In-person classes have drawn students to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont. Photo courtesy of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College

Live classes draw students to Catholic college

By  Elizabeth Gay, Catholic Register Special
  • October 25, 2020

It's been a unique start to post-secondary education for many students taking the next step on their educational path in this year of COVID-19.

The peculiar learning circumstances engineered by the pandemic have prevented most Canadian higher-learning institutions from providing in-person classes, instead forcing students to rely on the virtual path in which they ended Grade 12.

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, a small Catholic university in Barry’s Bay, Ont., though, is one of the few institutes that has opened its classroom doors to students. It’s drawn a number of students who otherwise would have gone elsewhere.

Connor McLean intended to attend Georgian College in Barrie this fall before his entire fine arts program went digital. His parents suggested attending Seat of Wisdom instead. 

“When I got accepted I felt like that was the Lord saying, ‘you should come here,’ ” said the 19-year-old.

Thus far, the leap of faith is paying off. McLean is enjoying the start of his semester, studying the core subjects for first-year students at Seat of Wisdom: history, Christian doctrine, logic, Latin and classical literature. 

McLean says learning in the classroom increases his motivation and concentration on his studies.   Finishing his last three months of Grade 12 online was a struggle, he admits.

Academics from the American Institutes for Research and the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research would agree with McLean’s assertion that in-person learning trumps virtual education for the majority of students. The two research bodies ran a joint study — published in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness in September 2016 — that randomly assigned 1,224 Grade 9 students from Chicago with a face-to-face or online credit recovery course after all had failed algebra.

Pupils saddled with the online course found the coursework more difficult and aroused in the students negative attitudes about mathematics, moreso than students who learned in class.

Staff at Seat of Wisdom believe the preference for face-to-face interaction was a major factor in helping students decide where to study this year.

“There is something vital about the incarnational aspect of our education,” said Christine Schintgen, the interim president at Seat of Wisdom. “We are not just filling people’s minds with information, but leading people through example and through dialogue and relationship, which is difficult to achieve online. Despite all the restrictions, there is something beautiful about being able to welcome people to our campus to experience this.”

Peter Naus, now an 18-year-old in first year, originally planned to study engineering at the University of Toronto. His parents had always encouraged Naus to attend Seat of Wisdom first to develop his critical thinking skills, Catholic friendships and his knowledge of faith and its beauty before continuing in more field-specific studies. 

“Our primary reason for wanting (him) to attend is that the liberal arts approach opens up your mind to discerning thought regarding what is going on in the world,” said Naus’ mother, Catherine. “The basis of Christian doctrine anchors the discernment in Christ. It is like asking what would Jesus do and having the beginning of a foundation to know and understand why it should be that way.”

Naus bowed to the wisdom of his parents. He too says that in retrospect he is “enjoying being here.”

Ashley Perry, a former member of the NET (National Evangelization Team) Ministries of Canada, was well on her way to another path when the pull of Seat of Wisdom had her change course. About to begin a hairdresser’s course, Perry awoke one morning in mid-August and “didn’t feel at peace” with her decision.

“I didn’t feel God wanted me to go into hairdressing,” said the 19-year-old Perry. “I just dropped out a week before I was supposed to attend.”

She applied to Seat of Wisdom and received her acceptance letter the day before she arrived on campus and is glad she chose this path. “It was sort of like a message from God saying you should go here,” she said.

(Gay is a third-yar student at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College.)

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