Cyber Seniors: Teens help senior citizens with digital literacy

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Image credit: Sam Wood 

It’s so easy to talk about all the things youth do wrong with technology, but how often do we give them a chance and encouragement to do something deliberately positive with their digital skills? This is one of the key things we focus on at EPIK Deliberate Digital. Through facilitating community collaborations, we seek to invite more positive discussion and action re: kids and technology. We want to bring more attention to what it means for kids to be deliberate digital citizens — to use digital skills to make a difference in their families, schools, and communities.

For example, EPIK partnered this summer with UServeUtah (hat tip to Anna Decker) to hire an intern who organized two pilots of the Cyber Seniors program (one in Salt Lake City and one in Provo). We met Bethany Breck, our amazing intern, at a Civic Engagement fair sponsored by the BYU Civic Engagement Center. (Read more about the multiple community partners Bethany brought together to implement these pilots at the bottom of this post.)

Cyber Seniors is a program where youth teach senior citizens digital skills (anywhere from basic computer skills to video chat, Facebook, email, and more). The program is expanding here in Utah in significant ways. Two more pilots are in the works; SLCo Aging Services hopes to expand to 17 senior centers in Salt Lake City. Other organizations in Salt Lake and Utah County are also pursuing Cyber Seniors programs (or programs similar to Cyber Seniors).

Cyber Seniors is a win-win program. Seniors get help with digital literacy and youth get to experience the opportunity to be in the role of teacher. As they serve, help, and get to know seniors, they practice patience and develop empathy, and sometimes learn new digital skills themselves as they research and teach.

EPIK also loves the concept because we believe that the more youth are mentored toward positive, deliberate experiences with technology —  the more experiences they have using tech for good — the more likely it is that they will choose to be deliberate digital citizens (and encourage each other to do the same).

Witnessing the bridging of both digital and generational divides during this pilot program was heartwarming. Take a look at the video created by a 15-year-old named Sam who helped with the Cyber Seniors pilot in Provo. You can catch a glimpse of what went on during the multi-week project. Note that the video is yet another example of how youth can use technology in wonderful ways when given the opportunity.

We are excited to watch Cyber Seniors and similar programs continue to be implemented in Utah, and we encourage community leaders in other states to learn more about Cyber Seniors. Feel free to contact michelle@epik.org or anna.decker@utah.gov for more information about Utah’s pilots. You can also call Cyber Seniors at 844-217-3057 or visit their website.

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More about the Cyber Seniors pilots in Utah:

You can read more about the Cyber Seniors pilots in Utah in this KSL article: Seniors get tutored in technology by teens (hat tip to Carrie Rogers-Whitehead, one of the community partners who also helped Bethany and UServeUtah and EPIK with planning and networking)

This pilot is an excellent example of what can happen when community partners are invited to come together around a common goal. It took a lot of people to make Cyber Seniors happen, and it took a dedicated resource to help coordinate their efforts. Following are community partners who are and have been involved in this effort:

  • Senior  Centers in both Salt Lake City and Provo
  • Housing Authority agencies
  • My Tech High (students from their program helped teach seniors in Salt Lake City)
  • Sorenson Multicultural Center & Unity Fitness Center via its youth programs
  • Google Fiber SLC & Provo (helping with computer labs and providing laptops — hat tip to Jacob Brace, Community Impact Manager for Google Fiber SLC and Maliana Tupou, Community Impact Manager for Provo)
  • United Way of Utah County
  • Celina Milner, former Special Projects Manager for the SLCo Mayor’s office, and director at Project Lead the Way, who helped with initial planning and networking efforts
  • Dr. Cory Dennis, professor at BYU, who helped guide research methodology and tool creation
  • Volunteer coordinators from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University

As a side note, Utah County 4-H STEM (hat tip to Shannon Babb) is doing a similar program that they created, and we’ve learned that the Salt Lake County Library in Magna (hat tip to Trish Hull) has done something along these lines as well. We hope to feature their work here in the future at EPIK.org or at DigCitUtah.com.

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