Addressing the Effects of the Pandemic and Transitioning to the Better Normal
The pandemic drastically changed the landscape of education, legal education included. It hastened our adaptation to and adoption of technology in teaching and learning. Now that society is in the new normal, or more aptly the “better normal”, there is no turning back and the only way is to move forward and onwards. It is inevitable for teachers and students alike to learn how to use and actually use digital technology as a partner in teaching and learning. Legal education institutions and concerned authorities will eventually have to make digital learning a permanent option. Whether you are for or against it, admit it or not, digital learning is here to stay.
The EDUTECH ASIA 2022 Conference offered fresh perspectives and ideas that could well be adapted and used in the Philippine education sector as a whole, and the legal education sector in particular, not just in terms of digital technology but in other aspects of teaching and learning as well. Foremost among them is the approach used by the Riverside Learning Center called the “FIDS”. “FIDS” means Feel, Imagine, Do, Share. It is geared towards developing empathy, courage, and passion – values and principles that our Filipino students and aspiring lawyers need to practice and embody. “FIDS” focuses on changing the mindset and insight through “DESIGN FOR CHANGE” and the “I CAN” attitude. It lives by the philosophy that everyone can do it and that creating a just and beautiful world does not happen by chance but BY DESIGN.
Another lesson is on the facet of enhancing student engagement. As shared during the conference, according to the Glossary of Education Reform, student engagement is “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught which extend to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education”. Needless to say, student engagement is one of the most important goals of the teacher. It also serves as an accurate gauge of the effectiveness of a teacher since it translates to how a teacher inspires the students to study and learn. Student-driven engagement helps teachers focus on creating interesting and challenging tasks for the students and encourage peer to peer learning and engagement. The three (3) methods which are very useful in reaping the benefits of student engagement include – BEHAVIORAL, EMOTIONAL, and COGNITIVE. If these are achieved, students will learn the value of working with their classmates as part of the team, increase their academic success, improve their skills and habits, constantly be motivated, experience the joy of learning, develop persistence, encourage curiosity and research, and ignite more participation in worthwhile endeavors. As to the measurement of student engagement, three are also three (3) ways – CLASSROOM PARTICIPATION, FORMAL ASSESSMENT, and STUDENT FEEDBACK. While these are already being observed and practiced in the Philippines, other countries have managed to find and use a variety of ways in taking advantage of technological and digital tools to aid them in the measurement of student engagement. These include the use of different applications with the capacity to generate entry and exit slips, spinners, quizzes and polls, timers for student response times, screen capture, whiteboards, and screen recording apps especially for collaborative learning activities.
On diversity, inclusivity, creativity, and digital mindset, the trend is on participatory and project-based learning and not just the traditional classroom activities. We have to allow students to collaborate and develop a digital mindset in an environment which will encourage students to create content and make sure that they will understand the importance of transforming not just their own lives but also the lives of people in the community. PHINMA, in particular, during one of the panel discussions, shared that inclusiveness is one of their thrusts. Theirs is an educational system which is inclusive by design, one that is built into the system of the school itself and where everyone is accepted. Hence, they offer scholarships, learning curriculum by design, and the “I CAN DO” mindset. They were able to address the drop-out rate through home visits, chats, calls, interaction, counseling, and designed a hybrid set-up. In terms of creativity, the question posed was on how to stimulate the creativity of students who are already creative. The answer… to continue facilitating creativity through competitions and contests, formulating policies and support regulations in school and infrastructure, giving incentives and funding, and even going outside the institution to compete with funding support.
Highlighting the Makati and University of Makati Pandemic Experience
In Makati, education is and has always been a top priority. The University of Makati is very fortunate to have leadership that supports the educational needs of the students. Students in UMAK do not come from wealthy families and the assistance given by the Makati City Government goes a long way for the students and their families. The majority of the students do not have gadgets. UMAK and the City found a way, through the help of the Department of Information, Communication, and Technology (DICT), to distribute tablets to all of the students for their use during online classes. To address the internet connection problem, the city provided free accessible Wi-fi and pocket Wi-fi to students, and distributed modules in USBs house-to-house or door-to-door. There was an immediate shift to online learning to avoid a disruption and coupled with that, UMAK procured its own LMS and placed it under the operations of TBL or UMAK’s Technology Based Learning Hub. All faculty members, both tenured and part-time, underwent training on the use of the LMS. Mental health issues were addressed through the one-on-one virtual counseling and guidance sessions as well as mental health and well-being webinars for the educators, administrative staff, and students. This is founded on the belief that a healthy mind and body should be the priority in order for all of the key players to function properly in the midst of the pandemic. In 2021, the TBL Hub started conceptualizing and planning on building classrooms of tomorrow and it is with the hope that all students, faculty, and other personnel look forward to it becoming a reality in UMAK.
