Archive for the ‘older adult’ Category.

Google, tech support, and your parents

Google has entered the tech support arena: The short help videos are slick, and they’re appealing, at least to the target audience: a younger generation that is very tech savvy with parents or grandparents who are not.  One of my sons came across them and asked if I thought they would be helpful for his grandparents, who are in their 80’s.  I went to investigate.

The Tech Support care package is a set of quick videos intended to make using Google products easier.  It makes sense.  You have a product.  You do a market analysis.  Where can you expand? In technology, an obvious place to expand your market is the older adult population, which is the fastest growing segment of the population.  But there are problems with that market segment (see my Connecting the Disconnected series of posts, as well as the Computers, Older Adults, and Libraries page).  So Google, in a style very reminiscent of Apple, has created some help videos for basic computer tasks as well as for using Google products.  They are short (good idea), to the point (good idea), and friendly (good idea).  Some are good, some are fails.

The first issue is: how basic is “Basic”?  On the assumption that this is intended for someone who at least uses email (after all, the front page of the site is an invitation to email these helpful videos to the one you think needs them), how much existing knowledge does that presume?  Looking at the set of 6 basic videos, the following knowledge and skills are expected:

  • How to use the mouse, including the right and left buttons (or right and left side of the mouse).
  • How to click and drag
  • What the various special function keys are (such as the Control Key or Command Key) and where they are .
  • How to browse a computer’s file structure.
  • What a computer file is, and what the different types of computer files are (such as jpg, pdf, docx)
  • How to use email, including attaching files.

How reasonable are these expectations?  I fall back on the standard evasive answer:  That depends. 🙂  I have developed a lot of computer training and taught a lot of people how to use computers.  They have ranged in age from thirties to nineties.  They have had varying levels of computer skills across all ages (although, in general, the older they are, the less computer skills they have).  For those who had no experience with computers, my goal was to teach them how to use the internet, and how to use email.  Once they reached that level, I could teach them more advanced things like bookmarking web sites, basic computer skills and file structure, and sharing photos.  Some of these videos presume more skills than I did even for the next step beyond the new user level.  For example, files and file structure, and email attachments were elements in our more advanced user classes.

As an aside, Gmail was one of the email services we tested on the new user groups.  It did not work out well, because (1) Google kept changing the service and interface, and (2) it was too confusing for a typical older user to figure out.  I tried to contact Google about creating a user interface that would work for older adults.  Obviously, I didn’t get their attention.

So the videos really aren’t all that basic, except to technologists who find the featured tasks unbelievably mundane.  But how useful are they to their intended audience (the older adult who already has some computer skills)?  Again, it depends:

  • How old is the recipient of the “Care” package?  The older the person is (generally, 55+), the more they need explicit instructions, using discete steps. The visuals are nice, but sometimes they move too fast and skip over steps.  Also, the language is often not explicit enough for an older adult.
  • How experienced is that person with computers?  This question is actually tied to the next one.  Older adults do not tend to keep up with changes in technology as much as their children/grandchildren.  But generally, the more experience they have, the less difficulty they have learning new, related skills.
  • What operating system, and what version of the operating system, is that person using?  Because older adults tend to not update their skills (learn why here), they are usually using an old computer and operating system (it was not uncommon to have students in my classes who were using Windows 98).  The changes from Windows 98/2000/xp to Win7 or OSX Snow Leopard are intimidating to an older adult (again, generally, 55+).  These videos assume the recipient will be comfortable using one of those operating systems.  That is a big assumption.

Bottom line: If the intended recipient of these cute care packages is under 55, and has some experience using a recent operating system, the videos will likely be both handy and useful. If the recipient is over 55 and/or is not using a recent operating system, a few of the videos would be useful:  How to Create a Strong Password, How to Know if an Email is Real, and most of the Search Information videos.  Also note, there are a lot more Mac-centric videos than Windows.

Would it work for my parents, in their 80’s, who have been using computers since the first Apples came out, and currently have Snow Leopard?  Actually, no.  They would have difficulty following most of them, and for the rest, they wouldn’t see the point.

The Digital Age, Books, and Libraries

There’s a lot of flag waving (especially by alarmed librarians) about the imminent demise of the book and libraries.  Actually, that’s not true.  The librarians are trying to fend off those who are buying into the idea that printed books, and libraries as we used to know them, are pointless vestiges of a prior era.  The debate has been picked up by the New York Times, which is getting a lot of press (sorry) lately.

