Student representatives and officials of the University of the Philippines (UP) met in an online town hall session on September 20, 2021. The meeting aims to help the University take stock of its experience of remote learning and teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic as it prepares academic roadmaps.
Featured in the conference “Birtual na Pagpupulong bilang Paghahanda sa Pagpaplanong Akademiko sa 2021” were results of surveys of constituents conducted by the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA), the Office of Student Regent (OSR), and the student councils (USCs) of all constituent universities (CUs).
Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Evangeline Amor presented the OVPAA Report on Student and Faculty Survey on Remote Learning based on surveys by the UP System Committee on Remote Teaching and Learning. The surveys involved 8,679 students in November 2020 and 9,237 in July 2021, constituting roughly 17-18 percent of the total students enrolled in the respective semesters. The surveys of the faculty involved more than 1,300 respondents each.
From the surveys, eight of 10 student respondents felt “overwhelmed” by their study load, and only three of 10 felt “satisfied” by the experience.
According to the July 2021 survey, undergraduate students who were “overwhelmed” and “dissatisfied” had an “unreasonable” 17-19 units load for which they spent 56 hours per week. Undergraduate students who responded as “not overwhelmed” and “satisfied” and who said they had “reasonable load” had 15 to17 units loads for which they spent 41 hours in a week. A majority, or 6.5 out of 10 students, said their internet connectivity was “ok.”
For undergraduate student respondents, staying motivated was the number one problem. For graduate students, it was balancing their schedule for studies and work. The biggest concern or worry for undergraduate student respondents was their health. They were in front of their gadgets most of the time
Impressions of the remote learning experience included “no learning,” particularly of laboratory skills, loneliness, and learning just for the sake of complying or passing. Others cited “unreasonable increase in academic standards,” “unconducive learning,” “insufficient time,” “issues on learning materials,” and “poor internet connectivity.”
The surveys indicated that student respondents found detailed course guides as most helpful, and instructor availability and responsiveness contributed most to effective learning. Library services were considered the most significant support received from UP.
However, the majority of the student respondents were neutral to the questions “Did the resolutions on academic policies ease stress?” and “Did the assistance from the University help me learn effectively?”
The students were also asked by the surveys for the assistance they needed. Primarily, they mentioned services for mental health, vaccines, counseling, and reading breaks. Forms of academic ease were then mentioned. Other responses were financial and equipment subsidy, more flexible learning, technical assistance, and assistance for internet connectivity and a conducive environment.
The Office of the Student Regent conducted its survey during a week in August 2021 and gathered responses from 904 student respondents or 0.02 percent of the student population, according to the presenter, UP Baguio Student Council Chair Cheska Kapunan.
From there, the OSR cited reports of deadlines not being adjusted despite leniency requests. Deadlines and synchronous classes were being set during the reading break. Some teachers insisted on holding online sessions “where attendance was required, graded, or made a major component of grades.” In addition, students were not being provided recordings of online classes. Students also reported delays in receiving their modules. Many of these modules were said to be incomplete or lacking in explanation.
Student leaders also independently gathered feedback from their respective constituents. They were campaigning for a safe and gradual return to face-to-face classes and the use of the physical facilities of the school, or “ligtas na balik-eskwela,” a vaccination program for students, more vigorous implementation of academic ease, and expedition of processes of the Student Learning Assistance System (SLAS).
They highlighted the need for students to be included in the University’s planning and not just consulted. Student Regent Renee Louise Co requested that the sector be provided copies of the drafts of the academic roadmaps.
The UP Manila representative Querobin Acsibar reported on the call for a stop and review of the Return Service Agreement in the health colleges of the campus.
The students expressed support in opposing the government’s planned budget cuts on UP.
They also cited the need for psychosocial services and safe spaces to protect UP constituents from red-tagging, sexual harassment, and in-campus violence.
“It’s a balancing act between compassion especially for students in difficult circumstances… and the responsibility if not the mission of UP to ensure that the Iskolar ng Bayan, the country’s future leaders in different branches of knowledge, possess the competence, grit, and agility to overcome adversities, to thrive and lead in a complex, disruptive world,” VPAA Cynthia Bautista said in her reaction on the rationale of administrative policies. She referred to a world dealing with a pandemic, climate change, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
At the same time, she said: “We are beginning to be more nuanced since we cannot continue having a one-size-fits-all policy for students.”
Regarding academic ease, Bautista said there is a need to balance the demand of students for more time with the time available to the faculty to complete requirements. There is also a need to reconsider students’ interests. Within an increasingly learner-centered environment, the load eventually bears upon the faculty.
“You can just flag the administration, and actually they did something about this,” Bautista told the students regarding complaints on non-conformity with guidelines on academic ease.
On “balik-eskwela”: “A committee of the Presidential Advisory Council, chaired by UP Los Baños Chancellor Jose Camacho with UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo and UP Manila Chancellor Carmencita Padilla as members, is helping us in various aspects of the preparation from the reconfiguring of classrooms to student vaccination to the protocol for a class when a student tests positive to a policy [on unvaccinated constituents without sacrificing inclusivity],” Bautista said.
She added that UP had submitted, reiterated, adjusted, and completed supplementary information on the request for the limited face-to-face for graduating students to the technical working groups of the IATF (Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) and the Commission on Higher Education. However, remote learning will still be the prevailing mode for as long as the COVID-19 situation remains.
Bautista reiterated the importance of complete and curated course packs and more instructors in the current phase of remote learning in the University. She advised students to flag the administration for delayed, low quality, or incomplete course packs.
“We are studying the possibility of subscribing to Grammarly Premium for our students and faculty,” she added.
“For students and professions requiring hours of competence honing who may graduate without the competencies of those who graduated before but who may have had more training in technology-based apps and simulators, UP is developing bridging and lifelong learning programs.”
On psychosocial services, Bautista said: “We now have and are developing focal persons for mental health at the unit level.”
She said the student councils would need to provide more details on financial aid and internet connectivity. They also have to compare the amounts students spent on academic resources before and during the pandemic. She reported that laboratory fees had been waived.
“I’ll leave the dialogues on the Return Service Agreement to our colleagues in the ‘white professions,'” she said.
She assured students that despite budget cuts, affected operations would be maintained. She also reiterated that UP had expressed its position on academic freedom and red-tagging. Still, the individual practice of academic freedom is an ongoing conversation.
Roadmap to the future
“The roadmap to the next normal would be phased. It will entail a lot of reforms and mindset change,” Bautista pointed out.
“We will be redefining quality education,” she said at the end of the open forum.
“The paradigm shift is to student engagement and student agency… Maybe, the students can begin talking and reading about the changing landscape of higher education,” she said.