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A quarterly newsletter from the University of the Third Age movement in Victoria, providing information on the activities and achievements of the 106 U3As throughout our State.

This Edition:

 

Message from our President


Dear Readers

This issue of U3A Avenues is all about U3A in Victoria responding to COVID-19.  Our 106 U3As across the state have risen to meet the restrictions and challenges, the on-again-off-again lockdowns, and the loss of face-to-face contact.  Articles in this issue feature some of our many heroes, some mastering and taking control of the new technology opportunities, and others using traditional contact forms to keep in touch with members and to encourage social and community connection.  We report on U3As shifting their course delivery to online models and planning for a blended future of face to face and online.  We also report on research conducted by Network and Member U3As with RMIT University on what seniors want from technology.

Our next issue of Avenues will come out in Spring and will look at how U3As are planning for a new normal of U3A offerings - some face to face classes and activities, some totally online, and some combining both techniques. 
 
Thank you to Merilyn Harris from U3A Melbourne City for her contributions to this edition of U3A Avenues - the articles about Anna and Leigh.

Susan Webster
President
U3A Network Victoria

U3As Go Online


As the reality of COVID 19 caused the shutdown of face-to-face classes across the State many U3As quickly went online offering members the opportunity to continue taking part in classes but through one or other video conferencing option. Given that six months ago few U3As were using online tools, the response has been amazing.


U3A Ballarat's Hiking Group Featured by the Seniors Festival!


This year, the 38th Victorian Seniors Festival was moved online, through performances, Zoom recorded interviews and story-telling. From May through to October 2020 they are posting weekly video performances and interviews. From July through October they are posting monthly radio entertainment. With physical distancing rules in place, they feature video performers from the comfort of their own homes using technology. Radio content is recorded separately and put together by radio producers to adhere to physical distancing restrictions.

This is the link to the radio performances featured in the Festival: https://www.seniorsonline.vic.gov.au/festivalsandawards/listen-now

This is the link to the video performances featured in the Festival: https://www.seniorsonline.vic.gov.au/festivalsandawards/watch-now

U3A Ballarat's Hiking Group is now being featured on the Reimagined performance pages, along with performers from across the State. In the video posted on YouTube, the group's leader, Andrew Parker, explains how the COVID-19 pandemic putting a hold on hiking in a group inspired a lightbulb moment - resulting in socially distanced bushwalking - with some music and singing added!

The link to their Festival video can be found here: https://youtu.be/So2lBL3VHtg

More information about the Hiking Group's other activities can be found here: https://canadianlodge.wixsite.com/u3a-ballarat-hiking

Image: U3A Ballarat Hiking Group

U3A Hepburn Shire Gets Going Online


U3A Hepburn Shire, based in Dalesford, has an earlier three-year history of piloting online learning in conjunction with the University of New England (UNE).  By the end of their trial in 2018, Hepburn Shire’s Dr Peter Duncan had organised a group of four U3As across the state who joined in weekly to a lecture and discussion series on philosophy, specifically curated for the group by a UNE lecturer, using the sophisticated Moodle learning management product.

Early this year, the U3A moved to Zoom video conferencing software.  While some members had experience with Zoom as participants they had no experience in setting up and managing meetings prior to COVID-19.  Of the U3A’s 28 regular offerings, nine have continued through Zoom. These are largely those of a discussion nature, for example, Current Affairs, Book Clubs and language groups.


Leigh Martin - U3A Sunbury's Mistress of Zoom


Leigh Martin had never heard of Zoom before 17 March this year. That was the day the Committee of U3A Sunbury decided because of Coronavirus to close face to face classes and do as much as possible online. Leigh went home, downloaded Zoom, learned its procedures with the help of some friends and soon became mentor to tutors willing to take on the challenge.
 
You might imagine that Leigh had spent a lifetime in IT  -  far from it. When she joined the U3A last year she was in the process of retiring as a wedding and funeral celebrant. She says she has always enjoyed having a ‘career in people’ and giving back to the community.  It gives her great pleasure to bump into people she knows when out and about in a small community like Sunbury. With her second husband she moved there nine years ago from the inner Melbourne suburb of Brunswick partly because they needed a large shed to accommodate her husband’s collection of vintage motorbikes. Plenty of space too for their combined six children and thirteen grandchildren to visit.
 
Melbourne’s loss was Sunbury’s and the U3A’s gain. Despite being such a new member Leigh has managed to get six classes up and running on Zoom as well as a Happy Hour on Friday afternoon -   participants can now enjoy a glass, not to mention a class, without the worry of getting home!
 
Besides the six online classes, U3A Sunbury also has fortnightly guest speaker sessions on Zoom. Usually, around twenty-five members attend and Leigh acts as the technical host with power to mute participants. People still get their say but through an online chat box so the sound quality is excellent
- no barking dogs or screaming grandchildren in the background.
 
In addition to all she does for Sunbury U3A, Leigh is also a member of Power Talk Australia which meets twice a month to practise public speaking skills and she runs a local book club on Zoom.  All this after getting acquainted with this new technology just a few short months ago - a wonderful example to us all.

Thank you, Leigh.

 

At 99, Anna Shows Us You Are Never Too Old to Go Online


In the wake of the State of Emergency, many U3As were concerned that isolated, and older members would be significantly disadvantaged.  Not everyone has the equipment and the connections in place to move their interactions online.  In response, U3A Melbourne City's Wednesday Writers tutor, Betty Caldwell, made sure to keep in touch with participants via telephone.  Now, as the pandemic continues to impact on daily activities, this class is now also offered online through the support of participant, Peter Chung.

Peter, after a career with the NAB, joined Betty’s class last year to further his interest in creative writing. He brought with him IT skills including Zoom so is now the technical host for seven class members while Betty still runs the class by telephone.
 
