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Service-learning computing courses assist with technology needs in community based organizations serving older adults

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5 Author(s)
Wexler, S.S. ; Coll. of Health Professions, Pace Univ., New York, NY, USA ; Drury, L.J. ; Coppola, J.F. ; Tschinkel, B.J.
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The rapidly exploding aged 60 and over population is expected to comprise 22% of the general population by 2020 and is the same age group which has the greatest digital divide. The senior citizen population in New York is notably higher than the national average. The high tech world that surrounds the older adult population relies on smartphones to servers and being connected to the Internet. The elderly have nothing to relate technology to in their past learning experiences, thus find it difficult to incorporate computing skills into long-term memory. Many senior citizens know they have to learn how to operate a computer because the world will leave them behind. The Internet proves essential to the elderly in not only connecting with family, friends, and lost acquaintances, thus avoiding social isolation, but provides valuable health related information and healthcare options. Moreover, research has shown frequent Internet use by older adults stimulates cognition. Other studies have shown technology enriches daily functions and improves the overall life quality of older adults. Older adults are often not comfortable with the swiftly advancing technology. Many older adults feel computers are intimidating and fear breaking the machine, thus reluctant to learn how to use them. Furthermore, many residents in skilled nursing facilities have hearing, visual, and motor skill impairments making computer utilization an immense challenge. Thus, this aged population that has so much to gain from using a computer for email, web surfing, online shopping, and connecting to the world around them are often unwilling or unable to operate a computer. The core of the research project discussed in this paper is a unique course entitled, Intergenerational Computing. Intergenerational Computing is an undergraduate service-learning course offered within the school of computer science for non-majors in collaboration with nursing faculty. Students enrolled in the course provide technology - - instruction to older adults as part of their service-learning experience. Older adults receive individualized tutoring in a non-threatening learning environment. Student-teachers assist to overcome the computer fears of the elderly while the elderly learn a new set of communication skills, while being mentally challenged. Other computing courses, including Computer Systems and Hardware, as well as Networking Technologies, contain service-learning term projects in the curriculum. Students select to build computer labs, install networks, and distribute refurbished computer equipment to disadvantaged senior citizens. Some students additionally chose to modify traditional mice and develop prototypes of Nintendo Wii™ remotes to be more accessible to older adults. Other students have installed software and hardware in computer labs, as well as virtually designed housing for a livable community project via Second Life - all specifically for the benefit of senior citizens. This paper presents a research project including objectives, description, assessments, lessons learned, and suggestions for successful replication. Tips for low or no budget training, as well as guidance for integrating service-learning projects into the IT course syllabus will be discussed.

Published in:

Systems, Applications and Technology Conference (LISAT), 2011 IEEE Long Island

Date of Conference:

6-6 May 2011