As the veil of life under the pandemic begins to lift, Bard LLI faces a sea change not unlike when COVID-19 first tore apart our lives. We remember, thankfully, how a team of dedicated members assembled immediately after the campus closed. Zoom took over. The Online Team dug in and gave valuable time, effort, and skill to make our transition to Zoom not only possible but enjoyable.
The Excitement of Hybrid
We do not know when, but one day very soon, the campus will open again, and some of us will venture to classes in Olin or other buildings. But what about those of us who like learning by Zoom? One answer is hybrid learning, a combination of on-site experiences with those at home watching on computer screens. To illustrate this concept, let’s take a look at the first-ever hybrid class at Bard LLI, “The Art, Science, and Pleasure of Organic Gardening,” presented by Master Gardener Adam Weiss. Twelve LLI members signed up for the on-site option. Thirty-six registered for Zoom online. The class was “broadcast” the way CBS might broadcast a live golf match.
How Did it Happen?
It actually began a year earlier when producer Susan Hinkle queried the Communications Team if such a dream could become a reality. The team seriously thought it might be possible, but eventually realized it was above our capabilities. Rumor has it Susan filed it away under her “Do Not Give Up” file. The rest is history.
“I’m glad I didn’t give up,” says Susan, and argued that watching/listening to a real-time conversation would be exciting and motivate beginning or experienced gardeners.
“A year later,” Susan admits, “I learned first-hand that the team was correct about the steep learning curve, the number of technical people, and the hours of planning and rehearsal needed to produce an on-site course. But it was worth it. The course was an unequivocal success.”
Lights, Camera, Action!
And so, at 9:00 a.m., on Thursday, June 3, 2021, Bard LLI made history. We successfully produced and broadcast the first of four live 90-minute hybrid experiences—not just a classroom hybrid, but one in a stunning garden in Woodstock, NY. Members typed in questions in their chat windows. Adam answered them throughout in his warm, engaging, and knowledgeable presentation style.
Adam is a veteran of hundreds of courses and seminars on gardening. “This was a new level of excitement,” he says, “thanks to the Bard members both in the audience and at home watching via Zoom. It was really a collaborative effort.”
After the closing credits crawled down the screen, Susan said, “The camera crew, the editor, the mastermind coordinator, and the presenter transformed themselves into a respectful, supportive, goal-oriented team that also included volunteers who watched and critiqued the rehearsals on Zoom. Kudos also to the on-site participants who had to move to accommodate the camera crew and at the same time not step on Adam’s vegetables,” she says with a smile.
Team members, led by Chair Chuck Mishaan, planned, refined, and rehearsed the approach, which eventually became our rulebook. Jeff Christensen, Susan Christoffersen, and Ann Miller were in the “control room,” splitting complicated responsibilities of camera switching, coordinating on-scene movement, copying and relaying questions via chat, and dozens of other, often headache-provoking decisions. Carmela Gersbeck, Laura Brown, and Joan Craig coordinated on-site operations and communications.
Adam wore a wireless microphone. I operated “Camera 1” with the audio. Navin Sharma operated “Camera 2,” providing different viewpoints and closeups of plants. A third iPad provided an overall look at the environment. Everything worked perfectly. Team members shifted responsibilities for the second, third, and fourth classes, providing valuable experiences. The limiting quality of Zoom resolution resulted in less-than-TV-broadcast quality images, and occasionally there were technical glitches, but otherwise it was as exciting as watching the Democratic National Convention. Well, almost.