Written by Corbin Hartwick, Techboomers.com
Contributions by Kathy Faubion, Library Associate, St. Mary's County Library, Leonardtown, Maryland, U.S.A.
Our core mission here at TechBoomers is to empower older adults and other inexperienced technology users to become comfortable learning and using digital media on their own. However, an important part of that mission is to help libraries and other digital literacy organizations deliver technology training courses to their patrons more efficiently and effectively. To do this, we need to know what works and what doesn't when our technology training partners use our services. Recently, we caught up with library associate Kathy Faubion, who offered her insights based on a TechBoomers-fuelled technology training course -- called "TechBoomers Together" -- that she ran at St. Mary's County Library in Leonardtown, Maryland.
(Image source: St. Mary's County Maryland Libraries)
Faubion says that the idea for TechBoomers Together came from wanting to gauge how much interest there would be for technology training courses in general among her library's patrons. "When our new library/senior center is built, I envision groups of seniors meeting up in the new computer lab for group learning together," she told us. "I wanted to do a trial run to see if there was interest in this type of 'class.'"
The next step was to decide how the course would be run. Faubion wanted to approach TechBoomers Together as an exercise in guided self-learning, as opposed to one based on traditional lecture-and-note styles of teaching. Part of that approach was keeping the class size small to create a more intimate, club-like atmosphere, a technique that Faubion wanted to try after hearing in several online seminars how popular it was becoming as a method for learning.
The last step was putting the actual course together. For that, Faubion turned to DigitalLearn.org, a project of the American Library Association's Public Library Association dedicated to offering courses on how to learn various computer functions. While browsing the website's community forums for lesson plans, she came across TechBoomers.com as an extra resource and decided to use it. She remarked that having our ready-made content available and easily accessible really cut down on her preparation time.
As it turned out, there was a significant amount of interest in TechBoomers Together from St. Mary's County Library patrons. One frequent visitor remarked that the program offered "a wealth of knowledge about many different areas of interest, and there is something of interest no matter how old you are." However, there were some digital literacy topics that were asked about more than others.
One skill set that many patrons wanted to know more about was how to stay safe and protect their privacy while browsing the Internet. On TechBoomers.com, this encompasses basic skills like using antivirus software, identifying and avoiding email scams and threats, and clearing information from a computer that could be used to track its online activity. It also includes advanced skills on how to stay safe on certain types of websites, as well as how to avoid having your online activity tracked. For example, Faubion mentioned our course on the private search engine DuckDuckGo as one of her personal favourites.
In a more general sense, patrons were pleased that TechBoomers.com often provided specific answers to questions commonly asked about various websites and Internet-based apps. These questions included why someone may (or may not want) to use a specific website or app in the first place, including what someone would or would not have to pay money for. As Faubion explained, "A great thing about TechBoomers is that it answers the question most asked: 'What does it cost to use this and what will I get for my money?' The courses on TechBoomers give a good summary of the pros and cons of different apps, too." A final popular subject of note was Internet-based communication tools, such as Skype.
One of the first successful things that Faubion noted about TechBoomers Together was how well the small group format worked. As Faubion observed, "Folks helped each other out when they get stuck or had questions, which is awesome. The best way to learn is to show someone else how to do something." Patrons were also happy to learn that they could read and write comments on tutorials, as well as send emails directly to us at TechBoomers if they had questions that couldn't be answered by the group (or other people whom they knew).
Fortunately, most participants didn't have too much trouble engaging with the content on TechBoomers.com; they noted that the large print size and the availability of video accompaniments made lessons very accessible. This ease of use also gave patrons time to move on and explore other lessons after completing the ones scheduled for TechBoomers Together.
What was perhaps most appreciated by participants, however, was that they learned that they could log into their TechBoomers.com accounts from almost any computer, not just the ones specific to St. Mary's County Library. This meant that after TechBoomers Together was over, they could continue to learn and complete lessons at home, rather than having to return to the library.
Ironically, the aspect that participants in TechBoomers Together appreciated about it most was also one of the program's biggest downfalls. Once patrons learned that they could continue learning on TechBoomers.com at home on their own, they saw little reason to return to the library for subsequent sessions. As Faubion laments, "I thought they would want to come back for a second session, but once their accounts were set up and they saw how easy the site was, they were off and running on their own."
Faubion thinks that a possible solution to this problem may be to advertise programs like TechBoomers Together as community-building activities as much as (or more than) technology training courses. One way to do this, she theorizes, is to segment programs into specialized courses that each deal with a particular digital technology topic (e.g. social media, online shopping, Internet safety, mobile devices, and so on). That way, patrons who sign up for each course can form a sense of community with each other, since they're all there to learn about similar interests. Faubion comments that "I think (technology training seminars based on) TechBoomers could be a great community activity -- a sort of platform for a technology club for seniors."
Faubion shared a few other ideas for improving digital literacy seminars like TechBoomers Together. One was for TechBoomers to continue producing video accompaniments to our text-and-picture tutorials. This would make our content more accessible to those with different learning styles, and/or who had difficulty reading our written instructions. You can find all of our latest video content on our YouTube channel.
She also suggested that, in light of the rising popularity of tablet computers and smart phones, libraries and technology training groups encourage patrons to bring their own devices to seminars. This would likely cut down on preparation time (not to mention costs) even more, because participants would already be familiar with the devices that they were using (and also likely have them configured to their own personal specifications).
Overall, Faubion and her library's patrons feel that TechBoomers Together was a good "test run" that could serve as the blueprint for even more successful digital literacy seminars in the future. As such, she encourages libraries and technology training organizations both in the U.S.A. and worldwide to create accounts on TechBoomers.com. That way, they can demonstrate to their patrons how to use the website to learn on their own. In addition, they can stay informed about what kinds of content we here at TechBoomers will be rolling out next, and then plan future seminars accordingly.
If you are a member of a library or other technology training organization and would like to make use of TechBoomers' free digital literacy services, a good way to get started is by visiting our information pages for our library partners and technology training partners. We also have instructions on how to link to our courses and other resources, as well as a sign-up form for our partner newsletter if you want keep your institution in the loop with what TechBoomers is working on for future digital literacy teaching.
TechBoomers offers free articles that teach people how to use technology to make their lives easier (and more fun!). To support our work, some of our content contains links to websites that pay us affiliate commissions when our users visit them through us and make purchases. Learn more about how this works.