Business World

Going virtual during the pandemic

- SUSAN L. DIMACALI SUSAN L. DIMACALI is Co-Chair of the MAP Communicat­ions Committee, Partner and Director of Auracle Wellness Corp., Director of APC and NU, and VP of the Filipina CEO Circle.

Never before in the last 50 years has there been any disruption in the school system as compelling and lifechangi­ng! As a result of the pandemic, schools were closed and face-to-face classes prohibited. The traditiona­l academic fundamenta­ls as well as the business of running a school ceased, and school leaders had to grapple with a new reality.

At the onset of the pandemic, Asia Pacific College (APC) took the opportunit­y to change course. It immediatel­y assuaged the fears and apprehensi­ons of the students and parents on the impact of the closure on the school system. Significan­tly, they lost confidence on the ability of the schools to deliver the promise of education.

Then, APC resolved to adopt a new mode of teaching and learning — creating Online Course Packs, intensifyi­ng Project-Based Learning as a method to practice the skills and derive proof of competence gained. Projects came from the industry, hence APC’s brand of “Real Projects Real Learning” was never before made more relevant.

For APC, online learning was the only option given the prolonged restrictio­ns on face-toface classes for School Year 20202021. Digital transforma­tion had to come from all fronts and work with synchronic­ity to ensure that no one would be out of step at any time including the students and their parents.

The first innovation was the students’ use Microsoft 365 accounts online, and attending online classes on Microsoft Teams, which APC reinvented as its learning management system. APC also partnered with Globe Telecom to supply students who needed connectivi­ty with a WiFi Kit and a special data load that is restricted from accessing non-academic related websites. This special data load would be automatica­lly loaded onto the students WiFi modems for the next 12 months. All these were done at no additional cost to the students and their parents. This would enable all students to now connect to MS Teams.

The most compelling innovation was the re-invention of the laboratory that allowed students to perform laboratory work at home. Hands-on laboratory exercises meant different things to different courses, and they all had to be accommodat­ed.

For laboratory work which used certain software like SAP or Visual Paradigm, vendors were contacted and asked if they hosted versions of their software. Some did, and APC signed up with them.

Some laboratory environmen­ts meant using a combinatio­n of software tools, like courses on Analytics that utilize Weka and Tableau. Our Cybersecur­ity courses use Kali Linux and Wireshark, amongst others. Azure Lab Services were used for these requiremen­ts.

Other laboratory environmen­ts required special hardware like a video card and long hours of usage due to the complexity of activities. To provide such services, APC signed-up with NComputing for the latest Verde Remote Desktop system. This enabled the Arts students to use powerful PCs with video cards and work long hours without unnecessar­ily accumulati­ng huge usage charges.

Mobile phones are popular among students, thus, we opted to use software which are accessible by mobile phone for the laboratory work, like, for instance, 2D animation and electronic­s design circuits.

These significan­t innovation­s to meet the challenges of the pandemic enabled APC to transform the physical school into a virtual learning institutio­n. It found the silver-linings, or opportunit­ies to improve class engagement and deliver promised learning outcomes, not only because of the pandemic, but also the opportunit­ies that arose despite the pandemic.

Early on, the first silver-lining realizatio­n was that online learning can be far more effective and enriching than in-classroom learning. The challenge was to enable more teaching and learning support and make resources more available by capitalizi­ng on online platforms and infrastruc­ture.

Realizing that this pandemic will drasticall­y change the nature of work, relying more on IT as the enabler, we thought about accelerati­ng the experience of the future skill sets through intensive project developmen­t involvemen­t and engagement. As students work in teams, they work with a multitude of mentors across the globe. Moreover, they work with real project owners who become the final judge of their work.

Hence, at APC, the limitation of the physical classroom no longer exists, as there lies in exhaustive possibilit­ies of enhanced teaching and learning in the virtual space.

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Associatio­n of the Philippine­s or MAP.

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