How BSU re-wired teaching and learning because of quarantine

This screenshot of an online defense at the Graduate School was contributed by Angeli T. Austria, one of the panel members.

Benguet State University was just in the first half of the Second Semester, School Year 2019-2020 when classes were suspended on March 17, 2020 in adherence to President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s Executive Order that placed the entire North Luzon under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). This served as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 Pandemic that was then starting to spread in many countries including the Philippines.

Being under ECQ did not only suspend in-campus classes but also suspended public transportation. Going outside of one’s residence for essential purposes is only allowed during certain hours. 

For BSU, this took a toll to students and employees alike. Students whose hometown is not in La Trinidad were stranded in their apartments, boarding houses and dormitories while their parents or guardians could not send allowance or supplies from their hometowns. Employees dubbed as the ‘skeleton workforce’ of offices led by BSU officials continued reporting for work risking themselves of being infected with COVID-19 while faculty members grappled with devising ways on how to teach a curriculum not designed for an online platform.

For the BSU community, the “new normal” began at the start of the ECQ as a series of actions were done by the University administration in order to continue delivering the education of students. University employees and stakeholders also collectively extended aid to help other sectors affected by the ECQ.

Work from home arrangements were implemented and a series of advisories and memoranda issued by the University administration instructed faculty members to ‘use alternative learning modes.’

In the views of Paul Joseph A. Nuval, a faculty member of the College of Agriculture, alternative learning modes does not only mean online classes, it is also blended learning. Nuval reached out to students by texting, calling, using Facebook Messenger and email. He also made sure that the formats of the files he sent out is considerate of the student’s resources. It is common knowledge that most students rely on data connection. Since MS Office and PDF files could not be downloaded or easily downloaded in data or free data connection, Nuval converted his Powerpoint slides into JPEG and plain text to make them easier to access for the students. Then he followed up through text messages and calls. 

In the case of Gretchen C. Ablaza of the Institute of Public Administration, she revealed that less than half of her undergraduate students responded to text and online messages while there is 100% response from her graduate students. When asked about the challenges of the sudden and unexpected shift to alternative learning modes, Ablaza pointed out several issues.

“Our curriculum, our syllabus, lessons and activities are not designed to be administered online. Even if faculty members have internet connectivity, majority of undergraduate students do not. In fact, iyong mga nagrerespond na students data lang gamit nila hindi talaga internet connection. Also, not all faculty members are familiar with conducting online classes, kaya kailangan ng capability building,” she said.

“Ang isa pa, iba pa rin ang learning pag face to face hindi pa rin maipagpapalit ang interaction sa loob ng classes kaysa online purely. Kaya sa akin lang maganda rin na hybrid sana, may online at may face to face,” she added.

Marifel, a BSU student echoed these issues. She also struggled with getting her classmates to cooperate with group projects.

“We have 29 units and we're pretty loaded. Sometimes quizzes from our subjects pop up altogether in a single day. I just wish that it just ends. However, as I have been reflecting about them the past days, these things are meant to teach us a lesson that school is challenging but we must still deal with it,” she said. Another student interviewed welcomed school requirements during the ECQ because they served as distractions from her anxieties. She even took up additional online classes.

But the situation is a bigger challenge for graduating students who, at the time of ECQ, were conducting their thesis or dissertations. The Graduate School and Open University adjusted by facilitating online defenses of students. As of this writing,  52 students have defended their thesis online. Graduation ceremonies are still discouraged as emphasized in the CHED Covid-19 Advisory No. 7 released on May 15, 2020. The Office of the University Registrar and other auxiliary offices continued providing services throughout the ECQ following Department of Health protocols.

The shift to alternative learning modes was sudden and unprecedented. It is a situation that never happened before but Marifel expressed her confidence to BSU leaders. 

“I've heard about the issue of Mass Promotion, and I would really like that if it would be approved by the administration. But considering a lot of things, it would be unfair for other students. So I will leave that to the higher-ups, I know naman po that the higher ups and any other educational institution would do what is best for all,” she said.//JSTabangcura