Assistant instructor Melissa George helps students in the Senior Computer Basics class at CNCC. The class, new this year, will be offered again this summer.

Courtesy photo

Assistant instructor Melissa George helps students in the Senior Computer Basics class at CNCC. The class, new this year, will be offered again this summer.

Aging Well: CNCC class helps older users tackle technology

Computer classes

The Senior Computer Basics class at CNCC will be offered from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, May 14 to June 11 and June 18 to July 16 at the Craig campus. Computer classes will start up again in Maybell this fall. Registration is free for Moffat County residents 62 and older. For more information, call Mary Morris-Shearer at 824-1135.

Beginning computer classes for older adults are being developed at Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs. Introductory courses for specific computer applications are offered this summer. For more information, call Kim Wilkerson at 870-4422.

In a bright and airy computer lab in Craig, students furl their brows as they explore what for many is a completely new world.

On this particular day, the students, most of whom are 60 or older, tackle concepts of file folders and recycle bins. With a little determination, they eventually will be e-mailing news and photos to family, researching topics on the Web and maybe even writing their memoirs with a word processor.

The class, Senior Computer Basics at Colorado Northwestern Community College, aims to help older students understand general aspects of computer operating systems and programs so they can begin using the technology to fulfill their needs and interests.

While computers may be new and challenging to older students, it's certainly not the first piece of technology they've learned in their lifetimes, so they tend to be exceptionally enthusiastic through the process, instructor Mike Lausin said.

"Technology has been piling up, and they've managed to assimilate. : I've found people of the older generations pick up these things quickly," he said.

Students' enthusiasm is evident in a similar class in Maybell that - though not specifically for older adults - is made up primarily of students 60 or older. Most of the students in the current class returned from previous sessions, Lausin said.

"I've been impressed with the students coming back," he said. "It just shows they want to know more."

In the Craig class, Lausin surveyed returning students, who indicated they are most interested in learning how to use e-mail, work with photos on their computer and use word processing programs to write letters and creative works.

Starting from scratch, it can be hard to accomplish a lot in one five-week session. The first few classes typically are dedicated to basic building blocks. For example, students may spend 45 minutes just playing computer solitaire to get accustomed to using a mouse.

In Maybell, Lausin has been able to introduce returning students to the Internet, Web browsing, e-mail and Microsoft Word.

"I can tailor the class to what the students want to learn," he said.

Lois Stoffle, 66, of Maybell, has nearly completed three five-week sessions. Before starting the classes, she had only very basic computer experience in programs used at her job.

She hoped to purchase her own computer but first wanted to learn how to use e-mail and other more common programs.

Lausin has been extremely helpful in explaining concepts in way she can understand and giving her the tools to confidently navigate programs and the Internet, she said.

"It's really exciting to find this stuff on my own," Stoffle said.

Stoffle purchased her first computer about three weeks ago and has enjoyed visiting Web sites for more information about topics seen on TV and other places. As a volunteer board member for the local fire department, she has composed letters on the computer and has loved being able to communicate with family long-distance through e-mail.

"In a matter of a couple of minutes you tell them what's on your mind, what's new and, by golly, in a few hours or the next day there's an answer : I've found that extremely exciting," she said.

Once they pick up computer basics, some users like Stoffle may want to purchase their own computer. Although this can be an overwhelming prospect, a computer consultant such as Lausin can help buyers determine what kind of system and programs would best fit their needs.

Older computer users also shouldn't be deterred by vision, hearing or dexterity problems.

Large-print keyboards and track balls (to replace a mouse) are among adaptive tools that can make computer use easier and more comfortable for users with disabilities.

Operating systems and some Web browsers include accessibility options that make text size larger and accommodate other needs.

Users with severe sight or dexterity problems may also take advantage of voice recognition technology included in newer operating systems. The technology is about 93 to 95 percent accurate once the kinks are worked out, Lausin noted.

For more information on using or downloading-accessibility tools, visit www.seniornet.org. Click on "education" and "tutorials." The Web site offers information, tips and discussion groups on many topics of interest to older computer users.

Tamera Manzanares can be reached at tammarie74@yahoo.com.

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