Eunice Gabrielle V. Caburnay, Louisa Marie V. Guevara, and Arlyn P. Macapinlac

While the words “education” and “learning” usually bring to mind the image of a teacher and students in a classroom, the significant role of various out- of-classroom activities in the holistic learning of students cannot be downplayed. Such activities include field trips, internships, field surveys, community immersions, and others. In UP Diliman (UPD), we refer to these activities as Academic Field Activities or AFAs.

Recognizing the value of AFAs affirms the oft-repeated line, “learning happens beyond the classroom walls.” In any AFA, the host training establishments (HTEs), partner communities, museums, historical sites, parks, and other venues become wellsprings of reflective insights and experiential learning. The valuable exposure and hands-on training in these spaces supplement and enrich the knowledge obtained in the classroom.

Overseeing the safe implementation of AFAs is the Office of Field Activities (OFA) Diliman. It ensurescompliance with the university’s AFA policies, including their proper operationalization and contextualization. The OFA also takes initiatives in establishing and maintaining linkages with various organizations, companies, and other institutions that could be tapped for AFAs.

The COVID-19 pandemic raised an unexpected hurdle to the Office. Given that all AFAs are conducted face-to-face and outside a classroom, are AFAs still possible during this difficult time? Can the AFA experience be available to students? How can the university ensure that they are not deprived of this enriching experience during the pandemic?

Aware of these concerns, OFA Diliman adopted to the shift to remote learning. It diligently worked through the challenging situation and focused on properly contextualizing and operationalizing AFAs amidst the pandemic. This was done through the following:

  1. Revising OFA Diliman’s policies, guidelines, and forms
  2. Adding pertinent provisions onto agreements and understandings with HTEs to ensure the safety of AFA participants
  3. Creating AFA instructional videos
  4. Conducting baseline research
  5. Expanding connections and innovations on partnerships; and
  6. Enhancing internal systems and communication lines with other units.

Revision of OFA Diliman Documents and Processes

Soon after the announcement of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in March 2020, OFA Diliman promptly revised its policies, guidelines, and forms, which were posted in the website and Google Drive and announced via Memorandum No. OVCAA-MTTP-OFA-20-002, starting May 2020. These revisions were made to ensure that:

  1. The policies, guidelines, and forms related to the conduct of AFAs during remote learning are appropriately contextualized and operationalized;
  2. The students are safely conducting AFAs; and
  3. Academic units are redesigning courses with AFAs to fit the remote learning set-up.

Revision of Policies and Guidelines for all AFA Types

OVPAA Memorandum No. 2020-68, “Academic Plans for AY 2020-2021 and Timetable for Dialogues with Faculty, Students, Staff, and Concerned Parents” mandates that all AFAs be done remotely. Exemptions to this policy must be requested in writing and approved by the UPD Chancellor. Below are the revised minimum requirements for all types of AFAs.

  1. The remote conduct of the AFA must be clearly indicated in the redesigned course syllabus and linked to the learning objectives of the course.
  2. The approved OVCAA OFA Form No. 3, a consolidated list of redesigned AFAs, must be emailed to OFA Diliman two weeks before the official start of classes.
  3. The adviser or faculty-in-charge (FIC) of the course shall properly inform students that the course requires a redesigned AFA through the following: a. Enlistment. Prior to the enlistment of the subject, the department shall indicate the phrase, “WITH REDESIGNED OFF-CAMPUS INDEPENDENT ACADEMIC FIELD ACTIVITY DUE TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC” under the remarks section of the U.P. Computerized Registration System (CRS). b.Orientation. Remote orientation shall be conducted by the FIC to ensure that students are well-informed about the redesigned AFA. Protocols and important matters must be clearly discussed by the FIC during orientation.
  4. The redesigned plan for the conduct of the AFA must be clearly indicated in the prescribed OVCAA OFA forms, depending on the AFA type.
  5. Students participating in the redesigned AFA must be physically and mentally fit.
  6. Communication lines must always be open during the entire conduct of AFA, especially between the FIC and students.
  7. With due diligence by all parties, especially the FIC, every redesigned AFA is expected to achieve the learning objectives without any untoward incident that may harm the safety or security of a person or result to damage or loss of property.
  8. After the conduct of an AFA, the FIC shall submit a post-AFA report and documentation to their Department Head or College Dean.

Revision of OVCAA OFA Forms

OFA Diliman revised the prescribed AFA forms to include questions and prompts that describe the innovations of academic units in redesigning their courses with AFAs. In addition, OFA Diliman reduced the number of forms to be accomplished by academic units. This helped avoid redundancies. Removed from the requirements were OVCAA OFA Form No. 8 and No. 6, which pertained to AFA Types 4 and 1A, respectively. Some forms were merged to create one comprehensive and coherent form.

