Monday, August 13, 2007

Uncommon Teaching Strategies

As the University of the Philippines starts its year-long countdown towards its centennial, I am flooded a mix of emotions as I recall my journey as a student at the College of Architecture. I think what makes UP truly unique in producing top quality professionals in every imaginable field, is its unconventional methods of teaching employed. These teaching strategies have produced fearless and unconventional critical thinkers who made their way into the halls of power. If I am not mistaken, UP had produced our country’s modern-day heroes (not to mention modern-day villains) in the political arena.

I was a skinny sixteen year old, who had just arrived in Manila with my father via MV Tacloban Princess, when I was left to my own devices in Diliman. As it was, the enormous scale of things left me flabbergasted (understandable for a small town boy). Having to deal with a room full of pre-selected smart students was another thing- I was constantly on my toes to make sure I didn’t say the wrong things, lest my classmates think I was stupid.

My first class was Comm 1, under Fr. Nudas. He was a man in his seventies (head full of gray hair, wrinkly skin) with a booming voice and a generous smile. He had a weekly column in TODAY newspaper, and was associated with Ateneo de Manila University.

For the entire semester, we did nothing but compose essays (which he would critique), recite Shakespeare’s sonnets to him, read novels like Les Miserables and he would ask us to explain to him in a one-on-one discourse, its contents. I always found it weird, sitting close to him and talking, because he would always close his eyes while I went on. Around 20 minutes into the session, I swore he was fast asleep already. Oh well, I thought, I continued nevertheless.

I tried to recall some of the teaching practices that were employed the time that I was there, and I listed them down:

Alternative Learning

Once every semester (or was it an annual event?), the administration would send a memo to all teachers, declaring a specific day for “Alternative Classroom Learning”. We would still show up, but the topic we discussed could be anything under the sun- and in some cases the astral plane.

One of the architects in the college, who taught Presentation Techniques III, was able to see angels. And for the entire meeting he introduced us to our angels. I gamely asked questions, and hey- he sounded very convincing. It was certainly an interesting time for students- we get to learn other things, even how disjointed it was from the curriculum.

Harshest Punishment for Cheating

I never, ever attempted to cheat in UP. I was assured that they would disown students who did. So I carried that principle even to work- cheating is cheating, no matter what degree. I would rather get a zero, than copy another person’s work.

Crediting Exams

For some courses, including some Math and PE, one may just avail of a crediting exam. If you manage to pass, then it is as good as you have taken the course itself.

A lot of my smart mates have managed to skip Math 11 and other subjects they were already proficient in.

Free speech

This was evident in the rallies and demonstrations, which were a weekly affair, and very much a part of our college life. The Collegian, the school publication, had brilliant articles yet they were allowed once in a while to publish silly, silly editions. One had raunchy jokes, parodies, and inappropriate illustrations (read: penis cartoons as an illustration to a hilarious poem). I doubt if this is allowed elsewhere.

Varied methodologies

“I don’t care if you ever show up in this class.” Our professor was saying, in the cavernous CS Amphitheater. “If you manage to get satisfactory scores in all four long exams, the dates of which to be posted shortly, then you will be exempted for the Finals. Your class standing will be posted after each long exam. The readings are available at the College of Science office. That will be all.”

It was just 7:36 in the morning as I made my way to the CS Office. 7am classes are not for me, I decided. I bought a semester's worth of readings (roughly four inches thick of loose papers), and gritted my teeth. I only went to class for the four exams, and was exempt for the finals.

“We will not be having classes inside the classroom.” Our Humanidades professor said. I’ll tell you where we will be meeting each week. Next meeting I’ll see you all in the open space near the lagoon. By the way, Vargas Museum will have an exhibit, so you might want to check it out.”

“I want all of you to be present all the time. How can you learn if you are not around all the time?” Our weird-looking Kas 1 teacher said.

So be it. I went to class diligently for the entire sem with no absences. Except for the essays he made us do, talking about people who were long dead, he had no other means of evaluating us. It was torture sitting there with him talking and talking, so I would just tune him out and think of other things. The reward for my troubles, at the end of the semester was a 1.25 (according to him I wasn’t passionate enough about my views of Philippine heroes, I had to restrain myself not to give him my truly honest opinion).

“Here are the spaces you will be designing this semester. We will devote five hours per meeting for rendering and drafting of technical drawings. I am only after the output, so you are free to move at your own pace, come up with a particular concept, and research on the standards. Do a site visit, obtain the topography map, and start the design. Any questions?” Architect Galingan asked.

We had a zillion questions, but no one dared ask. “Ok you may start.” She goes back to checking some architectural plates.

For the entire semester, we did our work independently. Our Prof would only glance (with a raised eyebrow) at our work and mutter some comments. “This isn’t right, you need to change this.” Then she’d be back to her corner, engrossed in whatever she happened to be doing.

Later that sem, we too, would be so engrossed in our own designs to the point that I would hardly notice even if she was already scrutinizing my work over my shoulder. I had no time to react, I was busy.
To be continued in the next post..


pepe M. said...

My brother got flat one in Philo (11 ba or 1???) while i took a removal...and my prof ridiculed me infront of my classmates saying, why am i not as smart as my younger bro? i strangled him! hehehehe!

kidding aside, i salute my alma mater for giving me that oozing confidence (read smart ass) kahit wala naman talaga akong alam! hehehe!

Phoenix said...

@ pepe m: ang yabang! LOL! guilty!

Anonymous said...

amen to all u said thaddie, ur always branded as UP, even after u graduate & i think its a plus sign! I'm glad i graduated from dat university! (kc we dont have money to enroll in ateneo o la salle, hehehe!)


Phoenix said...

@ Josh: same here ; )

Anonymous said...


i went to ateneo. but i've always wanted up. (well, that's not say that i didnt pass upcat). i did.

but have often wondered that life would have been more exciting if i went there.

haha. cg, amu la.

Phoenix said...

@ anonymous: and I've also been curious how they do it in other schools = ) you know, there was this mean person who was from your school who made a mess of my cbox months ago.. oh well, it reflected more on the person's character anyway. besides, it's all in the past = )

Anonymous said...


thanks for saying that it reflected more on the person's character than on the school where he came from. that way, i would not be forced to become defensive.

i think being rude and disrespectful know no class, sex, creed and race. just as kindness and good taste permeate no single sociological classification.

but to be fair to the jesuit priests, ateneo taught me to be disciplined and to have high academic standards. waray na guihapun ako maka kopya ha ateneo, so unlike high school. haha.

i'll be going home on the next long weekend. hope i'll bump into you, ha gaisano, highway, city fair or nena's trading (naman...)

Phoenix said...

@ anonymous: i agree with you = ) i actually just told you the story not to annoy you but because it simply did happen.

moving on.. ; ) wow, bakasyon ka pala hehe intramurals namin starting tomorrow. wala pa ring mall dito kaya gaya ng sabi mo, gaisano, nena's, at highway lang ang choices = )


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