Optimizing Students Learning Center in Cebu, Philippines
Name of village:

2 weeks without family in a foreign land is no small matter. Initially I joined Learning Express (LeX) because I had spare time during my holidays, which could be used to clear a compulsory module (Social Innovation Project, SIP) in my studies, freeing up time on my semestral timetable. So in my opinion, I just had to do some work during the holidays to get a free trip overseas. Why not?

Looking back, I am so glad that I was wrong about LeX.


Figure 1 Final showcase of our solution, CNU Online

Oneday Design Thinking workshop
Weeks before the actual trip, I attended a preLex briefing which introduced me to Design Thinking. It was a oneday programme aimed to provide an overview to what design thinking (DT) was about, and every part of the process was rushed and quickly demonstrated to us; the empathy study was done within 3 hours instead of the actual 3 or more days. As such, I did not feel that design thinking was very important at that time, and thought that it would be “just another project”. I was looking forward more to the travelling aspect instead of the design thinking and social innovation aspect of Lex.

Introduction to Cebu
Day 1: I will admit that I did not do much research about the Philippines before the trip, and I only had stereotypical beliefs about the country and its people. I thought that Cebu was not a very developed area: not many buildings; only one shopping centre; nonenglish speaking country; slow internet connection. To my pleasant surprise, Cebu was actually a tourist hotspot! There were many shopping malls and tourist attractions, most of the street signs were in English (which was comforting for me), and English was the medium used in education as well. Most of the locals knew simple English, so I was able to communicate without many problems.

This Lex trip was carried out from 3 April 2016 to 16 April 2016, and the partner university was Cebu Normal University (CNU), which I initially had many doubts with. Would the CNU students mix well with the SP students? How is my CNU buddy like? Would we be just project partners, or good friends?

Day 2: Due to excellent planning of orientation activities by the lecturers, things got off to a great start! After the campus tour, there were many bonding activities between the SP and CNU students, and we got to know each other’s culture better. The SP students were also taught simple conversational Visayan (the spoken language of the filipinos), and we had to act out various scenes. Of course, many of us including myself were not able to articulate the words properly, and people laughed at our mispronunciation, but it was a good laugh shared by everyone.

Figure 2 Having fun learning Visayan

Day 3: Social Innovation Project has officially started! A recap of the design thinking workshop was conducted, but to the CNU students, it was a new project method. Sense and Sensibility (DT part 1) was covered in the morning. We identified our mission statement: "Optimising Learning Centre Layout", as well as our primary stakeholders. We agreed that the mission was to create a more accessible, efficient and resourceful space for Learning and education. Our primary users were CNU students, and the secondary users would be CNU staff and other possible users of these learning spaces.

Moving on to Empathy (DT part 2), we started by thinking about what kind of questions would we like to ask during our interview. Basic questions like asking the interviewees about their name, age, course of study were used in the beginning. Deeper questions such as asking for their opinion on the school infrastructure, learning spaces, study habits, places to study at were also asked, so that the required information for our project would be obtained.

Day 4: Continuing from day 3, we finalised our interview questions in the morning and had mock interviews to test them out. We watched the other groups’ mock interviews and learned from each other. Discussing the need for a translator, note taker and other roles, the mock interviews helped us to see what would work and would not.

Figure 3 With the mock interviews, we had more confidence to approach real CNU students

Our first interview was at the female boarding rooms, where we interviewed a graduate from CNU who is working as a teacher. From my observations, housing conditions in the boarding rooms were more run down and noisier than in Singapore, so studying would be affected. Afterwards, we went around CNU campus to find students to interview. The whole group managed to interview a total of 9 people, and we decided to head out to the Cebu City library to take a look at learning spaces outside of CNU. Definitely, the public libraries in Singapore are of better standards than that of Cebu, but what I found interesting were the braille books (books for the blind) that are accessible in the library.

Day 5: Today I woke up earlier as we would be visiting 3 other universities to take a look at their libraries and learning centres. First to University of Saint Jose, then to Cebu Doctors University, and lastly University of Saint Carlos (USC).

Figure 4 Posing for a photo in front of the University of Saint Carlos

Comparing all 3 universities, the difference in learning environments is very obvious, especially with University of Saint Carlos' library being the largest Library in Philippines. It was several stories high and had many sections and resources, which impressed me a lot. I was surprised to find something in the Philippines that was more developed than in Singapore, as the library in SP was already astonishing for me. Even though there is better Internet connection in SINGAPORE, I felt that USC library was better for studying as it had more tables and chairs for students to study and read, as well as more books and references for student projects. We also had the opportunity to interview several students from the 3 different universities, also about their learning spaces. We have not yet analysed their data, but I have a feeling that their responses will be different from CNU students.

