Silver Surfing the Sunset Years: electronic literacy classes for seniors
Last Modified: 21 March 2012
Silver Surfing the Sunset Years: electronic literacy classes for seniors
Fort Collins Regional Library District currently serves a population of over 136,000. Technology training, or electronic literacy, programs are offered to both staff and the community. Community classes are instructor-led and classroom-based. In 2007 we offered 100 classes to over 800 patrons.
In this article I will talk about the metamorphosis of the Silver Surfers classes that we developed especially for seniors, and discuss in detail the Silver Surfers Internet class, what we learned from it, and what we have planned for the future.
A little background
As Technology Training Librarian for the Fort Collins Regional Library District, I am responsible for designing, developing, implementing, delivering, and evaluating the computer classes we offer to members of our community. Once classes are scheduled, other staff is invited to teach some of these computer classes. The Computer Comfort and Internet classes have always been popular ones for staff to teach, as attendees seem to gain so much from them and enjoy them immensely.
The more classes we offered the greater the demand, and demand was never exhausted. While our classes were offered to teens through seniors, and usually had a varied composition, we had a strong demand from seniors for these classes, especially the “basics” – Computer Comfort, Internet and E-mail. We decided that it would be fun as well as extremely valuable, to offer a customized version of these three popular classes to a specific group in our community; a group that had expressed a need and desire for these classes – Silver Surfers aged 60 or better.
In 2007 we decided that offering classes exclusively to seniors could be a great marketing tool, and also encourage seniors to undertake a class where they could feel more at ease. As we already offered Computer Comfort classes, for those new to computers, the ideal classes were Internet (web) searching and e-mail. In late 2007 we decided to also offer a Silver Surfers Computer Comfort class.
Instructional Design Basics
All our computer classes are designed to encourage electronic literacy within our community. They are designed according to the ADDIE Model of instructional design: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.The ADDIE Instructional Systems Design (ISD) Model is a process to ensure learning does not occur in a haphazard manner, but is developed using a process with specific measurable outcomes. The ADDIE model is a generic, systematic approach to the instructional design process, which provides instructional designers with a framework in order to make sure that their instructional products are effective and that their creative processes are as efficient as they can possibly be.
Are others doing this?
I researched the literature, and spoke with other instructional librarians, to see what other libraries were doing across a number of countries. Time and again I found that seniors benefited from repetition of content, a slower pace, and additional time to try things over again and again, with an instructor present to assist. Of course not all seniors wish to be in a class designated for seniors, but I did feel that there would be a large group who would feel more at ease learning with other seniors, who would like to have the longer class time. What I needed now was to come up with a catchy name for this program that would be fun and attractive to seniors. I wanted to “play” on the word seniors, the stereotype of silver hair, the fact that a lot of seniors are quick, involved and full of life, and put a positive emphasis on the age reference.
Silver Surfers classes become a reality
The Silver Surfers series of classes, specifically for seniors, age 60 or better, was born. My manager, the Head of Systems Administration, was very supportive of this idea, and I started to draw up the schedule and the brochure announcing all the Spring 2007 classes. I mentioned this new set of classes to one of my colleagues, Ginny Feagler, who also taught some of our computer classes. Ginny was excited by the concept and wanted to be the presenter. I was excited too – because Ginny was perfect for the role – she herself was a senior; she also was the library subject expert in genealogy and health, and had successfully taught both Internet and e-mail classes for our program before.
So, we collaborated on fine-tuning the existing classes for our Silver Surfers. We decided that having the extra class time, allowing for more repetition and more time to try skills learnt, was all we needed for the basic and advanced e-mail classes. It was the Internet Searching class where we felt that we could really tailor the class content to seniors, as well as embraces repetition, pace and time aspects. By developing and providing a list of additional websites of interest to seniors, we felt we could have them test their skills on these, in the 30 minutes practice time of the class, as well as have a list they could keep and bookmark on their home computer.
Which Silver Surfer Sites to Select?
So, what sites are of interest to seniors –anything and everything! How did we narrow down our list of great senior sites for the handout and practice session? Easy – we asked seniors in our community.
For those seniors already computer savvy, we asked them what were their favorite sites. For those who weren’t quite that savvy yet, we asked them what sites they needed to visit or thought they may like to visit. We also drew on our own current and past experiences, dealing with information and reference questions from seniors. We looked at other library sites that seemed to provide activities or programs for seniors, including a few sites that had a section of their website dedicated to seniors. And, we searched the literature to see what our peers had discovered and also communicated with some of our peers.