The biggest issue, which is only obliquely hinted at in the arguments floating around, especially those in the Times opinion piece, is accessibility. I have a book. No one anywhere can prevent me from sharing that book with you. No one anywhere can prevent you from sharing that book with someone else (once it’s in your possession). Granted, this is a single item, with geospatial limitations which can be transcended by electronic networks. But “electronic” has its own, more restrictive limitations. Does one have access to the electronic network? Does one have the equipment to access the electronic network? Is there a power source to enable access to the equipment (or network)? Does one have permission to access the electronic device/network/item?

Librarianship has always been about finding and gaining access to books/information. The interesting twist today is the gaining access part, which involves navigating rights and permissions, as well as delivery options: both print (is there a printer?) and electronic (does the recipient even have the means to access an electronic version?).

The discussion in the NYTimes column (and others) focuses on universities and private schools, essentially ignoring that part of the population that is (a) less educated, (b) less affluent, (c) less technologically savvy, and (d) any combination of the above. My guesstimate, from experience and prior research, is that those categories make up a significant minority of the US population (maybe up to 40%), and likely always will.

So to the issue of accessibility, add disenfranchisement.  Where will the have-nots get what the haves are being taught to take for granted?  Those “pointless” vestiges of a prior era really aren’t so pointless after all.

Computer Classes for Libraries and others

I promised this long ago, so it’s way past time to get these posted.

Feel free to modify and reuse these.  They are provided under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial 3.0 license.  If you require other terms, leave a comment with your contact information, and I will get back to you.  Please note the powerpoint files are rather large (>4MB).

portablesoftware This is a powerpoint program covering Portable Software:  what it is, how to install it, where to get it, and how to use it.  There are two handouts that go with the program: Install Portable Software and Start Portable Apps Handout, both Open Document Text (.odt) documents.

eBooks and Audiobooks This is a powerpoint program I created for the Palm Beach County Library System, so there are still some vestiges within the show. The handouts for this were specific to that library, so I have not included them.  Contact me via the comment form below if you want them.

Beginning Internet This is a powerpoint program on Internet Basics for beginners.

I will post more as I get them cleaned up.

Too much marketing and not enough meat

A message to the SeniorServ list from Allan Kleiman alerted me to BigScreenLive. Since I’m always interested in what’s available for older adults, especially the ones with limited computer experience, I had to instantly check it out. Now, the upfront disclaimer here is that I haven’t actually tried it out yet, but I do see a few problems right off the bat.

The first problem, which instantly affects their credibility with me, is when they state, right on the front page:

Our goal is to make computing effortless and enjoyable. While our software runs on any PC, we also recommend hardware to make it easier.

but on the Software and Hardware page, they state,

To get started, you will need:

  • Access to a computer with Microsoft Windows XP or Vista. [emphasis mine]
  • A monitor resolution of at least 1280 x 800. The experience is optimized for a resolution of 1280 x 1024, which is most 17 inch or larger monitors.
  • A high-speed internet connection.

People are aware today (yes, even the Seniors) that PC does not necessarily mean a Windows machine. Let’s have a little truth in advertising here, please.

But even larger problems loom. Who, exactly, is the site for? Children of older adults? Retirement communities? Older adults themselves? Older adults themselves range from very computer savvy to totally clueless (and generally content to stay that way). The computer savvy ones, of course, wouldn’t even look at the site; neither would the totally clueless. That still leaves a wide range of computer users, some who are already doing the things BigScreenLive wants to introduce them to, some that are struggling to learn even the basics just to be able to do the things on BigScreenLive, and some who are frustrated by the very things BigScreenLive offers to help with.

I suspect the target audience is children of older adults: the ones who call me about signing up their parent(s) for computer classes. For this group, the site looks the most inviting and promising, because this is a group that is already fairly comfortable on computers, and that wants their parents online also, but without the frustrating computer problems older novices face. The marketing makes it look like the perfect solution. Will its marketing be successful? Probably so, with enough money. I keep thinking of how many people continue to use AOL.

