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Upon return to campus, students raise concerns on Internet connection, limited spaces for blended learning

Exclusive interviews by the Perspective reveal how students were burdened by juggling face-to-face meetings and online classes in one day, while being faced with Internet connection concerns and lack of student spaces.

Words by Alex Delis, Charleston Jr. Chang, Mark Angelo Fabreag, and Aron Sierva

By effect of OVPAA Memorandum 2022-88, the UP System shifted to blended learning, combining face-to-face and online instruction. While this was a major development for the #LigtasNaBalikEskwela campaign, blended learning left numerous online issues unresolved, with students raising their grievances on the quick transition and the inefficiency of the setup.

The five-point student demand crafted by the UPLB University Student Council (USC) in August 2022 made it clear that blended learning “does not guarantee the alleviation” of problems and issues that students encountered amid the online setup.

USC enumerated such issues under the online mode, which include the ineffectiveness of online learning, financial concerns, and mental health issues, among others.

Students were also burdened with “too much” workload in academic requirements, and that some students even felt “unguided”, having a hard time in retaining lessons. USC said that this resulted in a high number of students opting for an incomplete (INC) or dropped (DRP) remark, with others applying for a Leave of Absence (LOA) “to make ends meet” amid the economic crisis.

(RELATED STORY: UPLB students, faculty confront persisting challenges 2 years into remote learning)

“Given that students recognize that they find themselves ill-equipped to practice their chosen profession, this is a manifestation of the degrading quality of education within the university. This steers us away from our primary goal which is to bestow a nationalistic, scientific, and mass-oriented education system,” USC wrote.

Data from the UPLB Office of the University Registrar (OUR) show that 12466 out of the 14896 students enrolled this semester in UPLB have at least one class offered in Model 2 or 3 – models that include face-to-face sessions. This means that 83.7% of the UPLB student population have classes under the face-to-face setup.

The unfamiliar setup, however, saw students struggle with the transition, all while continuing to face the pandemic and an economic crisis.

A difficult transition

As former UPLB University Freshman Council (UFC) Deputy Secretary-General Education and Research Committee Head Butch Malicsi put into words in an exclusive interview, “Sa gitna ng transition mula online patungong face-to-face, naniniwala ako na magkahalong galak at kalungkutan ang aking nararamdaman para dito.”

(Amid the transition from online to face-to-face, I feel a mixture of joy and sadness.)

Expounding, Malicsi said that they feel joy for the reason that students are no more locked within the four corners of their gadgets or rooms, but are instead able to use the facilities of the University. Moreover, students and faculty are finally able to interact face-to-face with each other. Despite this major development, Malicsi expressed dismay that some students, especially those coming from distant places, have not been given enough priority and assistance.

In the five-point student demand crafted by the USC, they highlighted several logistical and financial concerns amid students’ return to campus. The council calls for a comprehensive plan for transportation aid, budget increase for housing and dormitories, scholarships and financial assistance.

Meanwhile, adding to the students’ burdens, a week before the start of classes of the current academic year, the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) released Memorandum No. 2022-127 that retracts the no-fail policy and enforces a 15-unit regular course load starting this semester. Other suspended academic ease policies during the online setup were now also deemed effective this semester, including academic delinquency rules, Maximum Residency Rule (MRR), deadline for dropping and LOA, and attendance. 

This memorandum was met with heavy criticism and opposition by the studentry and faculty alike. UPLB students mobilized for the First Day Fight last September 6 to call for inclusive education in light of the suspension of academic ease policies (READ: UPLB students demand inclusive acad policies amid blended learning woes). 

Halfway into the first semester of blended learning, exclusive interviews by the Perspective revealed the struggles faced by students amid a new learning setup, while also carrying the burden of the health and economic crises.

Juggling struggles under blended learning

In one day, given the combination of the blended learning models, students would juggle face-to-face meetings with online classes.