We came up with the following areas of interest, and then populated the list with websites that were suggested to us, and websites we discovered during our own searches. We evaluated all websites to ensure they were accurate, easy to navigate, and contained useful information. The list contained the following categories:
General – sites of general interest to seniors with a lot of different and varied information
Local Information concentrating on our own City website content
We scheduled two Silver Surfers Internet classes so there was a choice of dates. Both classes were scheduled at our downtown location, as it is smaller (9 seats) and allows more personal attention. Classes were scheduled to start at 10 am and finish at 12 pm. We chose the age of “60 or better” to attract older seniors to the class. That we did! The classes were most popular with older seniors new to the computer, looking for a slower pace and learning with fellow-students of the same age. While we got some attendees in their 60s, older seniors into their late 80s and even early 90s were very attracted to the name of the class, and also the fact that it would be ONLY for seniors and at a slower pace with more repetition.
Silver Surfers surf the Internet!
On our Internet handout we gave seniors many sites of interest. As we always do, we had the class handout posted to our website together with the other computer class handouts. We usually post these handouts in .pdf format, but in this case we also asked our web master to post a copy in MS Word so that seniors could go straight to our website, click on the link to the document, open the WORD version of the Silver Surfers Internet handout, and click on the hyperlinks to sites of interest. They could then bookmark them on their home computer for easy access rather than having to type the URLs.
Silver Surfers Internet handouts contained lots of information and lists of sites; lots of graphics and diagrams; analogies to familiar situations, for example likening a web site and its different pages to a museum with its different rooms and areas.
Returning to shore – what did we discover?
After the classes, we once again collaborated to debrief. What did we discover from these classes, what would we keep, what would we change? Older seniors love being in a class with other seniors who have the same experience with computers – none, or very little. Our seniors loved the fact that they could undertake a class with a slower pace, more repetition, and not feel intimidated by younger supposedly more savvy class members. They also liked the fact that a senior was teaching the class. Attendees loved the fact that they were given a certificate of completion to show to their family and friends. The branding of the classes, “Silver Surfers”, has been very successful - the phrase “Silver Surfers” caught and kept patrons’ attention.
One finding that we were surprised we missed considering, was that many older seniors, especially males, had never had any reason to type – either they did not work in an office, or even if they did, they had a secretary to do the typing! So, there is definitely a need for a class, specifically for seniors, on keyboarding skills. Additionally as we age we start to experience physical changes such as arthritis and vision loss. These can impact the dexterity of using the computer keyboard and mouse. Slowing the mouse speed down can aid older seniors. Keeping the pace slow helps. Repetition helps. Getting familiar with the keyboard through keyboarding classes helps.
Many older seniors noted that family members had given them computers as the family upgraded, to keep them in touch with family and friends. Some of our group of seniors had been given laptops but were struggling to use the pad to navigate. To their delight we informed them that they could indeed attach a mouse to the laptop, and they could attach a larger keyboard and use the laptop as the CPU and monitor only.
For our Fall 2007 classes we developed a customized Computer Comfort class specifically for our Silver Surfers that would cover these as well as the content in our regular Computer Comfort class.
With the introduction of the Silver Surfers branded Computer Comfort class, we have the time needed to add some additional content. The instructor takes a laptop to the class and has the class examine the differences between the laptop and the desktop computer, and the similarities. We also demonstrated, and had seniors try this hands-on, how to attach a mouse rather than use the pad on the laptop.
To alleviate stress for those with limited keyboarding skills, in our Silver Surfers Internet class, we made more use of the Word version of the handout on our website. The first part of this class continues to have attendees type a number of URLs in the browser address field, so they understand the concept. To visit additional websites we have them open the handout in a new window and show them how to mouse-over the link to the webpage and click to navigate to the webpage. This reinforces the concept of using hyperlinks, at the same time saving them keyboarding time and difficulty. Attendees can therefore easily visit a number of websites of interest, and navigate around the sites without too much frustration and constant typing. Additionally we showed them how to use the drop-down history for the URL address field, as well as favorites/bookmarks.
Social Silver Surfers
Many of our attendees told us how much they enjoyed the social aspect of the classes. We also polled other seniors in the community for our latest idea and project – a drop in computer club for seniors.
This idea was met with a lot of enthusiasm both from seniors and other librarians. Silver Surfers Drop-In Computer Club was born Monday March 3rd, at 10 am at the Main Library in old town Fort Collins. We aim to offer this drop-in club the first Monday of every month. Seniors can drop into the computer lab for just a minute or stay an hour. In the computer club they can meet other seniors, share computer tips (or frustrations) and have a staff member assist them with computers and software, or answer their questions.
This has also been an ideal marketing tool as we are able to identify individual senior’s interests and needs, and suggest some of computer classes to them.
Surf’s Up for Seniors and Baby Boomers at the Fort Collins Regional Library District.
Pamm Clements is Technology Training Librarian for the Fort Collins Regional Library District in
Ginny Feagler is Reference Librarian (specializing in health & genealogy) for the Fort Collins Regional Library District in Northern Colorado.
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