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The Information Age: Teens and Older Adults Team Up to Wrangle Technology at D-H

  • Lee Hammond, of Lebanon, N.H., works with Kimball Union Academy 12th-grader Isabelle Brawley, of Etna, N.H., to find the names of people in a photo of his eighth-grade class that he recieved via Facebook on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center in Lebanon, N.H. Hammond said that he has been coming to recieve tech help from high school students at the resource center for about two years. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Michael Galbraith, of West Lebanon, N.H., works to put a flash drive into his laptop while receiving tech help on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center in Lebanon, N.H. Galbraith said this is his third time he's come to the resource center to get tech help from high school volunteers. "You've got a 50-50 chance to get this right," he said about inserting the flash drive. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover High School 12th-grader Thomas Usherwood, left, of Hanover, N.H., teaches Michael Galbraith, of West Lebanon, N.H., how to send photos from his phone to his computer via email on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center in Lebanon, N.H. Galbraith brought a list of tech-related questions he wanted Usherwood to answer including how to delete emails, transfer photos from his digital camera to his computer and how to back up his tax documents. "What is this bolgna?" Galbraith asked Usherwood while working on the computer. "Do want a job doing this?" (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jeannie Bates, left, of Orford, N.H., talks with Hanvoer High School 12th-grader Sarah Dunbar, of Hanover, N.H., while receiving tech help with her Facebook account on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center in Lebanon, N.H. Bates has been getting tech help for about a year at the resource center. "These kids know everything," she said. "They're so patient, kind and enthusiastic." (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, December 25, 2017

Success, like time, is relative. For a millennial like Hanover High School senior Thomas Usherwood, who’s a technology coach at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center in Lebanon, it may not mean much to delete an email from his inbox. But for 81-year-old Michael Galbraith, of West Lebanon, it’s a cause for celebration.

“Da-da-da-da!” he crowed on Wednesday, to the tune of Beethoven’s Fifth, while clapping Usherwood excitedly on the shoulder. “It’s gone, woo-hoo!”

This was Galbraith’s third time visiting the Aging Resource Center’s tech coaching program, where on Wednesday afternoons Upper Valley high school students like Usherwood work one-on-one with older adults on solving their technology-related questions.

Tech coaching arose in part from the research of Renee Pepin, a geriatric psychologist at the Dartmouth Centers for Health and Aging, who is interested in the link between mental health and computer literacy among older populations.

“When I first started with this research (a few years ago) … I was getting concerns about how interested older adults are in technology, and how able to use it they are,” she said. But after conducting focus groups with older populations, she noticed themes emerging: “Many of them are absolutely interested in using computers, phones and iPads, but they do not feel that they are using them optimally.”

The positive effects of tech coaching on older adults can be direct, such as being able to access important information and resources. But becoming more adept at technology can also indirectly help with their socialization, Pepin said in the Aging Resource Center waiting area on Wednesday, just prior to the day’s first tech coaching session.

“There’s a huge psychosocial benefit to having the opportunity to feel connected.”

Lee Hammond was the first participant to arrive.

“Who likes green tea?” said the 78-year-old Lebanon resident by way of greeting. There were no takers. He rummaged around in his bag. “How about … pasta sauce?”

“Did you just go shopping or something?” teased Isabelle Brawley, a Kimball Union Academy senior who’s been working with Hammond for the past year and a half. Like most of the 17 student tech coaches the Aging Resource Center has had since launching the program in 2014, Brawley is interested in pursuing a technology-related career path when she goes to college next year, and likes to teach others about “something that’s always just made sense to me.”

The two share a fun, easy rapport; during their coaching slot, peals of laughter drifted into the waiting area from the room they were working in. They hadn’t seen each other in over a month, and spent some time in the beginning of the session catching up and making pleasantries. Hammond apologized for missing Brawley’s recent dance performance, and eagerly asked how her college application process was going; she’d already gotten into two schools.

“Hallelujah!” he cried, throwing up his arms in excitement. “Santa says you’ve been such a good girl. So.” He pulled a package of gummy bears out of his bag and tossed it in Brawley’s direction.

“What, no pasta sauce for me?” she joked.

Eventually, they got down to business: An old classmate of Hammond’s had recently shared a black-and-white photo on Facebook of their eighth grade graduating class, taken in 1941 in a small town in New Jersey. But now the photo was nowhere to be found. Perhaps it had been deleted, or made private?

Meanwhile, Jean Bates, 73, of Orford, was working with Hanover High School senior Sarah Dunbar on her own Facebook-related question. Bates wanted to know how to set up a new account in addition to the “fun” account she already had, under the name Jeannie Broccolini. But she was concerned that someone she didn’t know or trust would stumble upon the new one.

“There’s a way to make it private,” said Dunbar. “So a random person can’t see your name and be like, oh, Jean Bates, let me take a look.”

“Oh, that’s very good,” Bates said. “I appreciate that, Sarah.”

