Ensuring the proper equipment
The importance of having the proper equipment was touched upon in the previous chapter. As a review, for our training we used a mobile computer lab (consisting of laptops) to teach the ICT classes, and we also made available to residents a variety of different mice and keyboards (see Table 3.2 for a complete list). It is essential to have not only enough equipment for all the residents to conduct these classes, but also backups in case something malfunctions or breaks.
There is a term used among technology researchers, introduced earlier in this book, that refers to inequalities in access to and successful use of ICTs, called the "digital divide." Whereas many technology teachers
most likely concern themselves with issues involving the "second-level digital divide" (which refers to inequalities in skill and differences in attitudes toward ICTs), access to technologies can still pose a significant problem to older adults, particularly in CCRCs. In many of the CCRCs where the team went to conduct a technology training, there were very few working computers set up in common areas for the residents to use at their leisure; in some cases, the CCRC would in fact have no computers set up for the residents at all (i.e., if the residents wanted to be online, they would need to use their own devices). The computers that were set up were often very old and poorly maintained and also lacked assistive devices (e.g., large trackball mice and large-key keyboards) that would improve the usability of the computer for those with physical limitations. Therefore, for many of the residents, the only time they were able to use a computer and to practice the skills they learned in class was during class or during office hours; they were unable to practice on their own until we set up computers in each of the communities (discussed below).
Getting older adults online so that they may reap the potential benefits can be successfully accomplished through the implementation of a technology class or intervention, but the class will do no good if the residents have no device that they can use when the class is complete. Although it is possible that residents can purchase their own devices (as was the case with some of our participants), not all CCRC residents can afford such a purchase, and even if they can, new technology users oftentimes do not know the types of things to look for when making a computer or other ICT purchase. Therefore, to assure that CCRC technology class participants may continue to successfully use the technology after the class has been completed, access must be granted to desktop computers, laptops, or tablets and any assistive technology that the residents may require.
In our training, we would donate one desktop computer per every five study participants who completed the class and would install these computers in common areas (such as a library or a designated computer lab) for all to use. The number of computers needed per CCRC will vary based on the size of the community and the number of interested residents; however, our "one per five computer class participants" may be a good starting point. As an example, if you have a computer class and there are 20 residents who complete the class, installing four computers in common areas will likely be enough to accommodate those students (as well as other residents who want to use computers but may not have taken the class). It is also important that these computers are equipped with any assistive devices that were used in the class (e.g., special mice or keyboards).
Equipment needs go beyond having the proper technology and assistive devices for the class and for use outside the class; training staff must also plan ahead of time to have the necessary teaching equipment. Listed below are some equipment items that were used in our training sessions that may be of use in most technology trainings; again, these were elaborated upon in the previous chapter but are listed again here for reference:
- • Projector and screen. The easiest way to teach a large group of people how to use a computer is to have an instructor's computer connected to a projector that displays the instructor's computer on a large screen. Although some CCRCs may have projectors and screens on hand, technology trainers may have to provide this equipment themselves; it is important to make this determination before the classes are set to begin, as you do not want to show up on the first day of class only to find out that you have no means of displaying the instructor's computer.
- • Power supplies. You must have enough power not only for the instructor and all class participants, but also extra in case something malfunctions or breaks, or a battery loses all of its charge. In the previous chapter, we also outlined the need for many technology devices to be plugged in (either to charge or to work at all); thus, if a room configuration prevents you from stationing all devices close to a power outlet, it will be necessary to have extension cords and power strips available. Again, if possible, make this determination before your classes begin.
- • Training manuals. Have enough not only for those who are beginning the technology classes, but also extra for (1) participants who accidentally lose or misplace their manuals, (2) those who decide to participate in the class after the first class session has already been completed (we had a few people join the class at the second or third session), and (3) those who are interested in "sitting in" or interested in learning about technology without taking the class. This was rare, but we had a couple of people who wanted to learn about computers and the Internet but could not participate in the class for one reason or another, and asked us for a manual, so they could try to teach themselves on their own. As we had extra manuals, we would always oblige.
- • Workspace furniture. As mentioned in a previous section, not all tables and chairs will be usable for CCRC residents. Some may require chairs with a high back for support or more cushioning (or no chair at all if they are in a wheelchair), and some may require a higher table in order to fit a motorized wheelchair underneath. These are not always readily available and may require you to find these things stored somewhere at the CCRC. Although it may be difficult to determine what furniture is needed before the class begins (and you have a general sense of who is there and what they need), you should have at least a general awareness prior to starting regarding what furniture you may need to retrieve at some point. At the very least, technology trainers should know where to get these materials when needed.
The above list is not exhaustive; based on the focus of your training sessions and the subjects covered, you may be required to have additional materials. Prior to the start of training, it is crucial to outline the types of equipment and materials needed for successful implementation, and how much will be needed to accommodate the class (with extras, of course).