Category Archives: Personal Selections and Commentaries

Marrying the Traditional with the Alternative

I recently read an article shared by a friend over Facebook about Sugata Mitra. He is an education scientist who has done work on what he calls Self-Organized learning, wherein children’s curiosity and peer-interest can foster learning through the use of information technology. His work, while recognized, has roots in theories in student-centered learning. You can view more of his TED speeches in this link.

While browsing around his blog, I came across two of his posts. The first one was written in 2009, presented his proposal for a cloud-based learning environment, which eventually received funding from TED this year. The second one, written in 2012, tackled self-organized assessment, which he wrote in his post to have “correlated” with the scores the students received after the end of the course.

Mitra’s ideas while not entirely new, is quite relevant in the age of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and online learning. In some of the MOOCs I’ve taken, peer evaluation did helped a lot in refining and setting my pace of learning.

While we may still have to rely on traditional assessments to validate and triangulate results, alternative assessments like the ones proposed by student-centered learning advocates and Mitra, would do well to enhance learning assessments.

All About Bloom’s Taxonomy

In my search for an easy to understand Bloom’s Taxonomy, I came across two very helpful infographics.

The first one is an infographic developed by Rebecca Stobaugh, and can be accessed from Routledge’s Eye on Education Blog, which I am reposting below:

Stobaugh’s Infographic on Bloom’s Taxonomy, taken from Routledge’s Eye on Education

Another helpful resource is Smart Tutor’s Blooming Orange Poster which features verbs/ synonyms relating to each of the thinking skill. You can access a pdf file of the poster through this site, which is as reposted below.

Smart Tutor’s “Blooming Orange” infographic poster of Bloom’s Taxonomy, taken from this link

Aligning GE Subjects

In the forums, a question was raised by one of my classmates, Pons Santos, on which of the learning components should be changed if despite of a well-aligned objective, teaching strategy and assessment, learning outcomes are still not achieved. I answered teaching strategy citing my own experiences of teaching strategies often failing to live up to its purpose.

The question though reminded me of my general education (GE) classes in when I was in college in UP Diliman. During my time (it was not so long ago, but long enough for a lot of changes in the GE curriculum to be implemented – from the OLD G.E. program to the “new” REVISED G.E. program), we had to take required GE subjects wherein there would be 30-40 (or even maybe more than 50!) students from various departments and colleges in the university sitting in an auditorium listening to the lecture for an hour and a half. The objectives of the course were noble and true to the university’s commitment to academic excellence, the readings were quite exciting for a freshman who is willing to dive into 12 inch thick photocopied reading articles. It looked like a scene from Hollywood movies set in hallowed Ivy League campuses in the US.

Until you get to sit beside a bored senior college student who was catching up on his/her GE courses to graduate. Or that is until you get to hear your professor speak for the first time. That’s when you realized that your freshmen illusions are shattered and that this GE class is just an academic requirement you need to pass. The fact that a lot of professors in most of these huge-auditorium type classes are simply there to talk for an hour without caring so much (or maybe they do, they just don’t show it maybe?) as long as their students pass the departmental exams, was enough to make me wish that I would be qualified enough to get out of the GE rut and take up my majors. Is this a failure on the teaching strategy or the objective? Is the objective not aligned with the assessment? I think it’s a failure on its objectives.

This brings us to a question as to what are GE classes really for? According to the iskWiki! website of the UP Diliman Interactive Learning Center (2013), GE classes makes up for the “liberal arts education that makes the U.P. student a well-rounded person and ready for lifelong learning skills.” Further, the same website mentioned the following objectives for the GE Program, “to broaden the intellectual and cultural horizons, to foster a commitment to nationalism balanced by a sense of internationalism, to cultivate a capacity for independent, critical and creative thinking, and to infuse a passion for learning with a high sense of moral and intellectual integrity.” How lofty is that?

I do have several fun GE classes, like Humanities 1 & 2, Social Studies 1& 2, my Communication 1-3 classes, even my Math 1 and Nat Sci 1  & 2 were somehow fun. We had a lot of exciting projects that made it interesting to perk up general interest and made me conversant in topics pertaining to arts, psychology and social sciences, public speaking, geography and biology. Though there were some GE subjects where I can’t remember a thing more than a decade after college. It seemed that time spent inside the classroom attending to those subjects were a just a blur. I do have some funny anecdotes about STS or PI 100, but they were really all I remembered in class, though in fairness to STS, I managed to read the abstract on Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity” because it was required.

