LCC retains its vision to be the leading Christian liberal arts university in Europe with a commitment to maintaining a flourishing academic community with spiritual impact beyond the classroom – even in an era of remote learning.
I have worked at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania, as an international associate with Mennonite Mission Network for 23 years. For the Lithuanian people, the early 1990s were times of exciting transition as the country earned independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. The same year, three Anabaptists from Canada, Germany and Lithuania were invited to envision an educational program with moral values. Step-by-step, through partnership with the Lithuanian people, LCC International University was born. As teachers and staff, we are now in a different time of transition and rapid change.
What steps will we take next? How will COVID-19 impact LCC in the fall semester?
Teaching won't be the same, as we are required to teach remotely. Teaching is a dynamic profession; we would not be teachers if we weren't already eager for today's challenges of change and innovation. We have been learning new teaching methods and online techniques. Our students are digital citizens, and they can easily utilize technology for learning.
On one hand, teaching is a personal, relational, and highly contextualized profession. We have spent our careers crafting classroom lessons to be positive learning environments for our students, both academically and socially. We love to see our students' faces, to promote positive socialization, and to empower learning. We find it hard to imagine that teaching through a computer screen can ever come close to replacing the power of classroom dynamics and the interpersonal connections fostered between teachers and students.
On the other hand, we want to do our part to keep our students healthy and safe. We want to be part of our community's solution to stopping the spread of this deadly coronavirus. We know that health and safety are far more important than quizzes, tests and grades.
Teaching online is one answer to the question of social distancing.
Like most of Europe, the global pandemic has impacted Lithuania. In early March, the Lithuanian government locked down the borders, required people to wear masks, closed businesses and schools, and began a nationwide strategy to control the virus. The Ministry of Health has provided accurate daily televised updates; contact tracing and drive-through testing began immediately. For the most part, Lithuanians sheltered in place and followed the regulations. Because of strong, well-organized leadership, there have been very few cases and very few deaths in Lithuania due to COVID-19. Though quarantine rules were lifted in mid-June, citizens remain cautious, and the government continues to monitor the situation closely.
At LCC International University, we moved to online course delivery Mar. 14. We immediately began planning the upcoming fall semester. Typically, we have more than 600 students from 41 different countries living on campus and attending classes. We needed guidelines and plans for a very different fall semester, scheduled to begin Aug. 31.
First and foremost, LCC will never become a fully online university. Our vision firmly remains "to be the leading Christian liberal arts university in Europe, renowned for its flourishing academic community, spiritual vitality, and global impact." And we will continue this mission through and on our campus community.
Second, we will move to a flexible model of course delivery. The Lithuanian boarders are still closed to countries that have a high percentage of COVID cases. Therefore, students will elect to be "on campus" or "off campus" in the fall. Most students value the community and are electing to be on campus; others will remain off campus because national borders will likely remain closed. Instructors will aim to give equal attention to students who are sitting in front of them and to those students studying remotely. We are exploring other electronic learning platforms in addition to Moodle, which we already use.
Third, we have revised our calendar. In March, when we moved to online instruction, we discovered that our undergraduates had difficulty balancing five online courses simultaneously. We will ease that pressure by revising the fall schedule into two quarters instead of one semester. Students will still complete five courses but will only juggle two or three courses at one time.
As Christian educators, we are called to be honest examples of Christ's love to our diverse student body. We will need to be gracious and acknowledge to ourselves and our students when we need help. We will navigate the fall semester together, as we have done since 1991, one step at a time.