You could ask stupid questions and get a smart response

Caroline Gadsby is a retired teacher from Norfolk, who joined the series of free Wellcome Trust online lectures with the WEA. She explains why learning online has proved a silver lining from COVID-19. 

These Wellcome Trust courses have offered a very positive lifeline for a lot of people.

I retired last year after 27 years as a teacher, and I was just getting into education with the WEA, when COVID happened. So, the Wellcome Trust initiative kicked in at a good time. It helped that the course was free of charge, I must admit. I wouldn’t have committed otherwise, given everything that was going on, and the demands of family life. But I would next time. 

I signed up for a course called “Wellcome to the Geoscientists and their Influence on Modern Science”, and really enjoyed it. I was a history, English and business studies teacher, so learning about a different subject matter was fascinating. The tutor Bev Fowlston brought so much energy to the session. 

There were just 10 in the class, which was perfect. The next one was on rocks. Then I went off to space. I had no idea about the solar system other that what you see on Newsround or the BBC. Our tutor Gurbir Singh was so knowledgeable. We learnt about what happened in the past, and what might happen in the future, such as the Mars landing. He would put in clips of videos from Discovery Channel and then provide all the resources for follow up research, which I found fascinating. We were a wide ranging audience – some were clearly clued up, while I barely knew where Mars was. He pitched it just right. You could ask stupid questions and get a very smart response. 

Then I did an introduction to water. The history of disease was next, which was fascinating in light of COVID-19. We discussed how missionaries took smallpox to other nations and caused devastation. And the village of Eyam in Derbyshire that practiced self-isolation during the bubonic plague of 1665-6. Most of them died, but they saved the surrounding villages. 

I hadn’t really heard of the Wellcome Trust before the WEA, to be honest, but I think they did a good job advertising themselves. Their names pop up more and more, especially around COVID. I’d like to visit the Wellcome Collection one day in London. I’ll take my two youngest there.

It has been fun making the transition from teacher to student. It’s nice not having to do the lesson plans or marking. And actually, it's interesting just to see how other people get on with it. What are their styles? How do they introduce subjects? It’s tough doing it online, so I have plenty of sympathy. I’d have liked a mute button when I was teaching! It’s handy to turn people off sometimes! 

I was keen to contribute my story, because online learning has actually been really good for me – and the village too. We live in a small market town and I think the WEA mostly attracted older, retired people before COVID. Now, we’re getting people from 18 to 85. I’d like to see the online dimension continue. I know some would prefer to go back to their village hall, where there is the social element, but I find online more interactive and relaxed. You can access more interesting material like video – and also hook up with experts from all across the country, from the comfort of your own home. 

During COVID, there were people from John O'Groats to Land's End, and it's just been so reassuring to see other people, even if you're not physically with them.

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