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What criteria does your OLLI use to accept/decline new course proposals?

Posted on November 1st, 2011 by Anne Cardale, OLLI National Resource Center

What criteria does your OLLI use to accept/decline new course proposals?

Sally Klein, OLLI at Southern Oregon University, Asks OLLI:

What criteria does your OLLI use to accept/decline new course proposals? Our Curriculum Committee reviews all new course proposals and is starting to decline some proposals. We are wondering what criteria other OLLIs use for this process.

6 Responses to “What criteria does your OLLI use to accept/decline new course proposals?”

  1. We look at the following factors:
    - Instructor qualifications, experience, and fit for our members.
    - Potential enrollment - based on historical enrollment, member requests for the topic, survey data, etc.
    - Overall curriculum balance - i.e., how many classes in each category do we feel we can support.
    - Financial considerations.

  2. #2 by: garry.crites

    We use several criteria. We ask

    “Is this a course which could reasonably be offered at Duke for undergraduate or graduate students?”
    “Is the subject matter in good taste?”
    “Will it have broad enough appeal that a sufficient number of OLLI members will register?”
    “Is the instructor qualified to teach this topic?”

    Additionally, we remind instructors who come from the community that they may not use an OLLI course to build a clientele for their businesses. If a proposal looks like a feeder course, we decline it or ask for it to be reworked.

    Finally, we ask that courses on topics on which there is a divergence of opinion be designed to permit a free interchange of ideas. We are especially cautious about religion courses which seem to be designed to win converts to a specific religion or religious view.

  3. Our process is somewhat informal. Each member of the curriculum team screens prospective instructors. They call it the “blink” test. If the instructor passes that test, the screener becomes the instructor liaison.

    Because our instructors are volunteers, we encourage those who pass the “blink” test offer a one session program so they can experience the OLLI student body and we can see the response of that group to the instructor and topic. Some instructors are qualified to teach in the course content area, others are passionate amateurs who want to share their passion with fellow OLLI members.

    We tend to use our course evaluations as a resource for responding to member interests. There are two curriculum-related questions - what would you like to see us offer and do you know any prospective instructors? We monitor those evaluations, collate the results and the curriculum team responds by prospecting.

    The adminstrative staff monitors enrollments. If we have fewer than 5 or 10 students, we ask the instructor if they would still like to teach. If they do and students respond to the course and instructor, word of mouth tends to promote enrollments if/when the course is offered again. Conversely, when we see enrollments dwindling for a course that is offered multiple times, we ask the instructor to consider teaching another or related subject.

    In 5 years, we have had to discontinue only 2 instructors. Last year alone, we offered more than 180 courses.

  4. We pay our instructors. Thus, we need a minimum of at least 15 in a class to offset costs.

    To consider a course, potential instructors provide a course summary and personal description (both for the catalog if accepted), course outline, references, and a curriculum vita. The last 2 are not necessary if the person has taught for us before. I then work with the individual on content and proposed teaching style to insure that the course meets our criteria. One is quality and content akin that of courses offered in a University Liberal Arts and Sciences curriculum. We do not accept courses that would (and do) appear in Community College Continuing Ed. programs, i.e., courses offering skills training and personal improvement; the course must be intellectually enriching.

    Once the course has been worked out to meet these criteris, it is submitted to a curriculum Committee of 5-6 OLLI members, who decide whether it should be offered to general membership for the next semester’s program. All acceptable courses are then conveyed to membership to determine whether there is sufficient interest.

    Once a course has met the criteria of academic quality, intellectual stimulation, intructor qualification, and member interest, it is scheduled for the upcoming semester. Because we pay faculty, if enrollment does not reach a certain level, the course is cancelled.

    At the conclusion of the course, a standard evaluation form is administered to class members. Instructors are not invited back if their evaluations do not reach a minimum of 4.0 on a 5 point scale or if there are troubling negative comments by members about the way in which the course was conducted (e.g., it didn’t conform to our model for OLLI classes), or other negative aspects. Particular weight is given to onservations by members of the curriculum committee in the classes since they are very sensitive to our standards. Instructors are given evaluation feedback to improve instruction; where problems are remedial, I consult with the instructor to correct the problem. In addition, memers are encouraged to report issues directly to me or through curriculum committee members as the courses progress. Each semester we have 20+ different instructors; it is rare that more than 1 or 2 “fall flat” in the evaluations. This may be because we vet instructors carefully, provide feedback during and after courses,and most are college teaching veterans.

  5. For each new course, the instructor must submit a short description for the catalog, a syllabus or course outline and biographical information. The instructor is interviewed by the Area Coordinator on the Curriculum Committee and the staff Academic Coordinator. The ability of the instructor to teach is evaluated based on ability to answer questions, background and presentation style. The plan to use the classtime by just showing two videos with no disussion and no previous knowledge of the subject will not be accepted. No solicitation is allowed. A potential instructor whose motivation to teach about finances is just to gain new clients will not be accepted. The Curriculum Committee determines if the class fits with the other courses offered and with the direction of the program.

  6. The OLLI at the University of Kentucky has adopted and is actively using the following criteria to evaluate course proposals (rather than the proposed instructor):

    New courses must:
    1. Interest our membership (over 50s). We define interest as able to draw registrations.
    2. Not duplicate learning opportunities readily available for our age group.
    3. Support one or more of the four OLLI pillars;
    a. Provide intellectual and educational content
    b. Explore creativity
    c. Encourage exercise and good health
    d. Build community within our OLLI and with the larger community
    4. Avoid personal agendas.

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