Many seniors formerly frequenting classes at various U3A locations found them abruptly curtailed as a result of Covid-19. June MacDonald a team leader at the University of the Third Age, Nunawading, in an endeavour to continue presenting her course to her students during the pandemic, ended up wholeheartedly embracing Social Media. She writes:
“Who would have thought at the end of term one that we would not return to Silver Grove and classes for many of us would be conducted on Zoom. Until the Covid-19 isolation and lockdown, I had never heard of Zoom. I sent my U3A ‘Africa the Dark Continent’ class long emails each week – hoping to keep them interested. There were attachments to read and the occasional picture. Interaction was missing. Then the Facebook site was launched and I set up a dedicated site for my class. At least I thought I could get immediate responses and feedback from the group. As only three people were prepared to download FB, that was a fizzer. I found a friend who used Zoom and got myself some tutorials on being a host. I learned how to share screens, and show pictures and videos. I knew how to troubleshoot.
Now I felt I had a game changer. I had joined the technologically ‘awake’ crowd. I kept emailing and telling my class to download the Zoom App. I set up my own account and a handful of adventurous souls joined. There were the usual hiccups. How to turn on the mic, the camera and where to sit. We looked up people’s nostrils, or only saw the tops of their heads. Spouses came into the picture to help or bring cups of tea, and cats walked past the screen. We had extraneous noise ‘off stage’ from other people doing their own thing, clattering around or mowing lawns. Eventually, the wonderful Ken Briscoe had me hooked up to the U3A Zoom licence so we could have a full hour without having to re-join after 40 minutes. I had a code to enable me to be the host and more students signed on.
It all came together on 23 June, our last session of term two. Ken engineered two hours for me. Our final class was taken by three students talking about the three past Egyptian presidents. Monisha Bhati also joined us live from Mumbai. She had prepared slides and a video as well on Anwar Sadat. The second half of the session was given over to a discussion and we were seamlessly joined by our guest speaker, Dave Meaker from Cairo in Egypt. He gave us some great insights into what was happening today on the ground in the largest country (by population) in Africa. So this session encompassed three continents, we had 10 participants, PowerPoint slides, a YouTube video, and it lasted two hours with just a minor hitch for two people – but quickly remedied by themselves.
Isn’t technology wonderful when it works? What a boon for us at U3A to be able to continue with our sessions. How fortunate we are as class leaders to have people supporting us technically and keeping everything going so we can continue our invaluable learning connection.”
Among other local learning centres, during the Term 2 lockdown, Box Hill South Neighbourhood House (BHSNH) ran more than 10 courses and classes on Zoom, with over 80% of participants being seniors who enjoyed the sense of social connection. They quickly adapted to the technology.
BHSNH will continue their strength training, and knitting and craft classes on Zoom, and depending on prevailing restrictions, may run the majority of courses and classes on Zoom. Pamela Mills, Manager of BHSNH says “There has definitely been a huge change to the way we all live, but I feel that the senior group have adapted, changed and in some cases thrived on the challenge of learning new ways to connect during this time.”
The Whitehorse Urban Harvest group set up a plant share table outside BHSNH which proved to be a wonderful community initiative and the Umbrella Dementia Cafe continued via Zoom and provided food/ care packs for people in need.
The Ashburton Community Centre (ACC) has free online tech sessions run by trained and experienced digital mentors to help improve their members’ tech confidence. Each session has a dedicated topic and changes weekly.
Natasha Kuperman, Partnerships & Marketing Officer at ACC says that members found the free tech helpline of great assistance. We do not have information about all the local neighbourhood houses and learning centres, but do encourage readers to use their search engines to explore the many online and ‘zoom’ possibilities out there. The knowledge gained can always be put to good use in the future.