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The Magic of Anne Cass

Image caption: Edison's Greatest Marvel - The Vitascope

As Senior College and OLLI members, we have multiple opportunities to stay connected to our community; one of them is Zoom, the application that enables virtual face-to-face meetings all over the world. It is everywhere these days and is especially alive and well at a number of Senior Colleges and OLLI for the foreseeable future. The Maine Senior College Network is now looking at all fall classes being held through Zoom.

I am reasonably experienced on Zoom, and completely aware that I still have more to learn. I serve on two boards that use Zoom. I take notes at a weekly Zoom meeting of the Maine Senior College Network (MSCN), serve as tech support for an OLLI class on Zoom, will be teaching a class this summer via Zoom, and regularly meet with friends and relatives using my University of Maine System Zoom account. (Contact the MSCN Program Director, Anne Cardale if you are an instructor, or Senior College board member and want to work with Zoom.) Each we ek as I listen in on the MSCN meetings, I hear representatives from the 16 other senior colleges across the state, finding more and more creative ways to reach out to stay in touch with their members.

People, of course, vary in their responses to this ubiquitous technology. Some are excited adopters and regular users. They relish new learning by taking courses or listening to lectures. They check in with grandchildren, hold bridal and baby showers, and even weddings. They find old friends - in one OLLI discussion course, a long-time instructor was able to partner with a favorite former colleague who had moved away from the area - the reach is possible online. Some schools are using Zoom to hold reunions. Organizations are using it to provide trainings, run staff meetings, and implement their business plans. Families that are widespread are connecting more often - I know one family that regularly Zooms with relatives overseas, a new practice for them.

On a recent walk around Fort Williams (it's opened to people!) with Kathy Crosson, an active OLLI member who is also a Regional Director for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, she shared that she and the eighteen other regional group directors previously met once a year for a two-day conference; however, there was limited routine communication among them otherwise. During their now daily one-hour meetings, they share best practices, have developed a survey instrument, and planned a virtual national conference for almost 500 nationwide volunteers. They get to know more about colleagues as other family members move in and out of the Zoom squares; colleagues catch glimpses of what surrounds their fellow directors in their personal spaces - art, photos, book collections, plants and flower arrangements. Kathy notes that while they might have achieved similar outcomes under normal conditions, the new technology has enabled the group to solve hard issues, develop innovative solutions and to move forward with a renewed purpose. A silver lining has been the special friendships and bonds that have evolved as [they] have worked together.

Others are wary or a bit fearful. Uncertainty around new technology, or making a mistake, or not being able to figure out the application can lead to reluctance even to take a chance. Many people doubt the possibility of holding personal conversations of any meaning, believing one can't get to know someone well or build a connection if it's online. I disagree. At least two experiences I've enjoyed since early March have turned out to be more effective online than in person.

One of my boards is a non-profit that gives scholarships to Maine high school seniors based on their exemplary character. We recently held interviews of our nine finalists on Zoom. It was better than last year because the students could interview from their homes, no one had to take a multi-hour drive to Portland, and the interviewers could take breaks in their own sunny living rooms (rather than sit in a windowless conference room for 9 hours). The process felt more effective.

In an OLLI course where I serve as tech support, participants after only the first two classes agreed that the warmth of personality comes through, there is ease of conversation, people feel closely connected as they listen deeply to classmates and a thoughtful and reflective instructor; classmates have experienced more openness, authentic communication, and safety in the Zoom environment than anyone expected.

Still others express profound indifference or distaste: I'm a Luddite, and proud of it - not touching the computer; it's not for me - not my thing. I wonder what could happen if the skeptics reimagine their doubt and take a supported risk?

How are you feeling about this technology? Whatever your view, I suggest that there is magic in using Zoom - after a full day of meeting, I felt energized. After a two-hour class, I relish the energy and joy of productive conversations and laughter. Each time my husband and I connect with friends (from all over the country), we feel grateful and warmed.

Using Zoom (and other apps) to connect and learn long-distance, especially given the importance of keeping ourselves safe and Covid19-free for the duration of the pandemic, has become a viable and relatively easy option.

Footlight Parade (1933 theatrical poster)

OLLI and senior colleges are offering fun training sessions for Zoom instructors. They are creating tech committees and recruiting volunteers willing to run their classes on Zoom. Individuals who are open to learning the new technology are stepping forward to provide tech support to classes. As members of Maine's Senior Colleges, you can access an ever-growing number of classes on Zoom. Senior colleges are offering places in these online classes to their members first, and then if they have spaces, they are opening up seats to other senior college members from around the state!

Having participated in several training sessions, I know that my comfort level went up rapidly. Even if you don't take a class, and you want to figure out Zoom, are available to help you do just that.

Genuine connections between individuals build relationships; relationships build friendships and new interests, and these in turn build new learning. And after all, aren't we are all looking to stay alert and curious as we navigate lifelong learning?

Information about this article

Available for viewing in the June/July Issue MSCN Newsletter

Anne Cass is a member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) USM Portland Campus

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Edison's Greatest Marvel - The Vitascope

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