Posted December 8, 2020
For the last four decades, Professor Don Wiebe has been a constant at Trinity College. Starting at the College in 1980, he was brought on by the Faculty of Divinity to teach courses in philosophy and philosophy of religion, and he was the first non-ordained person hired by the Faculty. Over the years, along with teaching, he has held several leadership positions at the College – he served as Acting Dean (1995-1996) and Dean (1996-2001) of the Faculty of Divinity, and as Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts (2008-2009). In recent years, he has shifted his focus, spending half his time on research and writing, with two books on the study of religion currently in the works.
Prior to the pandemic, Don was often one of the last to leave the office for the day… an office that looks more like a library with endless floor-to-ceiling bookcases lined with coveted books and resources. When COVID-19 hit, Don, like so many of his colleagues, had to adapt quickly to the new normal – campus lockdown, remote delivery of courses, and virtual meetings.
For those who have not taught online before, such as Don, the learning curve – both the use of technology and the pedagogical use of technology – could seem daunting. Trinity faculty were up to the task – they worked hard to re-imagine their courses and to find ways to engage students in the virtual world. With the support of colleagues and administration, along with additional training and enhanced IT support, Trinity instructors were well prepared to created the best possible learning environment for the new academic year.
We asked Don a few questions to find out how the pandemic has impacted his daily life, both in and out of the virtual classroom.
Trinity College (TC): When you heard that courses would be delivered remotely, what was your initial reaction?
Don Wiebe (DW): I was anxious, but not to the point of panic. I am a bit of a technophobe and was not convinced that I would not mess things up teaching remotely. Prior to the pandemic, I used a blackboard a lot in trying to get my thoughts and arguments across to students, and thought not having that pedagogical tool would be a significant disadvantage for students. I have not found a technological substitute for the missing blackboard but have been able to make use of mini lectures to spell out the complex conceptual developments in the study of religion and theology rather than map those developments visually.
TC: Now that we’re near the end of the fall term, has your view of online learning changed?
DW: My anxiety about teaching remotely has faded considerably. I really appreciate the simplicity of using Zoom to get this done, but very much look forward to getting back into the classroom.
TC: What do you enjoy the most about teaching online? What do you enjoy the least?
DW: Although having adjusted to teaching remotely, I do not think there is anything positive I can say about it in itself. Nevertheless, I very much appreciate that teaching remotely safeguards both my students and me from COVID-19. Like my colleagues in the Faculty of Divinity, I am fortunate that my students are highly motivated adults, many of whom are transitioning from one profession to another, and engaged in classroom discussion and debates. If I had anything negative to say about it, other than it not providing me face-to-face access to students, it would be having to remember to send the invitation to the weekly meetings!
TC: Since the start of the pandemic, what has been…
…the one thing that you look forward to every day?
DW: My daily morning walk followed with an ice-cold Coke Zero.
…the one thing that you dread to do every day?
DW: Nothing here – just glad still being engaged in education and the life of the College.
…your biggest challenge?
DW: Living without daily access to my books and papers in the office.
…the thing you miss the most?
DW: I miss not being able to have dinner with family and friends. Missing live Tafelmusik concerts.
…the best way for you to stay connected with others?
DW: Regular conversation – by Skype, Zoom, telephone and e-mail.
…your new-found hobby or activity?
DW: No time for a new hobby – still enjoying reading and writing.
…your favourite way to spend time at home?
DW: Reading, reading, and reading.
…the last series/show you binge-watched?
DW: Big Bang Theory.