Educational institutions remain far from being spared by the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Two weeks into the mandated Luzon-wide lockdown to reduce the rapid spread of COVID-19, students from De La Salle Lipa have not yet fully come to terms with the repercussions of the month-long class suspension. Such has been the case in many other colleges and universities since the national government administered a provisional halt to public ventures last March 16.
To address this concern, the most obvious solution was to utilize the internet which remains as the only public space for people to maintain interaction. At the onset, it may seem that transferring all classes online would not be much of a trouble for an institution like DLSL which prides itself for being at the forefront of innovation in education. However, an organized petition to suspend online classes in the institution, initiated by the college students themselves, sought to challenge the effectiveness of the system amidst the current health crisis.
The LMS in retrospect
The office of the vice chancellor for academics (VCA) has recently released a set of guidelines specifying that in lieu of in-person lessons, projects and other academic deadlines shall be conducted through the Canvas learning management system (LMS) and among other available platforms until the pandemic situation settles down. This is despite the Commission on Higher Education’s recommendations for schools that they ought not to require so much academic work from students through online means, recognizing the difficulty of many students to avail of even a decent internet connection. For the students in DLSL, the case has merely been on what administration defines as a ‘relaxed mode of instruction,’ for an entire week of free-structured learning. As a result, students are expected to constantly and dutifully check online for any possible task a teacher may require from them.
“Canvas hardly functions as a platform for online instruction and even if all of its features could be maximized by the students themselves, it would still be not enough.”
Since DLSL introduced its LMS platform in 2017, students and faculty from both the integrated school and different colleges gained access to a new tool augmenting the conventional teacher-to-student dynamics beyond the classroom. Since then, those on both ends of the line have made efforts to step on board with the new platform. Students are getting used to taking online exams and submitting files as homework using their laptops and mobile phones while teachers have migrated many conventional tasks online such as announcements, attendance checking and lecture distribution.
But such limited scenarios were the only ones to be said of its implementation for the last three years, which may shed light on the reasons why a majority of college students disapprove of the potential of this initiative. For most classrooms, students merely utilize Canvas to access course materials uploaded by their teacher alongside the conduct of online quizzes and other assessments. A large part of the classes is still being catered through in-person lectures facilitated by an instructor and Canvas as a tool hasn’t really made much impact on the existing method of instruction other than the addition of some very common features. With the introduction of Canvas, teachers were merely provided with a management tool. It hardly functions as a platform for online instruction and even if all of its features could be maximized by the students themselves, it would still be not enough.
“Canvas and the other new online educational platforms haven’t been the key ingredient in conducting classes. Instead, they are merely there if they can be of any use.”
Moreso, it is a fact that these features are not entirely unique to Canvas. They can also be provided by other available tools online should the teacher prefer others. Along with the use of Canvas, it is still a shared practice among classes to communicate using social media and other educational tech platforms despite having an institutional LMS due to added convenience and limited experience in maximizing the LMS. In the past years of implementation, Canvas and the other new online educational platforms haven’t been the key ingredient in conducting classes. Instead, they are merely there if they can be of any use.
The internet among other infrastructures
Another side of the issue stems from the internet infrastructure itself. For the past years, the school has also invested so much in the improvement of Wi-Fi connection inside the classrooms and other academic working areas such as the library and campus lounges. Indeed, access to the internet in the campus has improved a lot over time but the same thing cannot be assumed for everyone’s homes. Varying degrees of the stability of students’ internet access in their own particular households cannot be ruled out in the equation because the platforms are only effective if all users possess the appropriate infrastructure at all times.
“Majority of the essential classes and requirements across different curriculums cannot be simply reduced to videos, powerpoint presentations, reading materials or video conference sessions.”
There is also a more apparent issue on practicality. Majority of the essential classes and requirements across different curriculums cannot be simply reduced to videos, powerpoint presentations, reading materials or video conference sessions. Laboratory activities, physical education, thesis experiments and practical research works are among the other endeavours that have been put on hold primarily because the needed infrastructures are beyond reach for students.
The need for an equivalent online structure
Apart from the practical aspect of the issue, a suitable design for online courses and self-paced learning must also be taken into consideration. The lack of a working pedagogical structure in the implementation of the LMS may have greatly resulted in the meager number of students who are willing to engage themselves in self-paced learning. The fact that the LMS tool merely came to accompany the existing college curriculum with no clear and regulated guidelines in the duration of its implementation implies that it would be a mistake to assume that the generally fast-paced nature of online activities would lead to quick and effective results.
Such can only be understood by recognizing that the subject offerings in DLSL are not meant to be migrated online to such a degree in the first place. This is also why it is perfectly reasonable to come across students who boldly express concern with the online school setup. They are well aware that the school is simply not ready for it and such a drastic change in circumstance would only make very little headway even in the most ideal home-based scenario.
“A student just won’t easily adapt to a learning environment she didn’t bargain for just as the abrupt consequences of the coronavirus pandemic was something we could not have prepared for.”
All these inevitably add up to a scenario that is totally falling short of the teaching standards previously aimed for and expected by the students themselves. To put it simply, the school’s commitment for quality education and inclusivity could then be put into question. A student just won’t easily adapt to a learning environment she didn’t bargain for just as the abrupt consequences of the coronavirus pandemic was something we could not have prepared for. Even the educators weren’t expecting such an impact on the existing learning systems that they barely had the time to thoroughly make appropriate and efficient adjustments. Hence students from their own end have been making the most out of coping in terms of technological resources.
This only goes to show that the 3-year utilization of the LMS and the improvement of campus internet infrastructure alone would not suffice if there is to be an expected shift to online instruction in the midst of global scale health crisis. For the available online educational tools have simply acted as a supplement for learning, it would be a mistake to assume their capacity to serve as an alternative for continuing regular classes amidst the pandemic.
“For the available online educational tools have simply acted as a supplement for learning, it would be a mistake to assume their capacity to serve as an alternative for continuing regular classes amidst the pandemic.”
It cannot also be denied that hard decisions must be made in order to handle the aftermath of this crisis and come up with the best solutions to properly realize the remaining days of the semester. Recognizing the insufficiencies of the current structure for online learning would definitely make a significant difference in upholding the quality education that institution ought to render to all its students.
As the current health crisis continues to show possibilities of us being dragged for a longer haul, it is only fair for the institution to consider reasonable measures and contingency plans other than the virtual online classroom. After all, with the unprecedented consequences of an ongoing pandemic, no amount of online resources would be enough to sustain the standard academic experience for students—even for an institution that prides itself as a digital campus.