In addition to the complexities highlighted previously in this chapter, there are a few other things technology trainers need to take into consideration when designing a class for older adults. We highlight three of them here: using activity directors to your advantage, enabling older learners to adapt to new technologies, and accounting for attrition.
The importance of engaged activity directors
In addition to having a supportive teaching team, having a supportive and engaged activity director can also help in fostering a comfortable and enjoyable learning environment at the CCRCs. Of all the individuals who work at a CCRC, the employee that residents are most likely to see the most often (besides perhaps the dining staff) is the activity director (who sometimes has the title of activities coordinator or something similar). With many CCRCs having an activity calendar filled to the brim with such things as games, music, and trips, an active older adult living in a CCRC would likely see the activity director multiple times during the day as he or she attended the variety of activities offered. Because of these interactions, many activity directors already have a strong rapport with the residents, and technology teachers would be wise to utilize this relationship to their advantage. Some of the ways in which the activity director was able to meaningfully contribute to our training sessions included the following:
- • Recruitment. Although we would have our own recruitment session at the CCRCs to try to get people to sign up for our technology classes, in many instances, we would get additional sign-ups from the hard work of activity directors who would knock on the doors of residents to tell them about the classes, post flyers throughout the CCRCs, and announce the coming of the classes at other activities. Also, because the activity director is typically someone who is well- liked and appreciated among the residents, individuals who were "on the fence" with regard to participating in the class would often opt into signing up after hearing about the classes from the activity director (someone they know and trust rather than a stranger).
- • Relationships with other CCRC staff. The most salient example of this for us involved the need for additional assistance with the setup. At many of the CCRCs where we held technology classes, the space we used for the classes did not have enough furniture to hold all of the computers; we needed additional tables and chairs. The activity director would oftentimes be the point of contact between us and the housing/maintenance staff who had access to additional tables and chairs, as the activity directors themselves would oftentimes need to get in contact with housing/maintenance for their own planned activities. Therefore, by developing a relationship with the activity director, you are also injecting yourself into a network of CCRC staff that can assist with the technology classes.
- • Setup and takedown. An extra body is an extra body, and having the activity director there to assist with the setup of a mobile lab and packing it up at the end can help save time; however, it is important to train the activity director the proper way to accomplish both of these tasks (as, in our case, we had numerous instances where an activity director would improperly pack up computer equipment and we would have to repack it so that everything would fit correctly into storage).
- • Class excitement and motivation. As stated previously, activity directors can lead the list of CCRC staff the residents see most often and thus trust the most. Therefore, having the activity director at the technology classes themselves can help foster a strong relationship between the teaching staff and the students. Having a trustworthy individual in the class environment to help the residents, answer questions, and (if need be) "vouch" for the teaching staff can put participants at ease. It can also increase excitement among students (because they will have someone they know and like there with them) and thus increase motivation to stay and learn.
Unfortunately, not every CCRC will have a particularly popular or particularly engaged activity director who is willing to assist with the classes or is able to provide additional support. In our experience, however, having an unpopular or disliked activity director is unusual, as these individuals tended to be the ones residents cited the most often as the most helpful and fun. More often than not, the activity director can prove to be a vital asset who can bridge the relationship between the teaching staff and CCRC staff or the teaching staff and the residents themselves.