The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute At The University Of Richmond: Taking Risks

On the afternoon of Monday, November 15, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute instructors, Joe Vanderford and Bill Pike, were a bit nervous. Their months of content preparation for their two part class was coming down to the critical technology check.

The lecture hall where the documentary The Last Waltz was to be shown worked flawlessly.

But, the technology where their class would be presented on Tuesday morning was not cooperating. Slide images and content were appearing on the projection screen, but sound was absent. For Joe and Bill, sound was critical to their lecture—you can’t offer a class on the legendary rock group, The Band, without sound.

That’s when Osher Program Coordinator, Nell Smith, placed a phone call for help. Within minutes, a technician arrived who quickly assessed the situation. A carefully orchestrated rebooting of the system cleared out the troublesome technology gremlins, and like magic The Band’s music charged through the speakers.

With that hurdle cleared, Joe and Bill quickly tested each slide that contained a video or song selection. Luckily, there were no more hiccups.

Joe Vanderford and Bill Pike are childhood friends who grew up in Burlington, North Carolina. While Joe resides in Chapel Hill, Bill took the road to Richmond, and one of their teenage loves listening to records has kept their friendship going.

For the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Bill and Joe have developed five presentations that have showcased the works of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, George Harrison, and now The Band. Additionally, Bill on his own has created presentations about cowboy music, the Andy Griffith Show, and writing.

That is a lot of risk taking from the Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Peggy Watson. But in truth, learning is about taking some risks. In the case of Peggy Watson’s leadership, these are risks worth taking because these classes help meet a goal of continuing to develop lifelong learners.

Peggy and her staff put together a year round calendar of classes that cover a wide range of topics delivered by a talented group of individuals. Like a well oiled machine, the Osher staff accepts proposals for classes. These proposals are reviewed and selections are made based upon a number of criteria.

Once proposals have been accepted, the really challenging work begins—coordinating within the university’s schedule to find time slots and meeting locations. Building the Osher schedule is no easy task. Not only does the staff need to consider the instructional needs of Osher instructors, but they must be sensitive to schedule the classes without creating interruptions for the university’s professors and facilities.

While I can’t speak for other Osher instructors, our locations and the technology available for presenting have matched our needs. A comfortable room and cooperative technology are two of the keys for a good presentation.

Additionally, the Osher staff coordinates feedback on each class from students who attend. This feedback is very valuable to the instructors. These ratings/comments help instructors to learn what worked and didn’t work during the presentation.

There are a couple of other supportive pieces from the Osher team. Instructors are given the opportunity to provide feedback to the Osher staff. With this feedback, the Osher staff develops a class for instructors that provides essential components for instructors to weave into their presentations.

And there is one more critical piece of support for Osher instructors—technology. For our class on The Band, I had difficulty loading videos into the presentation slides.

To correct this problem, I simply made an appointment with the IT Help Desk/the Technology Learning Center. A very competent young lady, a junior student from Bosnia, was able to teach me how to load in the videos with a new application.

On Monday evening, our screening of The Last Waltz went well. Peggy Watson introduced us, and this was followed by Joe’s superb overview of the documentary, including a plug for the class on Tuesday morning.

On the day of our class, Joe and I have learned to arrive early. Again, we want to recheck the technology. For some unknown reason, on Tuesday morning, the technology gremlins reappeared.

Luckily, the same technician came to our rescue. His magical skills had us ready for our ten o’clock start. That would not have happened without support from Osher Program Staff, Catherine Taylor and Nell Smith.

Even though the university’s policy required us to wear masks during our presentation, Joe and I felt good to be in front of an audience. We enjoyed seeing some familiar faces who had participated in our previous classes.

We had lots of material to cover in two hours. Maybe, it was pandemic rust, but we made a few time constraint edits as we worked through the prepared script. Before we knew it, we were taking final questions and providing our summaries.

In truth, I think Joe and I feel a sense of relief when a class is completed. Additionally, in our post-presentation analysis, we are always quick to critique our work. Our shared self-talk finds fault with missed opportunities on a few points we overlooked, but overall, we are pleased with our work.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is present on 125 campuses in all 50 states. If you are the least bit curious about classes available in your community, I would encourage you to checkout the offerings. My hunch is you will find a class of interest, and more than likely, you will make some new friends.

In the Richmond area, Peggy Watson would be happy to orient you to Osher. Peggy can be reached via e-mail:

As for Joe and me, we have some ideas for our next class. Right now, Ray Davies and The Kinks are at the top of the list. Who knows maybe we’ll see you in a “Waterloo Sunset.”

And that might just happen, with more insightful risk taking from Peggy Watson.

Bill Pike and Joe Vanderford in the wash of the projector light Photo by Mike Cross

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