Whether it is a good product is another question, however. From looking through the site, and watching its tutorial, it is evident that older novices would need training just to use the program (for example, they have to know how to enlarge the text themselves). The e-mail program, while fairly basic, will definitely be confusing to novices. It boasts “Easily upload digital photos to the Family Album” (emphasis theirs). Easy, maybe, for the adult children, but not for the older novice, without some training (which is the whole problem to begin with). I think the product would be really useful for about 2% of Seniors wanting to use the computer. But I think far more will be “given” a subscription, with little hope of actually using it.

Excellent training guide

This comes from Karen Vargas, via the Seniorserv discussion list. The National Institute on Aging has created a Toolkit for Trainers, with guides and curriculum for use in training seniors in Web skills and finding health information. From the press release:

Trainers who download the toolkit at <> will receive a set of materials they can customize to their students’ skill levels and interests. These include lesson plans, student handouts, Web searching exercises and illustrated glossaries. An introductory video gives a quick overview of the curriculum and a glimpse of Internet classes in action. Tips on how to set up a senior-friendly computer classroom also are provided

I have only glanced at the class materials. What really caught my eye was the “Quick Tips for a Senior Friendly Computer Classroom,” under “Training Tips” near the bottom of the page. It is a nicely done PDF with a very organized way of looking at training seniors. There are several suggestions I had not thought of before (or hadn’t thought seriously about), such as asking the students if they are comfortable being addressed by their first name, and providing space on handouts for students to take notes. I can attest that the rest of the suggested tactics work well (full disclosure: one of my articles is cited in the bibliography).

There are only a couple suggestions I would take issue with. The first is the suggestion to keep class length to around 90 minutes or less. My rule of thumb, from experience, is 60 minutes or less. The other suggestion is to have students work in pairs during hands-on activities. It sounds like a good idea and does work well some of the time. But on many occasions I have also seen pairing students become a detriment to one of the two students. This usually happens when one is significantly more advanced on the computer than the other, or when the two are married. In both cases, one will dominate and the other will passively allow the other to control the session, and learn nothing.

That said, this is a guide that should be in every trainer’s hands as they prepare for classes and training sessions with seniors. Definitely check out the materials.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #8

Nearly everyone who takes computer classes at our library does not want a book about how to use a computer. The typical response is, “I can’t learn by reading a book. I have to be shown how to do it.” There are many different learning styles. Some learn by watching. Some learn by listening. Some learn by taking notes. Some learn by doing and re-doing. All of us learn from mistakes.

Older adults, although they are more careful, in order to avoid making mistakes (one of the reasons they go more slowly), and despite their best efforts, will make mistakes while learning to use the computer. To those of us who grew up with computers or live with computers now, the mistakes can seem pretty incredible. More importantly, those newbie mistakes are usually easy to fix, so the typical response is to just fix it for them with one or two mouse clicks.

With very few exceptions, however, it is better to allow them to fix their mistakes by telling them what happened, why it happened, and walking them through, step by step, how to fix it. Although it takes longer, if they made the mistake once, they will probably do it again, so learning how to fix it themselves is important. It also helps take the mystery out of computers and raises their confidence level. Sometimes we even help them make a mistake, if it’s a common one, just to teach them how to fix it. For example, sooner or later they are all going to click the right mouse button and get a popup context menu. So, when training novices, we tell them to click the right mouse button, then explain what they are seeing and why, and how to close the popup menu.

Tip #8: Mistakes are learning opportunities. Teach them how to fix their mistakes.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #7

The older we get, the more we know. But sometimes that gets in the way of learning (see Tip #5). The process of learning, of itself, becomes more difficult due to factors in aging. Learning new concepts for familiar terms inserts a certain level of confusion into the process, enhanced by the declining ability to exclude the prior associations with those terms in order to learn the new associations. Frequently combined with this is a decline in hearing, caused by both physical and cognitive factors. The physical factor is the declining ability to hear sounds. The cognitive factor is the declining ability to distinguish sounds, caused by cognitive slowing and by neural noise (random signals that are unrelated to actual stimulus). This means what is actually getting through (what can be heard) is getting lost in distractions of prior associations and unrelated associations as the person attempts to “decode” it and make sense of it, causing increased difficulty in understanding what is being said. When this happens in the context of learning new terms and concepts, the ability to hear and understand becomes even more strained.

