Northwest NEWS

October 14, 2002

Features

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Taming of the PC and Mac

By Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Writer
   The class ended 10 minutes ago but the students show no inclination toward leaving. It's the first day of the MS Word class, a continuing word processing course for seniors at the Northshore Senior Center (NSC) in Bothell.
   The students continue to look intently at their computer screens, never glancing at the clock even once.
   Ann Harvick doesn't notice the time as she practices what she has just learned. She decided to sign up for the 5-day class after experiencing too many mishaps with an uncooperative computer at home.
   "It would freeze up or something would disappear," she explains. Though she's only been in class for a couple hours, she appears to feel a little more in control and ready to face her unruly computer back at home.
   "We have learned," she says of the class and their first day, adding, "It's fun." Gracy Karp sits at the computer next to her and mentions that their teacher, Dee Courtney, has been a wonderful help. Harvick whole-heartedly agrees. Karp says she enjoys learning computer secrets. "Discovering the little tricks we wouldn't have known about," she clarifies.
   Both students say that seniors have more difficulty than younger people remembering class lessons and re-orienting thinking to computer format. Says Karp, "Our mind-set is not set for most computers. The mind has to go on a larger scale."
   Instructor Courtney understands this about her students and says, "It's very difficult to remember after two hours what was said the first hour." As an aid, Courtney's students keep a notebook of what they've learned.
   In addition, Harvick admits that she may have a fear of computers, "I think I'm afraid of them," she says. "When I touch the keys, so-oo many things can happen."
   Memory loss or techno-phobia, whatever problem a senior may encounter, it doesn't matter. Classes in the computer-learning center, a room with 12 PC's and 6 Mac's, address senior needs. Shirley Mehlenbacher, coordinator, explains, "We have the classes geared to senior citizens. Instructors and assistant volunteers are very patient and sensitive to senior problems."
   The computers' software has the capacity to enlarge font size if needed and an overhead projector displays the lesson in large print on a giant movie screen.
   In addition, students also receive plenty of handouts to take home and study. The 35 instructors and assistants who volunteer their time to teach the classes take their students through a slow process and repeat steps as many times as necessary.
   Some of the men who sign up for the classes have a tough time mastering the keyboard, as they didn't take typing in high school like many women of their generation did. Also, most of the men had jobs before retiring that didn't require typing skills. Even so, the men persevere knowing that once they learn the computer, they will be able to keep in touch with the times.
   According to Mehlenbacher, seniors enjoy using the computer most for personal correspondence. "They like to send e-mail and receive e-mail," she says and mentions that seniors take delight in scanning pictures of their grandkids and other family members.
   Other specific computer functions that seniors like include: maneuvering the Internet, tracking genealogy and monitoring investments. A 4-day Genealogy on the Computer class shows seniors how to locate famous and infamous family members. Those wishing to track their money instead of notorious relatives can enroll in MS Money in January 2003, a new class that will be added to the winter program schedule.
   In all, the learning center offers over 30 computer courses, appealing to a wide range of interests and skills—from Computing for Beginners and Keyboarding to America Online, Note cards Custom Made, and Web site Creation. Brain Booster Games sharpens the mind and Introduction to the Internet transports seniors into the outer limits of cyber space.
   Most seniors who sign up for classes already own computers.
   Mehlenbacher says that some become computer owners inadvertently. "On occasion a senior will call [NSC] and say something like, 'my son gave me this computer and I don't even know how to turn it on.'"
   Computer classes became available for Northshore-area seniors in 1992. At that time, classes opened at the Kenmore Medical Center with 6 computers that didn't have hard drives.
   Mehlenbacher recalls, "We had 125 people standing at the door waiting to get inside to sign up for classes." Since then the classes moved to the learning center at NSC and now boast 'modern' computers. "We expect to upgrade to Windows XP soon," notes Mehlenbacher.
   Each class has room for 11 to 12 students, 55 or older, and charges a nominal fee. Most classes last 2 or 3 days. Some may take longer, such as the 5-day word processing course that meets once a week. Also, you're never too old to learn. Says Mehlenbacher, "We still have people in their 90's who sign up."
   For computer support, two-computer user groups invite seniors to join them and share experience and information. A PC Computer User Group meets the first and third Friday of each month 9 am to 11 am.
   The Macintosh User Group gets together the second Friday each month.
   Time still remains for many fall class sign-ups. For further information, contact NSC at (425) 487-2441 or stop in and pick up the fall quarter newsletter.