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Home arrow Engineering arrow Designing technology training for older adults in continuing care retirement communities
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How: reducing distractions and frustrations— making it a good experience

One of our goals was to minimize any fuss or frustration that the participants might experience. We understood that some of the participants were very hesitant and unsure they should even be participating. Frustrations like a chaotic room, malfunctioning equipment, or lack of an assistive device could mean they would withdraw. On the first day of training, it is wise to begin setting up very early, at least 1.5 hours ahead of time, for even small classes. This allows plenty of time to track down tables and chairs if needed, arrange the room as needed, put out all equipment, connect everything, and test everything out before participants arrive. Many participants will arrive early and will be eager to be seated at a computer. If you want to avoid asking people to move or wait while you finish the setup, it is best to get started very early. Some participants may also want to help with the setup. While we always sincerely appreciated the offer, the setup went more quickly when we politely declined the help.

Setting up the training classroom is quite different from simply taking out a laptop and putting it on a table. After a few sessions, we began to learn what did and did not work in terms of setup and had our own particular techniques to make sure cables were out of the way and each participant had enough space. We would also produce seating charts after participants settled into their "regular" seats. We noted on these charts the preferences of each participant in terms of assistive devices, left/right handedness, and so on. This allowed us to have everything in place before participants arrived, rather than having to ask at each session.

After the first couple of sessions, classes usually settle into a routine, and the equipment setup can begin as late as half an hour prior to the session if the room has been set up ahead of time. Our preferred sequence was to arrange the room first, set up the instructor's computer, projector, and screen, put out the laptops (including power supplies), and then add any extra devices needed by participants. Still, adaptability and flexibility are key. We always had on hand (unless the class was very large) more of everything than what we expected to use (e.g., more assistive devices [see Table 3.2], extra copies of the manual, backup Wi-Fi router, backup projector, and extra laptops). Thus, if a laptop began having problems, we had extra laptops that we could quickly boot up, bring to the current point in the lesson (e.g., get to a search results page), and then simply swap out for the malfunctioning laptop. If a participant who never used a

Table 3.2 Assistive devices

Device

Advantage

Large trackball

A large trackball increases the ease of interacting with a mouse. The large ball allows a participant to more easily move the pointer as desired and it allows for easier fine control of the pointer position. The participant can then click without affecting the position of the pointer.

Large-key

keyboard

A keyboard with one-inch-square keys that give a definitive "click" when pressed is easier to use by those who may have trouble seeing the keyboard, and it provides greater confidence in use for those unfamiliar with a keyboard. An alphabetically arranged version is a good option for those unfamiliar with the QWERTY layout.

Large monitors

A larger monitor allows for larger icons and text, improving readability for those with impaired eyesight.

Low vision assistive software

Such software, sometimes combined with a larger screen, greatly aids those with vision difficulties.

large trackball before was having issues with using a mouse, we had extra trackballs on hand so that we could plug one in and let him or her try it.

We also produced backup plans for (what came to seem to be inevitable) issues beyond our control. For example, one location routinely had Internet connection trouble, a real problem if you are trying to teach participants to use email. On those days, we would use prepared screenshots to illustrate what the actual email composition screen would look like and had participants type their messages using Notepad. On other days, we might work in more mouse or keyboard practice. On still other occasions, we might create our own Internet connections by using our smartphones as Wi-Fi hotspots.

Even with weeks of preparation, testing of Wi-Fi and electrical connections, a well-planned room setup, and even after gaining experience conducting the intervention in several locations, the first couple of training sessions will always bring surprises—new participants, changes in Internet access, last minute relocations, and getting participants settled in generally. All this is to say that being ready for things not to go quite as planned should be part of the preparation.

 
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