Leading the Transformation into a Digital National University

| Written by KIM G Quilinguing

Adviser to the President on Digital Transformation Emmanuel C. Lallana during his interview with the UP Forum. Photo by Abraham Arboleda, UP MPRO.

“Digital transformation is really about changing the way we educate our students.” – Lallana


Not everyone can make the jump from teaching political science to advocating the use of information technology for better governance and education. But Dr. Emmanuel C. Lallana has certainly proven that he can.

“I am a political scientist who knows technology,” he describes himself.

From being a student leader in the waning days of the Marcos dictatorship to becoming one of the country’s leading advocates in digital transformation, the former UP associate professor of Political Science has certainly gone a long way from what was then the College of Arts and Sciences in UP Diliman to becoming a member of UP President Angelo Jimenez’s executive team.

As the new university administration’s Adviser on Digital Transformation, Dr. Lallana is given the challenging task of providing the backbone for the realization of Jimenez’s dream of a digital national university. He admits that it is a vision he and the new president have long been discussing even back then when Jimenez was a still a member of UP’s Board of Regents.

“Digital transformation is really about changing the way we educate our students,” Lallana said.

As a UP student during the height of the Martial Law years, Lallana recalls how different and difficult it was back then to communicate with fellow students and the rest of the University community. He shared how they had use typewriters to prepare materials on the burning issues of the day, and how the same documents were mass-produced using mimeographing machines, producing copies which were then disseminated to the University community. Nowadays, with smart phones, students can easily communicate and disseminate information and organize events.

After finishing his studies in Political Science in Diliman, Lallana took up teaching Political Science in 1979, where once he was designated Acting Chair of his department. While teaching in UP, he was also appointed Director of the Center for Integrative Development Studies, one of the University’s leading research units which regularly publishes research work on social issues and other challenges that confront Philippine society.

Lallana’s fascination with what can now be considered his advocacy began during his time as a graduate student in Hawaii, when he started using a laptop computer for his studies. And as a political scientist, he was not only enamored by the technology, but also with its potentials in improving research, education, public service, and governance. He earned his Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1982 and 1986, respectively.

According to Lallana, digital transformation is different from digitalization. Digitalization is the mere adoption of electronic devices and work processes for analog devices and procedures. Digital transformation on the other hand requires not only a change in instruments and practices, but more importantly, in the mindset towards how an organization performs its functions and delivers its services to its stakeholders.

“You may design the best application for payroll for instance, but if people refuse to use it, and have the wrong attitude towards it, the best designed software still will not work,” he said.

For Lallana, technology can only be considered successfully used when people ‘own’ it or regard it essential to their day-to-day activities. An example he provided was how short message service or SMS in phone networks, or what is called by many as text messaging, started as a tool to test signals. And in the case of the Philippines, this was used for social movements, and at the same time, personal relations. “It became a way for people to get in touch with one another, to communicate, to fall in love,” he added.

Aside from teaching in UP, Lallana also served as Deputy Director of the of the Foreign Service Institute, after he was appointed by President Fidel V. Ramos. As part of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ research and training unit, he was involved with the Philippine delegation in talks with Indonesia on boundary delimitation, as well in discussions with China on the islands in what was then called the South China Sea.

Retiring from teaching in UP in 2000, Lallana served as Executive Director of the eASEAN Task Force, which was an advisory body intended to enhance the region’s information and communications technology competencies.


“Technology, ICT applications and systems, are socio-technical systems, which means that you have to look at the social side of technology. Technology is embedded in society. But at the same time, technology also changes society.” – Lallana


In 2004, he was appointed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Commissioner in the Commission on Information and Communications Technology, one of the agencies instrumental in the later formation of the Department of Information Communications Technology.

In the commission, Lallana headed the Human Capital Development Group, which developed several programs, among which were: eSkwela, an electronic learning platform for out-of-school youth; iSchools, an ICT initiative for high school students; and, the eQuality Program, which worked to upgrade the information technology teaching capacity of Philippine state universities and colleges.

Since then, Lallana has advocated the use of technology not only for the improvement of communication systems in the country, but more importantly, for better governance, access to education, and skills enhancement among the youth. He sees technology not only as a tool to improve the means of communicating ideas, but also as transformative tools for a better society. “Technology, ICT applications and systems, are socio-technical systems, which means that you have to look at the social side of technology. Technology is embedded in society. But at the same time, technology also changes society,” he said.

For UP, Lallana hopes to see the possibility of providing faculty and students more flexibility in the teaching and learning of courses. When both conventionally meet at least once a week for an hour, he envisions the conduct of courses that will be more convenient for both. Essential to the realization of this idea will be the reduction of face-to-face sessions and the use of alternative means of conveying lessons. An example he shared was based on his experience back then teaching Political Science, where he spent several hours every semester talking about Plato’s ideas, when those could have been done using an engaging video material available online for students.

Aside from the use of different modes of teaching and using various forms of media materials for lessons, Lallana hopes to see the availability of courses online, which students can go over at their own pace. While this is already being practiced in the UP Open University, he envisions a widespread adoption of this mode of learning for the whole UP System. “We have to change the way we teach. We hope to change the way students learn,” he added.

While digital transformation may change the way courses may be taught in the University, Lallana emphasized that it only provides additional innovative means of conveying lessons. It does not take away a faculty member’s choice to pursue the more traditional mode of teaching. “Technology is just a platform. It’s still teachers who will design the course. You will still have face-to-face [classes] if you want,” he added.

Asked about possible challenges to digital transformation in UP, Lallana admits the task is herculean, given that the term of the Jimenez administration is only six years. But he also said that it must be done, as UP is already behind when compared to other universities abroad. “We cannot afford to be left behind further. If we don’t start now, we may not be able to catch up,” he said. While he acknowledges the efforts in digitalization by previous administrations, he added that much still remains to be done.

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