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How Thomasians view online classes: one semester down, more to go

If there’s one thing virtual learning has showcased, it would be the apparent technological divide among students which is split into two: those who could afford the necessities connected with online learning and those who couldn’t afford it by any means.

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(Photo by Deojon Elarco/TomasinoWeb)

The previous semester was proved to be draining and there’s no lie to that. Students were falling behind in many aspects including academic, social relations, and mental health and it’s a massive success to everyone who managed to trudge through the excruciating four months of the semester. Now that it’s almost the beginning of the second semester for the A.Y 2020-2021, some Thomasians shared their insights in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

The effectiveness of online classes has been put to test during the previous semester which has been nerve-wracking due to the sudden shift to online learning leaving students choosing either to carry on with the purpose of not being left out or not enroll and waste their time trying to learn when certain things (intermittent internet connection, technological divide, financial problems, etc.) would only hinder them from learning. 

Creative Writing junior Fatima Clare Castillo, shared in an interview that, “Nothing beats face to face learning. At least then, you have your blockmates [and] friends available beside you if you have to ask questions about lessons or other details they probably understood more than you did.” 

She added that even though it’s easier to attend classes to get perfect attendance, do homework in-between classes, and get back to previous lectures because they’re recorded, it’s not the same situation for everyone else.

Advertising junior Sofia Erin Gancenia said online classes are an “inconvenience” as much as it’s a convenience because even though she doesn’t have to commute to school every day, everything is “new” to her as well as to the professors.  

Communication Arts junior Rebekah Eslao narrated her experience with online classes last semester and how it proved that online learning is an “ineffective” method of teaching, “mostly because of the professors and their ineptness in teaching through online means.”

“Most professors only read their lessons from the PowerPoint slides without properly explaining them. They would give handouts and files to self-learn, as well as activities and projects to do which is not effective learning for the student,” Eslao said. She also shared how the synchronous classes were not maximized by most professors because they prefer to just give activities instead of teaching. Eslao explains that this only prompts students to procrastinate more and focus solely on receiving a passing mark for motivation. 

“Being at home will leave the students torn in dividing their time as a student and as a family member unless they properly schedule it. [During] the last semester, I only looked forward to attending one class and it is because the professor thoroughly explained the lessons and she did not give me multiple things to do. But for the other classes, I did not learn as much as I expected to,” Eslao said.

In terms of online classes leaving barely any boundary between home and academics, Paolo Cyro Feliciano, a Medical Technology sophomore from the College of Pharmacy, shared how students like him, “were expected to work with the same or even heavier workload”. 

Feliciano explains that he “felt like in some situations there was no longer a pause between work, and rest has been taken away”. 

Indeed, virtual classes became an extension of working tirelessly to finish deadlines and submit papers and projects on time, leaving no space for warmth, rest, and comfortthe space occupied by one’s home. 

Feliciano added that the online setup of classes in the previous semester was not as effective as he had hoped for. 

“Being in a medical-related course, laboratory skills are one of my main priorities to learn and even though substitutes, such as online programs and visual aids, were implemented, I still found them insufficient since I was not able to experience the laboratory processes myself,” he said. 

Accountancy sophomore Jerahmeel Perolina said that the new learning setup is “not as effective” as on-site learning, mainly because not everyone has the privilege to buy the necessary devices for the system and have a conducive learning environment at home. 

If there’s one thing virtual learning has showcased, it would be the apparent technological divide among students which is split into two: those who could afford the necessities connected with online learning and those who couldn’t afford it by any means. After all, privilege plays a massive role in exhibiting the disparity among learners, and there would always be students left behind. 

“The learning materials are accessible on Cloud Campus the whole semester, so it’s way more convenient to review them during quizzes and examination weeks. However, the downside of this type of learning is that interactions are lessened,” Perolina said. 

“What makes [online classes] even more difficult is the fact that backtracking is not allowed during quizzes and examinations. Unlike [the] face-to-face setup, we could not skip the difficult items first and proceed to the easier ones,” he added. 

When asked what they would consider being the biggest challenge they have encountered during the online classes, Gancenia said it’s forcing herself to work at home, “My house is not the best place for me to study and do my plates because there are just way too many distractions and noises that you won’t have to hear if [you’re] at school.”

Castillo said it would be the miscommunication with professors, blockmates, and friends, “Unfortunately, the texting language doesn’t apply to everybody. In fact, one wrongly used punctuation mark leads to plenty of heightened emotions that could easily lead to personal issues concerning both parties,” she added. 

