“Someone at that age is sometimes scared that they’re going to break the computer,” says Jean F. Coppola, PhD, of the senior citizens she works with. “But they don’t want to be left behind. They want to learn.”
Coppola, an associate professor of Information Technology at Pace’s Seidenberg School, is also one of the lead researchers in a nationally recognized collaborative and multidisciplinary team studying older adults and computing. The Gerontech Team, which is led by Coppola and Lienhard Professors Lin Drury, PhD, and Sharon Wexler, PhD, comprises several Westchester County administrators and professors from both Pace and other institutions, is currently working with several community partners and Pace students to improve the quality of life—emotionally, cognitively, and socially—for older adults learning about technology.
A few years back, Coppola was called on by the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services to participate in Take Your Grandparent to Work Day. Due to the logistical limitations of the request, Coppola and her students brought their work to the senior citizens. “We had support from IBM—we had laptops with a network—and we taught the seniors to make photo greeting cards using their photos of family and friends,” she says. “After that experience I knew we had found something special.”
Afterwards, Coppola co-developed a service-learning course called “Intergenerational Computing,” which was first offered to Pace students in spring 2006. This small class was the first formal incarnation of what Coppola and her students are researching today. The students, who also learn about social gerontology and technology in action, go through sensitivity training so that they are better able to understand the needs of senior citizens. The training, which is conducted by Drury and Wexler, involves students using everything from wheelchairs, walkers, and leg weights to experience limited mobility, to glasses and earplugs that simulate vision and hearing impairments, to popcorn in shoes to create a feeling like arthritis. This creative and necessary part of training helps ensure students have a new awareness of their senior citizen pupils and instills in them a patience that is necessary when working with senior citizens.
The course has expanded and evolved since its introduction in 2006. Coppola’s gained new community partners including nursing homes, adult day care centers, and centers that cater to people living with cerebral palsy. In addition, the research team has partnered with Telekin.com for the donation of touch-screen computers and CogniFit.com, which has donated 1,000 licenses for their brain fitness software.
As words like Google, Twitter, and wiki enter our everyday lexicon, seniors are increasingly eager to learn about computing and technology. Through Coppola’s research program, Pace is helping provide seniors with the tools they need to use a computer, navigate the internet, and participate in social media.
“Just the other day I had one of the [senior] ladies come up to me and say ‘I think you really can teach an old dog new tricks,’” says Coppola.
For more information about Jean Coppola, PhD, and the work of Pace University Gerontechnology Program, click here.
Editor’s Note: Since publication, The Los Angeles Times featured Pace’s gerontechnology program headed by computer science professor Jean Coppola, PhD, and nursing professors Sharon Wexler, PhD, and Lin Drury, PhD, on March 20, 2012. The same day, Coppola was honored by Cerebral Palsy of Westchester which declared the day “Jean Coppola Day” for the work she does teaching technology to older adults.