Excerpts from the Church News article Why BYU-Pathway Virtual Gatherings are a Reminder of the Foresight of the Lord
As of Wednesday, March 18, all BYU-Pathway Worldwide PathwayConnect students who have sufficient internet bandwidth will be meeting online for their weekly cohort gatherings—a fact that Brian Ashton, BYU-Pathway vice president of field operations, said is only possible because of the guiding hand of the Lord…
When BYU-Pathway Worldwide received approval from the First Presidency and the Church Board of Education to integrate virtual gatherings as part of their regular curriculum worldwide, there wasn’t an expectation that the entire worldwide program would ever have to shift to hosting their weekly cohort gatherings solely online.
Even a year ago, when BYU-Pathway announced that their programs were available entirely online thanks to their new virtual gatherings—made available through a combination of technologies including Zoom classrooms—only about one third of PathwayConnect students were participating in online cohort gatherings. For the most part, the in-person gatherings have remained the preferred method for creating a weekly classroom environment for bringing students together, explained Gilbert.
But that was before the coronavirus pandemic cancelled the majority of group gatherings around the world seemingly overnight.
With terms like social distancing, self-quarantine, and isolation circulating as proactive measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, BYU-Pathway, like many Church entities, is taking precautions to limit group gatherings by moving the entirety of their programs and gatherings online until the concerns and risks associated with the virus dissipate.
“Our curriculum has always been online,” Ashton said. “But we’ve had to take the gatherings online too.”
Starting this week, nearly 700 groups that were previously gathering in-person each week, will now switch to virtual gatherings. But the best part, Ashton explained, is that the transition of their back-end systems took no more than a couple of hours to make—thanks to nearly four years of preparation, that is.
For Ashton, looking back at the development of the virtual gatherings for PathwayConnect over the last several years is “one of those faith promoting experiences that shows how the Lord prepared BYU-Pathway for the coronavirus.”
When BYU-Pathway’s IT team began working on integrating a virtual classroom gathering aspect into the curriculum through a pilot program in Russia several years ago, it was initially assumed the virtual aspect would be a subset of the overall PathwayConnect program, Ashton explained. In-person gatherings were meant to be the default offering with virtual gatherings available as a secondary option where needed.
But when Troy Martin, BYU-Pathway’s chief information officer, and his team actually began building the system out, they decided to build it in such a way that the whole PathwayConnect system could switch to virtual overnight if needed. With all the additional programming such a move required, it wasn’t a choice the team would normally have made, Martin said. “But it just felt right.”
“From what I have seen, the Lord knows the end from the beginning and he puts people and technology and solutions in place well before they are needed,” said Brig Taylor, BYU-Pathway’s field support director. “If we didn’t start this in 2014 and if we didn’t get the approval last year to gather virtually, we would not be able to continue gathering in many areas around the world now. So the Lord has put together the right people who are receiving the right revelation and I feel like we have been instruments in His hands even though we don’t know what’s coming down the road. We have been instruments to solve problems so that we were ready when we had to make the switch.”
What is PathwayConnect?
One year. Online. University preparation.
PathwayConnect is a reduced-cost online program that prepares students to start or finish a degree by building spiritual confidence and teaching foundational academic skills. And all course credits count toward a bachelor’s degree.
Over the span of one year (three semesters), students complete coursework online and also gather once a week with other local PathwayConnect students.
Courses taken during PathwayConnect may later qualify for credit that can be applied toward a BYU-Idaho online certificate or degree.
Learn skills. Gain confidence.
Each semester during PathwayConnect, students take a light courseload consisting of both academic and religious education. PathwayConnect courses are designed to help students learn basic skills and gain the confidence and abilities needed to succeed in college and in life.
Skills learned include:
- Critical decision making
- Goal setting
- Time management
- Study skills
- Career Planning