Carnegie Mellon University
May 07, 2020

A Note From Executive Director Lyn Decker about our COVID-19 Response!

A Note From Our Executive Director, Lyn Decker

Dear Osher at CMU Members:

Our mission of the Osher staff is to keep the Osher Institute at CMU classes, lectures, and committees up and running, as much as possible, during this most unusual time. 

Thanks to many of our Study Leaders, 67 of our summer courses are possible!  While the option of coming to classes on campus is currently off the table, we are successfully holding classes using the Zoom platform.  We were able to obtain an education license with Zoom.  This is the same platform that most schools, colleges, and universities around the world are using.  Carnegie Mellon University is using Zoom for their online courses.  We are extremely grateful that we have this tool and option available to us.

Thanks to hundreds of our members, the courses are a go!  Members took the plunge and learned how to use Zoom!  Members are now attending classes on their laptops, iPads, phones, and other devices.  Never in a million years would any of us have predicted that we would be participants in a virtual learning world literally overnight!  We’ve gone from face to face in a physical classroom to face to face in a Zoom classroom overnight – and it is working!!!!

To help us determine how we were doing, the office recently sent the membership a two question survey in order to determine what we, as the office staff, could be doing to better serve the members during this time of isolation. 

So what about the results of the survey?

Just over 71% reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with how things are going.  16.4% said they were neutral with the rest felt dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

  • The biggest issue mentioned in the survey was that the staff couldn’t be reached by phone.

    We have been working with the university to rectify this.  While we hope to have all of our calls routed to our computers by the end of this week, our preferred method of communication would continue to be by email.  We must do it this way until CMU can resolve this issue for us because privacy issues make it unreasonable to give out personal staff phone numbers to the entire membership.
  • There are a number of comments about using Zoom from it being great to not trusting it.

    For the last seven weeks, from day one, the staff has been trying to learn how to use Zoom ourselves while teaching everyone else how to use Zoom.  The curriculum committee formed a tech team to help the office staff out, for which we are extremely grateful.  Navigating both the user end and the administrative side and acknowledging the array of different devices we are all using has been a process.  Unfortunately, getting through to Zoom’s support center for help has been a one to two week wait on hold and then at times the conversation took place in the middle of the night!  Suddenly the whole world turned to Zoom and they were not prepared for the on slot.  Fortunately, Zoom has a lot of good training videos.  Watching Zoom videos and learning from each other through trial and error has brought us up to speed.

    Zoom has added significant safety features that make our courses secure and possible.  We are following Zoom’s security directions:  Lock the classroom once class starts, Make everyone use their first and last name, Use a unique meeting id and password, Remove people that you can’t identify or shouldn’t be there.  Zoom’s reputation is on the line and they have huge teams working on keeping their product safe.  Having said that, one needs to realize that nothing in life is totally safe and that these concerns shouldn’t keep anyone from attending class.  Our invitation still stands that if anyone wants help with Zoom, please contact the office.  There are still a lot of available seats and you can still register!  It is also important for everyone to download from Zoom any software updates that they issue because that is where our safety net will be provided.
  • There were a few questions and statements pertaining to costs and fees that suggested everything should be free or at a reduced cost. 

    The response is that Osher at CMU still has bills and salaries to pay.  Our income this summer has been slashed by 40 to 50% and we expect that if we are still doing everything remotely in the fall the losses will be greater.  Yes, some of our expenses have reduced but probably not enough to meet the income.  We still have to pay our lease on the copier, printers, phones, computers, etc. and the staff is working full time or more and still need to be paid.  The good news is that we were recently awarded the Payroll Protection Act grant which will cover some of our payroll expenses. 
I want to thank everyone who took the time to respond to the survey. Please know that the staff is working hard to keep things going during this difficult and unusual time and that your insights, feedback, and suggestions are always considered. Thank you everyone that believe that we are doing a good job given this difficult situation. Your words of encouragement and understanding are much appreciated.
Hopefully, soon we will all be back in our classrooms.In the meantime, I wish you well.

Lyn Decker / Executive Director