Scattered across Middle Tennessee but united in a common mission, the Lipscomb community faced COVID-19 restrictions head on, working remotely but diligently in the spring and summer of 2020 to finish the spring semester strong for students and to bring them back to a safe and caring campus in August.
While students returned to fill the campus sidewalks and classrooms on Aug. 24, the way they are being taught may be forever changed. During the spring and summer, all courses were taught completely online, and in the fall semester, every course includes either an online alternative format, a socially distanced classroom or a limited or altered schedule.
For many College of Bible & Ministry professors, that change has brought the painful benefits of embracing new and different ways of teaching Christ. Painful at first, but beneficial overall.
“I’ve become begrudgingly grateful for social media,” said Lauren White, assistant professor of theology. “I never would have said yes before when a student challenged me to play Ask Me Anything on the College of Bible & Ministry Instagram. But seeing how our students and professors were really connecting and bonding over Instagram was redeeming.
“The interactive nature was more intimate, intentional. Students are more bold and show more parts of their personality,” she said. “I bonded with the students in a way that I otherwise would not have. There is an anonymity in being able to ask questions virtually that could be useful, as well as tapping into how students are already bonding and connecting.”
Josh Strahan (’04), associate professor for the College of Bible, also found it daunting to lose the face-to-face aspect of his courses, especially for the courses that are prone to sensitive discussion.
“The ethics classes were tricky to bring online. So much is communicated nonverbally. As a professor, I want to feel the environment,” he said. “But there have been unexpected positive outcomes of this shift. Some students engage more online than they did in class.”
Strahan redesigned one of his courses to explore more personal questions, asking students how certain spiritual concepts shape, challenge or confirm their understanding of Christianity.
“I got some very sincere honest reflections that were vulnerable and open,” said Strahan, noting that he may incorporate the exercise as an ongoing journal project in the future. “For me, it is second nature to think, ‘How would this affect my life?’ Students aren’t naturally thinking that way.”
Professor Lavender found many useful ways to incorporate technology into his permanent pedagogy, he said. “I realized I could do some things better online than in person, such as everyone has to participate and it's easy to see who is participating. You can’t replace the classroom, but I’ve learned how to strengthen it,” he said.
The logistics are just one aspect of this moment in time. There are, of course, many emotional aspects of the sudden transition professors must consider as Lee Camp (’89), professor of theology and ethics, reflected, “I think of it as adapting to a new culture: and adapting to a new culture takes a lot of extra time and mental/emotional navigation. So this has weighed upon a lot of them fairly significantly.”
Professors have risen to the occasion to accommodate students in these unprecedented times.
Like many students who had left for spring break right before the decision was made to halt in-person classes, international student and senior theology/ministry major Isaac Noh had to start online classes without his notes and textbooks.
“Fortunately for me, my professors extended much grace and offered flexible alternatives regarding assignments and projects,” he said. “I still had to work overtime to make up for all the missing material I had, but luckily I have amazing friends who proved to be a tremendous help.”
“Suddenly switching to remote was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,” said Sydney Cipriani, junior Biblical Languages major. “Our professors ... understood that we were dealing with unprecedented times. Everything I forgot at school was posted online by professors. They worked really hard to make the switch as easy as they could for us,”
Senior youth ministry major Adam Parks recounted, “At the end of Spiritual Formation with Dr. Lavender, all of the students in the class were given the opportunity to share their experiences and growth from the semester. Despite the chaos that was happening in the world around us, every single person shared deeply moving and impactful thoughts and experiences.”