UP faculty discusses return to face-to-face classes this semester

| Written by Jo. Florendo B. Lontoc

A subcommittee of the University of the Philippines Presidential Advisory Council (UP PAC) expounded on guidelines for the safe return to face-to-face classes in the wake of the pandemic during an online UP System-wide faculty summit on February 28, 2022.

The summit resulted from Memorandum 2021-169 from the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) on December 16, 2021, with the subject: “Guidelines on the gradual re-opening of UP campuses beginning Second Semester AY 2021-2022”.

The memorandum confirmed that UP residential campuses are gradually re-opening for the Second Semester of AY 2021-2022, “specifically for courses in the curriculum for which face-to-face classes or activities are necessary to achieve the stipulated learning outcomes.”

Photos of UP Diliman’s Palma Hall before (top) and during the pandemic (bottom). With the coming 2nd semester of AY 2021-2022, the University is calibrating guidelines for the gradual return to limited face-to-face classes across the UP System and at least some of UP’s students to Palma Hall and UP’s other academic buildings. Photos by Misael Bacani (top) and Bong Arboleda (bottom), UPMPRO.

UP Los Baños Chancellor Jose Camacho Jr., chair of the PAC Sub-Committee for the University’s Preparations for Face-to-Face Classes, said that face-to-face classes allowed under COVID Alert Level 3 or lower, the subcommittee had recommended limited practice of face-to-face courses of “the shortest duration possible.”

Camacho said the top priority is given to graduating students who must do field or laboratory work for their thesis or dissertation, followed by students in their last academic year who are required to train for their licensure examinations. Next are students in their penultimate year before graduation who need skills training in the laboratory, field, studio, etc. The last priority is for students in any academic year who need skills training in the laboratory, field, studio, etc.

UPLB Chancellor and head of the UP PAC Sub-Committee for the University’s Preparations for Face-to-Face Classes Jose Camacho, Jr. presents some general guidelines for the gradual re-opening of all of UP’s campuses. Misael Bacani (UP MPRO) took the screenshot during the UP System-wide Faculty Summit on the Gradual Re-opening of Campuses held on February 28, 2022, via Zoom.

According to the OVPAA memorandum, “the rest of the courses will continue to be delivered remotely, mixing synchronous (online) and asynchronous learning, guided by the course learning outcomes.”

“The faculty shall continue to prepare course packs—detailed course guide, learning resources, activity/study guide—for all courses to be offered in the Second Semester AY 2021-2022,” the memorandum added.

The PAC subcommittee said that for the face-to-face classes, a student-shifting cycle in facilities should be in place, which would allow a “fallow” time of at least 15 minutes between uses by separate groups of students. Before this, they should have determined the allowable capacity for each facility; and given such, decided if sections or classes would be split.

The campuses should also be working on:

  • Spaces for internet connectivity of students
  • A daily health monitoring system and curfew times, as well as a system on physical requirements, screening, and travel
  • Instructions on public health control and protocols for posting, as well as guidelines for conduct of on-campus students, guests, and the public in accessing UP facilities; and
  • Guides and plans for general use of facilities, on-site activities, and food concessionaires

National guidelines

Based on guidelines from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) on returning to face-to-face classes, previewed during a December 1, 2021 press conference, UP and other higher educational institutions (HEIs) under Alert Levels 1 to 3 needed only to conduct a self-assessment on their readiness to re-open campuses for limited face-to-face classes, submit a copy of the checklist to their respective regional offices with a Notarized Affidavit of Undertaking, and obtain a clearance from the local government unit.

The CHED also reiterated the provision in the earlier CHED-DOH Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2021-001, released on February 10, 2021, stating that students participating in face-to-face classes must be registered in the HEI/health facility with PhilHealth or equivalent medical insurance that covers COVID-related expenses. Only fully vaccinated students, faculty members, and HEI personnel would be allowed to participate in the classes.

