My Journey
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Location:

I was a participant of the Learning Express Program (OSIP-Lex), and my name is Zhafri Bin Zainal Ariffin Abbas. I knew about the Lex Program in the middle of the second semester of my first year when a lecturer announced that they are taking in applicants for the Lex Program. All my classmates had already expressed their interest joining the program and so was I. However, knowing that most of my classmates had submitted their applications, I had the feeling that many people from other courses would also be interested. The fact that they would only pick a handful, I did not had a lot of hope to start with and do only thing I could do was to pray that hopefully I could join.

Despite all that, I was fortunate, to be one of the few selected to join the Lex Program and I was assigned to Cebu, which started on 3rd of April to the 16th of April.
However, before the program, we had to attend an intensive design-thinking workshop. This was the time when we got to know one another (SP Groupmates) and were introduced to the Design-Thinking method and how it was to be applied during the program.

After that, I soon began to have a better understanding on what OSIP was as compared to OCIP. Even though I had never gone for any OCIP events, I was told that the program was not a module and that it involved helping out a rural community within the region of that particular country. However, OSIP was different; we had to provide innovative solutions that were affecting a specific group of people in the community. Initially, when were introduced to Design-thinking, I had my doubt and fears. Would I be able to provide a feasible and effective innovative solution? Can I get along with my SP and respective partner buddies? Could I actually fail this module? All these thoughts were what I had in mind because I am not as innovative as compared to my groupmates and I fear failing and so, despite my eagerness to start the program, there were a few doubts that I had on how effective I would be in it because this was not a holiday for us.
However, despite all that, I remembered what the Brazilian author; Paulo Coelho once said, “We have to be like a pencil, it always leaves a mark. In just the same way, you should know that everything you do in life will leave a mark, so try to be conscious of that in every action.” With the quote in mind, I believed that I must leave a positive mark, no matter what the cause.
We met once again on 3rd of April 2016 around 7 am at Changi Airport. We departed Singapore at 9 am with a 15-minute delay and arrived to Cebu around 2:45 pm. Once arrived, we went directly to Cebu Normal University, which was also our partner institution. We were briefed and went on to our hostel that was nearby the university.
The following day, we met our institution buddies and played ‘Ice-breaking’ games in order to get to know each other quickly because we would be working with them for only two weeks.

Diagram: Design Thinking Process

Therefore, we began the program. I was assigned to group 1, which was then later called ‘Team Bangladesh’. We were given the project statement: Promoting a Learning Culture among Students. From there we began the first stage of Design Thinking, which was Sense & Sensibility. We had to know, how do we promote that learning culture? What is Learning Culture? Who were our target users?

Figure: Sense & Sensibility, making sense out of the project statement.


From the data collected, we decided that our target users had to be current university students. As compared to high school students and primary students, university students are in a period where they are forced to hand in assignments or homework but rather, their schedule are loosely based upon their courses; they attend lectures and are then able to do what they want to do. It is very similar to polytechnic. However, their layout were limited. During a tour around the school, our buddies showed us how a typical classroom looked like and describing how a normal day at school would be like for students. The classrooms were small and old and despite it being summer, a normal school day would mean a huge number of students in campus; students would fill the whole library, classrooms and every possible corner to study. From my perspective, I could envision students struggling against one another to find convenience to study. Sometimes, these scenarios would discourage them to study if they do not have an effective learning culture. From there, my colleagues and I knew that this is a problem for the university students. Therefore, how do we promote that learning culture and what is Learning Culture? Learning Culture was an organization of skills, values and practices that enables an individual in the community to enhance their knowledge and competence. In order to know how to promote a learning culture, we went on to the next stage of Design-Thinking: Empathy.

Empathy was about understanding the insights and needs of the target users from their perspective, in order to give them a product that they really need and not selling our version of what they need. Empathy involved interviewing our target users and cluster data gathered from these interviews to focus on needs we deemed very important in order to create a persona.

Figure: Interview Questions

We created interview questions that focus on the interviewees’ current learning style, its advantages & disadvantages and whether if it needs improvements. We decided to focus on learning style because our interviewee may not be able to understand what learning culture and knowing that learning style is the closest possible thing to a learning culture because their learning style could be influenced by their learning culture and previous experiences in other institutions.

From over 20 interviews conducted, our data collected were too many and thus, were divided into different categories such as Setting goals, Studying time, styles of study, technology used, etc. However, we had to choose three themes that would then turn into insights and finally into needs, in order to have common points of focus for the team and for our persona creation.
Therefore from data clustering:
 Themes:
o Setting Goals
o Sources of Motivations
o Multiple Distractions
 Insights:
o Unmet Goals
o Diverse Motivations
o Multiple Distractions
 Needs:
o I need to meet my goals
o I need to be motivated to achieve my goals
o I need to minimize myself from being distracted

Figure: Aspiring Alex, Persona Creation, Empathy

The next part of empathy involved the creation of a persona, a fictional but real character that captures the users’ behaviour, motivations, habits, etc. It is also a comprehensive and coherent way to illustrate a deep understanding of the target user. The name of our persona was Aspiring Alex, a 19-year-old male who is a full-time university and a student assistant. He’s motivations are his friends & family, fear of failure and achieving he’s goals however he feels frustrated when he has to do last minute study and if there is a very strong noise pollution. Thus, we focused on motivations, distractions and goals to promote a learning culture, and the need statement is, “I need to be motivated & have a CULTURE that minimizes me being distracted in order to reach my goals.” After all these objectives were met, we continued on to the third stage of Design-Thinking, Ideation.

