While most university students in Manitoba – and, indeed, Canada – are attending university remotely this fall, the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) is offering in-person instruction at their Winnipeg campus. Like all other Manitoban universities, CMU moved to online learning in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kevin Kilbrei, CMU’s director of communications and marketing, says the university began planning for this September in mid-April.
“Working with public health officials and following Manitoba Health legislation and mandates, we started to strategize and consider what it would take for us to have in-person classes and on-campus living,” he says.
Kilbrei says that, as a small university, they are able to provide in-person instruction. Their plan includes occupancy limits, increased sanitization, mandatory mask-wearing in most spaces and restricted access to campus buildings. Furthermore, most classes are being offered via a hybrid format, meaning students who do not feel comfortable going to campus may learn from home.
After the first few days of classes, Kilbrei says he is hearing lots of positive comments from students.
“So far, it’s gone really well,” he says.
“Observing students, as administrators, we’re heartened to see how students are holding each other accountable and being responsible.”
Dr. Irma Fast Dueck, associate professor of practical theology, has found the back-to-school experience to be “exhilarating.”
“There’s something about the energy of people and bodies on campus, even if it’s quite different,” she says.
Fast Dueck has noticed that the level of engagement of students this year is high, saying that “people are interested in getting out of their bubbles.”
“My sense is that students are quite happy and energized and glad to be here,” she says.
“On the other hand, it’s also exhausting, and, in some ways, it feels like I’m a brand-new teacher,” Fast Dueck says, alluding to how instructors must adapt to new protocols and technological tools.
As COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Manitoba, it is unclear how things will develop at in-person schools and post-secondary institutions. However, when asked about whether she feels safe on campus, Fast Dueck says that, overall, she does.
“When we first started, I thought people were going to balk at the rules, but they’re not,” she says.
Kilbrei notes that for staff and faculty members, the university has introduced a few new human resources policies to account for staff not coming into work due to sickness, getting tested for COVID-19 and caring for family members who are immunocompromised.
“It’s more of a flexible work arrangement,” he says.
“There’s a sense that we all want to be here, so we all have to try,” Fast Dueck says.
“This might change in a few weeks,” she says, “but right now there’s such a yearning to get into this kind of teaching that people are doing.”
“To be back at university, your world opens up,” Fast Dueck says.
CMU’s complete COVID-19 response plan can be found at media.cmu.ca/nr-framework.
Published in Volume 75, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 24, 2020)