Castillo added that another challenge would be the strength to be patient and compassionate with every person she talks to, considering that they don’t have the same experience or privilege behind the screen. 

Eslao stressed time management and motivation, “It has also been mentally exhausting because of the lack of social interaction, and the constant environment and routine,” she said. 

Feliciano, on the other hand, said it’s “the constant need to quickly cope with every scenario we are put in.” He also explained that even though this was already expected of them even before the pandemic wreaked havoc in the world, the semester of online learning felt even heavier. 

Perolina stressed that the biggest challenge would be the intermittent internet connection which was what the majority of the students considered a hindrance to the online classes, “At times, the UST Cloud Campus would experience technical difficulties,” he stated. 

Truth be told, there have been instances the UST Cloud Campus rendered students speechless when, during the crucial hours of their classeswhether they be listening to a lecture or answering an examination after days-long preparationit decided to turn blue, which left students feeling gray.

With the upcoming semester, Gancenia says, “I’m expecting a better performance from myself and from my professors as well since we already know how online classes work.”

Castillo says she’s expecting that it’s going to be more difficult because their thesis is coming up. “As someone who’s striving to become better in Creative Writing, I have to read and research before putting thoughts into carefully arranged words. Most likely, there has to be more patience due to various exchanging of works to critique each other. Hopefully, no one gets left behind,” she added. 

Eslao expects professors to do an “excellent” job in teaching students. “I am hoping that the University will give the students an education that is worth the money spent even if it is only done online.”

Feliciano aired the same sentiments, stating how he hopes for “more assurance” when it comes to the implementation of the directive concerning online classes, “Since no one expected the past semester to be in this setup, I feel like most people were still unsure of how to approach it. This is why hopefully with the feedback from instructors and students, the system will be improved and will focus more on the welfare of the students,” he explained, further emphasizing that “not many changes can be done without support from the country’s education department.”

Perolina expects the next semester would be the same as the previous one. “I could not say that we are fully getting used to this learning setup. Surely, students would still have to adjust to this system,” he added.

With the previous semester proven to be exhausting, the continuation of the academic year would result in students finding a myriad of ways where they could find solace in or different strategies of which they can cope with the seemingly fast-paced learning environment.

Gancenia says she would do what she always does. “I don’t force myself to work when I am not mentally and emotionally okay. I take a break and come back once I’m ready again. Also, good time management helps me a lot so I won’t let my academics take over me and I’d still have time for other things I want to do.”

Castillo shared that her ways of coping involve binge-watching series, reading books, and taking care of her pets. “Take a few minutes off from being online to self-meditate with breathing exercises and list down small goals to accomplish so it doesn’t overwhelm me. It’s therapeutic to find other hobbies outside your course as temporary distractions like playing the Kalimba or drawing comic strips.”

“This semester, I will prioritize health––eat the right time, get enough sleep, exercise my body, and take care of my mental health,” Eslao stated.

Feliciano said he plans to focus on knowing when to rest. “I feel like last semester, there was somehow a pressure to always be productive. This has led to the feeling of burning out and made me focus more on finishing the tasks and lessons rather than aiming to gain something from them. Taking breaks shouldn’t make me feel bad as they were assigned to us to step away from our work and rekindle our minds.”

Keeping yourself afloat boils down to finding what would fit one’s standard of dealing with difficulties and what would help them get by every day. Deciding which coping mechanism would be beneficial to one’s self is commendable enough, especially in these trying times when one’s mind can be clouded and overwhelmed with thoughts. 

There might be ways virtual learning can be proved as a conducive learning environment, but not this time. Not when students are left feeling “burned out” and pushed to be “more productive”. Not when their only motivation for attending classes is compliance. Not when professors aren’t technologically equipped for this foreign virtual learning. Especially not when students deem online learning contrary to what learning should be like. 

The last semester not only tested Thomasians’ strength but also their patience. In crucial times like this, compromising could only go to a certain extent but anyone subjected to this online class setup would be exhausted in the long run, as proven by several Thomasians on their stand to online learning. Despite issues, students are still trying their best to cope with this tiring setup by taking breaks and adapting, one step at a time. 

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AB org? How two Artlet graduates conquered the UST org life

Although a myriad of degree holders share the same story annually, the two went beyond the pursuit of academic learning.

