The COVID-19 pandemic that broke out in March last year sent schools scrambling to deliver education amid the threat of disease and the ensuing protocols to ensure public health and safety.
While some Philippine colleges and universities like UP have been employing some blended learning strategies such as, the use of virtual learning environments to complement the traditional classroom setup, the need to fully employ remote teaching and learning (RTL) have suddenly become more urgent and necessary.
Within the reality of what the World Economic Forum calls the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”—the increasing speed with which digital technologies have become more ubiquitous and mobile in today’s world—the University was already working on how to utilize these advancements and be more adaptive to the changing landscape of higher education. But COVID-19 put deployment on the fast track.
A review of the historic first semester of Academic Year (AY) 2020-2021 and developments for the coming second semester, almost a year after COVID-19 gripped the world, were part of UP’s Academic Roadmap AY 2020-2021 that was presented on January 11 via Zoom. The event also included the launch of the online initiative, “Alone but Together Remote Teaching and Learning Expo Portal”, which is expected to go live soon.
Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) Maria Cynthia Rose Bautista gave an overview of the roadmap in connection with Memorandum No. 2020-68, which the Office of the VPAA released on June 19, 2020, containing UP’s academic plans for the school year. She enumerated the three operational principles behind the roadmap: “protect our UP community from the pandemic, sustain the continuity of instruction and learning, [and] consider equity concerns in all plans.”
On mode of teaching, she shared some discussion points from the Senior Leaders International Meeting of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities on October 7, 2020. The consensus was, she said, “[There was] no turning back to the old normal in teaching and learning” and that a hybrid of online and face-to-face sessions were necessary in the “next normal”. There will be an increasing shift to independent learning and curriculum innovation, such as restructuring of programs and credentials.
On UP’s academic calendar, Bautista said there were 14 weeks in the first semester, with a “reading and wellness break” that was provided in response to “student and faculty overload”. For the 15-week second semester that begins on March 1, the week-long reading and wellness break has already been included in the calendar. The seven-week midyear term will be used for bridge courses, not just for current students but also for recent graduates who were unable to fully immerse themselves in laboratory work and practical training.
On physical infrastructure, the VPPA reported that UP subscribed to a Zoom 3,000 webinar account, and rolled out connectivity and gadget support for faculty and students. A Digital TV Project with curated courses will also be piloted in the next semester.
On academic infrastructure, UP acquired the following software: NVIVO, SPSS, Adobe Creative Cloud, Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, ArcGIS, and Qualtrics. Bautista revealed that UP President Danilo Concepcion is pushing for a subscription to Web of Science to add to UP’s library resources. Learning management systems, such as Canvas, were purchased, as Bautista emphasized the need to streamline the systems being used to avoid the need for students to switch systems depending on the teacher or class. She also mentioned: the creation of UP’s RTL microsite; the conduct of webinars to build capacities of students, faculty, and staff; and, the consolidated copyright guide for the use of resource materials for academic purposes.
On program preparations, additional teaching assistants and teaching fellows were hired across the UP System. Bautista also divulged the University’s still pending request to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, through the Commission on Higher Education, to hold limited in-person classes for thesis and similar courses in the first semester. More than P81 million in funds were requested by UP’s constituent universities (CUs) to prepare to meet the demands of the academic year.
On course preparations, there were online courses: Course Redesign 101 to help faculty prepare their course pack for remote teaching; and, Remote Learning 101 to aid students in preparation for “guided independent study”. Logistics for printing and delivery of these course packs, which cost P7.6 million, were also arranged, with P2.3 million to be added. Incentives were given to faculty members who completed their course packs. Across the UP System, the incentives totaled almost P41.3 million, with the figures for UPD, UP Manila, UP Visayas, UP Mindanao, and UP Cebu based on first submissions alone.
For monitoring, student and faculty surveys were conducted; and CUs engaged their respective faculty members through “kumustahan” to see how they were doing.
The online event also had detailed presentations by: UP Diliman (UPD) University Librarian Elvira Lapuz, on System-wide library resources; her immediate predecessor, Prof. Chito Angeles, on library automation; Assistant VP (AVP) for Student Affairs and Office of Student Financial Assistance Director Richard Philip Gonzalo, on student support,;AVPAA (Curriculum and Instruction) Evangeline Amor, on results of the faculty and student survey, as well as UP’s microsite on remote teaching and learning; and, Dr. Jose Antonio Clemente, who led the launch of the Alone but Together RTL Expo Portal.