Breaking Digital Barriers: Digital Literacy for the Elderly

Institution: Michigan Technological University
Funders (33)
Views (2,624)

Why This Project Is Important 

The movement toward digital technology has much to offer the elderly: a wealth of news and health information and the ability to stay in touch with distant friends and family, to name a few. But as digital literacy moves from an attractive option to a necessity, many seniors on fixed incomes and with little access to current technology are experiencing frustration and helplessness. Our outreach activities aim to ease seniors into the digital world—and to build a tighter-knit community.

Project Description 

The Breaking Digital Barriers (BDB) project started in 2011 as a local outreach project. Since its inception, demand has grown—necessitating a doubling in the number of sessions being offered. Students from Michigan Technological University's computer science and humanities departments volunteer to assist participants with the basics of digital literacy, as well as more advanced topics. Sitting in on one of these sessions for even a few minutes is an eye-opening introduction to the obstacles that seniors face as they attempt to embrace digital technology. The visual, motor, and cognitive challenges of the standard keyboard-mouse-monitor computer interface are daunting for those with impaired physical function and limited digital experience. As BDB continues to expand, students are using their interaction at the library sessions to design improved means of digital adoption and use for seniors, and will ultimately use the knowledge they gain for research projects. Tablet computers, such as iPads and Android tablets, offer participants many advantages:

  • Touch-screen technology eliminates the mouse—a formidable obstacle for seniors.
  • Portability avoids problems of positioning screens or other hardware.
  • Reasonable prices provide seniors on a limited income an affordable digital option.
  • A suite of tablet computers for use by library patrons will help local seniors make steps toward digital literacy, and will allow us to explore ways to best serve the digital needs of this age group.

In the second phase of this project, the tablets will serve as the center of a six-week summer learning program for seniors. Participants will spend up to ten hours per week learning everyday uses of the tablets—like email, web searches, and financial tools—as well as learning new ways to socialize online. The program will culminate with a creative activity, in which assistants will partner with seniors to produce an interactive digital story. By practicing tablet use in more frequent sessions and producing a project, seniors will leave "Tablet Camp" with the competence, confidence, and curiosity that will support their development of digital literacy in the future.

Meet the Researchers

Charles Wallace

Charles Wallace is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Michigan Tech. His research focuses on how humans can better understand the software they build and use. He is currently working on educational programs for K-12 students, undergraduate Computer Science students, and senior citizens, and he is studying communication and teamwork patterns in software development settings.

Leo C. Ureel II

Leo C. Ureel II is a Lecturer in Computer Science at Michigan Technological University. He worked as a software developer for Fortune 500 companies Coltec and Motorola and as a software researcher at The Institute for the Learning Sciences and Northwestern University. He was co-founder of Redshift Software, a game tools developer and has designed video games for CouchWorld Games.

His research interests focus on understanding how we can use Intelligent Learning Environments to engage students in communication during the learning process. This research has taken him on a journey into Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, and Software Engineering.

Current projects include: development of WebTA, a system that provides automated feedback to students learning how to program. Leo participates in two combined research/outreach programs: Breaking Digital Barriers, which helps adults use computers, and Copper Country Coders, which helps students in grades 6-12 learn to program computers. Leo is also a Program Partner for the National Center for Women & Technology (NCWIT) AspireIT Program.

Kelly Steelman

Kelly Steelman is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Michigan Tech. She hold a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology and a M.S. in Human Factors and Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on understanding human attention in information-rich environments, ranging from airplane cockpits to radar displays to websites. Why do we pay attention to the things that we do? Why do we sometimes fail to notice important content or have difficulty finding information that we need? And, ultimately, how can we design better interfaces to help people perform their work more safely and efficiently?

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of $10,000 fund goal
The average donation for this project is $111
days left
Funding is Closed

What Your Donation Can Help Us Do: 

  • Provide tablet computers for weekly senior digital literacy sessions
  • Establish weekly help sessions for seniors
  • Start a summer "Tablet Camp"

$1+ 33 Funders

Receipt acknowledging tax-deductible status of your donation.

$100+ 16 Funders

The above, plus a T-shirt and name included on plaque at Portage Lake District Library (in Houghton, Mich.).

$250+ 5 Funders

All of the above, plus original pottery from Breaking Digital Barriers (BDB) team member.

$500+ 2 Funders

All of the above, plus a signed photograph of BDB team and seniors at library.

$1,000+ 0 Funders

All of the above, plus original painting from BDB team member.

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Gifts to projects listed on SUPERIORIDEAS.ORG are received and processed by Michigan Tech Fund. Michigan Tech Fund is a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code acting on behalf of Michigan Technological University. It is the policy of Michigan Tech Fund that a portion of the gifts and/or income therefrom may be used to defray the costs of raising and administering the funds.