A graduate instructor kneels near a corn field

Fledgling Instructors Connect with Lifelong Learners in Graduate Teaching Partnership

Ellen Badger Hanson is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biological Sciences at Western Michigan University. She taught a Summer 2022 OLLI course called 'The Wild World of Prairies.'' Here she is seen conducting some field sampling last year.

WMU's Graduate College is always looking for ways to provide our doctoral students with as much teaching experience as possible during their degree program. However, not every student has the opportunity to teach a course in their area of expertise. For instance, an English doctoral candidate might get to teach a literature survey but would not be able to teach a course in their dissertation subject matter.

Meanwhile, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at WMU (OLLI) is one of 125 institutes nationally that offer adult learners the opportunity to take short, non-credit courses taught by WMU employees and area experts who volunteer their time. Each semester, OLLI must recruit up to 60 instructors and align them with a list of engaging topics that will appeal to their audience.

By understanding the needs of these two distinct groups within the university, WMUx was able to make a connection that allowed both organizations to better realize their goals by working together. The Office of Faculty Development, a part of the WMUx Instructional Development & Support unit, suggested a pilot Graduate Teaching Program where doctoral candidates could teach an OLLI course during Summer 2022.

Students were invited to apply with their proposed course, a statement of purpose, and an advisor recommendation. Eight students were selected to participate, and they are currently being mentored by the Office of Faculty Development and our Instructional Design team within WMUx. Students will plan and practice their courses and then deliver them to OLLI participants. Our WMUx mentors will observe their teaching and close the loop by providing them with feedback and a small stipend.

WMUx is proud to support these graduate students in an endeavor that will benefit them immensely: they have the chance to teach in their specialization, learn about different teaching models, and can add a new course to their teaching portfolio. Moreover, students say they are grateful that they can practice teaching techniques in a supportive, low stakes environment. WMUx is confident that our mature OLLI learners will enjoy the fresh and thought-provoking topics, which include handling amphibians, Jane Austen's movies, Sufism in Michigan, and much more!