- Monday, 13 August 2012
The University of the Third Age is to launch its new programme of tutored online courses in January with three history courses, on the Vikings, the decade before Queen Victoria, and the First World War.
They are designed for members who are housebound or in residential homes, and cannot easily travel to learning groups; and for those who wish to study at times of their own choosing rather than attend meetings at set times.
U3A members learn for their own pleasure, rather than training for jobs or cramming for exams, and these courses will not lead to any qualifications.
The writers and online tutors are volunteers from among the U3A’s 293,733 members. Early this year, U3A chairman Ian Searle called for volunteers to write and tutor courses, and from the responses, Mr Searle now leads a group of 24 well-qualified and committed people who are working on ideas for online courses, which are at various stages of development. Many have long experience of teaching, or creating learning materials, or learning technology.
The U3A has applied for a grant from the adult learners’ organisation NIACE to train tutors in the technology.
U3A members wanting to study the courses will pay a small fee – under £20 – to cover administrative costs. Students will be given a password which will enable them to download the required course in eight weekly instalments.
The first three courses will be launched in January, and are all on history subjects. They will be:
'Four Viking Women' written and taught by Val Bannister of Bridgwater U3A.
‘Just Before Victoria’ by David Hopker of Thanet U3A.
'The Great War' by Verne Hardingham of Rugby U3A.
All these courses will be based on material which their authors have already collected and used as lectures or presentations. (Further details of these courses and their authors are in the attachment.)
They will be followed as soon as possible by an economics course and a guide to research methods. Both of these are being prepared by people with experience of teaching the subject at A-level and to undergraduates. Other courses being worked on include ‘Digital Imaging’ and ‘Writing Short Stories’.
Other potential subjects include African life and culture, Latin American life and culture, social history of the '30s '40s and '50s, and 19th century social history of England at the time of the Poor Laws. Mr Searle hopes that six courses will have been launched by the end of 2013.
Ian Searle says: “The essence of the U3A experience is that our members learn whatever takes their fancy; they are not at all concerned about pleasing examiners, or employers, or anyone except themselves.
“This will apply just as much to online courses, but will open up the U3A experience to many people who might otherwise miss out on it, either because their disabilities make them insufficiently mobile to go to meetings, or because times of meetings do not suit them.
“These courses will improve the quality of life of those who are no longer able to travel to our massively popular learning groups, and are forced to stay in their homes or in residential homes.
“Without learning opportunities, residential homes can simply become places where society ‘parks’ the frail and elderly while they await death. Residents can become over-medicated and under-stimulated. There is no reason at all why learning should cease when you become old and frail.”
Ian Searle equipped himself for running U3A’s online courses initiative by taking a NIACE course on 'Making more of your online courses.'
The lessons he learned there, he says, “may well enable us to mount courses in the future which are far more participative in nature and therefore more in keeping with our preferred shared learning methodology.
“The bid we are currently making to NIACE for funding, partnered by Ideas4Learning, would enable those of our members who are really interested to learn similar skills and then train others in the same techniques.”
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