Introduction to OLLI’s Online Classroom here at OLLI
By Kelley O’Rourke, OLLI Student Intern

We are amid a very interesting time for all of us. As we learn and get accustomed to the new ways we spend our days, we invite you to join us in a new way of learning. OLLI will be shifting several programs to an online class format. We are so excited to introduce, live online learning through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Online classes are not new, but they are a new way for OLLI to conduct and facilitate a learning experience/environment. We have begun to transition some of our currently scheduled classes to an online format, as well as offer new classes online that weren’t previously on the schedule. While we adhere to social distancing, instructors will hold class through this platform. Though classes won’t be held in person the same instruction and dialogue between teachers and students can still take place.

What is Blackboard Collaborate Ultra?
Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is a browser-based platform, meaning it does not require you to download anything to make it work. All the action happens on the blackboard website itself. It is recommended to use google chrome for the best user experience. Instructors schedule class times during which students can watch live lectures/classes on blackboard or watch recorded sessions later. Students and participants of the online class are able to see and hear the instructor and other students, through the webcam and microphone of the computer. Communication between participants happens by speaking through the microphone or using instant messenger. The instructor is able to share presentations via a common white board or by sharing their screen with everyone.

How Do You Use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra?
To join a session/class, you should:
– If you have never used blackboard collaborate Ultra, give yourself about 15 minutes prior to class to set it up.
– You can access the link and course on your desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone.
– Prior to class you should be sent a link to join your session.
– If you are planning to use your desktop or laptop, click the link to join your class session, then you will need to follow the prompts that instruct you to download the secure program to your computer.
– If you are planning on using a tablet or your smart phone, you will need to download the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra application from your application store.

These are the basics of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and how to use it for online classes with OLLI. Though this might feel like a lot of information at once, we assure you that it is just like riding a bike, it just takes a little practice, and soon you will be flying through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra like you have been doing it all your life!

Positive Turnout
We have already had much success with our first class, Adventure Awaits! The Victorian Adventure Story. Dr. Ashley Robinson, the instructor of the course, stated that she felt it was a very manageable switch to the online course format, even if the student or instructor was/is not familiar with Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. The learning curve is quite a small one. She said that her students really had gotten the hang of using Blackboard after the first 15 minutes. Even so, if there happened to be a problem during the session everyone was able to laugh it off.

Dr. Ashley Robinson recently instructor her OLLI class through a virtual format.

Dr. Robinson said that during this time, when we are not able to see and interact face to face with one another, it was a delight to finish class and see students. Dr. Robinson believes it is good for our mental and emotional health to try and learn new things while staying connected with others. Her students enjoyed their experience and wanted to continue having class in this way during this time. A student in the class, Ms. Woods, stated “I was very glad we could finish the class and it was certainly a stimulating break in my isolation to see and hear classmates”.

After finishing her Adventure Awaits course, Dr. Robinson had some helpful tips to make the most out of your online classroom experience:
– Login to your class session 15 minutes early. This will allow you to adjust or receive help if you run into any problems.
– Use Google Chrome and avoid Internet Explorer and Safari if possible.
– When you are in your class session, keep your video on but mute your microphone when you are not speaking. This makes it easier to hear someone else when they are talking and helps to eliminate distracting background noises.
– Use headphones if you can, to better hear your instructors and classmates.
– If you call in and use your phone for audio, while using a second device for video, make sure to mute the device you are using for video (desktop, laptop, or tablet). This will help to avoid a distracting echo effect that can be created if both devices have sound on.

A presentation being shared during a recent online OLLI class.

Josh Raney, Director here at OLLI said “We are excited to offer opportunities for the OLLI community to continue taking classes and engaging with one another while we are unable to meet in person. The online platform we are using allows participants to see, hear and interact with the instructor and peers. We are also engaging with the community through social media platforms and e-blasts. It is a great opportunity to stay active and continue learning while we are all a part.”

Future Online Classes
We have started to build and are currently adding to our new schedule of online classes. Here are a few classes to register for:
– Yoga for Aging, Vicky Willis – Schedule for Wed 4/8 at 9:30am – 11:30am (5 sessions in consecutive weeks
– The Right to Carry & Possess Arms, Alan Wooten – Scheduled for Wed 4/8 at 10:00 – 12:00 (1 session)
– Planned Giving Workshop – Scheduled for Tues 4/14. Attached is a graphic. Please use it when promoting this class.
– Historic Architectural Styles of Arkansas, Mason Toms – Scheduled for Wed 4/29 & Thur 4/30 from 1:00 – 3:00. (2 sessions back to back days)

In Conclusion
We understand that this is a rather strange and potentially difficult time for everyone. We are here for you always, to help in any way we can. We will not let this time halt our mission, but we will let it fuel us in our pursuits of learning and growing. While this may feel like a lot of information all at once, especially if you are not familiar with Blackboard Collaborate Ultra or online classes, don’t worry. We have step by step instructions detailing how to use blackboard, there are instructions and tutorial videos on the blackboard website, there are moderators in the online classroom that can help if someone is having trouble, you can use the instructions listed earlier in this article as a reference, and we are available to help you at OLLI always.

I want to leave you with this, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” – Michael Jordan

Thank you for your continued engagement and support. We hope to see all of you in our virtual classrooms this semester.