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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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‘Budol culture’: How retail therapy entices Thomasian shopaholics

Online shopping is not only a product of consumerism and advertising; it can also be a way of coping with this pandemic.

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Artwork by Wendell Adrian Quijado/TomasinoWeb

As the holiday breeze swiftly approaches, the holy grail of business sales has also made its way to entice shopaholics. It is that time of the year again when Christmas grand sales take markets by storm.

Since the pandemic began, people have slowly turned towards online stores and markets to buy essential needs and trivial items.

Digital platforms like Lazada, Shopee, Zalora, and BeautyMNL have become the leaders in local online shopping applications. With the never-ending lockdowns and quarantine, Filipino sellers and buyers now focus online, maximizing their use of these new and effective platforms to venture out into their own business as well as purchasing items.

When it comes to this, Thomasians are no strangers. Many students have been engaging with these e-commerce apps to buy skincare products, clothes, makeup, and random things they might find necessary. 

But online shopping is not only a product of consumerism and advertising; it can also be a way of coping with this pandemic.

‘Retail therapy?’

Medical technology junior Lorraine Pagdato confirmed that online shopping helped her cope with the pandemic. 

“Yes. Online shopping served as one of my coping mechanisms during this pandemic. With the stress that I acquire due to online classes, online shopping has given me a sense of joy outside academics,” she told TomasinoWeb

Despite all the stress that burdened her during the pandemic, online shopping seemed to have sparked a sense of joy whenever she buys a product.

It’s like there’s something therapeutic whenever I click the ‘add-to-cart’ and the ‘check out’ buttons in Shopee or Lazada,” Pagdato shared. 

However, she also added that relieving stress through online shopping is not that healthy because it involves wasting money on things that aren’t needed. 

Pagdato reiterated, “I think it’s not an overall good habit since sometimes, we keep on splurging for stuff that we don’t need leading to overspending.”

Regardless of these consequences, tourism junior Mardz Forte thinks online shopping is better than physical stores. 

“Actually, yes, if magaling ka mag-risk, I mean if magaling ka kumilatis sa mga reviews ganon kasi mas mapapabilis buhay mo,” she said. Forte also stated the importance of exploring the product and shop ratings can help buyers purchase a good quality product. 

“May reviews na mga tao sa mismong product upon shopping, hindi na kailangan lumabas, madalas mas makakadiscount pa, madaming pagpipilian, at madali makakita ng murang items,” she added.

Tourism junior Ella Malig echoes the same sentiments, citing the convenience of e-commerce platforms. 

“Online shopping makes it easier for customers and also hassle-free since hindi na aalis ng bahay,” she said.

Pagdato also revealed that e-commerce platforms spared her from the stress of buying school necessities amid quarantine restrictions.

“Since I am a medical technology student, some of my subjects require me to have medical supplies. It is now difficult to buy those in the middle of a pandemic, so I resort to online shopping,” she said. 

In addition, Pagdato mentioned that she usually buys school supplies online, from highlighters down to notebooks, in preparation for online classes. 

The selection of items in online shops stretches far as different products can be bought there, such as for households, personal use, and even sports equipment. For Pagdato, shopping online becomes a feasible choice to buy essentials amid the health crisis as it lessens the possibility of the virus spreading. 

“Since we are in the middle of a pandemic, my family usually buys our necessities like food, toiletries, and disinfectants online to avoid the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus outside,” Pagdato said. 

Online consumerism

But how do they feel about continuous online sales that seem very enticing and influencers that encourage this kind of shopaholism? 

For Pagdato, influencers do have an impact on consumerism online. When influencers try a certain product, whether it’s good or bad, the influencer’s opinion affects their audience’s decision.

Malig, on the other hand, added that the monthly sale of online shopping platforms captivates its audience and leads to impulsive buying as well. 

Pagdato added to this thought by saying, “It is nice to buy things on sale, use free shipping vouchers, get a ‘cashback.’”

According to her, these factors attract consumers to buy lots of products since it was instilled in our minds that we can save tons of money using those several vouchers and discounts. She thinks it’s a good strategy because it gives people something to look forward to every month.

Filipinos are getting encouraged to buy online nowadays, which sometimes leads to spontaneous hoarding of unnecessary random items. However, it’s pretty therapeutic and relieves the stress due to the pandemic, Pagdato said. 

