Learning and Teaching During COVID-19

After decades of teaching Christmas wreath making and kissing ball classes through Southern Maine Adult Education programs, we encountered COVID restrictions, which changed our plans.

To stay safe, my husband and I decided to try visual teaching via Zoom. Since March, my husband’s Fire Department has closed its doors for non-essential personnel, and it uses Zoom for meetings and training. We had a few hiccups in joining the meetings. We learned to start at least 15 minutes early, double check connections, and be ready. At first, we were so early, we began to think we had missed the meeting or were on the wrong path. Fifteen minutes after the posted start time, we were in. We know how to join a meeting.

Our local Adult Education Coordinator enthusiastically welcomed our plan to teach via Zoom. She sent a link to <Zoom.us> with a list of tutorials. I started with How to Attend a Meeting. These skills were familiar after months of plodding through Fire Department meetings, and I confidently proceeded to the next level. Zoom for Educators resulted in my responses along the lines of “Huh?” and head slap, and sometimes “WT#?” Since we are committed to Fall classes, I began to hyperventilate. Heavy breathing is not good at any time, but during COVID, definitely not good. What do I do now?

Southern Maine Area on Aging offered a Virtual Basics Zoom course, and I signed up. First, I watched a tutorial on How to Look Good on Zoom. I began preparing at 7:30 a.m. for an 11 a.m. class. I dressed in a jewel tone blue blouse, chosen from my color palette, moussed my COVID hairdo (haven’t been to a beauty shop since January), and put on lip gloss (found rolling around the back of the drawer). To avoid seeing more chins than I already have, I set the laptop high on top of a stack of cooking magazines. (I knew they’d come in handy sometime.) I positioned a lamp behind the laptop, checked the background, set up a sign displaying, “Fresh Cut Balsam Fir, Buxton, Maine,” thinking that a little free advertising can’t hurt. My husband’s observation: “My goodness woman, you’re like a cat ready to have kittens.”

Class began at 11 a.m. on a blustery, foggy day. My internet connection is via a Hot Spot. As soon as class began, the fog thickened, and the audio was staticky both incoming and outgoing. The Zoom Host suggested, “Cut the video to enhance your audio connection.” So much for getting all dolled up and staging my background area for class. The audio continued to be scratchy, and I strained my hearing-aid enhanced ears to glean something out of the hour.

Apparently, I should have paid attention to all those High-Speed Internet flyers that come in the mail. I contacted the internet company and set an install date in plenty of time for my next class. Not to be. Our house, built in the middle of our balsam fir woods, is too far from the internet providers drop. When they can get a crew, they will let me know, probably a 60-day wait. A lot of people are doing distance learning and teaching.

In the meantime, I reached out to family and friends to practice setting up a Zoom meeting. My first friend, glad to be a retired teacher not having to deal with distance learning, said, “Sure, it will be the blind leading the blind.” My next resource, a friend who hosts cancer support meetings via Zoom, let me set up a meeting where I could be Host. I didn’t realize she was already signed on and could hear my “expletive, expletive,” as I was looking for the right buttons to push. We had an audio only meeting because my internet connection would not support video. This lack of a visual dimension is not going to work well for my wreath-making classes.

After a pleading call to the internet provider, the next day there was a truck in the driveway with a big spool of cable. Things started to look up. A few days later, the installer arrived. What we thought would be an easy hook-up using the tiny hole in the siding from our original “days gone by” land line was not big enough. The installer began to drill. Not so fast, that is too close to the power. He wasn’t too happy to have to find another access, but he managed to loop and hang wires that to my eye, might not hang in there through the usual ice and snow. When I asked the installer not to leave until I used the connection, he showed me my codes and said that was all I needed. The passcode is longer than a vehicle identification number, with a string of numbers and letters that have no relation to anything I’ll remember.

I am so excited to have highspeed internet, but when I told my grandson, he looked at me as if I said, “I now have indoor plumbing.” A friend told me I had to keep up or be left behind. Now I can get ready to shoot a video to use in my wreath-making class, to use as part of our Zoom instruction. I have tried making 7 bow-making videos on my iPhone, resulting in quite a collection of bows, but I still don’t have a good video.

I thought I was ready. I had taken care of dry cuticles, worn a solid color shirt, checked to be sure the camera is shooting only the table and not the stuff on the shelves behind me. Had to add more staples to that background sheet. It fell down twice. Maybe I should just sell bows.

And I can report that our wreath instruction video session did not go well. I hope my videographer granddaughter deleted the blooper party material. We did the shoot outdoors, as advised for lighting and scenic effects, but in the background are old sheds, and smoke from a stump fire wafting by. Granddaughter ran out of batteries and forgot the charger. We have to try again. Time is flying by. The pressure is on. Wish me luck.

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