Q and A with Jacob Lackner

BY PATRICK PISCITELLI

Jacob Lackner

Did you know that OLLI at OU is one of the few OLLI programs that has appointed faculty members as instructors for its members? That’s right, most other OLLI programs offer classes that are solely led by other members. But here at OU, our OLLI program boasts not only faculty members, but some of the best the campus has to offer, including instructors like Kyle Harper, Ken Johnson, David Wrobel and Gershon Lewental. And to keep the semesters fresh with new topics and courses, OLLI at OU is always interested in new instructors, including Ph.D. students. In fact, over the past three years, some of our largest classes have been led by these doctoral students, including Jacob Lackner.

Lackner has developed quite a following from our members and teaches on both campuses, Norman and OKC. His area of focus is history with an emphasis on religion, and each semester, his classes grow larger and larger. We had a chance to talk to Lackner about his educational journey to OU and his experiences teaching for OLLI at OU.   

OLLI: How long have you been teaching for OLLI?

Lackner: I first taught for OLLI in the summer of 2014, so I have been teaching there for over two years.

OLLI: What interested/motivated you to lead an OLLI course?

Lackner: I was interested in the opportunity to design my own classes and gain additional teaching experience, since those opportunities are sometimes hard to come by for doctoral students on the main campus.

OLLI: What do you like most about OLLI at OU?

Lackner: My favorite thing about OLLI at OU is how engaged the students are -- they always have interesting questions and perspective on things that help me think about things differently.

OLLI: Tell us about how you became involved with OLLI at OU?

Lackner: Walker Robbins, a fellow doctoral student in history at the time and popular OLLI instructor, suggested it to me, telling me it was a great experience and a good way to get teaching experience.

"The main difference I see with OLLI students is that they are more engaged and interested than your typical undergraduates would be. Many undergraduates who take history courses are doing so to check off a box in their degree plan, not because they actually want to learn about the subject matter of the course. At OLLI, it is the opposite. No one takes a class unless they are interested in it, making for more engaging discussions."

OLLI: Your main line of expertise is history, especially with religion’s role in history, tell us about your education and other professional avenues that contribute to you being a favored OLLI instructor.

Lackner: I began to develop my expertise in the area of medieval religion under John Howe, the director for my master’s degree at Texas Tech University, and I have continued to develop professionally under Shmuel Shepkaru here at the University of Oklahoma. I am in the last stages of my doctorate in history at the University of Oklahoma now, and I am writing a dissertation about the conversion of Jews to Christianity in the High Middle Ages that I should have completed by spring of 2018.

OLLI: You teach a couple classes on main campus for traditional students, how does teaching for OLLI and teaching traditional college students differ? Do they complement each other?

Lackner: The main difference I see with OLLI students is that they are more engaged and interested than your typical undergraduates would be. Many undergraduates who take history courses are doing so to check off a box in their degree plan, not because they actually want to learn about the subject matter of the course. At OLLI, it is the opposite. No one takes a class unless they are interested in it, making for more engaging discussions.

OLLI: You have taught for our OKC location in the past. Tell us about your experience with the OKC location.

Lackner: Last fall, I taught Holy War: History of the Crusades in Oklahoma City. I really like the rooms that are available for OLLI instructors in the city, and those taking the class were very engaging and inquisitive about the subject, making for an excellent experience.

OLLI: Do you plan to continue teaching for OLLI’s OKC location?

Lackner: I do. This semester, I am teaching a course called Medieval Christianity: Its History and Practices, in OKC. The course examines topics ranging from the birth of Christianity, to what daily life was like for medieval Christians.

Lackner’s courses are very popular, and we are excited to offer his courses in Norman and Oklahoma City. He is scheduled to teach two courses in this spring semester: 1) Abraham’s Heirs: Medieval Jewish-Christian Relations on Thursdays in February, Norman campus and 2) History and Practices of Medieval Christianity on Thursdays in April, OKC campus. Though his Norman course just concluded, his OKC course has room for enrollment.