Conquering the Digital Divide and Developing a Digital Mindset in Teaching Law
Coinciding with the development of a digital mindset is a need to address the digital divide. This can be done through the provision of the necessary training and preparation for educators as a means to narrow the gap of the digital divide with that of the learners who are more advanced.
Personally and professionally, there were a number of challenges this author has encountered in using technology: 1) choosing what platform to use; 2) ascertaining which is the most appropriate for the law subjects being taught or handled; 3) the period of time needed to familiarize with the functions and features of the digital tools; 4) the actual use of the functions and features of the digital tools; 5) what modality to use; 6) cheat-proofing the exams; 7) internet or connectivity issues; 8) how to sustain student engagement through the available platforms; 9) attendance to and participation in trainings and webinars; 10) creating active learning sessions and incorporating them in the course outline or syllabus, aside from the traditional Socratic method. The first solution to overcoming these challenges was self-help. Keeping an open my mind about the use of technology and building confidence along the way were essential, including the acknowledgment that the students were more adept in the use of technology than most of the teachers, including this author. Virtual attendance to the training of the Legal Education Board (LEB) was very helpful. It was literally applying the learning-by-doing principle. The next step that followed was matching the law subject and course outline with the applications and platforms to use to complement the same. Internet connection was a very big challenge and there came to a point of switching from one provider to another and jumping from a prepaid to a postpaid plan, and eventually realizing that there was no choice but to get the plan with a very high MBPS just to ensure the stability of the internet connection during classes. Planning was also and is always a key factor on how to create active learning sessions aside from the e-Socratic method or recitation online, which, understandably, became less reliable and effective during the pandemic. It was very obvious that the students were browsing and reading from their laptop screens. This is where the creative teacher side came in by way of the non-conventional activities in class and in the way that the questions were asked, so they will not just read and browse for the answers, but instead stimulate their creative juices at the same time arouse their analytical and critical thinking skills.
Personal assessment of skills in the use of technology is quite difficult but there has been a lot of considerable improvement. This author has built up a moderate amount of confidence and has shed an ounce or more of nervousness and embarrassment in using technology in the delivery of lessons and the conduct of classes. Based on feedback, the students have been very responsive to the activities and to the digital tools and applications utilized in class. One hundred percent (100%) participation is a very good indicator since it means that the student engagement was high. This author is committed to attending more skilling summits and trainings to be kept updated and to be continuously introduced to new technologies that can be utilized as an educator.
The use of technology and digital tools is inevitable. Incorporating technology and digital tools in course content, design, and delivery are a must, especially now with the hybrid setup. Technology has greatly influenced how this author teaches now, open to both the traditional and rigid Socratic method and the more engaging and enjoyable means through different digital platforms and applications such as, but not limited to, Mentimeter, Kahoots, Quiz Is, Zoom, Google Meet, MS Teams, Webex, Timers, Spinners, Padlet, Google Forms, Class Marker, and use of QR Codes to access the OBTL course outline. Both this author and the students have become more creative in the class activities and discussions on the topics in class. Other plus factors also include using less ink and paper, saving time, and becoming more efficient through the use of technology, whereas before everything had to be done manually and then converting them digitally. Now tasks can be done digitally right away so it saves me more time and effort, thus more things can be done with more time and efficiency.
Another innovative way in class delivery is engaging the students in active learning. To clarify though, active learning does not make the Socratic method obsolete. Active learning can work hand in hand with the Socratic method and even creates a variety of the same. In active learning, students are required to reflect on the meaning of what they have learned and to critically evaluate different ways to learn the content, and by this, the method of questioning and answering is still existent, although it is more of the “self” making the questioning and answering and not the professor. Active learning also encourages collaboration and teamwork and the teacher becomes a trainer, moderator, and facilitator. The teacher with this role can inject the questioning and answering method without deviating from the objective of active learning. There are many examples of active learning exercises such as brainstorming, journaling, group work, Round Table Discussion (RTD), Focused Group Discussion (FGD), focused listening, question formulation, reflection, notetaking, annotating, role-playing, puzzles, problem-solving, concept mapping, games, and many more.
Concomitant with the development of a digital mindset, it is also essential to develop a global mindset. We live in a global community and international mobility is evident, hence, the need not only to educate oneself in terms of academics but also in culture. Finding a way to do things using technology but taking into consideration the importance of values is of utmost significance. In a global setting, it is important to fill in the gap as regards e-mobility through skilling, practicing and mastering skills, hands-on learning experience – combining general education, soft skills, and human skills.
Finally, the use of technology in legal education, as well as education as a whole, will truly pave the way to inspiring innovators and leaders of tomorrow who will eventually change lives in our society and make a difference in our ever-changing global landscape, through the use of technology.
“Love what you teach, but love who you teach more.”
– Dear Teacher by Brad Johnson
Written by Atty. Angel Chona Grace I. Valero-Nuñez, School of Law