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Home arrow Engineering arrow Designing technology training for older adults in continuing care retirement communities

Staging the intervention: where, when, and how to set up the training sessions

Where: find lots of room

We found the three most important considerations when deciding where to stage the training sessions to be having (1) ample room, (2) little noise and few distractions, and (3) easy access for both the trainers and participants.

First, the location must provide ample room for the class to be conducted. Of course, this includes the room needed for each participant with his or her equipment and materials (about 3-4 feet of table space), but also room for training assistants to move around freely. Sometimes the location was set up as a fairly traditional classroom, with long tables set 4-6 feet apart to allow us to move up and down the rows. In other locations, long tables were not available, and square or round tables had to be used. In these cases, usually no more than two people could be placed at a table (although sometimes three could be squeezed in). This arrangement requires more space per participant, however. Because participants are not side by side, space is required for training assistants to move around both behind tables and between tables. Figure 3.2 shows one of our training rooms.

The room should be set up in such a way as to allow larger open spaces near the entrance to the room for participants who may require the use of wheelchairs or scooters. In a similar vein, preference for the locations closest to the main instructor should be given to participants who may have hearing or vision problems. Although the issues with hearing may be overcome by use of a microphone, the only real solution for participants who have difficulty seeing the instructor's screen is to have them sit near the front. For this reason, consideration must also be given to the placement of a screen, projector, or large screen TV. In cramped spaces, a projected image may not be large enough or high enough up to be seen by those near the back of the class.

Photo of a training room layout

Figure 3.2 Photo of a training room layout.

Wiring is an important consideration. Although we were using laptops with extra capacity batteries, as they aged, they were unable to last through a session, requiring us to always plug in the computers. Therefore, we needed room to run extension cords, power strips, and power supplies in a way that was unobtrusive and out of the way so that participants would not become tangled in them or trip. In some locations, this meant setting up the room and then disconnecting the power (i.e., unplugging and stowing extension cords or power strips) until all participants were seated, so that we could then rerun the power cords.

In sum, the more room, the better. Of course, these are ideal circumstances. Although we never considered any space too large, we often found spaces to be too small or otherwise poorly configured for class. Still, we found ways to make do. For example, some room configurations we experienced required us to station our assistants in parts of a room where they would be "trapped" until class was over because tables or participant seating blocked the way. Other locations required participant seating arranged according to the need for assistive devices; for example, those needing an external mouse or trackball might be required to sit in one area of the room where there was more space to spread out, while those who were comfortable with the built-in trackpad would sit in other areas where the seating could be more closely spaced. Likewise, the trainer sometimes was located more in the middle of the participants rather than clearly out in front. Taken together, these experiences highlight the necessity of being flexible in setting up equipment and arranging people and seating. No two rooms and no two cohorts of participants will be the same. Acknowledging this and adapting to the people and circumstances are key to a successful outcome.

In addition to having ample space for participants, equipment, and trainers, noise and distractions are also important considerations. In our experience, large open areas that would provide the space necessary to conduct the classes were oftentimes also near high-traffic areas or were high-traffic areas themselves. Several times we set up the classes in areas that brought us spectators and passers-by. This was usually not much of a problem, but sometimes could be. More often than not, residents who were not participating would either notice the class in session and be unobtrusive, perhaps pulling an assistant aside to ask what was going on; however, on occasion, a resident would interrupt the class to find out what was happening or to ask to join, even late into the sessions.

In some locations, dining areas are often attractive options for holding a larger class. They offer ample space for participants (plenty of space for each participant, along with room for assistants to move around) and ease of setup (tables and chairs were already in place). Sometimes dining areas may be the only areas large enough to accommodate technologytraining classes. Our training configuration (an 18.5-inch laptop, external keyboard, and mouse or trackball, along with a place for the training manual and notepad) took quite a bit of space to fit in comfortably. Although dining rooms often had the space we needed, they offered their own difficulties.

In addition to working around the actual meal service, we also had to work around dining room preparation and cleaning, as well as residents who were eager for mealtime and would sometimes come in, take their usual mealtime places, and begin conversations, interrupting the class. Dining staff might also interrupt to set tables or otherwise prepare the meal service. So while dining areas may seem like the perfect alternative, they were often severely constrained in terms of the times available for training, a topic we discuss in the next section.

Another regular source of interruption came in spaces that were booked for other events either before or after the training classes. Events beforehand often meant a rush to get set up for class. Events after the class often meant feeling rushed to wrap up and break down or, in some cases, enduring glaring looks and comments from people waiting to get into the room. The ideal, of course, would be a large, quiet, out of the way room that was not booked for any activities prior or subsequent to the training session. We found this to be a very rare option unless the class was very small.

The final consideration for staging the intervention was ease of access for participants and trainers. Perhaps these notes will seem obvious, but locations that are easier to access and set up are preferred over those that are more difficult to access and set up.

In most cases, we asked for space to store our equipment onsite to avoid unnecessary and logistically cumbersome loading, moving, and unloading of equipment, which was stored in locked cases. Often, this storage was near the training location, which made it easy to retrieve the cases and set up the classroom in fairly short order. Other times, however, this was not the case. The worst example had us storing equipment in a basement location that required the use of two separate elevators and extended walks down three long hallways to get the equipment from storage to the classroom. In addition to the long haul and elevators, we often waited to allow residents to use the elevators so as not to be obtrusive. This required arriving at this location at least 45 minutes ahead of the scheduled class time to ensure plenty of time to move equipment and set up the classroom. In total, this was little more than an inconvenience for us, but, if the option is available, closer storage is better. Only once did we actually cancel a class due solely to storage issues. The elevator would not work and the only way around it would have been to take everything out of the rolling cases (which were too heavy to carry when loaded) and carry it by hand up some stairs and down a long hallway, something we did not have time (or strength) to do because we arrived too late, assuming the elevator would work.

In our examples, access refers not only to access to the room itself but also to other things that will be needed, such as tables, chairs, and audiovisual (AV) equipment. In the best instances, there was storage for equipment, tables, chairs, and AV equipment just off the room being used for the training. This made setup quick and easy and allowed for some flexibility should someone insist on joining the class late. What we quickly learned was less desirable were locations where tables and chairs had to be rounded up on a case-by-case basis by someone from the staff or where tables, chairs, equipment, or the room itself were only accessible with the correct keys. On several occasions, although prior arrangements had been made, we found ourselves temporarily unable to access needed space or equipment because the person who had the key was unable to be found.

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