“Super hirap actually kasi yung sched ko na may FTF [face-to-face] at OLC [online class] in one day is yung day na halos wala talaga akong break. At the very least naman may time ako para makapag-prepare for my FTF class though that is minimal lang yung requirements na meron. Ang mahirap lang rin kasi is that late [na ako] nakakauwi from classes [tapos] may times na sobrang lakas pa ng ulan ng ganon oras so ang hirap kasi [ang dali] magkasakit ngayon,” Anton, not his real name, said in an exclusive interview with the Perspective.

(It is actually very challenging because my schedule with face-to-face and online classes in one day is the day that I hardly have a break. At the very least, I have time to prepare for my face-to-face class and the requirements are minimal. However, the difficult one is that I get home from classes late and then there are times that there are heavy rains, so it is difficult given how we are very much prone to sickness.)

Meanwhile, BS Chemical Engineering student Kyla Camille Bongcawil expressed the same sentiments as those with hybrid classes in a single day. She emphasized how “costly” and “hassling” it is for students with such schedules.

“I want to speak up for those who have that kind of hybrid classes in one single day. Sobrang hirap ng ganoong sitwasyon lalo na kung hindi ka nags-stay sa dorm within Los Baños. Imagine if sa one semester mo, isa lang course mo na face-to-face ang setup, and the only choice you have, in case naubusan ka ng dorms or wala ka talagang pera pang-dorm, ay magbalikan from and to UPLB,” Bongcawil said.

(Such a situation is very challenging especially if you do not reside in one of the dorms within Los Baños. Imagine if, in one semester, you only have one course with a face-to-face setup, and the only choice you have, in case you run out of dorms or you do not really have the financial capability to rent a dorm, is to travel from your home to UPLB.)

Despite the difficulty of the setup, students expressed that they are still burdened with heavy academic workload.

“I do think na dapat maibalik yung academic ease kasi since transition period na naman tayo and ‘di hamak na mas hassle ‘tong blended learning kaysa sa fully FTF [face-to-face] or fully online na setup,” expressed an interviewee who wishes to remain anonymous.

(I do think that we have to bring back academic ease since we are in a transition period again, and blended learning is more hassling than full face-to-face or fully online setup.)

The five-point student demand crafted by the USC states how OVPAA Memorandum No. 2022-127, which suspended academic ease policies, “rests on a false sense of competence, grit, and agility to overcome adversities”. The council calls on the UPLB administration to craft a “localized memorandum” that will ensure academic ease during the transition period.

Irony of being ‘online’ in campus

On top of the difficulty in the mode of learning transition, UPLB students also aired their concerns regarding Internet connectivity. 

Many students, particularly those residing in UPLB dormitories, rely on the Internet connectivity provided by UPLB WiFi for online classes, accessing learning materials, and accomplishing other online activities. However, it is not enough to provide a conducive learning environment for the students.

“[It is] one [Internet connectivity] of the main causes of the students’ struggles amid the transition. Lalo na sa mga University dorms, doon [UPLB Wi-Fi] talaga nakadepende ang mga estudyante. As for me, nag- [UP] dorm ako kasi walang Internet sa amin and hindi rin conducive for learning ang environment. Pero ‘yung pawala-walang signal ng networks and intermittent connection ng UPLB Wi-Fi, mas nakakabigat,” Bongcawil shared in the interview.

(Internet connectivity is one of the main causes of the students’ struggles amid the transition. Especially in University dorms, UPLB Wi-Fi is what the students depend on. As for me, I chose to stay in the UP dorm because we have no Internet connection in my home and the learning environment is not conducive as well. But the intermittent signals of networks and the UPLB Wi-Fi itself make the struggle heavier.)

Amid online learning, students expressed how Internet connectivity was already a burden. Blended learning, meanwhile, still requires a stable Internet connection due to courses that are still in the online mode such as Model 1, which is a fully online model. 

Aside from Internet connectivity, the lack of student spaces is also a persistent problem in the current setup.

