By: Rieneke Helder | March 22, 2022
On Wednesday, March 2, 2022, Redeemer University announced that they are preparing for a full return to campus for the 2022-2023 school year. As restrictions have been lifted one by one over the last few months, this announcement served as a reassurance. Yet following this line in the announcement was the news that there will be “a remote option via dual-delivery format for a limited number of students in most classes,” answering some questions that have been asked more frequently these days.
Kevin Johnson, the Dean of Students, shared some insights into how the decision-making has been going on a divided campus. “Many cultural observers have noted that the pandemic has revealed how polarized society has become. We have experienced this reality at Redeemer and it has been very challenging to navigate. The very nature of polarized positions means that the direction, decisions and announcements made by Redeemer are often met with a mixture of both applause and criticism. This is a hard place to be in. It takes wisdom for a community to journey well through these kinds of tensions.”
Dr. Kyle Spyksma, Interim Vice President as well as math and physics professor, spoke to the tense, heavy conversations that have seeped onto campus life, conversations about pandemic policies, the freedom convoy, and, most recently, the war on Ukraine. “We like to have discussions about the ‘other,’ but this year, in many senses, we’ve had to deal with the other in a different way than we ever have had to at Redeemer. It’s exposed a lot of hurts, and boy, where will the grace of God take us next? Where will the patience, the love go from here? I can fundamentally disagree with the approaches or beliefs that some people have, but how do I seek to live in harmony regardless of that?”
With that in mind, how has this decision in particular landed on campus? What are students and staff actually wanting with the future of hybrid learning at Redeemer?
It’s no secret that hybrid learning has left some bruises on the in-person learning experience. Dana Plummer, a fourth-year psychology major whose classes this year have been largely discussion based, said, “I think it’s gone as well as it could have so far, and it’s opened opportunities for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to complete their degree. At the same time though, it creates a weird dynamic in the classroom. You have online students who are mostly checked out, except for a few that are really invested.”
The experience has had its ups and downs for classroom instructors and decision-makers at Redeemer, as well. Dr. Karen Dieleman, the Interim Associate Vice President and Dean, Academic, as well as professor of English, has noticed a shift in students’ online engagement: “My sense is that when we first started with dual delivery, the student body was so thankful that we were not going to be fully online the way we had been in those first six weeks. Their engagement through Zoom was really wholehearted, and they had an invested disposition.”
She continued, “I don’t want to idealize it looking back, but students tried to help make the situation better. My experience now is that while students find it to be convenient, it’s just not something that draws their passion. My students who go remote tend to turn their cameras off. I feel that overall students are a bit weary of it. Many aren’t putting in the same investment as they were at first; dispositionally, something has changed. Maybe they, like everyone, are just tired of the pandemic and what it requires of us.”
The negative implications on the classroom experience are one thing, but what about the sacrifices that have been made by Redeemer in order to accommodate? Dr. Spyksma shared some of the behind-the-scenes details from the early days of the pandemic: “I remember getting cold calls from exam proctoring businesses, willing to sell their services for $15 per testing hour per student. How in the world would we afford these new costs?” According to Spyksma, Redeemer has invested over $1 million on the technology for Zoom rooms alone, “rounded to the nearest million.”
Despite the challenges, is the Redeemer community ready to move on from hybrid learning? Shall we begin taking our 75-inch TV screens off of the classroom walls and listing them on Facebook Marketplace and removing Google Meets from the bookmarks on our laptops?
Speaking with students and faculty, it’s evident that through the hardships, beauty has still been hard to overlook. Dr. Phil Teeuwsen, Dean of the School of Education as well as one of the education professors, has witnessed creativity in these hard times, especially in a program that relies so heavily on the classroom experience: “I’m really impressed with the way my students have engaged and formed community in other ways.”
Dr. Teeuwsen also emphasized that, “We have learned a lot about what education is. For Redeemer, it’s interesting to consider how maybe we can expand our reach and our mission in ways we wouldn’t have even dreamed of. We do have to think carefully about opportunities that come from this.”
First-year student Ella Brinkman, despite her reservations about being in class while some students are online, appreciates the convenience that comes with being able to jump on a Zoom call while sick in bed: “Hybrid learning allows you to have access to your classes if for some reason you need to be away. Especially during a pandemic, it allows you to not fall behind.”
Dr. Dieleman spoke of the hope she has seen in the way Redeemer’s faculty have been shaped: “All of us as faculty have realized that we are capable of learning new things that we never would have ventured into learning had we not been forced to. Everyone has a certain dexterity that we didn’t have two years ago. We’ve all had our pedagogies stretched in ways that are just good for teachers; we should always be stretching and expanding our pedagogy. It [has] reminded us that teaching is always a learning process.”
Regardless of how the decision to continue offering hybrid learning in the upcoming school year is received, people want to know what Redeemer’s end goal is. Are high school seniors going to be expecting dual-delivery when shopping around for universities? Will Redeemer be losing out on a batch of students if one day we don’t offer remote learning anymore? It doesn’t seem like we have answers to those questions quite yet, but students, classroom instructors, and Redeemer’s administration all seem to be on the same page: Redeemer’s mission has and always will be to provide relationship-oriented, Christ-centered education.
Kevin Johnson put it like this: “The overarching vision during the decision making process has been to appropriately facilitate in-person learning and remote studies at Redeemer within the government regulations at any given time. Redeemer has long held a strong commitment to an educational mission that is rooted in a Christian community experience. This is part of the reason why Redeemer has worked hard to offer in-person learning during the pandemic. Redeemer students have had the opportunity to experience something that many post secondary students in Ontario have not been able to partake in.”
Dr. Teeuwsen is calling the next school year a “transition year,” Dr. Spyksma referred to it as an “exploration year,” and the overall consensus is that the long-term vision for Redeemer will not include the likes of awkward tech problems, breakout rooms, or forgetting to mute yourself in class. It’s hard to predict when hybrid learning will be a thing of the past, but it sounds like this next year will be one full of reflecting and revisiting why Redeemer exists in the first place.