Yes, I got my degree online
Now that many schools are adjusting to online classes, I’m grateful that my experience in studying for a degree online has prepared me for this transition. Aside from being a high school teacher, I have been a student at the University of the Philippines Open University for the past four years. In 2018, I graduated from a diploma course and now I’m working toward a master’s degree.
I used to feel a bit insecure about doing a degree online, because whenever I mention it to people, they’d say, “online lang siya?” as if it were not a legitimate mode of learning. I used to envy my colleagues who’d physically attend graduate school and tell interesting stories of their classes. When these feelings come, I remind myself of why I chose online distance learning at UPOU. I have responsibilities on weekends that prevent me from attending classes in an actual campus. Also, it has always been my dream to study in UP, so getting accepted in UPOU’s graduate program was in a way fulfilling that dream.
The preconceptions of being “online lang” quickly disappeared when I started the classes. Being a UPOU student can be very difficult. We students have to learn the course material independently, and it is up to us to manage our time and meet the deadlines. I love how asynchronous online learning can be compatible with a full-time job.
However, self-study requires a lot of discipline and concentration. Basically, we have to teach ourselves, with some guidance from our instructors. We end up reading a lot of material, and if we don’t plan our time carefully, the readings pile up toward the end of the semester. It’s a tiring but rewarding experience, because we read really good books and papers authored by UP faculty.
We also have to practice resourcefulness and look for supplementary readings about the course topics to maximize our learning. Aside from reading a lot, we also have to write and submit many papers that will be checked by our instructors. I’d like to think that my reading and writing skills have improved while attending UPOU.
Since we are separated by time and space, we interact with our instructors and classmates in our virtual classrooms and through email and direct messaging. For example, in place of class discussions, we have discussion forums where the instructor would post a question, the students would answer and reply to each other, and the instructor would evaluate the quality of our responses. It has been an opportunity for me to improve my written communication skills, because I must be clear and concise in typing out my answers.
There have also been several instances of group work, in which we had to collaboratively work on a paper or project with our classmates. This can be challenging because we don’t see each other face to face, so we have to plan, negotiate, and organize our work in the group chats. Also, I thank God for the technology that has made online group work possible. I’ve been using Google Docs for years, but I’m always in awe at how different people in different places can collaborate on the same document.
Some may question the quality of online distance learning, and whether it can be compared to traditional learning. It does have its limitations, and for me, nothing can replace the physical classroom (to be honest, I miss attending actual classes, listening to a teacher, and contributing to the classroom discussion). However, in my experience, I say that online distance learning is a very effective form of learning. It does depend, though, on how well the teacher utilizes the platform he/she is using, and the diligence and self-discipline of the student. It takes a lot of getting used to. UPOU has excelled delivering this mode of education for over 25 years now.
Even if I did almost everything online, there were moments in my UPOU experience when I really felt I was a UP student, such as the times I would have to go to a UP campus. On some semesters, I’d take the boat from Bacolod to Iloilo City to go to UP Visayas to take a proctored exam. I felt proud about showing my UPOU ID to the security guard and saying I was a student.
The best experience was when we had our graduation in the UPOU headquarters in Los Baños. We met our classmates and our teachers face to face for the first time. I discovered that I had classmates from different parts of the Philippines and the world, and that they came from different backgrounds. It also felt amazing to receive the sablay and sing “UP Naming Mahal”; we really felt as if we were Iskolar ng Bayan. I am grateful to UPOU for making a UP education accessible to me.
Although online education has received some flak in the past, it will now be the new normal in many schools during this pandemic. It will be a big adjustment for both teachers and students. After four years of learning through this mode with UPOU, I hope I can use my experience to be an effective teacher to my students.
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Lex Adizon, 27, is a teacher in Bacolod City. She graduated with a Diploma in Language and Literacy Education from the University of the Philippines Open University and is now working on her master’s degree.
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