Technology moves fast. Just when you think you have the “next big thing” figured out, there’s another version or gadget released that requires a whole new set of skills. It can be intimidating — especially for older adults who didn’t grow up around electronics.
That’s why Dianne Herrick and John South joined with other residents to create opportunities to improve their computer skills and knowledge nearly three years ago. “Life-long learning really matters to me,” Dianne says. “It’s about keeping our minds active and using them.” The group aims to provide one-on-one help, alongside occasional group presentations and tutorials, to introduce residents to technology basics that can enrich their lives. Often, the group’s biggest goal is simply to help residents get over their fears and hesitations about technology.
“A lot of people see the world wide web as either a wasteland — which it can be — or a wilderness,” John says. “So they’re reluctant to get on, and when they do get on, they’re afraid their security will be compromised.”
In order to better understand exactly how they can help their fellow residents embrace all that technology can offer, the computer group recently partnered with Washington and Lee University’s Department of Information Technology Services to develop a survey. The questions were designed to explore how residents are currently using technology and how they are interested in using it in the future.
With around 50 respondents, the survey revealed some very interesting trends among Kendal at Lexington residents. For instance, nearly 90 percent of respondents reported using the internet daily, and 60 percent utilize a smartphone. Surveyed residents indicated that online security and a heightened ability to detect scams were their key interest areas, with tablet and smartphone device training following.
According to Dianne, the group is still working to determine the best way to support residents on their technology journey, and she’s hopeful the insights provided by the survey will help steer programming. “It’s sort of a trial as to what seems to be the most effective way to help people gain skills,” she says. “Some are more successful and some are less successful, but we’re going to keep trying.”
As for their current initiatives, the group maintains a list — posted on the bulletin board — of 10 residents who are willing to be “on-call” as technology consultants. They also recently repurposed the copier closet into a computer help room and now host a daily office hour, where residents can drop in with questions or to take tutorials. Kendal at Lexington’s IT specialist, Mark Christensen also fills in for one office hour per week.
Beyond the one-on-one help, the group has also organized several more formal informational sessions. The partnership with W&L has led to two different series of training sessions over the past two years. “We view it as an excellent opportunity for community outreach and are glad we can share our expertise with an appreciative and captive audience,” says Blake Shester, a representative from the IT department at W&L. “Businesses, service providers, friends and family are using the new tools of social media, web communication, and screened devices, so if older adults want to interact with these groups, they will likely need to have some basic knowledge of current technology and how to safely navigate in the digital world.”
Additionally, the group also established a partnership with Virginia Military Institute. Twice now, VMI cadets have volunteered for hands-on, full-day sessions of technology assistance. Up next, the group hopes to host more mini seminars on specific applications, like storing digital photos and organizing emails. “There’s not a magic wand that’s going to make everyone savvy. It can be intimidating,” John says. “We’re just going to pick away at it and let people, step by step, make progress.”
At its heart, John and Dianne say the computer group is all about community and sharing skills. “It’s how we learn together and explore the world around us,” Dianne says. “People here have a lot of abilities and skills, and it’s helping to build on those skills that they already have or learn some new ones.”
“This is something that I know a little bit about and I can make a difference by providing something that hopefully people will value,” John echoes. “We’re just neighbors trying to help neighbors.”