Neil Cullen, council chair of UD’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) based in Wilmington, recounts the success of OLLI’s online initiatives and invites new and returning participants to join UD OLLI Online this spring.
Though I find it hard to believe, just eleven months ago, we OLLI members had embarked on our 2020 spring terms in Wilmington, Dover, Lewes and Ocean View. We were renewing our friendships and settling into classes.
In less than one month, however, we found ourselves in disarray as COVID-19 forced us to stop in-person classes and close our facilities. COVID-19, an acronym that soon tasted acrid on the tongue, dominated the headlines, and a full-blown pandemic began to sweep across the globe. Our staff members began working remotely to facilitate the wind-down and to keep members abreast of OLLI and UD news.
How we regrouped
Yet, we soon regrouped. Our OLLI Councils, working closely with staff members and UD’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies, decided to launch a virtual statewide Summer Session from July 7 to July 30 via Zoom.
Zoom? Who knew from Zoom? Few of us as it turned out, but we soon learned as we Zoomed meetings, classes and social occasions. And Zoom enabled us to connect with family and friends, all on a platform provided at no cost to each OLLI member by UD, a timely gift that reminded us of our good fortune to have a home at the University of Delaware.
Intrepid volunteers, staff and participants
In early May, the OLLI Councils approved an ad hoc task force, the Virtual Learning and Socialization Committee (VLSC), to work with OLLI staff members to explore ways to enhance distance teaching and learning. They first focused on devising the means to train instructors and members to use platforms such as Zoom in preparation for the Summer 2020 UD OLLI Online. Thanks to these efforts and our intrepid instructors, 700 students enrolled in summer classes, 97% of whom rated them highly.
In late May, the Councils and staff members turned their attention to planning for the 2020 fall term. After consulting with the UD administration, Delaware state authorities and the CDC regarding the health risks associated with COVID, we decided to offer all 2020 fall classes and activities online. Planning ensued immediately. Over the course of the summer, the VLSC members and staff offered Zoom training to all instructors and members. Fall term registration opened on August 18 for over 200 courses. Over 1,875 students enrolled, and after the term drew to a close, these students expressed a high level of satisfaction with both the offerings and the instructors.
January Enrichment Program
As the fall term ended, a few OLLI members requested OLLI courses and activities during the long interval between the end of fall term and the beginning of spring term. The VLSC considered the possibilities and recommended that OLLI volunteers plan and implement a January term without staff assistance. The Councils concurred, and soon a VLSC subcommittee recruited 40 instructors to offer a free January enrichment program via Zoom. With over 3,500 enrollments, the demand far exceeded our expectations.
UD OLLI Online
What have we learned?
We OLLI members proved much faster on our feet than many anticipated. Under the pressure of deadlines, we adapted quickly, learned efficiently and worked effectively with staff members to create virtual curricula. We surprised ourselves.
Those who taught and took classes learned to appreciate the particular advantages of Zoom classes:
In brief, though we all miss seeing one another, sharing meals and enjoying casual conversations, these virtual classes and activities have enabled us to maintain our connections with one another and to whet our appetites for the joy of reunion.
And now, we begin anew with a few joining us on Zoom for the first time. We offer 136 eleven-week and 80 five-week courses, and we anticipate 1,900 members. The orientation sessions begin on February 15, and classes end on May 7.
Please dive in. The water is fine. I think you will enjoy the warmth and comradery.
By Neil Cullen, Council Chair, OLLI Wilmington
OLLI classes focus on learning for fun and enrichment, with no exams or grades. Past OLLI membership is not required to join UD OLLI Online. Both new and returning OLLI participants are invited.
Spring 2021 classes start February 22 and April 5 in 11-week and 5-week formats. Free training and technical support is provided to participants.
Early registration is available through Friday, February 12, and will re-open on February 22.