Day 6: The group split into pairs, and I worked with my CNU buddy Casio to transcribe the recordings of the interviews we have conducted. Working with Casio was not very difficult, as the design thinking process was crafted to make projects simpler and easy to understand.

Figure 5 Putting all our data points onto one large sheet of mahjong paper

I can see that we have really collected a lot of useful information for our project, and the time we spent interviewing these people will not be put to waste. I really hope that our effort can impact CNU in a positive way, and I’m starting to feel that this is not just another community project or module that I have to do, but I want to do.

Day 7: My teammates and I drew insights and need statements from the datapoints we obtained from the interviews. We identified key data points and discussed about what that information meant to us. We then came up with an overall need statement that covered all important aspects of the students feedback. I felt that this step of the Design Thinking process was extra important as it showed that not only do we receive information, we discuss about it and reiterate what it meant to us. I felt that the group had personal ownership of the insights and needs statement, and I am proud of the work we have done this far.

Figure 6 Day 8 was a break for us, and we shared a very memorable lunch together

Day 9: Back to Design Thinking! Using all the interview info we had collected, we created a persona. Everyone contributed by contributing ideas, creating different parts of the persona, and we all felt really proud presenting it as a group.

Figure 7 Desperate Dalla was born

However, the afternoon session was not as high energy as the former. Ideation phase was here, and it hit us HARD. I personally found it hard to come up with a new innovation about a theme that was so concrete (optimising learning spaces). All our brains were fried, and Mr Sunny gave us another way to look at learning centers: the virtual space. After hours of discussion, we decided to go ahead with ideating an online portal for CNU students. It is somewhat like the SP student portal with additional features that cater to the specific needs of CNU, but it's not 100% ideated yet.

Day 10: We finished the storyboard for our solution, and I helped to edit the presentation script which would be used in the sharing of our solution, CNU online. We wanted a virtual space which could make learning resources in CNU more accessible, while making administrative matters easier to handle as well. When it came to creating the prototype, I only followed simple instructions from the CNU students, as they are much better artists and crafters than myself. Based on today's experience, I can feel that it's really obvious how the SP students and CNU students have different strengths; I feel that the CNU students are very creative with physical objects and drawing (they have penmanship class!), while the SP students are more articulate with their words and ideas.

Figure 8 But at last, our project was ready for showcase.

Day 11&12: A showcase of our projects was held, and students as well as staff members of CNU came down to take a look at what we have done in the past week. They all generally liked the idea of our virtual space, and supported its implementation in CNU. Some had comments and suggestions for improvements about certain parts of the virtual space, but he general idea was still well received.

Figure 9 Many people attended the gallery walk

Alas, our design thinking project has come to an end. It was tougher than I expected, as everything from the target users to the problem statements were real, gathered from the interviews we conducted. All of us put in effort as we wanted to come up with a solution that could really benefit the people. I hope that in the near future, CNU Online can become a reality; to have a better learning platform for the CNU students

Day 13&14: The last two days were spent having a final tour of the city, and saying goodbyes to our buddies. I was sad that we were leaving, but overjoyed at the moments we spent eating, sharing, dancing, working and playing together.

Figure 10 The amazing people that I met in this trip

Goodbye Philippines! Goodbye Cebu, goodbye CNU, goodbye buddies. It was a really enjoyable trip with CNU, and I could not have asked for better. The people were amazing, courteous, caring, soulful, sweet, human beings. The food was wonderful too! Balut (17 days old duck egg), Canton (Maggi dry), having many different types of pork, especially Lechon! And the Lechon by the weekend beach resort, with everyone eating on banana leaves. If a country can be described by its food, then this trip to the Philippines was a very meaty experience! I'm glad I signed up for LeX. It really was a eye opening experience for me to experience the life of a country not as privileged as Singapore. The people there have to work harder manually for a living. Their way of living is also simpler. I will miss being in Cebu, but it's time to go back. Thank you so much to everyone who made this Lex so possible for me. I won't forget these past 2 weeks for a good long time.

Done by: Storyteller of Lex Cebu 2016 Group 2

Ang Peng Liang, P1508509, GD/OSIP/OS/32