Since you now have more spare time for reading, we thought we’d give you an extra OLLI Connects post this week. Our featured writer is not technically an OLLI member. But if he were still living and in our area, we’re sure he would be. His work is the central piece of a larger post on the need—despite the fear it engenders—to get comfortable with online collaboration and learning the way we eventually got the hang of smart phones and Facebook. Be honest. There was a time when both of those terrified you. And now they’re integral parts of your life. COVID-19 is just giving us a kick in the pants to move us more quickly in a direction we were already–kind of reluctantly–going.
The first part of this post is from the most recent newsletter of UFF, the United Faculty of Florida. They are addressing university faculty, but without students, faculty have no raison d’etre.
Advice about Going Online from Sir Winston Churchill
While we are all grateful for the webinars that our hard-working IT staff put together on an emergency basis, it is important to know that proficiency in handling computers is a skill, and acquiring a skill requires practice. Just as one cannot acquire the skill to play a musical instrument by learning how musicians do it, one cannot acquire the skill to handle a complex array of software by learning how experts do it.
One must do it.
Many people have phobias about computers, just as many people have phobias about drawing and painting. The “dashboard” of any of these programs suddenly being thrust upon us can be as intimidating as, say, a blank canvas and a palette of paint. Nearly a century ago, Winston Churchill got some very good advice from Hazel Lavery, which Churchill later described:
“Having bought the colours, an easel, and a canvas, the next step was to begin. But what a step to take! The palette gleamed with beads of colour; fair and white rose the canvas; the empty brush hung poised, heavy with destiny, irresolute in the air. My hand seemed arrested by a silent veto. But after all the sky on this occasion was unquestionably blue, and a pale blue at that. There could be no doubt that blue paint mixed with white should be put on the top part of the canvas. One really does not need to have had an artist’s training to see that. It is a starting-point open to all. So very gingerly I mixed a little blue paint on the palette with a very small brush, and then with infinite precaution made a mark about as big as a bean upon the affronted snow-white shield. It was a challenge, a deliberate challenge; but so subdued, so halting, indeed so cataleptic, that it deserved no response. At that moment the loud approaching sound of a motor-car was heard in the drive. From this chariot there stepped swiftly and lightly none other than the gifted wife of Sir John Lavery. ‘Painting! But what are you hesitating about? Let me have a brush—the big one.’ Splash into the turpentine, wallop into the blue and the white, frantic flourish on the palette—clean no longer—and then several large, fierce strokes and slashes of blue on the absolutely cowering canvas. Anyone could see that it could not hit back. No evil fate avenged the jaunty violence. The canvas grinned in helplessness before me. The spell was broken. The sickly inhibitions rolled away. I seized the largest brush and fell upon my victim with Berserk fury. I have never felt any awe of a canvas since.”
Lavery’s advice (via Churchill) applies to software as well. Choose a plausible looking piece of software, create a team or group or whatever of colleagues on it, and practice sharing screens, sharing images, sharing sick jokes, sharing whatever. If you had a seminar series running, corral colleagues into continuing the seminar series; this may require learning how to make PowerPoint with audio (PowerPoint has that feature – play with it). You can even set up support groups (if you want to do so with a non-USF system, relatively accessible options include Skype and Zoom – note that if you want to actually run a class on one of these, you will have to purchase some kind of premium account).
When classes roll around, get your students in the act. Some are already acting, and they will have their own favorites (for online games – and as many gamers are intolerant of software misbehavior, some of these work very well). Experienced students can be a great asset. Other students will be terrified, but teachers who are going through this can relate.
Many of the USF webinars were recorded, and of course there are instruction videos, manuals, etc. One possible strategy is to have a manual or helpful site open as you play with the buttons. Don’t be afraid of mistakes – everyone makes lots of mistakes with computers – and none of these platforms can actually damage a computer, so try it out.
This post was used with the kind permission of the United Faculty of Florida — USF System Chapter and taken from their March 22 newsletter. It is somewhere between possible and darn near certain that OLLI-USF will have to develop online classes to continue its mission. We hope you’ll use part of your time “in solitary” to explore some new computer skills, especially online collaboration. (Many of them free for personal use!) We want to keep you as part of the OLLI community. Nervous about that? Re-read Winston’s advice.