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Batch 2021 Faculty of Arts and Letters graduates Loreta Arroyo (left) and Miguel Punzalan (right) from the program of Journalism and Communication

Before their awaited virtual graduation wrapped up another milestone for them on Friday, July 30, Loreta Arroyo and Miguel Punzalan were struck with nostalgia as they approached the end of their stay in the University to become newly declared Thomasian graduates.

Although a myriad of degree holders share the same story annually, the two went beyond the pursuit of academic learning.

Arroyo and Punzalan, two recent graduates from the Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB), upheld extracurricular duties as organization executives while enduring academic responsibilities as students. In the end, they did not only graduate with flying colors, but they also became holders of cherished memories beyond the four corners of the classroom.

Arroyo, UST Journalism Society’s former president, reminisced on her memorable experiences as a student leader, especially on her first leadership training seminar in July 2019.

“I got to meet a lot of [student leaders] [and] marami pala sa kanila [ang] kagaya ko na aligaga [at] loka-loka […] yung mga taong may ugali na talagang nag l-lead because of the passion to lead, not because of the titles,” Arroyo, who is also a Cum Laude graduate, told TomasinoWeb.

She also shared a touching reminiscence of her time with AB’s Board of Majors. She defined their relationship as something that is “united above everything.”

“These are the people na sobrang mahal ko talaga, na sobrang grabe yung wholesomeness nila,” she said.

Apart from the memories they’ve made over their four-year stay at the institution, they’ve established a great attachment to it and its people, prompting them to serve not for themselves but for the sake of their promised oath.

Punzalan, the former president of the Tomasian Media Circle of Talents (TOMCAT), admitted that serving an organization is not always convenient as students have to endure academic and organizational responsibilities simultaneously.

Despite these, the communication graduate said that an organization’s established rapport helps students ease the pressure and distress.

“With the help of the organization, you can at least somehow relieve the stress by doing the stuff you like,” Punzalan, who is also the Benavides Outstanding Award recipient of the academic year, said in an interview with TomasinoWeb. “I usually work for TOMCAT lang, and everything just goes in place,” he added.

Conquering the difficulties

Arroyo found it challenging to juggle all of her obligations at the same time in senior year, making it the most challenging phase in her university life.

Apart from managing her thesis and internship, she also had to look out for her constituency as a student leader.

Last August 2020, she met with her co-members in the UST Journalism Society to prepare for the freshmen week event, all while having to comply with a meeting with her internship supervisors later that day.

“Imagine how hard I have to multitask, halos mangiyak-ngiyak ako nung mga panahon na yun kasi sobrang hirap talaga,” Arroyo said.

Like what Arroyo experienced, Punzalan also acknowledged that he faced difficulties during his presidency in TOMCAT. The difference was that students had to transition from face-to-face to online learning, which limited the number of events the organization could host.

“The shift [from on-site] to digital is really something else [and] we came in unprepared,” he said.

Arroyo echoed this sentiment, who found that the lack of personal communication affected her relationship with her colleagues. According to her, sincerity through online messages is not always conveyed or translated well.

“[S]a online na not everyone is available all the time, it sounds so robotic,” Arroyo said.

To prevent that from happening, she had to make herself available all the time, not only for her org mates but also to other students who see her as an ‘ate.’

Concurrently, Punzalan’s way to connect with his members is by conducting frequent online kumustahans or kulitans, a monthly or weekly meeting for the organization to check each other’s well-being.

“I think that it’s really an effective way of bridging the gap of what the digital setup did during this term,” he said.

From rookies to leaders

Punzalan said a key element to achieving his goals is to “never start what you cannot finish.”

“It’s cliché as it seems, but it’s a process. You don’t just get something nang basta-basta lang,” he said.

Likewise, Arroyo asserted there will always be failures and disappointments, which is fine in the long run. For her, it is essential to detach oneself from the fear of being a rookie.

“You will be a rookie, and you have to learn how to be a master in whatever comes your way, tsaka ka pa lang gagaling, tsaka ka pa lang makaka-achieve ng perfection,” she added. 

Now that she already graduated, she wondered if she made enough memories as a Thomasian.

“I-enjoy niyo ang bawat araw or bawat month na nasa UST kayo, ‘wag kayong magmadali kasi sobrang bilis lang ng mga pangyayari, and if mamadaliin niyo, you won’t create as much memories as you would like,” she said.

As a last piece of advice from Punzalan to aspiring Thomasian student leaders, he said that they should serve for the sake of the University.

