Doing an online course: or how I became a Hungry Horse quality sommelier

During lockdown 2 I completed an online course primarily as a favour to a friend. My friend was at that point on and off furlough for a while. He was looking for a new area to learn about related to his work. He suggest we take a wine tasting course. Wine is a subject I know very little about but since 2010 I have become intolerant to beer so I drink it regularly enough to want to find out more. Plus like a lot of people alcohol has become an important pursuit during lockdowns. This blog is just a log of my thoughts on the experience.

I think my friend was surprised I agreed to it. Why did I want to shell out 150 quid to spend more time staring at a screen?  What are my motivations for doing this course? Well my friend said the fee covered the cost of wine to taste. That turned out to be false. You provide your own wine. Luckily there were other experiences I wanted from the process.  

  • I wanted to do a proctored exam.
  • I wanted to use Canvas as a student.
  • I wanted to learn about something I wouldn’t normally learn about.
  • I also liked the idea of experiencing online practical teaching. How do you assess and teach taste at a distance?

Plus I thought it would be good to experience what online learning feels like in 2020.   

Revision

Initial thoughts

First impressions: Lots of emails. Just the normal kind of framing information. I found it quite disorientating. Even finding out what I’m actually supposed to do on day one was hard. I thought there was a kick off meeting tomorrow. Actually there was no kick off meeting the only face to face is later in the course.

Although some bits of the VLE look like your course there’s quite a lot of the open parts of the site that are generic. So a lot of the information within it that is not instructive to what I personally have to do. Mostly vanilla framing stuff. We both described how confused we were by the amount of emails and how we hadn’t got contacted directly by the course until the middle of the first week. We had some issues orientating ourselves but each of us had a different issue/understanding. I don’t know whether that’s because it wasn’t released or because we came at it at slightly different angles. He used his phone a lot more than I did. Eventually my friend cracked it / they opened more of the course. We eventually got acclimatised and we flew through the content.

The initial problem I had was actually learning with someone else was difficult. When we agreed to learn together I meant are we would do the study and then talk about it. He meant we go through it together. We had to navigate that initial tension. It seemed like I was in competition with him as I had raced ahead but it wasn’t insurmountable. We agreed my way was more practicable and we would do the study and meet up to talk about it. Both online and on a walk. It’s harder during a pandemic doing a none essential CPD course because you don’t know if education is actually covered by the exemptions. Is it that kind of education? It is related to his professional practise. However we settled on mostly online with some socially distanced walks where we could discuss the course and a share a bottle.

Practical exercise

We kept some of the practical elements separate so we could do them together and one is show above. The practical sessions were part of my motivation for doing this. It’s always interesting to see how people do online study for fully practical things. Whether it’s making home laboratory kits or what was in this case just using some domestic equipment to make different experiences to reflect on.

So one of the tasks were eating grapes and drinking slightly sweet or acidic water. It replicates what you do if you actually went to a night class or something like that. However, some of the activities didn’t seem to be scaled down. The instruction seemed to be aimed at doing it for a whole class of people, you certainly have enough liquid for that. I ended up making lots and throwing lots away. I’m actually quite enjoying learning with someone else is quite motivating and I can’t loaf off and leave it to the last minute. The actual learning design is a pdf x 3 then some MCQs and flash cards so lends itself well to testing each other collaboratively.

This was my first time using canvas in years and it seems to be a cross between Blackboard and Moodle now and no poorer for it. Giving a nice list of modules as you find in blackboard and actually working through the modules is a lot more like Moodle and a lot more kind of interesting looking. Previously it had seemed like a slicker version of Blackboard. However, this particular course is still quite weirdly designed particularly how it’s laid out. I’m still acclimatizing to it. Also knowing a bit about how the course design works on Blackboard doesn’t help me because I’m like going to places that I would expect to find stuff on my VLE and it’s not there. Then again why would it be? Generally it’s giving a more professional sheen to its UI. However it embed stuff in an unhelpful manner.

