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The Bread and Butter of Teaching

OLLI Scholar Adey Almohsen

Portrait of Adey Almohsen

Nearly a decade ago, the University of Minnesota’s Culture Corps program (part of International Student and Scholar Services) invited Adey Almohsen to lead a course. The students were members of the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning (OLLI), and in 2013 Almohsen presented on where he came from: “Basically I gave an introduction, a cultural history of the Levant: Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Syria. It was a bit of an ancient-to-modern talk.”

The Culture Corps experience satisfied something inside him and he wondered how he could continue teaching for OLLI. That’s when he learned about the OLLI Scholars program, through which graduate students and post-doctoral researchers are able to gain valuable curriculum development and teaching skills. Prospective scholars submit course proposals each spring and these are reviewed by a committee of OLLI members.

According to OLLI Director Anastasia Faunce, “The process is competitive and the 20 individuals who are selected teach their courses throughout the subsequent year. It’s worth noting,” she adds, “that OLLI Scholar courses are always among the most popular with members.”

In the case of Almohsen, he’ll be teaching his fourth course, The Middle East Through Film, this winter. Primed with short readings, OLLI participants will watch six films and documentaries that cover the Arabic-speaking region from North Africa to Iraq, followed by a discussion. “I’ll show films from Morocco, Sudan, Egypt to cover an interesting moment in that country’s or region’s history. As a historian, I like chronologies. If we just jumped into the Arab Spring, we might not have a lot of context for what led up to this.” And as a film buff, Adey’s excited to get to catch up on many of these movies he’s collected but never had time to see.

“My main goal is very simple: just to show the region’s complexity and the mundanity,” he says. “I like to use literature, poetry, and other aspects to reveal culture. The way we deal with the Middle East, as Americans, is centered on the framework of how the government deals with it, policy through the lens of oil, intervention, combating terrorism. The media’s focus tends to be on the region as a threat, and that’s what I’ll try to unpack.”

What is it about teaching for OLLI that keeps Almohsen coming back? “Students usually enroll in classes for utilitarian purposes, like getting a degree. Not all students, but many read the readings because they want an A or need to pass the course.” By contrast, he explains, the OLLI audience, the majority of whom are retired professionals, are more engaged and active participants who show up with a love of learning. “And even if I differed from some folks politically, I still managed to have a very decent and respectful conversation.”

OLLI members, Adey finds, are curious and self-driven to learn. “Their positions come from a sense of reflection. I also like the fact that these courses are not as demanding as regular courses in terms of grading, tending to student issues, office hours, etc. The extraneous logistical aspects of teaching are put aside as you focus on the engagement. That’s one thing I like: it’s the bread and butter of teaching.”