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Out & About: OSHER offers in-person and Zoom classes this fall

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2021 9:24:06 PM
Modified: 8/4/2021 9:24:13 PM

LEBANON — OSHER@Dartmouth is returning to in-person classes for its fall semester, which begins Aug. 23.

Due to the popularity of Zoom classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are also close to the same amount of virtual classes being offered. There will be 42 classes on Zoom and 45 in-person, most of which will be held at OSHER’s new home at One Court Street in downtown Lebanon. Classes will either be in-person or on Zoom, not both. People can view and register for classes at OSHER is Dartmouth College’s adult education program and most classes cost between $45 and $85. While the majority of people who participate in OSHER courses are older adults, they are open to adults of all ages.

“Once we hear they were going back to in-person classes at the college, we felt comfortable to offer in-person classes,” said Laura Belback, assistant program manager at OSHER. “We’re right within the target of how many courses we’d like to offer in the fall term.”

The organization is planning on installing a system that will allow instructors to teach hybrid classes, where some students are there in person and others virtually, but it won’t be ready for the fall semester. OSHER went online in spring 2020 due to the pandemic and has remained online since.

OSHER staff left it up to instructors whether they wanted to teach online or in-person. Some instructors do not live locally and therefore Zoom is the only option for them to teach.

“Some study leaders actually (preferred) Zoom because they have people participating all over the country and beyond,” Belback said. So far, participants from Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, Florida, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, South Carolina, Missouri, North Carolina, Maryland, Indiana, Connecticut and Oregon have registered for online classes. “Audience has definitely grown wider since more people have been sending our courses to family and friends.”

Since the delta variant was not rampant at the time instructors had to make a decision, it likely didn’t play a role in whether to teach online or in-person. As the variant has continued to spread, staff are keeping in touch with instructors about their comfort level for teaching in person.

“If any of the leaders start to feel uneasy or anything, we can definitely move over to Zoom,” Belback said. “It’s easier to move over to Zoom then in-person.”

In spring 2020, there were 19 classes held via Zoom and it was the first time many instructors taught virtually — as well as the first time for many students. Belback and other staff members spent hours getting participants comfortable with Zoom and other types of technology. This past spring, OSHER offered 65 classes — all of them online. Fall is typically OSHER’s largest semester, and in fall 2020 there were 69 classes, all online.

“We have members calling, and they’re asking if they can participate on Zoom if the class is in-person,” Belback said. “It’s kind of the opposite of what you would expect.”

She and other staff members rarely have to assist people with technology anymore. The initial period of anxiety has long since passed.

“I don’t get any requests. Most people now are all set,” Belback said. “It was a worthwhile use of time to get everybody comfortable.”

The popularity of online classes is also causing OSHER to rethink its plans for the upcoming winter term — regardless of how the pandemic is going.

“Winter especially we are considering (Zoom only classes) because our members always have concerns about the weather, so winter would be a term where we’d encourage people to actually teach on Zoom,” Belback said. “Because Zoom has been so successful for us, people appreciate they don’t have to drive in. They can just wake up and put on their computer and engage with people without having to leave their home. They’re still getting that benefit of a social piece with learning and engaging.”

Here are five courses Belback is looking forward to this fall:

■In-person: “The History of the Tour de France,” by Peter Graves.

■Zoom: “The United States Is an Arctic State (& Why It Matters),” by Martin Jeffries.

■In-person: “America 2041: The Future Is Whispering to Us,” by Howard Anderson.

■Zoom: “Protecting Our Planet Through Poetry,” by Marjorie Ryerson.

■Zoom: “Brahms, Berlioz and the Romantic Imagination,” by Melinda O’Neal.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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