In terms of course design. I don’t really agree with how their embedding some of the PDFs mind but that’s just personal preference and I’m not here to mark their course I’m here to experience it.

Later on…

I got a job interview and I was just less interested in doing the course. I really struggled to reengage past the 1st third. I’d rather do anything but. Doing it with a friend kept me on track a little bit I can share my frustrations. The main issue I’m having is it’s really uneven.  Module 4 is just learn and memorise a **** tonne of facts. There’s some context around the facts but all the facts are given with a different level of complexity.  So it’s hard to kind of get any kind of visual representation in my mind about how they are presented so I am strugglign to retain the information. It’s just ‘know what grape/wine is like’ and it’s just devoid of the context of the thing. My main issue was that it was a lot bigger than every other module. Plus it’s just the kind of learning I hate. It was not difficult but for some reason the fact its so much bigger put me off.

After I wasted a couple of weeks moping around about module 4 I moved on. In comparison everything else on the course is about 45 minutes of study per week plus some reinforcement. So I polished most of it off quickly and returned to module four often to try and get it to stay in my brain. To be honest my brain is just used to popcorn at this point and is struggling to retain new facts. Lockdowns eh? I am often forgetting to do simple things like taking the keys out of the front door when I come in. Module 5 is just about basically how to open a bottle of wine. I flew through it but to be honest my confidence is still knocked slightly by 4 struggling to retain this information

Module number 6 was the good stuff about wine pairing and wine tasting. It’s a little bit of information and then some good activities and questions. What I’m not quite on board with is some of the questions are poorly written and don’t make any sense. The module itself only kinda tells you how to pair wine but more focuses on how the food will affect the wine so don’t really know how to make any recommendations off the back of it. It’s a bit context light. This is clarified well in a really poorly attended webinar. The insturctor was really nice but being so late in the course there was no one there and the people that were there were not up for chatting. It was on Zoom, which was a new experience for me. I had never used it as a student before.

One of my friends referred to me learning about how to be a sommelier in a Hungry Horse. Which is about what I feel prepped for.

A different friend
Getting exam ready

The exam

This is my first exam in 15 years and I am bit nervous

My co-learner

Exam time! For the proctoring they are asking for something that shows what you’re doing on screen AND there’s a video stream of what you’re doing from a second device. You have to test your equipment before being given access to the exam. Turns out half my devices aren’t accepted by the system they are using. So the week before I went through the testing. It does feel invasive. Just as I started checking my equipment on my work machine I was like ‘I can’t do this on this’ and it does say on the advice that you should be using a work machine. So I scramble up some of my own kit.

Oh my word! I feel really uncomfortable.

Me

I don’t mind showing my phone as my equipment is mine only but my personal laptop is shared between me and my wife. I really feel uncomfortable giving someone/some app access to see what’s on its screen. Also the logistics of setting up a camera 3 metres away that has to be also connected to a plug AND the internet is mind boggling. This would be an inclusivity issue if it were HE. As learning technologist I have enough tech around to fill the gaps in what would be acceptable BUT a lot of this was because I have a lot of kit at home from working during the pandemic.

So I set a day aside to do revision. The exam was at 4 and I was ready by 11. I mostly played chess for the rest of the day. After going through the rigamarole of taking a video of the area around my desk and showing ID etc I had taken about 25 minutes to set up. The 30 MCQs actually took me 6 minutes to complete. I think it will take up to 12 weeks to give me the results. The mind, again, boggles. I must say I did have a gripe in the feedback on the course. I can as I am a student! I felt instantly shamed afterwards, I know how seriously some feedback is taken and I felt back for the educator I would be making feel sad.

Overall

Anyway, with some time and perspective I enjoyed certain elements. I liked learning with another person as during this time it has been quite isolating. I like learning that is basically walking, drinking wine and talking about it. I learnt about how Canvas works and how it feels to do a proctored examination. My big take home is that wine tasting itself is a con. Its not about what it tastes like, its about stating what it is meant to taste like according to a list of facts. I learnt with empirical evidence that Aldi wine is as good as hipster wine.

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