After going over Facebook’s privacy features, they covered how to edit Bates’ profile and background pictures, account name and friends list, with Dunbar providing tips and anecdotes from her own social media experiences to supplement the lesson. Though this was Bates’ first time working with Dunbar, she’s been coming to tech coaching sessions for the past year or so, with “marvelous” results, she said.

“I’m like a dinosaur. I’m not tech-savvy,” she said. “They’ve pulled me out of holes time and time again … like not knowing how to deal with internet processes, or getting stuff out of the computer. Plus, it’s fun.”

She and Hammond both agreed that the interpersonal aspects of the tech coaching sessions are at least as beneficial to them as the knowledge they gain. After his session with Brawley ended, Hammond hung around and talked education politics with Bates, with whom he’d worked at Mount Lebanon Elementary School, “once upon a time,” Bates said.

“For me, it’s all about the social contact with the kids. (The information) doesn’t always stick, but that’s just being 70-something,” he said. Back in the day, “we knew there was something coming called a computer, but it took up half the Pentagon at that point. Just a giant mainframe. We never knew it was going to become such a big part of everyone’s life.”

Facebook is a common area of inquiry in tech coaching sessions, as it was for Bates and Hammond on Wednesday, said Chizuko Horiuchi, a resource specialist at the Aging Resource Center. But it’s far from the only one.

“Some people come in and say, my family members got me this iPad and I don’t know how to set it up, my cell phone is getting crowded with photos and I don’t know where to store them or what to do, how do I attach documents to emails, how can I set up Kindle, what to do with this upgrading stuff,” Horiuchi said.

Many participants come in with questions about using applications such as Skype and FaceTime that, for their children and grandchildren, “are one of the main ways to connect with people” who live far away, she said. “For older adults, learning how to navigate those things on their cell phone and tablet (can) make them feel a lot less isolated.”

Based on the responses Pepin got in her initial focus groups, it seems not to matter so much who is teaching them, but how.

“Being patient is the main thing,” she said, adding that it tends to be the family members — maybe the same ones older adults are trying to stay connected with, maybe even the ones who bought that iPad in the first place — who become the most exasperated at having to give instructions slowly and multiple times. It helps when the tech coach doesn’t have already have a close personal relationship with the older adult they’re teaching.

Dunbar confirmed that this was her own experience, too. “When I try to teach stuff to my grandma,” she said, “it’s much harder.”

But Horiuchi has also gotten the sense from the roughly 17 student tech coaches who have come and gone — most of whom have attended Hanover High School but have also come from Kimball Union, Lebanon High School or Mascoma Valley Regional High School — that they appreciate the lessons, too. If nothing else, helping older adults with technology offers a new perspective on what an advantage it is to be so familiar with internet-driven devices.

“As the younger generation has grown up, technology has grown with us,” said Usherwood, who has been a tech coach at the Aging Resource Center since the beginning. Seemingly simple actions, such as making a new folder on a computer desktop, “might seem basic to us because we barely need to think about it,” he said. But having to put himself in an older person’s shoes has made him realize that such processes are not as intuitive as he may have thought, and he’s found that kind, clear communication goes a long way.

Galbraith’s session took place in the second one-hour slot on Wednesday, after Bates’ and Hammond’s. He and Usherwood went through a list that Galbraith had brought along to his session, something Horiuchi said many participants like to do. Along with deleting emails, the tech team practiced transferring photos to Galbraith’s laptop and saving his TurboTax documents on a flash drive. But they also tackled questions that came up along the way — such as how and when Galbraith should shut down his laptop, rather than just putting it to sleep by closing the lid, and when to right-click instead of left-click.

“Right-click is usually for when you want to pull up options, like ejecting the flash drive,” explained Usherwood, and suggested that Galbraith try tapping the mousepad with two fingers to achieve the same effect as right-clicking.

“Show me.”

“You just click with your two fingers. Just like that,” Usherwood said. “It’s just a different way of right-clicking. I find it more convenient.”

“I could stay all night, this guy’s so good!” said Galbraith. “Can I ask for you every time?”

He can; participants may indicate which coach they’d like to be placed with, and over time many tech coaches develop friendly relationships with the older adults they teach, as have Hammond and Brawley.

In their session on Wednesday they tried several different strategies to find Hammond’s old class photo, with no luck. He didn’t mind, though. “She may not have known the answer to my question,” he said. “But she knew the ways to find it.”

At one point in the search process, he’d come across someone on Facebook with the same name as his former classmate, but who shared that classmate as mutual friend.

Brawley squinted at the screen. “I bet that’s his son and they have the same name, right?” she said. “Because he wouldn’t be friends with himself. That wouldn’t make sense.”

“Yes, a selfie!” joked Hammond. “That’s what that would be.”

When Galbraith’s session with Usherwood ended at 5, Hammond and Brawley were still sitting on the couches in the waiting area, making each other laugh. They didn’t leave until Horiuchi reminded them that it was time for the center to close.

To learn more about tech coaching at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center and make a free appointment with a tech coach, call 603-653-3460. Registration is based on tech coach availability. Participants are asked to bring their own devices to the sessions.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at ejholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.