Harris Frank, a former resident at Bethesda Barclay House, found himself in a technology black hole. He was frustrated with seemingly endless computer problems and found a Washington University student to help him sort out his technology issues. Coincidentally, the student ran a program aimed at helping seniors learn how to use computers. Harris wanted to bring a similar education program to his fellow residents and friends who also struggled with the computer.
In today’s ever changing world of technology, users are often faced with learning, adapting and re-learning how to operate their latest electronic gadgets, all the while on the lookout for the next improvement. But for seniors who lack experience in handling even the most common form of technology – the computer – it can be overwhelming and confusing.
“I believe that older people, and I am certainly one of them, miss an awful lot because we are scared to death of the computer,” explains Mr. Frank. “We think that if we hit the wrong key, everything will disappear.”
In 2013, Mr. Frank collaborated with Washington University’s Olin Business School to create Computer Comfort, a technology education program. Computer Comfort is designed to change the belief that seniors are not interested in learning about technology. With assistance from students of Washington University’s Olin Business School, the students lead the hands-on, basic computer skills sessions.
The course tagline, “You’re never too old to learn!” was inspired by Peg Sharp, age 104, who proudly proclaimed it when she called in to make her class reservation. Computer Comfort is free of charge and is offered to all Bethesda residents in the spring and fall.
The program offers sessions that focus on a particular topic. For example, in “Getting the Computer Started,” residents learn how to:
- Turn a computer on and off
- Log in
- Connect to the Internet
- Use URLs and Google
In other sessions, residents also learn more how to:
- Set up and use email
- Send and receive photos
- Use the Internet
- Install programs like anti-virus software
- Use their mobile device and/or tablet
Each class provides significant one-on-one instruction, pairing each resident with a student who can answer questions tailored to each senior. Residents are also encouraged to bring in their electronic devices, such as mobile phones, laptops, and tablets.
Mahendra Gupta, Dean of the Olin Business School, recognizes the many benefits from the student-senior interaction. “Our students are empowering older adults to connect and communicate more effectively with the world and with their loved ones using technology,” he said.
What Our Residents Are Saying About Computer Comfort
Computer Comfort was a great success amongst our residents. Here is what some of them had to say about their experience with the program:
“Truly, I went to the classes expecting to be bored and not return. After seeing the pleasant arrangement in the classroom and the competence of the students assisting and teaching us, I found it such a pleasure that I returned for all of the classes.”
- Tamlin Blackwell, an “Old-fashioned IBM user”, Bethesda Orchard
“Seniors are so in need of the basics when it comes to computers and this class provided those for our eager students.”
- Marty Holland, Bethesda Orchard
“I’ve been fumbling around the computer, punching this button, punching that button. Some things work, some things didn’t. But I want to get into email so I can stay close to my daughters.”
- Leon Golfin, a 91 year old, retired chemical engineer, Bethesda Barclay House
“It’s great that Bethesda offers these classes, because so many have received smartphones and laptops as gifts and we need to learn how to use them.”
- Rita Kane, Bethesda Orchard