It's not everyday that WEA's student record systems will make our heads turn. However, when we saw that someone was about to embark on their 100th course, we had to find out more.
Meet David: a learning enthusiast and long-time WEA learner who, as a blind and partially deaf individual, has benefitted from the choice of online and face-to-face classes that WEA offers. See below for our conversation with David about the wonderful tutors that have gone the extra mile, the different interests and passions that he has discovered through his courses and what he plans to learn next.
How did you first hear about the WEA?
"I first joined a face-to-face class in 2014 located at a church hall at the end of my road. A sighted friend had spotted a poster about a course addressing ‘The Great Philosophers’. My guide dog Nyle was taught how to find the class and just as importantly how to locate the table at which I would sit.
Nyle enjoyed the trip and sociability immensely and was probably more involved with all the class members than me. I remember turning up for the Christmas Social at the end of that term. As we entered we receive an excited chorus of “Hello Nyle!” as we walked in. I didn’t worry about playing second fiddle to my dog though."
What has been your favourite course so far?
"This is truly an impossible question to answer. So many tutors have gone the extra mile to make my courses fulfilling and memorable. In the face-to-face classes, Jill deserves a special mention for making blind archaeology a reality for me. Whether this involved bringing in artefacts for me to feel and examine, or cutting out cardboard templates for me to feel so that I could understand the imagery of Minoan women on the ancient pottery from that period.
I remember in one class she brought an enormous antler to feel so that I could understand the possibilities of ancient Neolithic Shamen rituals. She reported that Nyle’s eyes were like saucers as he imagined he was to receive the biggest chew treat of his life. She provided me with the confidence to understand a blind man could join a local Archaeology Society.
Just as important though are the online efforts of somebody like Nicholas, who has introduced me to a whole new world of music and prompted me to develop new skills. Or the encyclopaedic knowledge of Gary, who has taught me numerous history courses. Denise has introduced me to literary discussions I would never otherwise consider and you have to admire the sheer cleverness and incisive humour that Jim brings to his particular slant on Politics and History. Christine has most recently amazed me with the level of commitment she has shown to making her Opera classes accessible to blind students. I apologise to those I have missed out but over the years I feel that the tutors as much as the students are becoming friends in our shared experiences."
What benefits have you gained from studying with the WEA?
"I have developed my skills in audio presentation and audio editing as part of the process of developing podcast-style presentations for my music appreciation courses.
I have loads of academic qualifications from past lives whilst I was both working and studying. The important thing about the WEA courses is that not only have they allowed me to maintain some interests, for example, history, but have challenged me to examine areas I would not otherwise address, such as the more challenging Operas or literary analysis.
There are also specific advantages to undertaking WEA courses which are less than obvious for many people. The first is in relation to disabled access. Online courses are fantastic for people with a range of impairments and challenges for a variety of reasons.
I am now a blind wheelchair user, so getting to any venue is a major challenge now, let alone fighting myself out to a class on a cold, wet and windy November evening is never likely to appeal nowadays! I am also hearing impaired, but this is never an issue for online teaching as I simply crank up the volume on my headphones. In face-to-face classes, I would struggle to find a position in which I could hear both the tutor and comments from class members. This is never an issue online. Perhaps most importantly, the online classes make it feasible to join a class when you are wan and unwell, even ill, but you can gently listen along."
Have you discovered any new interests or hobbies through your WEA courses?
"My WEA courses have structured my reading and interests more fruitfully. Rather than reading wall-to-wall science fiction and fantasy, I am prompted to read outside of my immediate and lazy comfort level. Similarly in relation to music, rather than listening to some banal pop, I am more thrilled to gain insight and enjoyment from the work of a great composer."
What topics or courses are next for you with the WEA?
"There are a few favourite courses which I cannot ever see myself stopping. I will also be taking some new courses over the summer. A typical example is a course on Jane Austen. I have on several occasions tried to listen to audiobooks of Jane Austen’s novels. The result universally in the past, has resulted in my falling asleep. My hope is that with a more structured insight from a WEA course, I will finally unravel the mysterious attraction of her work and digest it without plunging into the arms of sleep!"