Lifelong Learning students started face-to-face classes Monday after $700K renovation
By Paul Steinle
It took two extra years, but the doors to the extensively remodeled Osher Lifelong Learning Institute complex in the Campbell Center on the Southern Oregon University campus swung open to students for classes on Monday, March 28.
Two years ago, in mid-March 2020, the OLLI community — administrators, staff and student members of the retirement education program for those 50 and older — was primed to begin teaching in remodeled classrooms after completetion of a members’ fundraising drive; the gutting, rebuilding and remodeling of the vintage, 1940s-era Campbell Center buildings on Frances Lane; new digital classroom teaching tools had been installed; and the OLLI Curriculum Committee had reviewed and catalogued 123 spring courses for the approximately 2,000 OLLI members.
But that changed, decisively, when the COVID-19 pandemic descended on the nation. The Campbell Center — and most of SOU — was locked down, OLLI and SOU staffers were sent home to work remotely and, within a few weeks, SOU and OLLI began teaching solely online.
Online teaching was new to OLLI at that time. Only a handful of OLLI courses had been taught that way by spring 2020 and, as OLLI Curriculum Co-chair Anne Coleman remembers, only 30 OLLI classes could be converted in time for online spring term delivery.
Apprehensive about the loss of face-to-face classroom interaction, some OLLI instructors converted to teaching online reluctantly, but many were eventually surprised to discover several advantages of the digital format: the opportunity to marry classroom audio and video exchange, facilitated by Zoom software, and the exchange of classroom materials, facilitated by the internet, created unexpected benefits.
Instructors also discovered they could manage interaction with large classes more effectively on Zoom. Classroom communication was improved by seeing the faces of members in greater detail, being able to read their names on the screen, and by hearing students more clearly, since each student had an audio link to the classroom.
The digital format worked for members as well. “My hearing is bad, and I can turn the volume up and down, depending on my needs,” one OLLI student told the Curriculum Committee’s Coleman.
OLLI online courses suddenly became accessible to more people in the Rogue Valley and beyond (this spring OLLI has two foreign students — one in Australia and one in The Netherlands). Instructors could also integrate guest speakers into their classes from remote locations. This spring, OLLI Council President John Ferris recruited Jim Myers, a former university-level English professor, to teach a course (“Americans Create Animal Rescue Program in India”) from his home in Udaipur, India, despite a 12-and-a-half-hour time difference.
In addition to teaching online this spring, the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions is allowing OLLI members to inhabit those five, remodeled and refreshed Campbell Center classrooms.
Classroom changes are notable. According to Committee for Renovation Co-chair Cliff Edwards, instruction will be enhanced by eight new Samsung 82-inch, hi-def video screens, updated audio play-back systems, and digital switching systems for the instructors that support computer, Blue-ray DVD, and video camera inputs. SOU also installed a new air-conditioning system featuring MERV-13 filters, recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the five refurbished classrooms, a comfortably-furnished Members Lounge has been created with a vending machine and a Keurig coffee maker. A small storage room has been converted to a meeting room with digital support for instruction, and two new bathrooms have been added for members’ convenience.
Of the approximately $700,000 invested in upgrading the Campbell Center, 732 OLLI members donated $446,000; $60,000 was donated by three foundations (The Ben J. Cheney Foundation, $30,000; The Oregon Community Foundation, $20,000; and Reser Family Foundation, $10,000); and $70,000 was invested from OLLI operating funds. The remainder of the investment came from SOU. OLLI rents the Campbell Center from SOU, which uses it for children’s programs in the summer.
Lorraine Vail, co-chair of the OLLI Committee for Renovation, said “I was always excited about telling the story (of renovating the Campbell Center) because I knew it would be here for many years to come.” And the members were equally excited because they believed they were donating to a facility “that would have a lasting presence.”
OLLI classes begin online and in the Campbell Center Monday, March 28. Ninety courses are offered, and time remains to become a member and sign up for some classes. Check olli.sou.edu for up-to-date enrollment information.
Paul Steinle has been a practicing professional journalist and educator since 1961. Steinle is an unpaid Ashland.news board member. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.