Senior tech classes help connect family members

March 2, 2019

A special “Senior Tech Ed” class at the Knightdale Recreation Center begins with what’s familiar: paper handouts. Then instructor Tom Ogburn guides students, mostly in their 70s, through the unfamiliar, an introduction to just a few of the 3.8 million apps written for the Android smartphone.

Ogburn arranged for an assistant to wire up his phone to a screen in front of the class, displaying a homepage where Google Maps was displayed. He showed students how to use two fingers to zoom in or out of images on the screen.

A technological barrier divides many senior citizens from their adult children and grandchildren. Senior tech education classes are offered across Wake County to help bring them together again.

Ogburn enjoys the interactive, easy-going nature of his classes, he said. He understands that the technology itself can be intimidating for many seniors, so he thinks jokes help everybody relax and focus.

“We’ve only started this in the last year or so, and it seems to be working well,” he said.

Students like 75-year-old John Gunther, a retired IBM engineer, has owned an Android phone for a while. He said he’s fascinated by what’s inside a phone that fits inside his back pocket.

“The Android phone has more computing power in it than the space ship we sent to the moon did,” he said. “There’s a lot that it can do, and I’m just not aware of how to use most of it.”

Gunther said he wants to learn how to access phone features that his grandchildren use like games or social media apps where he can communicate with them or share pictures.

“They tend to use texting more than I do,” he said. “I’m not a real fan of texting.”

A friend recommended the “Senior Tech Ed” class to Classis Waters, who has now been attending for more than a year.

“I have an Android phone, and I find that there’s so many features on it that I don’t know how to use,” she said.

Waters, originally from the D.C. area, said smartphones makes communicating with distant family a more efficient use of time.

“Without being on the phone all the time when you have multiple contacts to make, so that works really well, I find,” she said. “If you know how and have it work in your favor, it really can, I think, bring people together.”

Ogburn said his job is to help students overcome the confusion and get them hooked on the benefits.

“The vendors are trying to make it easier for the non-technical people, but they still need us old guys who have been around for a long time that can translate some of the lingo for them,” Ogburn said.