Rapid speech is obviously not going to work well with this group in a setting where they are learning something new. But slowing down the speed will not completely solve the problem. It is just as important to be very precise and explicit, and to enunciate clearly. Keep in mind many consonant sounds are similar. To older adults with hearing problems, words like com and con sound the same, and they may not have learned enough about the Internet to put “com” into context.

Because of the declines in hearing, context becomes even more important to older adults’ ability to decipher and understand speech. Precise and explicit speech will help keep them on track and in the correct context. For example, spelling out what is to be typed is a good idea, and to be more precise you could use phonetic alphabet words (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.) to indicate the specific letters. But unless you explicitly say, for example, “type the letters C as in Charlie, O as in Oscar, M as in Mike…” some will just start typing the words you say.

Tip #7: To lessen the effects of hearing loss and related issues of aging, speak slowly, using language that is precise and explicit.

How to do that visual stuff in handouts (

Here is an example of a handout created in Writer, using screenshots:


The post on how to do this in MSWord is here. This particular post applies to 2.0 on Windows. Although most of the handouts on the ncrlab eSnips page were done in MSWord (a few are in WordPerfect), I actually use for handouts now instead of MSWord. It’s just more portable. It’s also easier in some ways (although there are a few minor gripes I have).

Since this is Windows, get screenshots using the Print Screen key and the Paint program, as described here. Once you have the images saved, open the Writer (select “Text Document” from the options). Click on the View menu, then go to the Toolbars submenu and click on the Drawing option to make the drawing toolbar available:


The toolbar will be visible at the bottom of the page. To insert an image into the page, click on the button on the draw toolbar to insert an image from file.


Navigate through the dialog box to the picture you want to insert (in this case, the large one from the Print Screen exercise), and open it. Notice the Grahics toolbar that automatically appears docked at the top of the page. Right click on the image and click on “Picture” to get to the picture properties dialog window:


It is not necessary to change the image wrap; the default works just fine. However, if you have problems shifting the image on the page, change the image wrap to “Optimal.” The best way to resize the image is to check the box to keep the image ratio then adjust the height or width by typing in the target size or using the arrows beside the boxes to adjust the size. With the “Keep ratio” box checked, the size will stay proportional as you increase one side (either height or width). This is also an easy way to make sure similar images are the same height or width.


Click the OK button to get back to the image. Now reposition the image by clicking inside the image and dragging it to where you want it on the page:


You could also resize the image by clicking on one of the corners and dragging diagonally, but the aspect ratio will not be automatically preserved as it is when changing the size in the picture properties dialog window, so it may end up stretched in one direction or the other.


Insert the smaller image using the same steps, arranging the two images on the page beside each other. Now add a box to the larger image. Click on the box shape button on the toolbar and select the rounded rectangle from the popup display.


Click and drag across the part of the larger image that was copied to create the smaller image. An opaque box will overlay the image:


Next, remove the fill by clicking on the “color” drop down menu in the graphics menu at the top of the page, and selecting “invisible.”


Now change the line width, and color (if desired), by clicking on the related drop down options on the graphics toolbar:



Do the same for the smaller image, creating a box around the whole image, and changing the line width and color to match the box on the larger image.

Now draw lines connecting the two boxes: Click on the line tool on the Drawing toolbar at the bottom.


Now click on a corner of one of the boxes and drag the cursor to the corner of the other box, creating a line between them. Then change the line width and color, just as you did with the boxes.


Create another line between the two opposite corners, adjusting the color and width as with the first line. The final effect should look something like this:


The boxes and lines can be moved by dragging when the cursor turns into a four-way arrow over them.  If the box is snapping to a grid rather than staying precisely where you move it, hold down the Alt key while dragging.  This will override any grid restrictions.

How to do that visual stuff in handouts (Windows MSWord)

I have told a lot of people, and posted advice here, to use handouts with visual cues, like this one:


Someone asked how to create this type of handout with screenshot images, so here’s a rundown on how I do it in Windows. I have used, Word and WordPerfect, but this post will only cover MSWord; I’ll do and WordPerfect posts next.The first step is to get screenshots. If you don’t know how to do that, see the instruction page for Windows.Once you have the images saved, you are ready to put the images into the handout document. Open MSWord. I usually do this in Word 2000 or Word 2002, but these steps should work in Word 97. Make sure the Drawing Toolbar is visible; if it isn’t, go to the View menu, select the Toolbar option, and click on Drawing if there isn’t a check by it already. It should appear at the bottom of the window.


