain students could see themselves going back to campus for lab classes. However, according to CHED-DOH Joint Circular No. 2021-001, classes supporting the healthcare system, such as nursing and medicine, shall be prioritized. Some guidelines issued include wearing protective equipment, having assigned seating plans, and ensuring proper ventilation.

In line with the Circular, DLSU has applied to CHED and Manila Mayor for campus access. “We’ve applied to CHED and to the Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno for approval for us to allow our students to do lab activities on campus. In lab work, the students actually work independently,” Roleda said.

For Albright Tee (IV, BSA), a traditional classroom setting is still preferable than online classes. In traditional classes, being surrounded by other students forces one to study as well. Furthermore, traditional classes provide a more comfortable environment.

Sa bahay, I’m alone tapos kakatamad magaral kasi parang ako lang nagaaral while everyone is doing something else,” he said, before adding, “biggest factor talaga gusto ko ng aircon.”  

(At home, I am the only one studying while everyone is doing something else. Another major factor is the aircon in school.)

However, Tee believes that certain improvements introduced in online learning could be implemented in a traditional classroom. For example, one of the conveniences of online learning is the ability to rewatch past lectures. Thus, Tee thinks that having recorded classroom sessions could prove helpful.

By Warren Chua

By Helen Saudi

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