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Reflections on Teaching Aging and Tech in COVID-19 Times

Special note: The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education recognizes the impacts on and needs of older adults during this unprecedented time. We would like to thank the frontline workers who are tirelessly and selflessly devoting themselves to residents and families in our long-term care facilities and in our communities.

As the global health crisis developed, my students and I were focused on the course material in the Aging and Gerontology program’s Aging and Technology (CINT 945). Rumblings of a crisis began midway through the term and face-to-face classes were cancelled across Ontario universities.

As an online class, there was no disruption to our schedule, but the world around us had shifted and it changed our class discussions in significant ways. Students wrote about how the course content took on a new and pressing importance for them, their families, and communities.

Our pre-COVID focus on topics pivoted to engage with research on and media coverage of the pandemic. Topics like older adults’ mobility and assistive technologies, seniors and the digital divide, and older workers/retirement, expanded to engage with the emerging situation and novel applications for existing technologies.

For example, students drew on media coverage of the emerging situation in Long-term Care to understand more fully the potential of iPads, Facetime, and other devices and apps to connect residents with family and friends. In addition, the benefits of Telehealth to reach older adults in remote communities evolved into discussions of how Telemedicine can ensure continuity of care for older adults unable to visit their doctor in person due to the pandemic.

Intriguing ideas about the societal benefits of free Internet services for people 65-plus, the value of intergenerational connections, and the need to include older users in design, were some of the ideas shared on the discussion board. Through group Zoom meetings, project ideas were explored. Socially assistive robots to support persons with dementia, digital visualization technologies (AI, for example) to engage older adults and their care-partners, were some of the topics that students chose to focus on.

As with use of all technologies, our discussions addressed that privacy and ethical concerns such as the collection of personal data, must always be considered. The experience of presenting their final academic poster projects as interactive digital Jamboards was an exercise that challenged them, helping individuals understand firsthand the experiences of many older adults when working with information and communication technology ICTs for the first time.

The context that we found ourselves in this term in particular pushed me to an even greater appreciation for the potential of an aging population to drive innovation, research and scholarship, and jobs. In this time of pandemic and changing social relations and health concerns, this mode of learning is not only responsive to the needs of a changing context but very much in demand. Through the wonders of technology and from a distance, we have the potential to connect in a rewarding experience of learning.

As the pandemic continues and post-secondary institutions, governments, and thought-leaders struggle to understand and respond, the shift to greater use of e-learning will only grow in importance. Leading the way in online education, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education is well-situated to foster learning in aging studies now and in the foreseeable (and unforeseeable) future. In fact, the Certificate in Aging and Gerontology was recently recognized by the Canadian Association of University Continuing Education (CAUCE) for excellence in achieving educational objectives with the 2020 Program Award for Credit Programming Over 48 Hours.

For those interested in learning more about the Aging and Gerontology Certificate at The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, register for the upcoming webinar on August 19 at 11 a.m. EST.

We would like to hear from you! What have your experiences with technology been during the pandemic? Have your physical-distancing efforts relied on technology? Has ICT helped you to connect with your parents, grandparents, friends, work, or studies? Do you have some tech design or policy ideas that might help your own aging processes?

Leave us a comment below or engage with us on social media.

Hope to “see” you in class soon!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Kelson, PhD, is an instructor of the Aging and Technology course (CINT 945) as part of the Aging and Gerontology program. She is a gerontologist interested in health and aging, social policy, dementia, critical gerontology, qualitative methodologies, and knowledge mobilization. Elizabeth has spent many years working with and learning from older adults across a range of sites, including in community, residential, and hospital care settings.

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