COVID-19 has been a game-changer for post-secondary institutions across Canada. With the virus an ongoing challenge for the foreseeable future, many schools continued with remote learning for the winter 2021 semester and have similar plans for spring and summer. Redeemer’s approach this past fall was to prioritize the community’s health and safety while maintaining a classroom setting that allowed for as much in-person relational engagement between students and instructors as safely possible. Coined the dual-delivery method, it involves conducting in-person and remote learning synchronously through a live-stream. In other words, students were able to participate live in class from home or in person, all at the same time.
“I was overjoyed,” says third-year media and communications student Joe Alagna. “I’m a very in-person, hands-on learner and prefer to be in front of the professor when I need help.”
For Maria Gonzalez, a fourth-year art, English and music student from the Dominican Republic, staying remote offered relief from the complications of international travel. And because lectures were live-streamed, she didn’t feel removed from the classroom environment.
“Whenever the professor asked a question, they looked towards the Zoom or asked remote students to comment,” says Gonzalez. “The in-person students also helped by indicating if a remote student wanted to talk or wrote something in the chat. In some instances, I was even paired with people in class who joined the Zoom from their devices. Even though it’s a drastic change, I didn’t feel it as much.”
The approach benefitted faculty as well. Dr. Murray Stiller, professor of media and communications studies and a regular commuter from Vancouver to Hamilton, found that dual delivery mimicked his teaching style.
“Before COVID, I managed my time in the classroom by delivering video lectures online as homework. Then, we spent class time doing exercises and activities,” Stiller explains. “[The dual-delivery method] sharpened my teaching style because there’s a learning curve for teachers when it comes to instructing online. Especially this year, I’ve learned a ton about doing it effectively.”
Although remote learning presents challenges when it comes to forming relationships, especially with new students, Stiller still takes every opportunity to do so.
“I look for opportunities to hear from students during scheduled class time when we talk about their projects. We also get to know each other off-line through emails as I encourage them to contact me with questions or movie recommendations.”
Dr. Jane Sinden, who teaches education and kinesiology, praises Redeemer for allowing students to choose whichever instruction style helps them feel safe and comfortable.
“Redeemer’s mission thrives because of the emphasis the university places on community and relationships.”
“The students who wanted to be remote had the option to do that, as did the ones who wanted to be in person,” says Sinden. “I love that we’re able to do that. I had hardly any students miss class because if they couldn’t physically be there, they could always participate remotely.”
Implementing the technology for dual delivery over the summer, while configuring the classrooms with distance requirements and juggling complex scheduling all on short notice was a herculean effort. Faculty training on the tech began shortly before school began, pushing everyone beyond the edges of comfort due to the speed and scale of the change. In every area, the Redeemer community rose to the challenge and trusted in the benefits it would provide for the students during frustrating and difficult circumstances.
“I was excited and nervous because it’s such a significant upgrade, but we received a lot of positive feedback,” says audio-visual manager Andrew Bergsma. “It’s a solution that can last for years and open up new opportunities going forward,” added director of information technology Len Moelker.
The full scope of the method’s capabilities allowed for a smooth transition when the winter semester began fully remote amidst Ontario’s lockdown.
“Redeemer’s mission thrives because of the emphasis the university places on community and relationships,” says Dr. David Zietsma, provost and vice-president, academic. “The dual-delivery model of learning was the best way to preserve that essential part of the mission and enable us to continue the relational, spiritual vibrancy of the Redeemer learning experience that makes us who we are.”