Regardless of what course model you choose, there are many tools available to incorporate into your course. Your role as a presenter is to stimulate the members and encourage learning and a healthy exchange of ideas. To accomplish this, you will inevitably find yourself combining the following teaching tools into a multi-faceted teaching method to best meet the needs of your class. Every course is different and you may even find that class composition from one semester to the next may influence the mixture of teaching tools you will be utilizing.
Remember that discussion is the fundamental thread of lifelong learning. It is true that lecture is the primary means by which students are educated, but OLLI is a different environment than traditional education. OLLI members bring a wealth of knowledge with them and the educational process is greatly enhanced by their contributions in the classroom. As such, your course will benefit by allowing time for discussion in some capacity.
Lecturing is an integral tool in most teaching methods and its success greatly depends more on the ability of the lecturer than the specific content. Use these presentation tips from OLLI at George Mason University’s manual as a checklist for lecturing:
- Handouts: If you have prepared an outline of the lecture, reference it at the start and make sure everyone has a copy. They can then follow along and know where you are within the framework of the class topic. Let them know at what point you will take questions, whether during the talk or only at the end.
- Beginning: Some instructors like starting with an amusing anecdote, a joke, or whatever will relax the group before settling down for the serious business at hand. Some topics may lend themselves to humor as you go along and you should remember that at OLLI, members are learning for the joy of learning. Be sure to keep the joy in there.
- Move: It helps to keep audience attention by movement on your part; within your script there may be times when you can step away from the lectern and cross to another side of the room for remarks. You can step into the group area to make a point or to answer a question from someone in a back row.
- Vary your voice, especially if you will be reading from a scrip As you read, emphasize the important points; slow down, change the pace, or laugh at your own words if that is appropriate. Think of this as a performance, even though the topic may be very straightforward.
- Questions: If you have opted to take questions during your talk, and you should tell your group at the beginning and always repeat the question for the others to hear before you answer it.
- Eye contact: As you speak, make eye contact with one or another in the class, moving your attention from people in the front to those in the back or on either side. Don’t be concerned or put off if someone’s eyes are closed; they may be listening or even have nodded off; that’s common enough for seniors. It’s not likely they are bored.
- Pitching your voice: Even if you are using a microphone, be aware that you should keep your voice constant. Speakers sometimes tend to drop their voices at the end of sentences and their listeners miss the total thought conveyed.
- Mutual respect: The teacher should not talk down to the students, although at times you may be unsure about their level of understanding of the subject or a term, and may have to ask if everyone knows what a _______ is before you use that term. On the same point, you should remember that OLLI students want the teacher to succeed. They will be very understanding if you can’t answer a question, if your notes get muddled, or if something unexpected occurs. Offer people the opportunity for information clarification and/or ask a follow-up question of the group to see if they understood. Anticipate such questions by having available charts and maps, etc. Use anecdotes to illustrate your point. Here is where good discussion works; break away from the lecture for the flexibility of give and take. Such activity can bring stale talk alive and give knowledgeable students the opportunity to shine. If there are still questions hanging without clear answers, offer to research during the ensuing week and be sure that you return with answers to discuss first thing.
- Conclusions: Keep your eye on the clock so that you have a few moments to tie up your points at the end and offer some enticing clues about what they can expect in the next session.
Guest lecturers can provide expert analysis of course materials as well as provide unique perspectives to enhance learning. Any course can use a guest lecturer at some point during the session. Coordination with the lecturer regarding the subject matter as well as coordination with the OLLI office is essential to ensure that both the members and the guest lecturer are adequately accommodated.
Some courses will require the use of films, music, and other multimedia formats. These tools can be a great enhancement to the course, but you will bring “the value added” to any of these formats. Lecture and discussion will enhance the understanding of your source material.