“Mahalin niyo rin yung UST,” he said. “It really starts [with] your love for the university and for its people.”

With their degrees, the two AB graduates are currently employed in their respective fields. Punzalan now works as a Performance Marketing Specialist at the Universal McCann, while Arroyo is employed as a Multimedia Specialist and writer for Edukasyon.ph.

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Thomasian K-pop fan treats Foodpanda rider on Korean artist’s birthday

“This proves that K-pop is more than that crazy idolatry, massive fanaticism, immature fan wars, and all other misconceptions,” the K-pop fan said. “[It] can also be a tool for kindness to prosper.”

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Journalism senior Jade Veronique Yap treated a Foodpanda rider during the birthday of a K-pop idol. Screengrab provided by Yap.

Most K-pop fans are thrilled to splurge on music albums and other fandom merch. But on the special day of one of the industry’s idols, a Thomasian fan decided to do something different.

Jade Veronique Yap, a journalism senior, was excited about celebrating Lee Taeyong’s birthday, a member of the South Korean boy group Neo Culture Technology (NCT). To commence her first mini-celebration for the event, she placed an order on Foodpanda, a local food delivery app.

The order was not for herself but for the rider and his family.

On July 1, the 20-year-old K-pop enthusiast posted a screenshot of her conversation with the rider on Twitter, referencing Lee’s kindness as the main inspiration for the act. Knowing that giving him a tangible gift would be nearly impossible, she chose to help other people as a present to her idol.

“As his fan, I wanted to live with his purpose of making people happy and doing good deeds,” Yap told TomasinoWeb.

Yap originally wanted the food delivery driver to take the food home for his family. But considering that it was already around 8 p.m, the driver preferred to just share the food with the rest of the riders who were with him.

K-pop for a cause

Yap has been looking up to K-pop idols who use their platforms to spread kindness, such as Jaemin of NCT and Siwon of Super Junior, who both worked for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

As a K-pop fan, she desires to do the same.

“K-pop idols and fans are like mirrors. [We] reflect each other,” Yap said. 

It was not the first time she reached out to others with her enthusiasm for K-pop.

Even before she treated the Foodpanda rider, Yap already initiated her first fundraising event titled #SeeYouThereSeeYouSoonYJH for one of her favorite K-pop groups, HIGHLIGHT, last year. The drive was especially dedicated to its member, Yong Jun Hyung, as a gift for their 11th debut anniversary.

The donation drive garnered warm responses from the fandom, and its total funds were distributed to three charities: World Vision, UNICEF, and One Tree Plant Foundation.

Aside from this, Yap also organized her second donation drive amid the impact of Typhoon Ulysses. She used the collected funds to buy relief goods which she sent to a family in Marikina City.

“This proves that K-pop is more than that crazy idolatry, massive fanaticism, immature fan wars, and all other misconceptions,” she said. “[It] can also be a tool for kindness to prosper.”

Helping through K-pop

Yap said that the act of helping is common in the K-pop fan culture, may it be in a fandom setting or for larger adversities outside the community.

“We are more than willing to help our country at least cope up in these trying times,” she said.

According to Yap, the costly lifestyle of a K-pop fan is not a barrier for the community to help other people. She said that they are also willing to contribute to donation drives or anything that would benefit the majority.

“We are united not only in supporting our favorite artist but in helping our kababayan too,” she said.

After her encounter with the food delivery rider, Yap felt nothing but joy knowing that she got to extend good deeds to others.

“I know it’s just a small amount of food, but I’m just happy to share this little act of kindness [with] other people,” she said.

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Pride in identities: neopronouns venturing the English language

Neopronouns emerged as one of the many language reforms catering to identity expressions that do not adhere to gender representation, deviating from the common binary pronouns such as “he/him” and “she/her.”

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(Artwork by Bernard Louis Garcia/TomasinoWeb)

With the half of 2021 opening upon the entrance of June, internet natives have sparked conversations revolving around gender identity and new linguistic innovations in pronouns to honor this year’s Pride month.

No, it’s not just the standard narrative about non-binary pronouns like “they/them,” but something deeper.

Apart from these conventional gender-neutral pronouns, neopronouns emerged as one of the many language reforms catering to identity expressions that do not adhere to gender representation, deviating from the common binary pronouns such as “he/him” and “she/her.”