As for whether it’s a good or bad thing, Forte said that it depends on how you spend your money. If your savings just go to unnecessary purchases, then it’s bad. It’s only a good thing as you don’t need to go out and risk yourself contracting the virus.

“Marami naman advantages [ang] online shopping….mas convenient lalo na ngayong pandemic halos lahat ng stores nag-sswitch na sa online world,” Forte said. 

Bianca Labraque
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Thomasian scientists on the painstaking process of validating new COVID-19 test kits

“When I accepted this clinical validation, I realized that, as a scientist, I have been living in a bubble. First, I expected that things would be a breeze but doing research in a pandemic is totally a different story,” Albano said.

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Team of researchers and faculty members from the College of Science — (From left to right) Asst. Prof. Nikki Heherson Dagamac, Dr. rer. nat., Prof. Pia Marie Albano, Ph.D., Asst. Prof. Maureen B. Sabit, Ph.D., and Mr. Reuel Bennett, Dr. rer. nat.

Thomasian researchers are on the brink of validating a cheaper and faster PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)-based detection of the COVID-19 virus.

The cost of a PCR-testing can be marked down once enough research has shown that this kit can successfully track the presence of COVID-19. This can eliminate the need for trained swabbers and enable the patients to swab themselves. Self-collection will expedite the process, reduce the spread of infection, and lessen labor.

As if the science behind it was not meticulous enough, the execution did not come easy either.

Singaporean Biotech company MiRXes Pte commissioned lead proponent Prof. Pia Marie Albano, Ph.D. to provide clinical validation of the company’s qPCR (quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction) kit for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 via nasopharyngeal and saliva samples. Her team was composed of Mr. Reuel Bennett, Dr. rer. nat., Asst. Prof. Nikki Heherson Dagamac, Dr. rer. nat., and Asst. Prof. Maureen Sabit, Ph.D. from the Department of Biological Sciences. 

“When I accepted this clinical validation, I realized that, as a scientist, I have been living in a bubble. First, I expected that things would be a breeze but doing research in a pandemic is totally a different story. I encountered several challenges that I did not encounter pre-pandemic,” Albano said in the 2nd Science and Technology (STS) Summit.

During the 2nd STS Summit on Nov. 12, Albano outlined the key challenges the team had to hurdle through, namely ethical approval, study site, participant recruitment, team safety, and molecular analyses. 

The surge of Delta cases nearly ruined everything

In May 2021, the team chose Ilocos Norte, 512 kilometers from the city of Manila, to serve as their study site. Ilocos Norte seemed like the perfect place to get their samples processed. The facilities needed to successfully conduct the validation and the endemic situation of coronavirus cases were kept at bay.

“When we were about to send the equipment and materials to the study site, our research partners in the area could no longer commit because COVID-19 cases [had] started to dramatically increase after detecting Delta,” Albano said. 

While waiting to get cleared by the ethics committee, she noticed the spike of COVID cases in the locale and began to draft contingency plans. Thanks to their proactivity,  the team was able to subcontract Singapore Diagnostics (SGD) which is a private DOH-accredited COVID-19 molecular testing facility in Makati. They figured that, with the sticky situation, it might not be “wise” to partner with a government-run hospital at the time.

“At this point, there was no turning back. I am accountable and I was committed to successfully implement the trial despite all the odds,” Albano said.

They set foot – rather by boat, in the province of Candaba, Pampanga as their new and final study site. The new study site exposed the team to language barriers and boisterous weather conditions. Their kick-off was pushed months later on Aug. 6.

During its early stages, the team’s first batch of swabbers and drivers had tested positive and resigned after their quarantine. Luckily, the team had been training additional swabbers and drivers in high-risk areas, and strictly imposed biosafety guidelines and testing every week. This smooth transition meant that the trial could go unhindered despite the setbacks faced.

COVID-19 stigma among participants

Participant recruitment for the validation of cheaper and faster COVID-19 PCR-based test kits. Screengrab from the 2nd Science and Technology Summit

“A positive result was equated to loss of income,” she said as she described how the stigma of getting a positive result affected families. 

Many potential participants hesitated due to the stigma associated with positive cases. Positive COVID results meant that breadwinners could not provide for their families; they could starve while waiting in quarantine. 

This spurred Albano to give sacks of rice rather than the initially planned monetary compensation. 

