Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category.

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.

Code4Lib conference

I am heading off to another conference, this time to learn instead of teach. Code4Lib 2008 is in Portland, Oregon, next week.

If anyone is interested in stacking the deck for next year, I’m not above a shameless plug for a vote for South Florida for next year’s conference. If you have a login account at code4lib.org, go here to vote (note, some firewalls block the port in this url – leave a comment here if you are having problems). If you don’t have a login account at the code4lib site, you can get one here.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #9

My dad’s advice: It’s hell getting old. Don’t do it.

Two very significant things are happening this century. First, Americans are living longer than any previous generation, so we are all discovering, directly or indirectly, the handicaps that come with old age. Second, computer technology has become truly mainstream, catching a whole generation off guard. Consequently, computer illiteracy has become one of those old age handicaps, and it is acutely felt by those who are otherwise functioning extremely well in society.

The older generation sees their grandchildren interacting with all kinds of computers with ease, yet they have difficulty just getting their heads around some of the most basic concepts like menus and scrollbars. I haven’t kept track of how many older adults I have talked to about computers, but I’m sure if I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “I feel so stupid” I’d be as rich as Bill Gates.

I repeatedly tell members of the older generation they are not stupid, they are inexperienced. They wouldn’t think of themselves as being stupid because they can’t play a piccolo or speak Swahili. Neither should they feel stupid because they can’t use a computer…yet. Did they learn to read in a day or a week? How long were they taught penmanship? ( “Oh! Years!”) And that was when they were young, like their grandchildren.

Learning to use a computer is doable, no matter how complicated it looks to them. But a big factor in their success is their attitude. In addition to making it easier for them to learn, it is important to counteract the self image they come in with by reminding them that they are learning, that it is not as hard as they imagined, and that they can do it. It is a wonderful thing to see their faces brighten as they realize they have learned something, and therefore are not stupid after all. As their attitude and self image changes, barriers start coming down and they pick up more determination.

Tip #9: Encourage them. Not just with positive reinforcement, but with active encouragement that reminds them what they have accomplished.

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 <www.nihseniorhealth.gov/toolkit> 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 #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.

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

Where to find the videoclips

After much trial and error, (there’s probably another post coming comparing video sharing sites), only one site has successfully uploaded and converted part two of the Connecting the Disconnected videos. It is not the sharpest image rendering, but at least it works. ๐Ÿ™‚ I much prefer dotsub.com, but they are still working on why the clip, which works perfectly on my end, stops halfway through playback after uploading. This is what happens on all the other sites except for (drum roll, please) Grouper.com. One is supposed to be able to embed the video at Grouper here in WordPress, but after several failed tries, I have given up on that.

So here are the links to the two videos:

Connecting the Disconnected, Part 1

Connecting the Disconnected, Part 2

Be sure to turn the sound on for Part 2 ๐Ÿ™‚

These are from the first half of my presentation at the pre-conference workshop on Libraries, Older Adults and Technology, and are intended to give you a glimpse of what it feels like to be older and trying to learn new technology. Enjoy!

Easy RSS

This comes via LawLibTech, one of the blogs I track:

RSS in Plain English – Video by Lee LeFever. A simple straigtforward way to explain RSS and RSS Readers by Lee LeFever of Common Craft, social design consulting firm. Lee has other short videos introducing technology, for example, Wikis in Plain English.
RSS in Plain English – Video by Lee LeFever – Blog on the Side – Darlene Fichter

This is really good stuff, creative and fun. You have to see it (with sound) to get the full impact. The wiki video is good, too. See them both on YouTube, or at the Common Craft site. The videos are less than 5 minutes. What a great job!

Conferences

I will be speaking at a few conferences this year. The first one coming up is next week’s American Library Association, where I will be part of a pre-conference workshop on Libraries, Older Adults and Technology. I will be talking about (surprise!) Connecting the Disconnected, technology training for older adult novices. I’m not sure how interesting my little talk will be compared with the other speakers and topics on the slate. If you are going to be there, you are in for a phenomenal day.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #5

The extensive crystallized intelligence available to older adults, which is not only stable, but continues to grow, does have a drawback. Although building on existing knowledge and skills is a good thing (see Tip #3), it is actually easier for an older adult to learn an entirely new term and concept than it is to learn a concept associated with a word that already has a familiar meaning. This is because the attentional processes, which involve controlling the attentional focus and excluding irrelevant information, decline with age. Learning to use computers requires learning new concepts and associations for familiar words, such as “shortcut” and “button.” But declines in attentional processes make it more difficult to exclude prior associations with familiar terms and replace them with the new associations.

Imagine going to a reunion after many years. People’s appearances have changed, and you must make new associations to continue to recognize them. But imagine finding everyone’s names have also changed. You can recognize them, but to learn the new names you must first suppress the tendency to associate the faces with the old names. The more familiar the name and face, the more difficult that is to do. As we get older it becomes even more difficult to exclude the prior associations when learning new concepts.

This can be made easier with visual cues. Consider the difference nametags would make at that imaginary reunion where everyone’s names have changed. Cues, such as “cheatsheets” and labeled graphics, when combined with repetition (see Tip #4), greatly enhance retention.

Tip #5: Give them visual cues