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Published: Tuesday, 11/12/2013

Bowling Green State University: Technology creates bond between students, seniors

It’s a scene that can’t help but bring a smile to your face. Three young men, in dress shirts, are hunched over iPads with a group of senior citizens, all women. They’re helping them learn the ins and outs of tablet technology.

The technology is frustrating, and the women are full of questions, but this group of Bowling Green State University students patiently answers and walks them through the solutions to various problems.

The technology classes at the Wood County Senior Center are the brainchild of Dr. Kate Magsamen-Conrad, an assistant professor of communication, who got the idea while staying with family.

“I taught my grandmother how to use a laptop and it was a disaster,” she said. “It required so much more than I was able to give. There was a need for someone to teach a small-group communication course.”

Dr. Nancy Orel, a professor and director of the gerontology program, pointed her to the Wood County Committee on Aging.

Magsamen-Conrad introduced the technology classes to her students for the first time in the spring of 2013.

Classes this fall ranged from one that focused on iPads to a “try it before you buy it” class that allowed the seniors to get their hands on an array of tablets. This semester’s students also use a workbook developed by the spring semester class.

During one class, the students showed the seniors how to download apps, surf the Web and take photos and video on an iPad. They also posed for test photos, talked about the new Apple operating system and did a lot of troubleshooting.

“The first class, we didn’t know what to expect and then once it started going it just flew. Before you knew it we were going five minutes over our allotted time period,” said Jacob Olson, a junior majoring in communication.

“I learned if you have a thirst for knowledge it doesn’t matter how old you are, said Daniel McHenry, a senior who took the class in the spring and is now an undergraduate mentor. “Seniors get excited about the technology and as long as they’re willing to learn and we’re willing to teach, it’s fun.”

Magsamen-Conrad said these classes go beyond teaching seniors to use tablets by also helping them navigate the technology that seems to be taking over even the most mundane items.

“There is so much technology and basic technology literacy that leaves some groups of people behind,” she said. “Our seniors have talked about seeing parking meters that look Space Age and sitting at dinner and getting an iPad and not a menu. We are trying to reach out to this demographic, to help build a foundational knowledge that will translate into other environments and enable them to interact with our society today.”

Betty Laukhuf, 80, bought her iPad over the summer at the suggestion of her daughter. “I wanted to learn. We’re out of it if we don’t. We have to stick with it,” she explained.

Laukhuf, a BGSU alumna, also said she loves working with the students. It’s a feeling that is definitely mutual. Magsamen-Conrad said as the classes come to a close, students often say they’re sad their time together is ending. It’s a relationship that evolves from teacher-student to one where McHenry said the seniors feel more like the students’ grandparents.

Magsamen-Conrad said these classes are definitely teaching her students to become better at interacting not only among themselves in a group, but also with an audience far more like the one they will encounter in their work careers.

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