Students Become Teachers for Navigating Internet
By Sandra Seitz
Teaching computer skills to senior citizens requires time. And patience. And repetition.
The rest is just a load of fun.
UMass Lowell students have been teaching seniors how to navigate the Internet, holding sessions in the Lawrence Council on Aging Senior Center’s computer lab. Their work is part of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), directed by Economics Prof. Carol McDonough, and funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
What the “students” may lack in speed, they more than make up for in enthusiasm, say their young instructors.
“I love it when they’re so excited, that they can still learn,” says Yisbeel Oviedo, a senior majoring in psychology and criminal justice. “Many came from other countries and they can communicate with relatives, or with their kids who live in other states.”
Since last summer, BTOP has helped more than 250 participants at the Lawrence center, with four UMass Lowell student trainers providing classes Monday through Friday.
“At the beginning sessions, I emphasize that we’ll do two things: get very familiar with email and learn to search for information online,” says Jason Bouchrouche, a senior majoring in economics and finance. In his group, Korean War-era vets have learned to check out available veterans’ services.
Another participant “is very social, so I showed him Facebook,” says Bouchrouche. “Now he’s loving life online.” More advanced lessons include craigslist and online commerce.
Bouchrouche, who has taught students aged “18 to 80,” likes the atmosphere while working with seniors.
“I love how people are really alive and energetic,” he says. “The seniors interact with each other and share all these great life experiences they’ve had. It’s good energy.”
In May, the Lawrence Council held a ribbon-cutting and open house to show off the renovated space, especially the nine desktop computers and a printer provided by the BTOP. Speakers at the event included Martha Velez, executive director of the Council on Aging, Mayor William Lantigua and James Barnes, director of the Lawrence Community Development Department.
BTOP is a federally funded grant, and aims to increase broadband subscription in Merrimack Valley, as well as provide computer and internet literacy training to low-income individuals, youth and the elderly. Technical support is provided by the Center for Family, Work and Community, co-directed by Robin Toof and Prof. Robert Forrant, and by BTOP program manager Michelle Holmberg.