On the day the students arrived for their first class in Wine Sensory Evaluation in March 2020, the PYDA and SU independently decided to suspend face-to-face activities, and all students were sent home, and a week or two later, hard lockdown followed.
As PYDA students are not registered with SU, we could not use Sunlearn (the SU online learning platform) to continue the teaching. The solution for the DVO intervention was to move all the content onto the Sunonline short course platform. Thus, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual 100% face-to-face community engagement initiative was converted to 100% online by Dr Marianne McKay.
All PYDA students live in very low income households and as such have no access to technology, laptops, data and in some cases even electricity. The PYDA had to raise funds to provide each student with the relevant hardware and data to study effectively online. By the end of July, all students were kitted with a laptop, Telkom router and 20GB data per month. They pivoted to a “WhatsApp Academy” and facilitators were trained and prepared, as were students, to continue learning in this new way. Consistent communication with all students via the PYDA, and between the PYDA and SU ensured that students were all registered and able to access the online content. There were inevitable technical and administrative hiccups, and finding ways to assess practical skills, especially in terms of winetasting, was extremely tough. The students also experienced the online environment as challenging: they often work with constant interruption and no privacy, and learning about wine was made even more difficult by the total ban on alcohol. The DVO thus had to be very creative in thinking up solutions (for example, asking students to use items in their kitchens as aroma standards, and reflect on their emotional connections to particular smells) that could assist in enhancing our ‘traditional’ learning in wine evaluation. Learning had to be layered over weeks and months to the point that when the alcohol ban was finally lifted, we were able to ask students to actually taste wine in small, socially-distanced groups, and submit their tasting sheets online.
Despite all of these challenges, 42 of the initial class of 50 students graduated – an amazing achievement given the immense challenges faced and overcome in 2020. They received their SU certificates as evidence for their hard work on the course.