Looking Back

Teaching online

Over three decades of classroom teaching did not prepare me for the rush to online education following the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike many of my colleagues who will start teaching online at the end of August, I had barely a month to learn Canvas, the chosen Learning Management System of the Ateneo de Manila University. I did not even have the time to complain, and am now halfway through the Intersession. While I know my content inside out, navigating a new platform raised me to the level of my incompetence. Worse, the Rizal Course I have been teaching to juniors and seniors since 1998 was reworked in line with K-to-12 reforms into a Philippine History course through Primary

Sources. I have been doing this all along, but my current students are freshmen and sophomores whose last and only contact with Philippine History is probably in Grade 5. Before K-to-12, my students had Philippine History in grade school and high school, plus a kiddie version of the “Noli” and “Fili” in Filipino class.


I thought recording the lectures would be a breeze because my slide decks were already laid out. In a physical classroom, I lecture from my slides, I gesture and make faces, and see from their reactions whether they are bored, engaged, daydreaming, or watching porn on their laptops. Face-to-face lectures allow for slips, diversions, and for fielding questions.

Recording into a laptop, on the other hand, didn’t sound normal on playback. The tone of voice is different when you speak to another human; speaking into a microphone is another animal. Using smartphone headsets made me sound like I was in a tunnel, and it also captured ambient sounds like noises from the street, the neighbor’s yapping dog, an unexpected fart. Anvil Publisher Xandra Ramos sent over a microphone that made me look like a call center agent, but had excellent sound quality. She also sent an industrial-size ring light that means I will look good on Zoom. Recording meant doing many takes to cover lapses when my tongue twisted and I mispronounced a word. A recording, like a webcam, is a cruel medium because it magnifies your flaws. I had to write out the lectures so that there would be no hesitation, no dead air, and I would sound more articulate than I really am.


Slideshows had to be shortened: two or three slide build-ups reduced to one slide with three images, less text, and no transitions to keep people awake in a lecture hall: fireworks, a blazing flame, a falling anvil for emphasis, but which appears as a distracting blur because of spotty internet. Not all teachers and students have stable internet connection; some have low bandwidth that makes streaming a challenge. Worse, some have to use cellphone data to keep up. Transcripts of each video lecture, or at least a PDF of my slides and presenter notes, have to be supplied.

As students struggle to learn Canvas like me, they also have to learn to study from home. Without the structure of a physical classroom, they can be in pajamas the whole day and choose more enjoyable things than studying, like sleeping, eating, watching TV, or just chatting with family or doing chores. Work from home means students miss out on required field trips to the National Museum and Intramuros that can be life-changing in many ways. Standing in front of Luna’s “Spoliarium” is not the same as looking at it on a smartphone screen. While the Intramuros Administration has done an admirable job providing online tours and has recorded webinars to supplement Philippine History courses, these can never replace the memories that come with physically experiencing Intramuros with friends.

With no access to the university library where I torment students by assigning the use of physical books, we rely on resources from the Cervantes virtual library, the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the US Library of Congress, the Yale and University of Michigan libraries. Only the Filipinas Heritage Library has made its online Filipiniana open and free in support of Philippine education. Shuttered ABS-CBN has offered its transmission facilities to serve Philippine education, so let’s see how an irrational and vindictive Congress out to gut the company will respond.

Online education, in principle, is a great leveler. But since we do not have the infrastructure to make universal online education possible, many Filipino students are unjustly disadvantaged by internet access. Life goes on, and we try to make the best of a bad situation.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Looking Back
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