Three months ago, in our research for understanding elders needs and getting some first hand experiences with them, we started an amazing project that took us on a wonderful journey of discovery and learning that we would like to report about in this post. The limited space of the blog makes it impossible to tell everything we have learnt, but we will do our best to summarize and share the experience with all of you.
The original goal was simple: to engage on a weekly basis activity with elders to learn how do they engage with technology. As simple as it sounds, it is not that simple to achieve. How do we do this by offering something of value for them, so that they are motivated to participate? How do we engage them into an activity that is both enriching for them and for us all at the same time? That was the challenge: to avoid dealing with them as our “research subjects” but rather as someone with whom to share a common path, although coming from different history and going to different places.
Led by Professor Vincenzo d’Andrea and with the wonderful help of Giulia Giacomin from the Sociology’s Faculty of the University of Trento, we headed off to “Centro Servizi Anziani Kaleidoscopio”, a Daily Activities Center oriented to active elders and located in Trento, Italy. There, we met Jury Cocuzzi, manager of center and a great motivator that help us put our ideas on the ground. With his active help, and after a couple of month reasoning, we came up with the idea of doing a participatory designed laboratory of technologies for elders. Who was going to design the Laboratory? The elders themselves.
After fixing the details, promoting the activity and inviting the people, we started on March 12th, 2012 with about 26 participants. We started with a Brainstorming session together with the elders that liked the idea of becoming something like the “journalists” of the center, the people in charge of communicating their activities to the outside world. We started by sharing with them the overall goal that by the end, we should have something like a “report” of activities and they were hooked. In a open-ended brainstorming session, we asked them to answer 4 main questions:
- Who will be the main reader of your magazine?
- What should the magazine include?
- What do I know to do with technology?
- What do I want to learn regarding technology?
Divided in small groups, they reasoned about the questions and they answered them using post-it notes on a wall. An analysis of their answers is a subject for a whole other article, but we can fairly say one thing: they were eager to learn and contribute.
Among their main interest, they mentioned learning to write documents using the computer, communicate through the internet, working with the camera to take pictures and even writing a blog, which is what we did in the end.
From that initial feedback, we have learnt that even if they might not know technology all that well, they are not afraid of it and they are enthusiastic to participate in this type of activities. In the following two months, we shared with them one day per week, teaching them how to use the computer based on what they mentioned on the first session and on how were they advancing each week. The experience taught us that we need to go slow, repeating many times the same lesson and not confusing them with too many alternatives. And that by following those simple guidelines, they would learn very well, although remembering was always complicated.
Some of them felt that we were advancing too fast, and stopped participating, but the many of them stick with us till the end, having a participation of about 12 people in the last lesson, on May 29th.
About the program, we started the first four weeks with learning how to write documents and manage files. Later on, we focused on the internet and, particularly, in writing articles on a blog which would become their “magazine”. Just when the course started to loose some track, the idea of a blog gained their attention and motivation all over again. The sole fact that what they write was available for the whole world was very exciting and they enthusiastically worked to write many test articles, and commenting them.
There were many styles of work. Some were always working in pairs, while the most of them preferred to work alone, although this was highly influenced by the setting of the lab, which was the common university computers lab format.
Technology showed to be quite complex many times. Remembering the URL of the blog, remembering accounts/passwords and using the UI of wordpress made it difficult for them to work fast with on the blog, specially when they wanted to add pictures. The picture upload and description screens were particularly complicated because asked too many things that were not relevant to them (like the width and length).
We ended up with a last session of brainstorming asking the same questions as in the beginning, only this time was particularly focused on the blog: to whom is oriented?, what should be included?, what do I know how to do?, what more would I want to learn?
The answers this time were very similar, with the difference that third question included both writing and blogging, while they are still interested in learn how to pictures and videos, which we cannot cover during the Lab. Many mentioned also that they would want to learn to use social networks, like twitter and facebook, and that they would love to keep with the laboratory and writing blog articles.
For us, the experience is just a starting point. We have learnt from them a lot that we need to analyze and share now. The good thing is that the experience does not end here. We are planning a workshop for them on June 18th, where elders will be invited to become Software Engineers for a day and help us design the future of our apps.
And for sure, the future will hold more and more collaboration. This is just the start. A very fun start 🙂
Ps.: the resulting blog of our lab is available here. Enjoy!