Curriculum: The Core of LLI’s Appeal


The Curriculum Committee provides us with the main reason we joined LLI: courses on a wide range of engaging subjects taught by presenters who are knowledgeable and passionate about their interests. The Committee is made up of producers, those LLI members who work with the presenters to bring their course ideas to fruition. The work is sometimes time-consuming, but the rewards for all involved are substantial. Here is a brief overview of how and why they do it. You can also learn more about proposed new courses and the process for developing them by visiting the open committee meeting on Tuesday. November 15 at 10:00 a.m. Just email Anne Brueckner at [email protected] if you want to attend.

Curriculum Chair Linda LeGendre

Persuading Presenters

Many of us can suggest ideas for courses. The real challenge is finding presenters and persuading them to teach, according to Linda LeGendre, chair of the Curriculum Committee. Presenters are not paid for their work, and teaching at LLI is not likely to advance their professional careers. Once they do offer a class, however, presenters are often thrilled by how much they enjoy themselves. Cathy Reinis, who produces the popular Bard Masters of Math & Science class, adds, “When I am recruiting a new instructor, I am always able to say that those who have taught us will tell them what a pleasure it is to teach LLIers. We’re only in a class that interests us; we ask questions, we react—and we’re not worried about tests and grades. It’s all for the fun of learning—and that makes us fun to teach.”

Matching Presenters with Courses

New presenters are always welcome, according to Linda. Frequent producers such as Margaret Shuhala recruit them via several different avenues.

  • The Curriculum chair may know the presenter and ask a committee member to work with that person in developing a course.
  • Sometimes a presenter writes to Bard LLI, offering to teach a course. The course might fall into an area (such as literature) that a particular committee member likes to take on.
  • A producer might be in a class in which another LLI member demonstrates extensive knowledge about an interesting topic. The producer can talk with that class member about his or her background and find out if he or she is interested in giving a course for Bard LLI. Prior teaching experience is usually—but not always— a good indicator of success in teaching at Bard LLI. 
  • A producer may hear someone speak about an interesting topic at a social gathering or a lecture at the local library. That can lead to a conversation that persuades that speaker to become a presenter for Bard LLI.
  • Margaret reads other area LLI catalogs carefully, looking for new and different presenters she or other committee members might contact to teach at Bard LLI. They also may contact the other LLI curriculum volunteers for feedback they have received on the presenter before signing them on.

Established presenters regularly come to the committee with ideas for a new course and are usually willing to work with the same producer.  And three classes are produced by their presenters—Chuck Mishaan, Gary Miller, and Barbara Danish (co-teaching with Laura Brown).

Course ideas have to be engaging and relevant to the interests of LLI members. Do you know of someone who might make a good presenter? Email Linda at [email protected] with your suggestion. You can also suggest ideas for a course, but the committee would prefer you also suggest a possible presenter.

Bard Masters of Math and Science
Longtime Presenter Chuck Mishaan
New Presenter Peter Scheckner
New Presenter Kris McDaniel-Miccio

Vetting New Presenters

Members of the Curriculum Committee always interview potential presenters face-to-face to get a sense of them. The Committee looks for someone with passion for their topic, energy, a need to be on stage, and charisma—if you’re bored talking to them in a coffee shop, chances are you will be bored senseless in a classroom. Sometimes Linda looks for a YouTube video of a course presenters have given to see how animated they are.

Helping Presenters Succeed

Once presenters have signed on to be part of the Bard LLI family, they often have a lot of questions about their upcoming experience. They want to succeed, and it is the producer’s job to help them reach that goal. Ideally, the presenter, producer, and class manager or session manager meet to plan the semester.

It is generally a good idea to know what will be covered in the course and what will be covered each week. Margaret recommends having the presenter write a simplified syllabus for class dissemination at the beginning of the seven weeks. She also works with the presenter to send out weekly emails. Each email is a brief summary of what happened in the class, a reminder of any assignment, and a foretaste of what is to come in next week’s class. That keeps members involved when classes aren’t in session.

The producer may also ask the tech team to help presenters use the technology that will enhance their lecture. Some presenters are tech savvy. Others need coaching, particularly when they undertake their first hybrid lecture. The learning curve may be steep for all involved, but eventually, the experience is markedly improved for everyone.

Margaret notes, “You can’t just sign up a presenter, get a course description, and let it go fly.” Producers work hard to identify and overcome difficulties the presenter may have to ensure the course is successful.

Dale Ziegenfelder inside the organ at Church of the Messiah
Jeff Christensen provides technical assistance for a hybrid class

Preventing Problems

Producers sometimes provide presenters with immediate feedback at the beginning of the semester. That way, any problem can be addressed early. When necessary, producers may also help the presenter deal with any problematic person in their class. Some presenters know how to handle difficult people after a lifetime of teaching, but not everyone does.

The Rewards for Producers

Cathy says, “Producing a multi-presenter class is a challenge, but one that brings real satisfaction. Over the years of putting together Bard Masters of Math and Science, I have gotten to know many wonderful teachers at Bard.” Linda adds, “It’s always fun to meet a new person.”

Sometimes the reward for a producer is knowing that their services were instrumental to a course’s creation. Victoria Sullivan, who has presented many literature courses, writes “Margaret Shuhala has been the sole producer of all my courses at LLI for over a decade, and she is so skilled she makes it all look easy. She is careful, smart, supportive, and we usually brainstorm together on each course in its gestation (since I never want to present the same thing twice). So, she engages in a lot of work when dealing with me and helps to create each new literature, theater or writing course. I wouldn’t still be presenting if it were not for Margaret. She certainly deserves an academy award in producing.”