IT Leadership students bridging 'Digital Divide' at Senior Center

The Digital Divide between generations is narrowing in Tallahassee, thanks to a group of students in an Information Technology Leadership class.

All 28 students in the summer class were required to complete an outreach project, and five students organized training classes at the Tallahassee/Leon County Senior Center in Keyboarding, Facebook and Microsoft Word.

They have brought so much knowledge to our participants,” said Ashley Solberger, the center’s senior services assistant coordinator. “The patience they have shown, the way they thoroughly explain things, the one-on-one time they devote – sometimes long after the class ended – has really enriched the lives of the people taking the class.”

The center has been offering computer skills classes for several years, but the regular teacher takes off in the summer. The five students – Jeff Budnick, Eli Perl, Ryan Huff, Brandy Mayo and Patrick McDaniel – taught the classes at various times throughout the week.

For Budnick, it was a personal tribute to his grandmother, Rae Baker of Tamarac.

“She died recently, and she was always saying she wanted to learn Facebook,” he said. “Even though she never did, I’m teaching someone else’s grandmother and honoring her memory.”

Every “senior student” starts out with basic keyboarding, and from there the classes pretty much went where their interests lay. On a recent day, Huff taught the group about YouTube, how to listen to files on the site and how to upload their own files to share.

“I’d never taught before, and I’ve enjoyed learning how to teach,” said Huff, a senior Information Technology major. “It has been fun helping them.”

Gena Varn, who volunteers at the center, said she took the class because her four children had been urging her to get on Facebook. 

“Our generation isn’t as likely to just punch buttons to learn, because we’re afraid we’ll mess up,” she said. “But this has been fun. I’ve learned how to change my Facebook picture, how to tag photos, all sorts of things.”

Having the students teach this summer enabled the center to reduce its waiting list for the classes, which had been six to nine months. Ebe Randeree, the IT professor who teaches the Leadership class, said expanding the School of Library & Information Studies’ outreach efforts to the senior center was a logical progression.

“We have training programs in the schools, particularly Nims Middle School, and outreach at FSU, so having one in the community was the next step,” Randeree said. “We plan to continue the program in spring and fall, and we hope next summer to have more course offerings. Eventually, we hope to be able to offer classes at the Senior outreach centers, as well.”