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Computer Skills for Retirees MAG
My aunt Blanche was an original Rosie the Riveter during World War II. I always enjoyed listening to her stories from those times. She had an old Apple computer, and often during my visits she would ask me to help her with it. I realized I enjoyed working with older people, so I asked myself, What can I do to make their lives better?
I discovered many resources available on the Web for older citizens, and computers can help them remain vital and connected to a broader community. The obvious answer for me was to teach them computer skills, but I questioned whether anyone would be interested.
I know that few generations are as comfortable with technology as mine. My mother is still learning how to use a computer, and my grandparents did not even own one until we gave them our old laptop. For my generation, knowing how to use a computer is an essential part of life. However, I realized that many older folks have limited exposure to computers and learning to use them might be very daunting. Nevertheless, I decided to take on the challenge.
I visited several assisted-living communities to solicit interest in classes and set up shop at a local facility that did not offer computer instruction.
Initially, only a few people attended my Saturday classes, however, they were all eager to learn. After a few weeks, word spread, and more and more came. I began to realize my preconceptions about seniors' ability and willingness to learn were wrong. My students were eager to move into the computer age and become Internet literate.
We started with the basics, such as what a mouse is and how to use it; how to use Explorer to access the Internet; and an explanation of Google, Yahoo, and e-mail. One of the first exercises was to sign up for Gmail accounts.
Now I have a fairly large class. While some residents stay just long enough to learn the basics, others continue on and learn more advanced programs like Microsoft Word and Excel. The Internet is always a popular topic, and we cover everything from YouTube to Wikipedia. We explore websites specifically oriented or helpful to older folks, like the AARP site and WebMD. We also discuss video chatting and, most recently, Twitter. Many of the residents love using e-mail to connect with friends and family. One of my students even uses Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to keep track of her prescriptions and bills.
Teaching this class has been a very rich and full experience. I have the pleasure of meeting a variety of people and have found that each brings their unique personality and experiences to the class. I have gotten to know many of them well. One gentleman asked for my help contacting a publisher by e-mail. It turns out that he is a successful author and a very interesting person. When he was in the Army, he was almost court marshalled for reprimanding a superior officer who made an anti-Semitic comment, and later he became friends with President Nixon. His latest book is an autobiography.
Two of my students have become so proficient that I find it hard to teach them anything new, so I have asked them to help other residents when I'm not around. This is proof that it is never too late to learn new skills.
Older generations are often seen as having little in common with teens, separated by barriers of history, mannerisms, values, and technology. In my experience, the gap is really not as big as it first appears. I have formed connections with these seniors that have evolved into true friendships and overcome perceived obstacles. Sometimes we simply talk about the impact of new technology and other times we discuss how the world has changed during their lifetime. They enjoy talking to a young person and I like to hear what they have to say.
These older folks have made me realize that teachers learn from students too. I started my class with the idea of helping them, but have learned as much about life from my students as they have learned about technology. We have come together to share common interests, bridge our differences, and develop mutual respect. For me, this experience is what community service is all about.