MANILA — The first day of Kevin’s third year in college did not take place inside a classroom of the university in Manila which he attends. Instead, it was through a computer screen from his home in Pampanga.
Since late August, the medical technology student and his classmates have been meeting their professors via video conferencing. But such meetings, often referred to as synchronous sessions, happen about once or twice a week, a far cry from the setup prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, where students met their professors in nearly every scheduled class.
As in-person classes remain prohibited due to the continuing threat of COVID-19, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has urged colleges and universities to shift to flexible learning, where the mode of delivering lessons remotely is customized depending on the resources available to students and educators.
This also meant a blend of synchronous with asynchronous sessions, where students self-study.
“Kunyari (for instance), sa (during the) first week, the first meeting would be asynchronous so that would mean, they would be deploying videos for us to watch… and then the following meeting after, there would be consultations (during synchronous sessions),” Kevin, who asked not to be identified, told ABS-CBN News.
But Kevin admitted to facing several challenges with the new setup, such as unreliable internet connection.
“Ang nangyayari kasi minsan is during the asynchronous time, dina-download ko lang iyong video [lesson] dahil sobrang bagal ng server… sa mismong one hour na ‘yon na allotted for us to study, ang nangyayari is that’s a time for downloading videos,” he said.
(What happens is I end up just downloading a video lesson during asynchronous time because of how slow the server is... That one hour that was allotted for us to study becomes a time for downloading videos.)
Kevin also complained of the excessive coursework that they are tasked to accomplish in a short period of time, leading him and his peers to feel that they may not be fully absorbing their lessons.
“Ang nangyayari is parang hilaw pa 'yong alam namin dahil sobrang bombarded kami ng work,” he said.
(What happens is, what we’re learning sort of feels raw because we’re bombarded with work)
Kevin and his classmates are not alone.
“Heavy and unrealistic workload” is one of the common complaints of college students in the shift to remote learning, said Raoul Manuel, president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines.
When students feel that there’s so much to accomplish, it may be the result of poor instructional planning, according to Jerome Buenviaje, dean of the University of the Philippines-College of Education.
Teachers should estimate the time required for students to accomplish requirements, he said.
“Hindi ka puwedeng magpapa-activity ka lang tapos bahala na si Batman,” said Buenviaje, noting that faculty members must also help one another to integrate learning competencies.
(You can’t just have students do activities and leave it at that.)
But Buenviaje said changes can be made to ease the burden for students, even if the semester has already started.
“Puwede naman maupo ang mga teacher at mag-usap, kahit sa assessment… para ‘di loaded ng activities ang learners,” he said.
(Teachers can have a sit-down session and talk, even with the assessment… so learners aren’t loaded with activities.)
The University of Santo Tomas, for instance, allows students to “communicate their learning experiences to faculty members and administrators so these can serve as a basis for continuous quality improvement of instruction,” said its academic affairs director Cheryl Peralta.
Education consultant Shiela Marie Hocson, meanwhile, stressed that it was also important for teachers to know how to keep students motivated with the new modes of instruction.
Some courses require in-person meetings
Since campuses remain closed, some students also find it difficult to acquire skills that are more effectively learned through face-to-face sessions. In Kevin’s case, this means he and his classmates cannot do hands-on experience of laboratory procedures.
“Ngayon, ang ginagawa na lang, tinuro po ‘yong theoretical part [ng lab procedure]... ida-drawing minsan ng mga professor kung paano gawin and then minsan nagvi-virtual lab po if mayroon,” Kevin said.
(What’s done now is we’re taught the theoretical part of the lab procedure… Sometimes the professors draw the procedure and then sometimes we do virtual labs.)
It’s difficult for health and science students to perform lab activities at home since equipment, specimens and even chemicals are difficult to acquire, he added.
Some schools, such as the University of Antique (UA), decided to offer subjects requiring face-to-face interactions later this year or next year, should the health situation improve by then.
“For subjects talaga na nag-require ng intensive laboratory [work], we defer[red] offering those subjects in the first semester,” said UA President Pablo Crespo Jr., whose school offers programs related to science and agriculture.
(For subjects that really require intensive laboratory work, we deferred offering those subjects in the first semester.)
The CHED is eyeing the conduct of limited face-to-face classes in areas with low risk of COVID-19 infection by January.
For now, college students like Kevin would have to settle with learning from home.
“We have to adjust po talaga (really) and hope for better days,” he said.