While online learning causes physical strain and mental fatigue for both students and professors, it has the potential to energize Philippine education
By Rico Paolo R. Quicho
A video of a young boy crying while struggling to write his full name, with his mother consoling him, went viral recently. At first glance, it was funny to see the young boy pleading to his mother to shorten his name to “Boy” because his full name, D-R-A-Y-V-E-N T-H-O-M-A-S, is long and difficult to spell.
Stripped of its entertainment value, the short clip demonstrates the challenges arising from the pronounced shift in the present mode of instruction in learning. Students, parents, guardians, faculty members, and school administrators were all caught flatfooted by the sudden need to shift to online learning. Students have not been spared of this intriguing dilemma of replacing physical classes with synchronous and asynchronous activities.
More than a year has passed since the Department of Education (Dep-Ed) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) declared the suspension of face-to-face classes to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
It was not only the daily operations of businesses and other industries that have been disrupted,but the educational system from K-12 to professional studies as well.
There have been days after my class that I would just rest my head on the table worrying whether my students understood the topics we discussed, wondering why some did not perform well in their recitations, or suspecting that they were just scrolling through their social media platforms or playing Valorant or Minecraft with their friends during class.
Unlike universities abroad where it has been seamlessly integrated in the curriculum even before the pandemic, online classes were still an unknown creature in Philippine schools, including law schools, at the start of 2020. In Philippine law schools, professors were so used to the traditional Socratic method, quizzes, exams, and then repeat. The Socratic method approach has been a tested way of ensuring proper learning and retention of legal concepts, principles, and jurisprudence, at least in the first few years of law school.
However, with the change to online medium of instruction, we have witnessed schools trying different online video conferencing platforms to continue holding classes, recitations, and examinations. This online set-up is a real challenge to the “traditional” Socratic method. Discourse with students would often be interrupted by bad internet connection, buffering, lack of proper equipment, and sometimes by the ingenious reading by students of case digests instead of a spontaneous and in-depth discussion of facts, issues, ruling, analysis and conclusion of the assigned jurisprudence.
On the other hand, a lot of studies have shown that class lectures are among the least effective methods of deriving the needed core competencies and enhancing the skills set required of law students.
One obvious result of this “new normal” is not only physical strain but also mental fatigue for both students and professors. Long hours in front of computers, laptops, tablets or even smartphones place a great toll on the eyes and diminishes attention span, while the constant anxiety of not being able to join classes due to poor internet connection, lack of the proper equipment, or not having a conducive study area has been mentally taxing for students.
Professors are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. While the overarching theme in the conduct of online classes and grading would be leniency with compassion, professors are tasked to ensure that this is done without sacrificing the quality of education that every student deserves. As such, creativity, patience, and the unequivocal cooperation from the students are needed in order to continue providing the proper learning environment.
Being in law school is a sui generis experience since law students are not only groomed to graduate. The school also prepares them for the arduous and challenging bar examinations. There are no compromises here. Both professors and students are expected to do the heavy lifting in order to achieve meaningful results. The blended learning methodology is a good addition, and a viable alternative to the traditional and, sometimes, archaic teaching methodologies in schools. If properly utilized, the best practices of online learning would bring the needed jolt to Philippine education.
The greatest challenge to our legal education is inertia. But with these new learning initiatives from professors, students, and school administrations, we could produce the diamond in the rough with the immense pressure brought about by the pandemic.
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