Political and administrative power dynamics

“In the past, I would only need to present to the medical director and department heads of hospitals whenever I would invite for collaboration. However, in this clinical trial, this clinical trial taught me the importance of understanding the local power dynamics in order to access potential participants,” she said.

According to Albano, access to areas with high COVID-19 cases, quarantine facilities, and community-based testing sites were the hardest. 

“I had to ask the support of medical technologists to have access to their COVID-19 testing facilities. I approached factory workers and factory owners to have their members and employees tested for free. I also invited healthcare workers, especially the volunteers in vaccination sites. And of course, I invited the UST community to participate,” she said. 

Regulations at the local level are dependent on the current COVID situation. Some places have implemented local lockdowns based on where the cases are. The strategy became focused on a constant dialogue with community members and different organizations within communities. It resulted in genuine collaboration between stakeholders in all aspects of the clinical trial. 

“Principal investigators of COVID-19 clinical trials should possess flexibility because the pandemic presents unforeseen changes and diversity of situations one should be able to adjust to constraints and to make fast decisions and plans during ambiguous situations,” she said.

Conducting clinical trials during a pandemic is no easy feat. Albano’s team learned that through the various obstacles that they faced. From the study site to the lack of participants, team safety, and the various political and administrative hurdles, they broke through to the other side to tell the tale.

Despite the odds, the team was still able to pull-off figures beyond the required 300 positive and 500 negative cases for testing. The results will then be sent to MiRXes for further validation and application by the FDA in Singapore. 

Christine Nicole Montojo
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Angela Gabrielle Magbitang Atejera
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UST creative writing major Aleia Anies’ shot in the dark

After submitting the revised version of her piece about siblings tackling grief and mental health issues for her playwriting subject, Anies didn’t hope for anything let alone be accepted.

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Photo courtesy of Ellie Bun

UST AB Creative Writing student, Aleia Marie Anies will be joining the three-week Virgin Labfest 16 Writing Fellowship Program starting Nov. 16 until Dec. 5. 

In an interview with TomasinoWeb, Anies shared her excitement from being one of the eight fellows for this year’s CCP’s Virgin Labfest Fellowship (VLF) Program. 

Being the first Creative Writing undergraduate from the University to attend the event, Anies couldn’t help but feel ecstatic. “Actually, hindi pa nagsisink in, as in ang surreal,” she said.

Although she initially considered dropping out, there were questions that lingered around her. “Kasi alam mo ‘yung feeling na pumapasok na, ‘What if hanggang dito na lang ako?’ ‘What if hindi ko na kayang gumawa pa or magsulat pa ng mas maganda?’ ‘What if hindi ako mag-improve as a writer?’” 

But for the creative writing major, the mere fact that she was chosen and given this opportunity was enough reason for her to keep going. It was the sign that she was waiting for.

Anies also shared that her submission for the VLF was “a shot in the dark.” After submitting the revised version of her piece about siblings tackling grief and mental health issues for her playwriting subject, she didn’t hope for anything let alone be accepted.

When asked about what motivates her to write, the 36th Gawad Ustetika winner for Fiction used soap suds and sponges as metaphors for writing.

“Writers are like sponges, we have to be able to absorb the things around us at ang gamit natin ay ‘yung senses natin. I think soap suds are the perfect analogy for our regurgitating words […] Kasi kailangan mo talagang pigain yung sarili mo as a writer before ka makaproduce ng soap, before ka makaproduce ng work or literature,” she said.

Originality comes second for the writer as she emphasized the need for a writer to be able to squeeze themselves and create a good piece. “I think a good piece of literature comes from a writer who can squeeze themselves, ‘yung kayang dikdikin ‘yung sarili nila and someone who is always willing to absorb new information, always willing to learn, to learn from themselves, but also, to learn from others.” 

For three weeks of exchanging insights and establishing a bond, Anies is excited about what will happen, “I’m looking forward to learning from other people, I’m looking forward to watching a lot more plays and sobrang excited ako sa workshop kasi nga diba […] gusto kong pigain pa ako, gusto kong mapiga pa para mareach ko ‘yung full potential ko.” 

The Virgin Labfest Fellowship Writing Program is an annual event of the Cultural Center of the Philippines that focuses on training young aspiring playwrights through lectures, discussions, and workshops. This year, Glenn Sevilla Mas, the multi-award-winning playwright, will be mentoring the fellows. 

Aliah Basbas
Stories Editor, Stories Writer | + posts

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