Due to the pandemic, Carleton University has had to radically alter how it delivers its long-running Learning in Retirement (LinR) program. Apt613 spoke with Daphne Uras, the Life-Long Learning Program Coordinator in Carleton’s Centre for Initiatives in Education, to find out about these changes.
LinR is a big program offering lifelong learning opportunities to everyone. (Despite its current title, it’s not just for retirees.) Recent years have seen five LinR sessions comprising six-week lecture series spread over the fall, winter, and spring. There are also single lectures, language workshops, and writing workshops. Topics include art history, music, science, politics, history, religion, social studies, philosophy, and much more. Uras said there are about 4,000 registrations each year for about 150 offerings. Registration is usually capped at 55 participants per course. Almost all of the lectures have been delivered in classrooms on campus.
When the pandemic forced Carleton to cancel their spring sessions, the requirement for physical distancing meant a major revamp of the LinR program was needed. One of the first things Uras and her staff did was survey previous participants. She said they got “a tremendous response” and were pleasantly surprised that the vast majority of survey respondents were comfortable with online lectures and using apps such as Zoom. Many wanted live lectures at scheduled times, but many also wanted recorded lectures that could be watched anytime. Some wanted both options. There was a lot of interest in holding some lectures outdoors. Many survey respondents echoed previous positive feedback about LinR, saying audience-lecturer interactions were one of the best aspects of the program, and that they very much wanted these interactions to continue.
The next thing Uras did was survey the lecturers. Who was interested in conducting online learning? What topics might they be interested in doing? What equipment did they have? What technical support would they need?
The situation was complicated by the fact that almost everyone at Carleton is working from home now, placing a heavy demand on the university’s online systems.
These two surveys produced a lot of data to sift through. It was obvious that a lot of decisions had to be made, quickly, about LinR, and that these decisions had to align with Carleton’s security requirements. The situation was complicated by the fact that almost everyone at Carleton is working from home now, placing a heavy demand on the university’s online systems. But Uras has seen to it that decisions have been made and things are moving forward.
One big decision was to use Zoom. However, there were two options: Zoom Webinar and Zoom Meetings. If Zoom Webinar is used, participants can use the chat function to submit their questions to the lecturer. But Uras’s team is exploring whether LinR could use Zoom Meetings instead, as it’s more interactive. In addition to the chat function, Zoom Meetings would allow participants to ask questions and hear other participants’ questions via Zoom’s audio facility. (If you’d like more details on how the two Zoom platforms differ, here’s a good comparison.)
Regardless of the technology used, most lectures will have a moderator or host handling the logistics and helping to resolve any technical problems participants or lecturers might have.
Uras explained that although some of the lectures might be recorded for on-demand viewing, not all of them can be recorded because of copyright restrictions. For example, if a lecturer used a music or film clip to illustrate something, it would be in violation of copyright to make a recording of this lecture widely available online outside of a password-protected system. Uras said this is a pretty thorny issue.
One positive consequence of delivering LinR online is that anyone with a computer and internet access will be able to sign up for their offerings.
One positive consequence of delivering LinR online is that anyone with a computer and internet access will be able to sign up for their offerings. It will no longer be necessary to live in the National Capital Region, arrange transportation, or pay for parking at Carleton. I plan to tell some friends in Winnipeg about this perk!
Another plus is that attendance won’t necessarily be limited by the size of the classroom. Uras is investigating whether some lectures could be offered to more than 55 participants without jeopardizing the quality of the experience.
Unfortunately, the logistics and costs of outdoor lectures are daunting, so those will not be featured in LinR’s fall sessions, but Uras said some outdoor lectures might eventually be possible if Ottawa doesn’t revert to Stage 2 due to a flare-up in COVID-19 infections.
Another big change is timing — when participants can register and when lectures will be scheduled. Before the pandemic, all participants would register at the same time (usually online) for all the lectures they wanted to attend in both the early and late fall sessions. Then all the early fall lecture series would begin. However, this fall, participants will initially register only for the first few early fall lecture series. About two weeks later, those will begin. Then another registration will open for a few more early fall lecture series, which will begin about two weeks later, and so forth. That is, there will be a rolling schedule of registrations and lectures. This is necessary because of the technical limitations the LinR program is facing. This schedule will help to ensure the best online experience for LinR participants. Currently, the first rolling registration is planned to start on Wednesday, September 2, with the corresponding first lecture series starting two weeks later.
Most of the lecture series and individual lectures haven’t been finalized yet, but there will definitely be a lot of lectures about politics.
What will be offered in LinR’s fall session? Uras said most of the lecture series and individual lectures haven’t been finalized yet, but there will definitely be a lot of lectures about politics. She’s also hoping to line up some Carleton profs to talk about the COVID-19 Rapid Research grants they have received from the federal government. Did you know, for example, that you can detect coronavirus RNA in municipal wastewater and use it to identify neighbourhood COVID-19 hotspots? Uras was also excited about a new writing project that will be larger than LinR’s writing workshops.
The fall session should be announced around the third week of August. Apt613 promises to bring you more information about it then. In the meantime, you can register for LinR’s emails on their website.