Teens Learn to Teach Seniors About the Internet

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2014-04-21

Teens Learn to Teach Seniors About the Internet

Google Fiber arrived in Kansas City in the fall of 2012, and now Google is helping to get more people—particularly senior citizens—up to speed on using the Internet so they also can take advantage of the super high-speed fiber service.

To do that, Arts Tech, a Kansas City, Mo.-based youth organization that works with underserved urban teens to help them develop marketable artistic and technical skills, is using grant funds from Google Fiber and other organizations to train a group of local teens so that they can then teach senior citizens about using computers and the Internet.

The program, which is providing training for the teens right now, was unveiled by Dave Sullivan, the executive director of Arts Tech, in an April 14 post on the Google Fiber Blog.

The Arts Tech project to match teens and seniors for technology lessons is being funded by the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund, a pool of money that was made available to nonprofit organizations that want to close the digital divide, wrote Sullivan. The funding comes from Google, The Sprint Foundation and other groups.

When Sullivan heard about the funding possibilities, he envisioned a local project that could match the 44 percent of seniors in the area who don't use the Internet with the 93 percent of local teens who use the Internet regularly, he wrote. "My colleagues were excited by the idea; after all, it fits right in with our mission to help urban teens develop technical skills. But I was really blown away by the excitement and enthusiasm our teens showed. Dozens of them said they'd want to participate in a program like this."

Arts Tech then applied for and received a Digital Inclusion Fund grant, and local students are now training to be able to work with seniors later this summer.

"This isn't a walk in the park for these teens; we've pulled together a pretty rigorous 60-hour training program," Sullivan wrote. Instead of sleeping in on Saturday mornings, students join us to learn about computer hardware, in-home networking, the Internet and computer software. They're also learning how to work with seniors, and how to develop their very own digital literacy curriculum (like planning classes on how to create email addresses, and how to use social networks to connect with friends) that they'll be able to teach by the end of the program."

Alex Villasenor, director of computer redistribution at Arts Tech, who is teaching the course to the teens, told eWEEK that there are 20 students in the class at present. The teens are about halfway through their training so far, he said, and will also gain lessons about their communities and neighborhoods and the needs there are for volunteering.

Once the training is finished, by sometime in July, Arts Tech plans to have a big event where the seniors and teens can be brought together for mutual learning, said Villasenor.

Teens Learn to Teach Seniors About the Internet

The project aims to first build trust between the seniors and the teens by collecting and recording video stories of the seniors and placing them online on a special Website, where the seniors will be able to access them later, he said. Through that site, project planners hope that the seniors will then have incentives to want to learn about going online so they can share their stories and learn about going online at the same time.

The teens will receive a $250 stipend for taking the course and another $250 after they participate in the senior Internet training project, said Villasenor. But while the teens will earn some cash for participating, the money is not the prime reason for their involvement, he said.

"I was surprised by their motivations," he said. "I went in assuming that the biggest motive would be the parents forcing the kids to do something productive or for the money, but the majority of the teens say they want to get the skills [from the project]for future work opportunities," said Villasenor. "A good portion of the kids want to do it for the community. I have high expectations for the class."

In February 2014, Google unveiled plans to potentially bring its services to another 34 communities across nine metro areas of the nation, according to an eWEEK report. The 34 additional communities—which are clustered around the Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; San Antonio; Salt Lake City; and San Jose, Calif., metro areas—will be invited to work with Google Fiber to see if they are interested in having the Gigabit-speed cable TV and Internet services brought to their communities for new subscribers.

The communities and their potential participation will be reviewed over the next year. Not all of the 34 communities that will now be in discussions with Google for Fiber service will ultimately get it in this round.

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