ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary leaders have been discerning plans for the 2020–21 academic year during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic — with the goal of giving students and employees safe access to campus spaces while making it possible to study or work from home for those who need this option.
A “Return to Campus” Team at the Elkhart, Indiana, seminary began working in May to establish policies for campus operations, following local COVID-19 conditions and state/federal guidelines closely.
“This isn’t the situation we hoped for as we looked forward to commencement and beginning a new academic year,” reflected David Boshart, Ph.D., president. “I am grateful for the flexibility, perseverance and determination of our faculty, staff and students. I believe that we will overcome the challenges of this time so that we can offer a safe and healthy environment, high-quality instruction and services, and new ways to strengthen our sense of community. We will travel this road together with hope and resilience!”
Many of AMBS’s Semester One graduate-level course offerings (August/September – December) will be accessible at a distance due to the coronavirus. The seminary’s accrediting agency, the Association of Theological Schools, has waived degree-program residency requirements through December 2020.
“We are building on significant AMBS faculty experience with online formats and the unique pedagogical benefits of these,” said Beverly Lapp, Ed.D., vice president and academic dean.
According to Lapp, AMBS will continue to offer several asynchronous online courses in which students complete weekly coursework at times that fit their individual schedule and needs. During Semester One, most campus courses will be taught with a mix of live videoconference and other virtual formats, with adaptations to include some in-person components as conditions allow. AMBS’s distinctive hybrid courses, in which students study online except for a weeklong residential intensive, are meeting via videoconference rather than requiring travel to Elkhart.
Lapp noted that student survey feedback has been invaluable in helping faculty plan learning environments that combine various technologies and formats to achieve course learning outcomes.
Brent Graber, M.A., information technology director, said that practices implemented by AMBS in the past to enable distance learning meant that fewer IT adaptations have been needed during the pandemic; instead, faculty have had the opportunity to extend and refine these practices.
A list of graduate-level course offerings for Semester One can be found at ambs.edu/onecourse.
Many of the AMBS Church Leadership Center’s nondegree lifelong learning offerings are already distance friendly and will continue to be in 2020–21. Several of the six-week online Anabaptist Short Courses now include optional weekly Zoom gatherings with the instructor. Participants in the Journey Missional Leadership Development Program, which normally includes an in-person weekend gathering, will meet remotely this fall. To learn more, see ambs.edu/lifelong-learning.
The AMBS Library has prioritized access for students and faculty since the COVID-19 lockdown began in the spring. While the library already had many resources available electronically for students at a distance before COVID-19, librarians Karl Stutzman, M.L.S., and Brandon Board, M.L.I.S., extended these services to all students and faculty and developed an online guide to help users access materials. The library will be announcing new open hours and guidelines for the campus community in the coming weeks.
The seminary’s commencement activities, which were postponed from the original dates of May 1–2 due to the pandemic, will take place online on Saturday, Aug. 22. The public is invited to attend a live-streamed commencement and commissioning ceremony from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at ambs.edu/commencement. There will also be an online sharing and awards program for the seminary community, the graduates and their guests, and an optional socially distanced in-person outdoor celebration by invitation only.
Campus guidelines and residential life
Campus safety measures include required face coverings, physical distancing, self-screening checks, and contact tracing. A tent is being added to the campus to enable outdoor classroom and meeting space.
AMBS’s residential apartments have remained operational during the pandemic. Campus care pods were formed at the start of the pandemic and will continue as a way to ensure a support network if there were to be cases of COVID-19 in the residential community.
Employees returning to campus
According to Boshart, more employees will return to their campus offices as the semester begins, while some will continue to work primarily from home. Department leaders are working with their teams to develop an employee presence plan that meets the needs and service expectations of the department and institution while ensuring safe practices.
See ambs.edu/updates for the most current information on AMBS’s continuing adaptations in response to the pandemic.
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