Words by Edward Joseph Maguindayao
This year marks my eighth year of stay at the University of the Philippines. For quite a time, I had been a full-time student from undergraduate to graduate studies (the latter on full scholarship). But this semester, I am taking on a new role as a new college instructor in my home department, mainly teaching laboratory classes.
By mere mention of teaching laboratory classes under the remote learning setup, one would be greatly bothered. How does one teach classes that are supposed to be ideal or practical applications of the theories and concepts learned in the lecture? How can teachers impart learning when there is no face-to-face meeting and no materials and tools that students can use to implement the diagrams in their lectures?
In the first week of my teaching, I reminded students that the workarounds have been in place, with no small thanks to teachers who are ahead of me (and many of whom were my former mentors). Luckily, both the students and teachers are guided by the course packs. When the University transitioned to the remote learning set-up, the faculty was tasked to make course packs that are adaptable and applicable to the current learning setup, considering the limitations on the side of the students. Depending on the learning pace agreed upon, students can either do it on their own or pace themselves as if face-to-face classes are held. There is no one strict way of learning, as students have their own strategies for allotting time, which should include a well-deserved rest.
Also, it is helpful that free (and sometimes with paid license) downloadable programs are available for teachers to explore and for students to learn from. Simulation programs, though they are used in classes before the pandemic, are of great help in visualizing and mimicking actual experiments done in the laboratory. Building systems from simple diagrams learned from the lecture, and extending them to real-life applications, helps the students imagine what would happen should they physically construct one.
For example, in my field, there are available simulation programs that allow a user to draw electrical circuits, with each component’s specifications modifiable to suit the needs of an exercise. But again, while this can be viewed as more convenient as compared to the building circuits in the laboratory, I would still choose to teach students in the laboratory as they not only learn from what the experiment dictates them to do but also from their mistakes from making a circuit to obtaining the necessary measurements for their laboratory report. These experiences may seem trivial and funny at first, one that we could laugh over and over, but may impart lifelong lessons as they leave school and prepare for a bigger learning environment.
Sure, there will be room for improvements in the current setup. This also includes the evaluation of the new curriculum set up for the graduates of the K-to-12 program. But a greater call for a safe reopening of classes should not be lost on the horizon. I not only fear the lost years of learning, but also the loss of institutional and cultural memories of campuses. Some myths and old practices have to go. But the community in schools, wherein students feel they belong, is not so much that felt as when there were still face-to-face classes. There is a gap between the batches that experienced learning before the pandemic and those who began during the pandemic.
I refuse to accept this transition as one that is inevitable. Sure, there is a demand to move towards greater technological acceptance that became necessary during the pandemic. But we must never forget for whom and why learning should exist: that it is about students learning the foundations to make the world better not for individualized egos or in support of excessive and unsustainable practices, but for the entire humanity for whom knowledge is for and from whom knowledge emanates. [P]
Edward Joseph H. Maguindayao teaches at the University of the Philippines Los Baños; he is currently finishing his graduate studies at UP Diliman.
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