Rekindling the Love of Learning: A Look Back on UPOU’s First Online Bridge Program

On 17 October 2020, Saturday, 543 students of the first ever online bridge program of the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) received their certificates of completion during the virtual closing ceremony that was hosted by the Ugnayan ng Pahinungód UPOU and UPOU Faculty of Education. This bridge program consisted of two bridge courses, namely Bridge English and Bridge Mathematics, that were completed by 281 and 262 students, respectively. Additionally, a total of 952 students received their certificates of participation: 678 students for the Bridge English course and 274 students for the Bridge Mathematics course. Through this virtual closing ceremony, all of the students, volunteer course coordinators, and people behind the bridge program were able to celebrate their collective journey that lasted for three and a half months; a culmination of their dedication and all of the hard work they put into the program, which officially ran from 01 July – 10 October 2020.

How it began: Planning for the Bridge Program

A joint project of the Faculty of Education (FEd) and Ugnayan ng Pahinungód UPOU, the first offering of the online bridge program was planned as an initiative to enrich the knowledge, skills and confidence of more people in the subjects of English and Mathematics. Having coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of community quarantines all over the country, the program was also intended to uplift people’s lives by providing them with free quality education and encouraging them to bring out the best in themselves by being productive. 

Spearheaded by Ms. Rhonna Marie R. Vereña, Director of the Ugnayan ng Pahinungód UPOU, and with the support of Dr. Ricardo T. Bagarinao, Dean of the UPOU Faculty of Education, the necessary preparations were made for the conduct of the bridge program. Furthermore, through a series of meetings that were held with two FEd faculty members, namely, Asst. Prof. Ana Katrina T. Marcial, incumbent Diploma/Master of Arts in Language and Literacy Education Program Chair and Bridge English Course Developer, and Dr. Jomar F. Rabajante, former Diploma in Mathematics Teaching Program Chair and Bridge Mathematics Course Developer, the course modules and learning activities for both courses were tweaked and finalized for this particular offering. Afterwards, the course sites of both courses were prepared via UPOU Massive Open Distance eLearning (MODeL), the University’s official platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). 

Through a continuous social media campaign via Facebook, the Ugnayan ng Pahinungód UPOU was able to spread the word about the online bridge program, which inspired thousands to sign up for one or both of the bridge courses. At the same time, a number of individuals had expressed their interest to sign up as Gurong Pahinungód (GP) volunteers, who would serve as course coordinators for one or both of the bridge courses. Once the list of course coordinators for each course was finalized, the GP volunteers were informed about their responsibilities and taught how to navigate the MODeL platform through a series of orientations that were given by the course developers and UPOU Information and Communication Technology Development Office (ICTDO). Subsequently, they were enrolled into MODeL ahead of time to help familiarize themselves with the platform to be used for the entire duration of the program.

“Kahandaan, Kasanayan at Kaalaman”: The Implementation of the UPOU Bridge Program

The first offering of the UPOU online bridge program officially began on 01 July 2020, Wednesday. As of 02 July 2020, a total of 4,253 participants were enrolled in the Bridge English course site, under the guidance of 16 GP volunteer course coordinators. For the Bridge Mathematics course, there were a total of 3,972 participants, with 26 GP volunteer course coordinators. Through the MODeL platform, the course participants and course coordinators were able to effectively interact with one another by means of the various discussion forums available in the course sites. Furthermore, the participants took this opportunity to communicate with their fellow bridge course takers, who they were grouped together with. For this offering, the participants were divided into four different groups, specifically: Group A: Junior High School Students, Group B: Senior High School Students, Group C: College Students, and Group D: Working Professionals. A number of course coordinators was assigned to each group, whom they would help to better understand the topics of the course through facilitating synchronous sessions, creating supplementary exercises and providing additional learning materials for everyone to access. 

Over a span of three and a half months, students of the Bridge English and Bridge Mathematics courses dedicated their time and efforts to study the course modules, answer supplementary exercises and required quizzes, and attend additional synchronous sessions of their respective courses. While majority of the bridge courses were offered via asynchronous mode by means of online discussion forums, quizzes and activities, the course coordinators ensured that their students would still feel a sense of belongingness and establish camaraderie with one another by conducting a series of synchronous sessions via video and audio conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet. Through these sessions, students of the Bridge English and Bridge Mathematics courses were able to seek clarifications on challenging topics and answers to their questions about the program from their course coordinators. It was also observed that students would gain the confidence and determination they needed to complete their respective bridge course(s) from the encouraging words of their course coordinators. All of the sessions were recorded and uploaded by the bridge program team for the benefit of all participants, especially for those who were unable to attend due to conflicts in schedule or Internet connectivity.

At the end of the bridge program, a significant number of students had passed all of the requirements for each course, which qualified them to receive a certificate of completion for their enrolled course(s). For students who were unable to complete their course(s), certificates of participation would be given to them in recognition of their commitment as UPOU bridge program participants.

Reaffirming the Importance of the UPOU Bridge Program

In a time plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, the UPOU online bridge program served as a beacon of hope for students and coordinators alike; a reminder that the determination to study and the spirit of volunteerism are very much alive in Filipinos all over and outside of the country. Thanks to the UPOU online bridge program, students were able to recall lessons in English and Mathematics and apply their learnings in school and/or their fields of practice. In the words of one student regarding the Bridge English course, “the learning materials are very effective, and it helped me a lot with my papers in school” and for one student of the Bridge Mathematics course, “it helped me master the basics of Mathematics which is fundamental in the succeeding years.” Because of the covered topics, organized and detailed course modules, and efforts of the course coordinators, students have shared that these truly helped them “a lot to improve their English” and “not to be scared in solving math problems.” 

Through the use of a convenient and user-friendly platform, the students of the online bridge program were encouraged to exert their best efforts in their enrolled courses, with one student sharing that they “really like posting in the community forum which allows them to explore the course with other students.” Furthermore, students have expressed that they really liked the synchronous sessions of the bridge program, where they were able to meet new people and enjoy the class together. After the end of the UPOU online bridge program, the students had nothing but praise for their course coordinators, who served as the very backbone of the courses. Described as “active”, “accommodating” and “approachable” advisers and facilitators of the courses, the students expressed their gratitude to their course coordinators; the people who helped them develop their confidence in English and Mathematics. 

In the end, the first offering of the UPOU online bridge program can be summed up in the words of one student: “It is really difficult to study online. But with the help of the coordinators you learn a lot.” Thanks to the bridge program, more people have come to understand the importance of taking it upon themselves to learn something new everyday. As one student has gathered from this entire experience, “I should not stop learning and keep on going until I improve.”

This video documents the first offering of the UPOU online bridge program. If you are interested to participate or volunteer in the second offering of the UPOU online bridge program, kindly like and follow the official Facebook page of the Ugnayan ng Pahinungód UPOU for more information.

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