UP Diliman Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Maria Theresa Payongayong orients the summit participants on the various CHED-DOH joint memoranda on the return of students to face-to-face classes. Screenshot taken by Misael Bacani (UPMPRO), during the UP System-wide Faculty Summit on the Gradual Re-opening of Campuses held on February 28, 2022, via Zoom.

The more recent CHED-DOH Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2021-004 released on December 15, 2021, was presented by UP Diliman Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Maria Theresa Payongayong. The circular added that minimum public health standards must be observed, and HEIs must facilitate health responses for students getting infected. Prerequisites include the establishment of crisis management committees and cyclical student-shifting systems.

Based on these guidelines, UP constituent universities gave updates on their experiences and plans for face-to-face classes.

Forward-looking frameworks

The faculty summit also presented frameworks of education that the UP President and the OVPAA said should guide UP’s academic roadmaps beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. On these bases, they presented possible scenarios for blended learning.

President Danilo Concepcion envisioned a transformation in the implementation of degree programs to a blended mode of learning, focused on thinking skills, with courses that would be more relevant and suitable to the circumstances of students. He broached the idea of going from semestral to quarterly, or for shorter periods of study and fewer loads. The University might also want to consider revising rules on underloads, waiving maximum residency rules, and finding alternatives to written exams for evaluation.

UP President Danilo Concepcion presents new ideas for transitioning to blended modes of learning. Screenshot taken by Misael Bacani (UPMPRO), during the UP System-wide Faculty Summit on the Gradual Re-opening of Campuses held on February 28, 2022, via Zoom.

During her presentation, “Landscape of Higher Education Beyond Pandemic (Contours of the UP Academic Roadmaps)”, VPAA Cynthia Rose Bautista’s expressed hope that UP was finally on the road to the next normal, if not already adjusting to the new normal.

Expounding on relevance and suitability, she talked about universities providing “micro-credentials”, which would include digital badges, nanodegrees, and micro-masters, and which would be stackable. She also mentioned allowing double majors before or after graduation, and the development of associate degrees.

UP Vice President for Academic Affairs Ma. Cynthia Rose Bautista describes how universities around the world are providing stackable “micro-credentials”, including digital badges, nanodegrees, and micro-masters. Screenshot taken by Misael Bacani (UPMPRO), during the UP System-wide Faculty Summit on the Gradual Re-opening of Campuses held on February 28, 2022, via Zoom.

She enumerated modes of course delivery for consideration: blended learning, hybrid learning, a flipped classroom, problem-based learning, work-based learning, and competency-based learning. Bautista also referred to building capacities by “intensive learning” through “less intense” structures of study.

She emphasized that there would be no imposition of a one-size-fits-all type of teaching, but rather basing it on scientific concepts such as those propounded by The ABCs of How We Learn.

Faculty, student surveys

The faculty summit also featured highlights of surveys on the faculty and students conducted from November 29 to December 10, 2021, and from December 1 to 9, 2021, respectively, with respondents comprised of 3,429 faculty members and 33,349 students. These were presented by Assistant Vice Presidents for Academic Affairs Evangeline Amor (Instruction and Curriculum) and Richard Philip Gonzalo (Student Affairs).

UP Assistant Vice Presidents for Academic Affairs Evangeline Amor (top) and Richard Gonzalo (bottom) present the results of the surveys of UP faculty and students. Screenshots taken by Misael Bacani (UPMPRO), during the UP System-wide Faculty Summit on the Gradual Re-opening of Campuses held on February 28, 2022, via Zoom.

The surveys assessed the sectors’ experience of remote learning during the pandemic and their readiness for face-to-face classes. The surveys revealed that: 98% of faculty respondents and 95% of student respondents were fully vaccinated. The majority or 61% of student respondents, however, were not covered by PhilHealth, and 78%, were not by any other health insurance.

Half of 3,218 faculty respondents said they were willing to return to campus, but 28% were willing only if students were vaccinated and regularly tested. A total of 68% of student respondents said they were not willing to participate in face-to-face classes if classmates were not vaccinated.