Ideation was when we actually had to brainstorm for innovative solutions to the problem that they are facing. This was truly the hardest part of design thinking because as mentioned, innovation was not my strength and to add further, they had assigned me as leader of the project. Two things that I had feared had become to a reality. With my lack of innovation, I fear that I might fail to deliver what they had asked of me to do. However, this time with my groupmates and buddies, the work became much easier, despite the arguments and debate we had with each other throughout the concept thinking process

However, we did came with one viable system to promote learning culture. The name of the solution was BINGOALS.

Diagram: Samples of the BINGOALS Card, Legend and Certificate of Recognition

BINGOALS is an All-rounded Learning Strategy that utilizes the three needs of target users: The need to be motivated to achieve their goals, to minimize the distractions and to meet their goals. The Learning Culture is promoted through active participation of the BINGOALS. It has made learning culture to become a journey for the target users. Motivation is the foundation for all students to why they choose to study in the first place and so this is the start journey for them in order to reach the end of their journey, which is to meet their goals. However, throughout the journey that they are taking, there will be distraction. However, distractions are something that we cannot control and therefore, we emphasize more on making the user more discipline to his surroundings.
The way in which BINGOALS is to be used is that, students are given the BINGOALS Card to list out their 25 goals that they would like to achieve within that current academic year. However, within the academic year, they are to complete at least 5 goals and to be completed in the format of a BINGO game format. This means that they are to achieve these 5 goals vertically, horizontally or diagonally within the BINGOALS table given to them. Once a student had achieved the 5 goals, they are to be rewarded a certificate of recognition and a medal for their efforts in completing the BINGOALS and achieving the 5 goals. However, if someone was not able to achieve the 5 goals, he/she will not be discouraged because there will be a section for a personal reflection whereby they may evaluate on themselves on how they
had performed and what were their weakness, how they could improve on them and he/she could’ve done better.
Why we believe that this an effective solution is because this solution is feasible, desirable and sustainable. To add further, the certificate of recognition and gold medals are perceived to be attainable of those who are academically gifted. However, this is an all-rounded learning strategy. This is not only cater to academically gifted people but those who would also excel in other form of academic work such as service, volunteer or club participation.
After our co-creation and gallery walk, the feedback from our visitors were positive and the solution we had provided will be given to a trial within the upcoming academic year of Cebu Normal University. My group and me were over the rainbow with the feedbacks and comments and really felt that we had made a positive mark in the program and in Cebu Normal University.
After our gallery walk, tours and final moments with our buddies, we left Cebu for Singapore on the 16th of April around 4 pm.
It was the most memorable and unforgettable experience I had in my life. I remembered the day when we met our buddies who were very open about everything and made everything comfortable for us to a point where I felt that Cebu was my second home. It made me realize that as visitors of other countries, we have to be open to immerse our self with the culture of the particular destination. By doing so, we will not compare ourselves with them in terms of lifestyle or what we have as compared to them but rather, to understand where they are coming from and to know whom they are as people. From what I see, I find that the people of the Philippines, based on my observations of our buddies, takes pride in whatever they do, regardless academics or events. This also tells me that they are very passionate in what they do. The slow internet connection makes them very innovative in socializing. They are also very open people, they are not afraid to speak their thoughts. To me, that was what I cherish. They were those who really take the program seriously and wanted to put in all their efforts, there were those were always lively and ensure that no single day was dull. Lastly, there are those with witty ideas that made us challenge each other to push ourselves and conducting healthy debates to press further to why these ideas are considered viable. I also cherish the warmth they had given to us, to a point where I felt ashamed of myself to only present my buddy a plain SP shirt as she gave me bracelets, collage of photos a necklace, even a stuffed-toy bear that she had kept since she was eleven years old. She was not the only one as others had given me keychains, collage of photos and books, as they knew that I was a bookworm. The only thing that I regret not doing was to give them more than I actually wanted to give them. There was no excuse for me to simply give them an SP shirt.

We did not had any homestay but an experience to visit boarding houses. We also had a chance to visit Boljoon, Cebu that is a 5-hour journey from the city. It was the only time when we get to stay overnight with our buddies and a greater chance to get to know each other. However, the most pleasurable experience throughout the program was having the chance to meet our Cebu Normal University partners. What they had given us in two weeks was an eternity’s worth of friendship. I remember the very day when we left, all of us were crying, and I myself is not one to cry easily but the fact that I was able to cry buckets of tears, our bond and friendship really meant something. However, most importantly, my team and I were able to leave a positive mark in Cebu and I was able to form one of the greatest bonds I had in my life with people whom I began to know and cherish.
Therefore, at the end of the program, I had taken so many opportunities from it. Getting the chance to be leader during a part of the program, to present solely to the head faculties and vice-president as requested by my team-mates, to give a speech for the closing ceremony and last but not least, an SP ambassador for the ASEAN Pulse.

To conclude, I would end with a quote that I had made at the end of the program and had mentioned in my speech. ‘Doing what you love is FREEDOM but loving what you do is FULFILMENT.’ That was what I believe that every single one of in the LeX Program regardless of which country we went. We may not like what we had done because of the environment we’re in, the people we had met along the way or the culture shock which we had experienced but at least, we felt that we had done was a fulfilling one because we knew that we had contributed into helping out the community.

Figure: SP X CNU A strong made between people who lives under the same stars

Written by: Zhafri Bin Zainal Ariffin Abbas