The acclaimed star of the class is 99 year old Anna Sput-Stern who, in addition to her literary talents, has mastered Zoom with help from Peter and a family friend. Physically Anna spends most of her time in her Toorak apartment but her imagination takes her back to the Poland of her childhood.  She lost her Jewish parents and other relatives in the Holocaust and herself spent most of the Second World War in a Russian labour camp near Siberia where her two month old daughter died of starvation. She and husband Heniek along with another daughter Ruth, to whom she gave birth on the long train journey from Russia back to Poland, came as displaced persons to Melbourne after the war.
 
Ruth taught herself English and later did a creative writing course at Deakin University.  She has since published two volumes of stories featuring characters similar to herself who have experienced the gross hardships of war and the difficulties of adapting to new countries and cultures. Anna is currently finishing a third book. She is also a poet and we are delighted to share with you an example of her work.
 

Thoughts
by Anna Sput-Stern
 
Late at night
your thoughts break the door to the brain
and tear out from you the bottom of anxiety.
 
The thoughts burn behind them the bridges
on which they must return.  When you wake in the morning you cut the head of thoughts.
What is left of them keeps the wings fluttering.


Social Connectedness - the Traditional Way


Thanks to Network Victoria for providing a grant to allow us to connect in a traditional way with some of our members.

Whether you love using technology or not, most people would agree that if you have been able to access an internet connected device you have been able to stay in contact with family and friends even when social distancing.  Zoom, Skype, Facetime, What’s App, Facebook, Instagram are just some of the apps and programs that have proved popular during these difficult times. But, if using a phone in a traditional way has been someone’s only device to use, then chances are they may have been feeling a bit more isolated than others. 

U3A Casey's committee was conscious of the fact that out of our 400 plus members there were 54 who either do not have computer facilities or for a variety of reasons preferred not to use any.  This has meant that as well as not being able to connect easily with family and friends they have not been able to access any of our U3A classes that have continued online via Zoom or email or any other internet enabled app to stay in touch.  So, it was decided to use a traditional way of making contact and letting these people know they were still valued and included.

Some members of the Card Making class were invited to help create cards. Funds from the grant were used to buy the materials needed and to cover postage costs.  Once created the cards were then posted to those members without computer facilities. 

Feedback has certainly justified our efforts!   The recipients have indeed felt very special when they opened their letterbox to find not a bill, but a personalised ‘Thinking of You’ card.

Christine Trimnell
U3A Casey


RMIT Researches Seniors Connecting Through Technology

 

‘Shaping Connections’ is a research project co-created by RMIT University’s School of Economics, Finance and Marketing and U3A Network Victoria. The project set out to understand how older Australians use Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to connect with their social networks and sought to identify the usage patterns that are effective in supporting connectedness and enhancing social participation among senior citizens.

The project team used a human-centred and community-based participatory approach to study the experiences with technology of senior citizens, as represented by a sample of U3A members.  


The research found senior Australians value social connectedness, primarily for obtaining information, keeping in touch with loved ones and coordinating events. Seniors also appreciate the power of technology in enabling their social participation as well as access to products, services and experiences that would be inaccessible to them otherwise.

The research identified three key ways by which seniors learn new skills and utilise ICTs for social connectedness:

Seniors have their own learning rhythm: They want to ‘learn as they go’. YouTube is a significant resource for them for learning how to use ICTs.

Semi-formal and informal educational settings: Semi-formal educational settings, such as U3A classes, are a great source of support for older Australians interested in learning ICTs.

Learning from peers: Loosely structured networks of support provide opportunities for seniors to learn from their peers. Peers can help modulate the technological learning curve as well as facilitate social engagement through the process of teaching each other. 

The research also identified barriers and preferences seniors have concerning engagement with ICT. These barriers fell into three buckets:

Fear of doing something wrong, online bullying and scams: Seniors often face a steep learning curve when engaging with new technologies and may feel hesitant or incompetent when facing a novel task especially given the rate of continuous technological change.  Participants reported experiencing fear regarding ICT in diverse ways. For some, it results in reduced confidence; for others, the experience can be a more traumatic affair accompanied by stress and panic.

The belief that digital technology does more harm than good: Seniors expressed a perspective that ICT discourage people from being available for face-to-face interactions, thereby reducing quality time with family and friends. Some discontented seniors voiced a nostalgic yearning for more face-to-face social connections.

Lack of resources and skills: Some seniors felt they did not have the resources to keep up with the pace of technological advances.

The research team believes that organisations should create programs to minimise the barriers that seniors face while adopting ICT for their social inclusion. The problems and concerns identified in the initial project will help improve future efforts for devising strategies for promoting connectedness, social inclusion and constructive engagement of senior Australians with technological solutions.

U3A Victoria is continuing its collaboration with the RMIT research team in 2020 as an initiative in the Building Community Engagement (BCE) program.

Research team: Dr Torgeir Aleti, Dr Bernardo Figueiredo, Professor Diane Martin, Professor Mike Reid, and Dr. Itir Binay

Link to the Shaping Connections Report

Link to the Shaping Connections website

Image: Guardian Australia


U3A Deepdene's Zooming Along


Susie White, a member of U3A Deepene's Committee of Management, writes..

When first term began for our U3A on February 3, 2020, not one of us anticipated the new world we entered on March 16, just six weeks later, when all classes, including 85 full year courses and 100 one-off sessions for Term 1, were officially closed.  We quickly formed a  Virtual Management Team (VMT). Over the following weeks, our Admin Manager and the VMT offered daily sessions to any interested members to ‘get onto Zoom’.  These training sessions were so effective that well over 700 members have now ‘zoomed’ into one or many of our programs. 

Click here to read the full story.

Image: Tral and Jenny Cash
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