COMPETEN-SEA @ National Conference on Geographical Studies

Quezon City, Philippines. The paper “The Place of the Virtual in Mobile Environments: Rural Health Vork Through MOOCs in Pangasinan” by Dennis Batangan, Marita Concepcion Guevara, Peter Sy, Joseph Palis, John Carlo Navera & Bianca Nicole Vinoya was presented by Joseph Palis to the National Conference on Geographical Studies held at the Pavilion 2 of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City in November 13, 2018. It was part of the session called “Community Geographies” chaired by Dylan Beatty from the University of Hawai’i. Our presentation was joined by two other presentations both on the Philippines focused on hometown remittances, and an urban community’s response to solid waste management.

The session was attended mostly by academic geographers and those working in the industry. The other participants who were in attendance have research undertakings addressing spatially-informed phenomena from the local to global-regional scales.

Our presentation focused on the different layers of partnerships that develop while the project is being implemented in the Philippines. These collaborative partnerships are interestingly entangled and enmeshed with various institutions that highlight the various scalar dimensions produced: from a more global institution such as Erasmus+ and the three Southeast Asian academic institutions that participated in COMPETEN-SEA; and from the Philippines, how both teams from the Ateneo de Manila University-Institute of Philippine Culture and University of the Philippines-Diliman came together and formed a highly multi-disciplinary group; to the liaison forged by both teams towards the provincial health office of Pangasinan, and finally between the Pangasinan health office with Ateneo-UP and the rural health workers. Despite these layers of partnerships, the project aims to enable rural health workers to carry out the task of implementing effective health care towards the barangay unit they are serving. The technical competence of the group was meant to arm the grassroots-level workers to produce material relevant to the successful and efficient delivery of health care to indigent communities and families.

The project utilizes the massive open online courses (MOOCs) modality to ensure that rural health information is effectively disseminated towards the community. Two modules were created to explain the structure of health care delivery. The modules which are intended for the barangay rural health workers (RHWs) utilize an avatar named Alice who speaks English (Modules 1 & 2) and Filipino (Module 2). Alice serves as a guide to explain the infrastructural layout of government-initiated health programs. This modality that employs a digital character creates a visual illustration of the lesson. The initial test runs yielded multiple attempts from the rural health workers to complete the module. It was most likely due to the unfamiliarity towards the novel and digital method especially since the materials covered and information conveyed by Alice are already familiar to the RHWs. The use of English as the language most likely adds to challenge.

For the success of the MOOC, a fast(er) internet connection is crucial. The Philippines lagged behind most Asia-Pacific countries in this regard that can and may contribute to the challenges in completing the module. However, two solutions were proposed: an offline version of the MOOC, and a possible reconfiguration of the module to transfer well to cellular phones. While a faster internet connection leaves much to be desired, the Philippines leads Asia-Pacific countries in mobile connectivity. A huge percentage of the RHWs use mobile phones for everyday transactions and this is seen as an untapped opportunity to configure MOOC that transfers well to mobile phones.

While the third module is being developed, these challenges will be taken into consideration for the improvement of technological kinks and a recognition of connectivity that can be harnessed for a more seamless deployment of information through MOOCs towards our target sectors.

Note: A similar presentation was given on November 28, 2018 via teleconference through the assistance of Eliko Akashi and Keiko Okawa from Keio University. Joseph Palis and John Carlo Navera presented from the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Some of the questions asked include:

  • the decision to voice Alice in both English and Filipino (Module 2) and English (Module 1) and what challenges were met
  • how mobile network may stand a better chance to widely disseminate our modules given that internet connection (for tablets and other gadgets) is not up to speed (pun intended) with other SEA countries
  • the challenges in making the module more accessible to rural health workers
  • how the highly gendered (more females) RHW may be a factor in the efficient completion of modules


Author: Joseph Palis, University of Philippines 

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