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Challenge Accepted!

Challenge Accepted!

Lifelong learners in Senior Ed navigate online learning in the pandemic


Jackie Peel, certified Master Gardner, was ready to throw in the trowel.

She had taught the “Gardening in North Texas” class for TCC Northeast’s Senior Education program since 2012, but the “transplant” from in-person to virtual instruction had taken a toll.

“Part of it might have been a mental block on my part,” Peel said. “It was a steep learning curve, but we made it.”

Even so, her difficulties, coupled with the prospect of an out-of-state move, led to her to tell Bill Morton, curriculum coordinator for Senior Ed at TCC Northeast, that she would not teach in the spring semester. But, when he relayed this to his advisory council, some members of which had been Peel’s students, there was an outcry.

“So, I encouraged them to get in touch with her and persuade her to change her mind,” Morton said. “And, lo and behold, they did!”

“That was a surprise,” Peel said, “and a nice one, I’d say, because I didn’t anticipate that kind of loyalty.”

She relented, but nevertheless is trying to recruit other Master Gardeners to eventually take over the class. “I wasn’t about to leave them in the lurch,” she said. “This is a passion of mine. This is my baby.”

This story illustrates the dedication of those who teach them and the ability of both to adapt to changes forced on them by the pandemic.

Other instructors and their students made the switch. Dutch Baughman took his fly-fishing class online through Zoom, using one camera for some demonstrations, such as casting, and a second to record the close-up work, such as tying knots. “It’s a very hands-on, show-me kind of class,” he said. “But we’re trying to adapt the best we can. We’ve grown together through this evolution, and I think we accept it now that, yes, this is the way things are done.”

Still, he said, the students are losing a lot by not having in-person interaction, not only in what they learn from Baughman, but also in what they take from one another. Some students, for instance, met at a restaurant for a pre-class meal. “They can’t do that now,” he said, “but it’s missing in other elements of their lifestyle, as well.”

Also diminished has been what Baughman has been experiencing from his students, seeing the expressions on their faces when they begin to understand a concept. “It brings me a lot of joy,” he said. “And when those people are at an age when they thought there wouldn’t be too much to motivate them anymore, it’s a pretty enlightening thing.”

At TCC South, a highlight of the annual Senior Bash had long been Bingo. So, when the event was conducted virtually last fall, Community Education Coordinator Erika Zimmerman emailed Bingo cards to participants and read out the numbers online over Microsoft Teams. Winners received giveaway items—by mail—as prizes. The game was such a hit that Zimmerman continued it, adding other games, such as Pokeno, along the way.

Seminar-type classes such as those dealing with history and civics largely survived, but many hands-on classes simply could not manage the switch. Morton cited Quilting, Personal Safety/Self Defense and Painting as examples. Others not offered included Square Dancing, Tai Chi and Weight Training. The most predictable casualty was Water Aerobics. Not only could participants not take laptops or tablets into a pool, there were no pools open on campuses into which to take them.

In addition, many seniors wanted to participate but lacked the computer skills. “If seniors were not computer literate when the pandemic began,” Morton said, “there was no way we could make them computer literate to access all of the materials they needed to do virtual classes.”

Those seniors who had some degree of tech savviness, however, surprised program coordinators and, quite probably, themselves. “At the beginning, I was apprehensive about the students learning to use the Blackboard software,” said TCC Northwest’s Irma Molina, “but overall I was very happy to see that we had a great turnout of seniors participating online. They love the programming. It actually shows why CE is here for us.”

Scott Hurbough, CEE director at TCC Northeast since October, praised not only seniors’ ability to take on new technology, but also TCC’s efforts at guiding the transition.“ I’m so impressed at the way they’ve integrated access for seniors into each step they’re taking,” he said.

Hurbough also looked past the educational aspects of Senior Ed to the wider sociological aspects. “Imagine yourself as a senior and the COVID and you’re isolated at home,” he said. “You have no one living at home with you. You do have technology. You’re used to coming to TCC at least once or twice a week for the senior courses. Now, you’re isolated. Maybe you see Meals on Wheels and that’s it."

You can sign in on your computer, register for a course and the interaction with another human being is so warm, welcoming and needed that the individuals are looking forward to the next week to their next class.

Scott Hurbough
CEE Director, TCC Northeast

"It’s opened up a way for our seniors to feel still part of our world. They’re still trying to be healthy, still trying to be safe, but they need some form of human interaction.”

Morton added another perspective. Since everything was online, that meant seniors anywhere could take any class, regardless of which campus was offering it. “It has brought the Senior Advisory councils from each campus—at least the executive committees—together, working much more closely and trying to adapt our individual councils to our one-college concept,” he said. “So it’s been helpful for the students, and it’s also been helpful for the advisory councils. I think, in the future, that we’re going to be able to continue to work more closely together and coordinate our activities.”

The pandemic, he said, offered two opportunities. “One thing I told to the instructors was that this was not only an opportunity for all of us to continue learning in the different fields of interest that we’re studying, but it’s also an opportunity for us to become familiar with this technology that was new for all of us,” he said, “So, it was another challenge, another learning opportunity, another silver lining behind a dark cloud.”

Find more information about TCC’s Senior Education opportunities.