Lifelong Learning: OKPAN Leads Archaeology Education for Seniors

One of OKPAN’s main goals from the start has been to promote archaeology education in the state of Oklahoma. When I learned about the University of Oklahoma’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which offers courses of any subject matter to adults ages 50 and up, I could not pass up the opportunity to spread even more awareness of this wonderful field of study that I love so much.


OU’s Thurman J. White Forum: venue for OLLI classes

OLLI is a program of OU’s College of Professional and Continuing Studies. They offer “Senior Seminars,” which are short courses over a variety of topics open to OLLI members who have a passion for lifelong learning. As an employee and incoming Ph.D. student at OU, I was told that I qualified to be an OLLI instructor. This news was exciting for me – having spent two years as a graduate teaching assistant while working through my Anthropology M.A. program at the University of Kansas, I developed a love for teaching at a collegiate level. I had to halt my teaching experiences for a time in exchange for other OKPAN projects, but OLLI gave me a chance to “scratch the itch” of teaching, which I missed so much.

Out of a desire to further OKPAN’s mission of spreading awareness of archaeology through education, I created a course titled “Mysteries, Myths, and Pseudoscience in Archaeology.” The goal of the course was to dispel the popular misconceptions of archaeology promoted by popular topics like Indiana Jones, the legend of the lost continent of Atlantis, or the Ancient Aliens TV program. I wanted to unravel both the fact and fiction intertwined with these examples of fantastical archaeology. Since OLLI courses do not have a grading system – no assignments or exams – I was thrilled to simply be able to cover these topics and have meaningful discussions with the class.

Dendera light

The Dendera Light at the Temple of Hathor in Egypt: “evidence” of ancient astronauts

When I walked into the room on the first day, I was admittedly nervous, and I’m sure the members of the class could detect that. I hadn’t done any standalone teaching in two years, nor had I ever taught a student body of this particular demographic. The fact is, I’m still a youngster. At 26 years old, I did not know what was in store for me. Would anyone take me seriously? What would I have to explain? Was anyone chomping at the bit to play devil’s advocate and tell me why aliens did in fact create the pyramids?

I could not have been more relieved, and even pleasantly surprised, at the answers to these questions. The students in my class were nothing but kind, engaging, and legitimately curious. On day one, I received a multitude of informed questions about archaeologists and their work. Needless to say, I walked into the second class feeling much more comfortable – even excited to get the lesson started!

Kensington stone

The Kensington Runestone was an archaeological mystery discussed in this summer’s OLLI course.

After three weeks and six classes, my OLLI short course has ended. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Not only did I get to fulfill my mission of educating the public on archaeology, I also got to meet many kind, intelligent, and all-around great people. On several occasions, members of the class brought me articles they ran across that they thought I’d be interested in (and they were right)! The conversations we had together about the class topics – whether American Moundbuilders, Viking runestones, or good ol’ Indy – always took a turn for the profound. I am blown away by the ways that the fascinating facts of archaeology incited such worthwhile discussions about the human condition in this class.

I am humbled by the knowledge and wisdom of my OLLI students. Many a joke was made about my age (both by myself and class members), and it was all in good fun. It is indeed true that I am young. I might have been the “expert” on archaeology in the room, but I think it is safe to say that my students had as much to teach me as I had to teach them, if not more. I aspire to be a lifelong learner myself, just like these wonderful people I had the privilege to teach and discuss with this summer.

My sincerest gratitude goes out to my very first OLLI class membership. You will not be the last!


All the best,
Allison Douglas (OKPAN Assistant Director)

If you live in the Norman area and are interested in OLLI, visit

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