According to a New York Times article, neopronouns may vary from created words like “ze” and “zir” that function as a pronoun without indicating gender to pre-existing terms such as animals and mythical creatures like “bun/bunself,” “kitten/kittenself,” “vamp/vampself,” etc.

Even before the pandemic, John Paulo Hererra, a professor in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Faculty of Arts and Letters’ English Department, said he frequently heard about neopronouns as a member of the LGBTQ and academic communities.

“I’ve read articles about it; I have friends who are currently using it, not just for aesthetic purposes but also for identity,” he told TomasinoWeb.

But it is not all about gender identity, said Herrera. These pronouns are also used by “neurodivergent” people, such as people with Asperger’s syndrome and autism, to get around their complicated relationship with gender identity and expression.

“[I]t’s also now about finding something, or object, or person, or whatever that you feel connected with, and then you identify yourself as such,” Herrera said.

Prof. Rachelle Lintao, the incumbent chair of the UST Department of English, noted that neopronouns are particularly noticeable in a virtual setting.

“I first came across the use of neopronouns on Twitter and during online meetings when people would include in their social media handles and Zoom names of those neopronouns,” Lintao told TomasinoWeb.

‘Creative, innovative, and liberating language’

“It mirrors language [usage] to serve their purpose of inclusivity, of providing space to the marginalized members of the society,” said Lintao, who is also the Philippines’ Country Representative for Clarity, an international plain language association.

With new spectrums in language, Lintao believes that neopronouns denote the creative ways humans use language in a progressive society.

Although neopronouns somehow altered the language spectrum, Lintao does not see it as a complication in the field. Many complex changes have already materialized for centuries, creating the English language people know today.

“There is no such thing as over-complication of the English language,” she said. “People will  definitely adapt to these changes given their ability to use language.”

Herrera, being a language enthusiast, emphasized that the use of neopronouns is more of an innovation than a complication, given the dynamic nature of language.

“[I]t’s innovating [the] use of English language, and I’m big on innovations,” he said.

More than the creativity neopronouns entail, UST Hiraya’s director for gender equity Rozene Adremesin sees the concept as a part of the LGBTQ community’s continuous movement for liberation.

“The use of neopronouns validates and honors their identity and expression,” Adremesin said, who is also an incoming English Language Studies (ELS) junior.

Meanwhile, Marianne Manalo, the incumbent president of the UST English Language Studies Society, believes that neopronouns promote everyone’s preference.

“I think it’s really revolutionary and parang nagiging way siya to accept everyone’s identity,” Manalo told TomasinoWeb.

Problems in innovation

The acceptance of neopronouns is not without flaws and could be regarded with apathy.

“[P]eople could use it to mock or disrespect and use it without any knowledge at all,” Adremesin explained.

This issue has already surfaced. According to Herrera, people on social media have been “joining the bandwagon” and using causes such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) to create neopronouns like “BLMself.”

“[T]hat’s going to offend people that belong to [a certain community] or [stand] with that advocacy,” Herrera stressed.

Having people utilize it solely for aesthetic reasons is also a problem to observe, according to Herrera and Adremesin.

“[Using neopronouns only for aesthetic] defeats its purpose of representing a person’s identity,” Adremesin stated.

Neopronouns in the academe

As a new notion in language, academic studies and publications have yet to acknowledge neopronouns in the field of English, particularly in a Philippine English setting.

However, unpublished studies about neopronouns are “already in the works,” he asserted, as the subject matter is slowly being introduced to students from diverse levels across various institutions, even to ELS undergraduates at UST.

But on a typical campus day, the gender-neutral pronoun culture is alive and growing in the University.

While working with UST Hiraya, the first feminist organization in the University, Manalo stated that they pay high regard to pronouns in emails, where they address people with “Mx” instead of “Ms./Mr.” when the gender of the recipient is unknown.

In a Thomasian classroom setting, Herrera would also see his students invested in the discourse of neopronouns when the topic emerges in their lectures.

“I think it’s becoming a trend also in the academic community who are very much knowledgeable about the topic,” he said.

The future of neopronouns

Neopronouns still have a long way to maintain sustainability, and it will not happen overnight, Herrera said. But with thorough research, he believes that people in the academe like him can educate people about the matter and eventually have it entirely accepted in society.

“Again, we go back to educating them,” he said.

As a call for inclusivity, neopronouns will be indeed be sustained in the future, according to Lintao.

“Given that language and society are inseparable, as people may clamor for equality and inclusivity, then such use of neopronouns may legitimize,” Lintao said.

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