Different learning hubs or student spaces were opened as initiated by various departments and institutes. As initiatives by the administration, Baker Hall and Student Union (SU) Building are currently operational as student lobbies and learning hubs that provide spaces for students.

However, interviewees expressed that the venues are still not enough due to the high number of students in need of spaces for online classes.

Malicsi added, “Oo, malaking tulong ito [opening of learning hubs] para makadagdag sa student spaces pero hindi natin makakaila na kulang pa din ang student spaces upang magkaroon tayo ng maigi at maayos na pag-aaral sa setup na ito.” 

(Yes, this is a big help to maximize the number of student spaces, but we cannot deny that we still need more spaces for us to have a conducive learning environment amid this setup.)

Students, through the USC, continue to demand for the retrofitting of facilities and the opening of more classrooms and learning hubs in the campus.

Clamor for student representation

Despite the aforementioned problems, the USC expressed how there is a lack of inclusion of students in the planning process of the administration. The council expressed that this resulted in some courses having “learning modalities that did not reflect the students’ scholastic needs”.

In a Facebook post last October 6, the USC expressed dismay over the UPLB administration’s denial to engage in dialogues regarding students’ grievances in the first semester of blended learning. The council wrote that since August 16, they have been requesting for a dialogue with UPLB Office of the Chancellor (OC) regarding issues on campus reopening and students’ grievances on blended learning. While the administration asked for a list of issues that the USC pointed out, the requested dialogue did not push through due to scheduling conflict.

In a comment on the post, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs (VCSA) Janette Malata-Silva clarified that the UPLB administration does not deny the mechanism to respond to issues on student welfare. She added that issues were raised during special and regular executive committee meetings of the administration.

According to the USC, as a compromise due to the scheduling conflict, an OC directive was handed down to college deans to conduct dialogues with College Student Councils (CSC).

Para sa mga partikular na concerns ng mga local CSCs, naging action point ang pagkakaroon ng localized consultation sa kanya-kanyang kolehiyo upang maging lapat at kontekstwalisado ang magiging tugon,” Silva added.

(For the specific concerns of the local CSCs, it became an action point to have a localized consultation in each college in order for the response to be appropriate and contextualized.)

Despite this, the USC noted that there were local colleges who also did not engage in dialogues with their respective CSC. The council added that local consultations are not enough to tackle and find solutions to problems common to the whole University.

Kailangan na kailangang maagapan ang mga malalang isyu hinggil sa Blended Learning, tulad ng biglaang pagpalit ng Learning Modality at problema sa mga pasilidad,” the USC wrote.

(It is necessary to aid the severe issue on Blended Learning, such as the quick change of Learning Modality and problems in facilities.)

It was not until last October 28 that the UPLB administration and USC finally agreed on a dialogue set on November 7.

The five-point student demand that was crafted by the USC included the need to ensure the inclusion of student representatives in planning policies. The council continues to call upon the administration to “provide a seat for a student representative” in administration planning.

An announcement last September 28 by UPLB USC Chairperson Gean Celestial said that for this semester, changes in the learning model of courses may happen if there would be a consensus on the part of the students.

Meanwhile, UP announced last September 29 that it will allow 100% face-to-face classes in all undergraduate courses in the upcoming semester.

UP Student Regent (SR) Siegfred Severino said that despite the announcement being a “welcomed development”, student assistance programs “should also come hand in hand”. He also called for restoring the slashed budget, saying that the assertion for a genuine fully face-to-face classes also means capacitating the University stakeholders.

“The glaring problem still stands: budget and funding for student assistance programs, crucial infrastructure, renovation, and retrofitting projects, and additional plantilla items for faculty and staff is still insufficient. In our call for 100% F2F, we can’t allow that our stakeholders will not be capacitated enough,” Severino said.

Amid the struggles faced by students under the current blended learning setup, students continue to call for the championing of inclusive education and provision of basic student services. [P]

Photo from UPLB LRC

4 comments on “Upon return to campus, students raise concerns on Internet connection, limited spaces for blended learning

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