Type whatever text or instructions you are going to use, and move the insertion point a couple lines below the text (by pressing the “Enter” key). Click on the “Insert Image” button on the Drawing Toolbar:


Navigate through the dialog box to the image you want (in this case, the larger image saved in the Print Screen exercise), and select it to open. If the Picture Toolbar is visible (notice it “floating” above the image in the example?), click on the text-align button. (If it is not visible, right click on the image and move the cursor to the align option.) Choose the “Tight” option in the menu that drops open.


Resize and reposition the image where you want it (notice the enclosing box disappears and the black square “handle” boxes have been replaced with circles) by clicking and dragging on one of the corner dots (to resize) and clicking inside the image and dragging (to reposition).


Click on the “Insert Image” button again, and navigate to the smaller image to insert it. Change the image alignment as with the larger image, and position it where you want it. Click on a corner and drag to enlarge the image when the cursor turns into a double arrow.Click on the Auto Shapes button at the bottom and choose the rounded rectangle from the Basic Shapes options.


Now move the cursor to the part of the image you copied earlier and drag across what you had copied. An opaque box will overlay the image.


Move the cusor back to the Drawing toolbar and click on the “Fill” button. Select “No Fill” from the pupup menu.


Click on the “Line” button and select a wider width.


Click on the “Color” button and select a different color, if desired.


Repeat these steps to put a rounded rectangle around the smaller image. You can resize the rectangle at any time by clicking and dragging its corner. If the boxes or lines seem to be snapping to a preset grid (they won’t change position to exactly where you want them), hold down the Alt key (next to the spacebar) while you click and drag.Now click on the Line button and move the cursor back onto the document.


Click on one of the corners of one of the drawn rectangles and drag across to a corner of the other drawn rectangle so there is a line from one box to the other.


If the line is not the right thickness or color, change it now using the line width tool and color tool you used for the boxes. You can also change the length of the line by clicking and dragging one of the ends.


Draw another line from an opposite corner of one box to another corner of the other box.There is only one thing left to do: “glue” them all together. Click on one of the lines or boxes. Hold down the shift key and click on each of the drawn units until they are all selected. Keep holding down the shift key and click on the images as well, so that everything is selected.Click on the “Draw” button on the Draw toolbar. Click on the option that says “Group.” Now the images and boxes will stay together as one group as you continue to add to or edit the page.


Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #6

The cognitive slowing that occurs with aging affects an older adult’s ability to maintain linear connections required for learning. Most teaching involves steps, but the older adult’s ability to remember those steps is affected by the aging process (see Tip #2). What may seem obvious for younger learners can no longer be taken for granted. They will not necessarily make the connection between a cause and effect without explicit instructions broken down into discrete steps. An instruction to “click on ‘New’ in the File menu” may be easy for a younger learner, but what the older adult hears is “file” and “new” and tries to figure out what is where. They need an instruction like the example above broken down into discrete steps, such as: “Move the cursor to the upper left corner and click on the word ‘File’. Move the cursor over the word ‘New’ in the list that opens. When the word is highlighted, press the left mouse button.”

Consistently using specific step by step instructions begins to take the mystery out of computers for older adults. It also reduces the load on their processing, which is already taxed.

Also, since repetition is important (see Tip #4), handouts or other materials intended to give them practice should use discrete, numbered steps. Numbering is important as a way of isolating each step. For example, instructions to copy and paste might be broken down into four distinct steps: highlighting something, copying it, moving to the destination, and pasting. Each step should then have detailed instructions. Using the example to copy and paste, printed instructions for steps one and two might look something like this (but would, of course, include relevant visual cues):

Step 1 (highlighting):

Place the cursor on the item to be copied

Hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor across the item

When the item is highlighted, release the mouse button.

Step 2 (copying)

Move the cursor to the top of the window

Click on the word “Edit”

Move the cursor over the word “Copy” in the list that opens

When the word “Copy” is highlighted, press the left mouse button

Tip #6: Use discrete, step-by-step instructions, both verbally, and in printed materials