But how much of the GE subjects went beyond appreciation?  Humanities and Communication subjects were somehow a pre-requisite to more survey courses and eventually our major subjects in Anglo-American Literature, so it helped me a lot in terms of enhancing reading comprehension and writing skills, as well as a general understanding of arts and humanities which were required for the course. And maybe to some extent Math 1 and Philosophy 1 in terms of logically arranging my ideas. But how about STS? PI 100?

During my time in college, maybe right before I graduated, there were already too many disgruntled students who had the same opinion that some GE classes are just not worth their time. Department heads were scrambling around trying to find the solution to classes wherein students attend simply for attendance purposes and maybe get a passing grade to be able to graduate. Eventually the university managed to pass a Revised GE Program in 2003 (not without protest, as this is UP. People protest everything and you can never please everybody). According to a page from UP Baguio – College of Science (2013), RGEP still have the same objectives of ensuring that every UP student becomes a “well-rounded person, with lifelong learning skills” and still focuses on 3 main subject domains in the (1) arts and humanities, (2) social sciences and philosophy, and (3) natural sciences and mathematics. But it has a very specific statement on the competencies that a U.P. student should develop after completing 45 units of GE courses, “oral and written communication skills, independent and critical thinking, and creative thinking.” And unlike when I was taking up GE courses, students can choose which subjects to take, as long as they meet the required number of units per subject domain.

While I do not have access to studies assessing the implementation and outcomes of the RGEP, it was reported by The Philippine Collegian in 2011 that based on a study conducted by the UP Diliman Office of the Chancellor “students score an average of 1.25 in GE subjects.” This may have to be correlated with other UP units, and if students were indeed able to demonstrate higher levels of independent, critical and creative thinking in other subjects, more aligned to their major subjects, as well as in opinion-making on general issues, among others. However the article also pointed out the problem in logistics. Take for example, STS classes are the bane of a lot of UP students simply because the student to teacher ratio is too high. Teachers are not very effective because its really difficult to manage a class of 30-50 students from different departments and colleges.

In conclusion, the GE program has some very lofty and well-meaning objectives. In my experience, with having too lofty objectives, it fails to translate into appropriate teaching strategies and assessment. However, taking up GE subjects, based on my experience, somehow contributed to my personal and professional development by opening up whole new subjects I would have never read or understood beyond my own major. It would be interesting to know how UP (would) assess implementation of the RGEP and introduce innovations to the program based on the results. And as any UP student and alumni would tell you, taking up GE subjects and the anecdotes in relation to it is universal to any UP student and somehow (for better or worse) defines them when they step out of the university’s confines.

The Habit of Attribution

A few months ago, a Senator was accused of plagiarizing some parts of his speech from another person’s blog and translated parts of another famous person’s speech without proper attribution. He went under a lot of criticism and he didn’t apologize because he felt that he didn’t do anything wrong. If a Senator could get  away with plagiarism, then what would that say of our country, wherein a lot of students (and academic institutions) take the issue of plagiarism very lightly?

When I was in college, a news article would appear once in a while in the college paper about so-and-so professor being stripped of his/her tenure or a student expelled from the university after being found guilty of plagiarism. Plagiarism was a crime and nobody could say they are ignorant of it.

Proper citation and awareness of plagiarism goes beyond the professional and academic setting. With the internet becoming a necessity and permanent fixture in our lives, it is easy to copy, cut or paste, words, ideas, photos and claim them for our own. Fortunately, the easier it gets to find information to copy and paste, the easier it gets for teachers or individuals to spot plagiarized words on the internet (through Google, of course!).

I was a victim of plagiarism too. Though it would look more like online theft and non-attribution. I had a landscape photo that I took during a summer vacation stolen through Facebook. I learned about it after a friend alerted me that a tourist page on Facebook was using my photo as their profile picture! I wasted no time in reporting this to Facebook “authorities” and they removed the photo and notified the page owner of their offense. More and more photographers and writers and personalities on the internet have raised the issue of copyright on the internet, how do we get into the “habit of attribution” as my current boss puts it?

it starts first with instilling respect for others ideas and being humble enough to acknowledge ideas that are not your own. It would be easy to say that this should start in school, as it should be. But also parents should get into the habit of teaching their own children responsible and ethical use of “copyrighted materials” that they encounter daily. If culturally, everyone gets into the habit of respecting what is not theirs, ideas included, I think the world would be a much better place.