Being a “Bee You” beekeeper in lockdown has had its challenges but the team adapted and embraced the opportunities it posed for us.

Teaching beekeeping took on a whole new life of its own purely because it’s a very hands-on practical and visual subject. Aspects which were taken for granted in the classroom or training apiary were things like making frames, tasting honey, smelling pollen, putting on a bee suit, lighting a smoker and of course getting to look inside a beehive to see and feel the bees as they go about their work. There is no way to appreciate or understand honeybees in any way other than to be amongst them.

Images by Andrea Ku

Our teaching resources and presentations had to be adapted to suit online delivery meaning pictures had to tell multiple stories and careful words used to match images and create a faraway but tangible understanding.

Our project delivery went out to those interested in bees but, the new discovery we made, was that it went beyond the normal captive audience. After a good response through online advertising of our beekeeping sessions, lots of young people signed up, very likely those who wouldn’t have known about it if it wasn’t for the pandemic. This positive turnaround during a difficult time meant we delivered to so many more young people, offering them the chance to learn a brand new subject and raise awareness about improving our environment.

A day in summer 2020 consisted of teaching beekeeping in the morning to groups of young people, most from Liverpool but some from all corners of the UK. Zoom was new to all of us so the ‘you’re on mute’ was uttered a lot! I was dubbed the ‘Ken Dodd’ of the beekeeping tutor world at Blackburne House just because I would often go over time! It is a well known fact of this Scouse comic that if anyone went to see his live shows it would overrun by hours. I can’t be 100% blamed for this as so many great questions were asked throughout the sessions…..a very good sign that students were learning and wanting to know more.

A sunny summer lockdown afternoon was the time to go and check the Bee You project bees. I help look after 15 colonies at a community garden in Ford, Litherland and at Ness Botanic Gardens, both very different and beautiful locations with an abundance of forage for both apiaries.

Fortunately, Covid doesn’t affect the bees’ health so thankfully they did not need to socially distance! What an image that would have been!

Images by Andrea Ku

The opportunity to capture bee inspections on camera was taken up as content for online delivery. Usually, students would be donned with their bee suits, gauntlets and smoking smokers with a hive tool in their hand. This time, I had to show what these things were and why we use them. I invested in some influencer style phone holding kit to clip on the side of the open hive while I could talk through a bee check. As I would normally have students around me, it was a bit strange to talk while no one was there but all this made sense in the online delivery and I didn’t feel silly doing it again!

The good thing about filming bee checks is that these could be sent to students, to watch again in their own time. Course delivery note-taking was encouraged with the opportunity of having course notes sent to students to reinforce their learning.

One very unexpected but positive aspect of online teaching came about throughout the deliveries. I had worked with certain schools and colleges who have some anxious and nervous students who would not be able to be around their peers and unable to concentrate. This was completely overcome through online delivery. Students who would usually struggle with their anxiety and concentration in college would be first in the Zoom waiting rooms, pay attention all the way through (evident by lots of relevant questions in the chat) and would stay for every minute of every session. Their tutors were amazed at this significant change in the

anxious students and sent us wonderful messages praising the students and the delivery.

“I really enjoyed the session you presented for myself and students. Each session was information, motivational and engaged all parties in a fun way! Some of the ‘anxious’ and ‘shy’ learners within the cohort, appeared to enjoy the session and seemed much more confident during the distance learning. I found it so informative, that I chose to use the subject from the first session for my PGCE mini-teach. Mainly as I had learnt so much interesting information, I wanted to share it!” – Tutor at Myerscough College

I have to admit, this is one of my favourite discoveries about teaching online. It has made me think more about inclusive teaching going forward, to hopefully retain the un-retainable and offer more opportunities to those that find it hard through anxieties to take up those opportunities.

Images by Andrea Ku

Written by Andrea Ku, beekeeping tutor on the Bee You project at Blackburne House