Revision of OFA Processes

OFA Diliman has adopted a work-from-home (WFH) set-up to ensure personnel safety and reduce their risk of acquiring COVID-19. Memorandum No. OVCAA-MTTP-OFA-20-002 provides the detailed guide of online processes, which were later consolidated with the revised protocols from other offices under the OVCAA. This consolidated version was posted in UPD’s website.

Addition of Work-From-Home (WFH) Provision and Insurance on Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) and Memoranda of Understanding (MOU)

The conduct of students’ internships, practicum, and on-the-job-trainings (OJTs) still pushed through amidst the pandemic. OFA Diliman ascertained that the safety of student interns is prioritized.

In April 2020, OFA Diliman consulted the Diliman Legal Office (DLO) to revise provisions in the University’s MOAs/MOUs with host training establishments (HTEs). Heeding DLO’s advice, OFA Diliman added a provision to the MOA/MOU template, stating that the hours acquired from the students’ internships, practicum, or OJTs shall be completed in a WFH set-up.

Furthermore, OFA Diliman also ensured that student interns had insurance from the University and/or the academic unit. The Office closely coordinated with the Office of Scholarships and Grants in this matter.

To guarantee compliance with the revised guidelines, OFA Diliman meticulously conducted initial reviews of all submitted documents before processing the MOAs/MOUs.

OFA Diliman Video Series Project, “OFA and AFAs: What You Need To Know”

In September 2020, OFA Diliman proposed a video series project, “OFA and AFAs: What You Need To Know.” It a series of instructional videos aimed to guide OFA Diliman stakeholders regarding new processes, policies, and guidelines.

Data on the implementation and operationalization of AFAs from 2017 to 2019 show increased awareness and compliance with AFA policies and guidelines. However, the implementation of the remote learning set-up by the second semester of A.Y. 2019–2020 saw a significant decrease in the submission of AFA-related documents, despite the issuance of pertinent memoranda and guidelines. Faced with these problems, OFA Diliman launched the video series project to:

  1. Boost awareness among academic units regarding AFAs
  2. Increase information dissemination regarding the Office’s revised documents, policies, and guidelines; and
  3. Offer a readily-available online reference for stakeholders on the information and processes regarding AFAs.

The said project was approved in October 2020 and was launched in February 2021 via the OFA Diliman website. The Diliman Information Office (DIO) also posted the video series on UPD’s Facebook page and Twitter account, as well as DIO’s Facebook page. A memorandum from the OVCAA informed academic units about the launch.

A Baseline Research on the Knowledge, Attitude, and Practices of UP Diliman Stakeholders on UP Diliman Policies on Academic Field Activities

In 2021, OFA Diliman marked its fifth year of operations. It then reviewed its implementation of university policies on AFAs to help improve the delivery of its services. The Office believes that planning these necessary innovations can be best carried out if these are grounded on research- based policy recommendations.

As a first step, OFA Diliman proposed to embark on a baseline study to help the Office craft a more updated and more responsive approach to improve the implementation of AFAs. In November 2020, the proposed study, “A Baseline Research on the Knowledge, Attitude, and Practices of UPD Stakeholders on UPD Policies on Academic Field Activities” was approved. The conduct of the study began immediately in January 2021 and the implementation and writing concluded in June 2021. This study helped OFA Diliman stakeholders assess and share how the office can improve its current services and processes. The office also surveyed a total of 334 UPD faculty members on AFA policies and processes, and conducted 32 focus interviews with UPD heads of academic units, faculty members, and administrative
staff. A thorough analysis of the data yielded recommendations, which were mostly focused on enhancing the Office’s communication channels and lines, and streamlining AFA processes and forms.

Expanding Connections and Innovations on Partnerships with Host Training Establishments (HTEs)

Remote learning prompted some academic units to stop offering internships as part of their course requirements. As a consequence, some students opted to voluntarily apply for internships in their chosen HTE. These HTEs, however, required a MOA/MOU between them and the university. Since voluntary internships are not AFAs, OFA Diliman sought advice from the Diliman Legal Office about the legal dimensions of such partnership. After the consultation, OFA Diliman set virtual meetings with HTEs to clarify the implications of processing MOAs/MOUs, and to explore possible internship programs or partnerships in the future that would qualify as AFAs.

These meetings opened more opportunities for UPD students, and prompted OFA Diliman to create a system that would connect HTEs with their academic units of choice for potential partnerships. Thus, the Office has consolidated a list of HTEs for future AFAs.

