Jim Bonar, a long-time member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Nevada, Reno and director of the Lincoln Highway Association, is known for bringing history to life through his lively and informative presentations at OLLI. Recently, he gave a talk to 173 OLLI members about the Black Rock Desert, where he fielded questions from the audience, used maps to describe the desert’s geography, geology and history, and took attendees on a driving tour using his personal photos. Sounds just like a typical OLLI class; however, Bonar gave this talk from his home, while other OLLI members watched live from theirs.
How is OLLI able to get so many people online for one class? “We use Zoom video conferencing for our classes, which allows us to have up to 300 people online at one time,” says OLLI executive director, Kristen Kennedy. “I am thrilled so many of our members have jumped right in to learn the technology. We provide one-on-one training for our presenters, and at the beginning of each class, we talk to our members about how to use the Zoom controls to ask questions. I’ve noticed our members becoming increasingly knowledgeable and comfortable using Zoom.
OLLI at the University of Nevada, Reno promotes social and intellectual engagement for adults 50 and older through educational programs and recreational opportunities. One of its most vital roles is bringing people together. During these uncertain times, when OLLI members are self-isolating and aren’t able to come together for classes and trips, OLLI hopes to connect its members virtually through online lectures, discussion groups, knitting groups, ukulele lessons and the like.
Using remote learning technology, presenters are able to share slides and videos and interact with audience members who have questions. Of course, there’s no real substitute for connecting with one another in person. Still, OLLI knows that creating a virtual connection is important to the well-being of its members, especially right now, as older adults might be feeling isolated at home.
“I am certainly enjoying the variety of Zoom classes [offered through OLLI],” says OLLI member, Ann Marie Melcher. “I looked back at my calendar, and I have attended 11 classes. The presenters are well prepared with excellent slides and interesting information. OLLI was my first Zoom experience. It went so well that I have now participated in Zoom meetings for other organizations.”
With more than 2,400 members in northern Nevada, OLLI plays a significant role in helping seniors stay active and is working to transition as many of its classes as possible to this new online format until it can offer in-person programming at its two locations on Moana Lane and at the Redfield Campus. Currently, OLLI is closed through June 30, although that could be extended depending on the COVID-19 situation. Its 100-page catalog produced each semester that lists the more than 500 OLLI activities will become a monthly online newsletter through December to allow OLLI to respond to program changes that may arise due to the fluidity of the current situation.
“We’re taking things day by day and are not quite sure yet what OLLI’s re-opening will look. We do know that whatever steps we take, we will be especially vigilant given that the COVID-19 virus is particularly harmful to older adults,” says Kennedy. “In the meantime, we continue to look for creative ways to engage our members remotely. The silver lining for us might be that this experience with distance learning opens up new benefits to our members in the way we operate into the future.”