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Learning the language of cyberspace


Internet helps seniors link up with a changing world



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Maria Nunez, right, shows Mary LaRochelle how to use the Internet at the Jacob Edwards Library. The library started offering the Free Intro to the Internet Program for seniors last week. Adam T. Silva. (click for larger version)
December 20, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — It's a sign of the times.

Residents as old as 94 have visited libraries in Worcester County to take part in the "Intro to the Internet" program, aimed at teaching the elderly basic computer and Internet skills. The Jacob Edwards Library began offering the program on Monday, Dec. 13. Senior Service America and Catholic Charities sponsor the class.

The language used to describe those in the program is very specific. Those who teach are coaches, not teachers and those who learn are learners, not students. Classes aren't offered; individual sessions are conducted. They're referred to as sessions because learners are going at their own speed and they don't have to keep up with anyone else.

Most of the sessions revolve around seniorserviceamerica.org. Font sizes can be increased and distractions, such as buttons and taskbars not being used, can be removed from the screen. Learners can view the site in 36 different languages.

"Learners love going online, especially to sites like generationsonline.org," said Sullivan. "On the site, children post questions that our older learners love to answer. The questions revolve largely on their pasts and what it was like to grow up years ago. They've asked questions such as, 'What jobs didn't exist when you were growing up' or, 'What games did you play growing up?' They love being able to interact."

The goal of the project is to create independent users of the Internet. Learners are encouraged to come repeatedly to the library in order to retain the skills they've recently acquired. At the end of every session, learners fill out paperwork detailing what they have worked on and how comfortable they currently are with using the internet. Learners "graduate" when they are able to operate a mouse, send and receive email and conduct detailed searches on search engines.

For more on this story, please see tomorrow's Southbridge Evening News.

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