Connecting HTEs with academic units for partnerships was done via email or Zoom. Often, HTEs directly contact OFA Diliman to propose a partnership. Sometimes, they are referred to OFA Diliman by other UP units (e.g. Office of the Vice- Chancellor for Student Affairs, Office of the Vice- Chancellor for Academic Affairs [OVCAA] Central Office, academic units, etc.). Such correspondences involve orienting the HTEs about the Office’s guidelines, processes, and requirements before entering a partnership with the university. From there, HTEs are given a catalog of degree programs with required or elective internship courses. Later on, OFA Diliman formally informs a UP unit of potential and suitable partnership with the HTE. Academic units are given a deadline to accept or decline the proposal. Should they accept, the processing of the requirements begins. In 2021, a total of 16 HTEs were linked by OFA Diliman to various academic units in UPD.

Enhancing Internal Systems and Communication Lines

Despite the WFH arrangement, OFA Diliman has worked efficiently and effectively by conducting monthly meetings and improving records management. Such practices include the creation of various trackers and databases in order to keep track of academic units’ compliance and correspondences concerning AFAs. Aside from improving internal systems, OFA Diliman also set and conducted meetings with other UPD offices or units to consult or align the Office’s processes and/or documents.

Early in 2021, the Office consulted DLO regarding special concerns on internships and MOA/MOU processing. It also sought guidance on the development of the National Service Training Program (NSTP) Community Engagement Contract, as well as legal advice on the MOU between UPD— through the Department of Military Science and Tactics (DMST)—and the Army Reserve Command (ARESCOM). By the end of 2021, concrete forms, guidelines, and processes had been devised for NSTP community engagements. An online ceremonial signing of the approved ARESCOM MOU was subsequently conducted.

Moreover, the Office aligned its mandate with the Office of Extension Coordination (OEC). This alignment meeting helped streamline the processing of MOAs/MOUs that were being forwarded to both offices. It also guided both offices regarding the criteria or requirements needed before an office processes a MOA/MOU.

Finally, OFA Diliman had special meetings with some academic units, namely, the College of Engineering, the Asian Institute of Tourism, and the College of Mass Communication. These meetings discussed internship allowance, MOA or MOU processing, and the deadline of submissions for internship documents.

Opening Opportunities for International Internships

In May 2021, OFA Diliman coordinated with the Office of International Linkages (OIL) Diliman to craft the guidelines, processes, and templates for virtual international internships. To date, parts of the guidelines and the necessary templates for the documents are with the Diliman Legal Office for review and approval. Once implemented, these documents will enable UPD students to pursue international internships through a virtual set-up. Developing guidelines for such internships will shall advance and maximize their remote-learning experiences amid remote learning.

Involvement in UPD Crisis Management Committee

Early in 2021, the OVCAA turned over the requests from academic units for face-to-face (F2F) classes to OFA Diliman, which reviewed and consolidated such requests, and provided assistance on the submission of requirements to the OVPAA.

In April 2021, the Office of the Chancellor created an Ad Hoc Committee, that included OFA Diliman. The committee was in charge of the preparation for accomplishing the requirements set by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for the gradual reopening of limited F2F classes in UPD. On December 21 of the same year, UPD received CHED-issued Certificates of Authority to Reopen Limited F2F Classes.

Since then, the OFA Diliman Director and OFA Diliman personnel have been closely working with the UPD Crisis Management Committee, OVCAA, and other relevant offices in preparation of F2F classes requirements. These include writing the UPD Guidelines for the Gradual Reopening of Limited Face-to-Face (F2F) Class Activities, presenting the guidelines to UPD COVID-19 Task Force, facilitating consultations with deans and their academic units, consulting with parents and students, and inspecting and assessing the readiness of UPD facilities for F2F classes.

Continuity of Operation

Since the start of the pandemic, OFA Diliman has increased its projects, engagements, and staff to help evaluate its performance and carry out its mandate more effectively and efficiently. The Office continues to collaborate with partner offices and provide pertinent information, assistance, and networking opportunities to academic units. To date, OFA is actively involved in special committees of the university. Such involvement is particularly helpful in formulating cohesive, flexible, and up- to-date AFA guidelines. The foregoing represent efforts to continuously improve services and promote relevant, quality, and enriching AFA experiences for UPD students that are grounded on the university’s ideals of honor and excellence.

The pandemic has no doubt birthed different kinds of challenges, but OFA Diliman’s commitment to its mandate fueled its will to face these challenges head-on. This helped the Office stand strong even as it continues to explore and embrace the New Normal in the conduct of AFAs. It is this same commitment to its mandate that will keep OFA Diliman prepared to take on any challenge that may come its way. That is the kind of resolve that will see it through the fulfillment of its mandate.

Caburnay, Guevara, and Macapinlac. Office of Field Activities Diliman: Exploring the Field through Remote Learning. Kapit, Yakap, Tindig: How UP Diliman Took on the Challenge of COVID-19 (pp. 110-114). University of the Philippines Diliman.