Curriculum: Where the Magic Happens

by Deborah Lanser and Margaret Shuhala


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 what they do and why.

Mary McClellan

Recruiting Presenters

According to committee chair Mary McClellan, the expectation is that experienced producers will develop at least four courses a year, including those for WinterFest and SummerFest. One real challenge is being on the watch for possible presenters and persuading them to teach. However, she says, “Once you produce a class, you start developing a radar in identifying possible presenters. There are many people who are eager to share their knowledge.” 

New presenters come to LLI 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 be in an area (such as literature) that a particular committee member likes to explore.
  • 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.
  • Emeritus faculty from Bard and other colleges and universities are a rich source for recruiting presenters. Those who are passionate about their field and love to teach often like to stay in their discipline. Indeed, Mark Lytle, Professor Emeritus of History and Environmental Studies at Bard College, a frequent LLI presenter, returns again this fall with a course on political trials in America.

Do you know of someone who might make a good presenter? Email Mary at [email protected] with your suggestion. You can also suggest ideas for a course, but the committee would prefer you also suggest someone who can teach it.

Vetting New Presenters

Whenever possible, members of the Curriculum Committee interview potential presenters face-to-face to get a sense of them. The Committee looks for someone with a passion for their topic, energy, a need to be on stage, and charisma. Some producers look for a YouTube video of a course presenters have given to see how animated they are. If you’re bored watching the video, chances are you will be bored senseless in a classroom.

Helping Presenters Succeed

Once presenters have signed up to teach a course, they want to succeed, and it is the producer’s job to help them do so. Margaret notes, “You can’t just sign up a presenter, get a course description, and let it go fly.” 

Ideally, the presenter, producer, and class manager or session manager meet early in the process to plan the semester. Margaret recommends having the presenter write a simplified syllabus for class dissemination at the beginning of the semester. 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 to show slides or videos that will enhance their lecture. Some presenters are tech-savvy. Others need coaching, especially if they are unfamiliar with teaching on Zoom. The learning curve may be steep for all involved, but eventually, the experience is markedly improved for everyone.

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. And even experienced teachers may need some guidance in how to teach adult learners.

Mark Lytle

Rewards for Presenters

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.”

Rewards for Producers

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 at LLI for the last 13 years, 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 for producing.”

Margaret Shuhala, photo by Barbara Herles

Learning More

The Curriculum Committee would welcome more members. People who are new to the producer’s role can expect a lot of support from the more experienced committee members. Fern Fleckman began by sitting in on a meeting to get a feel for the Committee. She then took an opportunity to speak with the Curriculum chair, to better understand how the committee worked and the role of members as producers. She went on to serve as a producer for a presenter who had approached the chair in her interest in teaching a class in Bard LLI. 

Anyone who is interested in developing courses may visit any monthly open committee meeting via Zoom. The next meeting is on Tuesday, July 16, at 10:00 a.m. Just email Anne Brueckner at [email protected] if you want to attend. Fern adds, “The committee is a congenial group, who work together to ensure interesting classes are offered with a breadth of topics.”