Canadian Mennonite University prepares for full slate of in-person classes this fall

As many Canadian colleges and universities prepare to deliver a fall semester mostly online due to COVID-19, one Winnipeg institution has different plans.

Smaller class sizes will be held in combination with bigger rooms

Canadian Mennonite University plans to offer some virtual learning this fall, but will otherwise push ahead with in-person instruction while maintaining social distancing requirements, its president says. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

As many Canadian colleges and universities prepare to deliver a fall semester mostly online due to COVID-19, one Winnipeg institution has different plans.

Canadian Mennonite University will offer some virtual extensions to learning for those who request it, but it ultimately intends to offer a full slate of in-person instruction.

CMU president Cheryl Pauls said they'll offer smaller class sizes while ensuring physical distancing is happening.

In order to make the necessary changes, the school is radically reworking how it will use its campus on Shaftesbury Boulevard. The amount of change is overwhelming but also inspiring, Pauls said.

"It's a whole lot of anxiety for people: 'Can I get used to being that far apart from people?'" she said. "But I also find that there's a greater willingness to ask bigger questions in life and that gives me energy."

One reason CMU is confident it can offer a full slate of in-person courses is because it already offered many classes with fewer than 25 students, or in some cases as high as 50.

This fall, classes will be held in bigger rooms not typically used as classrooms to ensure everyone is spaced apart.

The concept of a lab partner won't exist in the same way, said Pauls, and experiments may take different forms as well.

The school is mulling changes to its dining hall to ensure people aren't all eating together in a clump, and each dorm room will only have one student.

The music program will focus more on production this year because live performances won't be possible.

CMU choirs are also being restructured into small vocal ensembles. Pauls said one possibility is to have a small group in a large room, with each person with their backs to one another and spaced several metres apart.

"So, they're singing all in different directions. You learn tuning in whole new ways."

It's a lot of work and preparation, but Pauls said the school will approach the fall semester with a sense of grace and inventiveness.

No amount of measures, however, will be able to salvage some CMU offerings. That includes its travelling discipleship program, which has been suspended for 2021, Pauls said.

The discipleship normally pairs students with families in Guatemala, but that won't be feasible next year due to travel restrictions.

CMU students were trapped there this year for a while at the beginning of the pandemic.


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