Canadian campuses prep for students in person, online

Conrad Grebel University College custodians Paul Penner, Levi Flaming, Peter Hart and Devon Grainger return to work Aug. 4 to prepare for residence students to return to campus in September. — Conrad Grebel University College Conrad Grebel University College custodians Paul Penner, Levi Flaming, Peter Hart and Devon Grainger return to work Aug. 4 to prepare for residence students to return to campus in September. — Conrad Grebel University College

Hold classes in person or go online? That’s the question facing three Canadian Mennonite-related schools.

Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Man., is planning a hybrid approach — a mix of in-person and online instruction.

“We’re not being cavalier,” said CMU President Cheryl Pauls about the decision to welcome students back to campus. “We are being extremely attentive to practicing the health protocols that are recommended by provincial health authorities.”

The goal, she said, is to “work together toward the physical, mental and emotional health” of students, staff and faculty, and to learn ways to “to live with COVID-19.”

To be on campus, students must be symptom-free, complete training on procedures and protocols for being on campus, practice diligent hygiene, maintain physical distancing, wear masks where requested and respect guidelines for social interaction.

Dormitory residences will be open, but there will only be one student per room. The dining hall will serve plated food, not buffet-style.

Sports will take place without spectators, except for soccer.

Making it work will require “a collective accountability,” Pauls said. All students, staff and faculty will be required to sign a covenant promising to abide by health regulations and guidelines to ensure campus safety.

CMU’s approach is different from the three other universities in the province, which will be online only.

Terry Schellenberg, vice president external, said one thing that makes things easier for CMU than for other schools is its spacious campus relative to the size of the student population.

“This is a luxury larger universities don’t have,” he said.

For Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont., being fully integrated into the University of Waterloo means it will follow the lead of that university and teach online.

Dorms will be only 50 percent occupancy, said Grebel President Marcus Shantz. Meals in the dining hall will be plated.

He acknowledged teaching online isn’t ideal.

“The feedback from the spring semester showed students feel more motivated when they are with others. Being with people doing the same thing supports their learning goals,” he said.

Chapel services will move online, and student services staff will be especially attuned to the mental and emotional health of students, Shantz added.

Grebel doesn’t participate in interschool athletics. Only intramural activities are affected.

While looking forward to a return to in-person teaching, one surprise is the increased number of people enrolling online in master’s level courses.

“Going online means it’s easier for people to take classes at a distance,” Shantz said.

Rethinking everything

For Bryan Born, president of Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C., it’s been a challenging summer.

“Everything single thing we do has had to be rethought,” he said.

The college is planning to hold in-person classes, which has “created an incredible amount of work,” he said of plans for cleaning, disinfecting and social distancing.

Columbia will only offer classes in person, not online. Born said the decision was rooted in the college’s “philosophy of how we do education and discipleship.”

All students will be required to wear masks campus-wide. Chapel services will be held multiple times with reduced capacity. The dining hall will have extended hours for mealtimes to reduce the number of students in the facility.

All intercollegiate sports are canceled for the fall semester, but student athletes can practice and train as long as they observe health and safety protocols.

All three schools say things are looking positive for enrollment, but finances have taken a hit, mainly from loss of rent income.

Although each school is working hard to make careful plans, “everything could change at a moment’s notice,” Born said.

Added Shantz: “We have to be prepared to pivot if things change.”

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