Archive for the ‘seniors’ Category

Too much marketing and not enough meat

May 8, 2008

A message to the SeniorServ list from Allan Kleiman alerted me to BigScreenLive. Since I’m always interested in what’s available for older adults, especially the ones with limited computer experience, I had to instantly check it out. Now, the upfront disclaimer here is that I haven’t actually tried it out yet, but I do see a few problems right off the bat.

The first problem, which instantly affects their credibility with me, is when they state, right on the front page:

Our goal is to make computing effortless and enjoyable. While our software runs on any PC, we also recommend hardware to make it easier.

but on the Software and Hardware page, they state,

To get started, you will need:

  • Access to a computer with Microsoft Windows XP or Vista. [emphasis mine]
  • A monitor resolution of at least 1280 x 800. The experience is optimized for a resolution of 1280 x 1024, which is most 17 inch or larger monitors.
  • A high-speed internet connection.

People are aware today (yes, even the Seniors) that PC does not necessarily mean a Windows machine. Let’s have a little truth in advertising here, please.

But even larger problems loom. Who, exactly, is the site for? Children of older adults? Retirement communities? Older adults themselves? Older adults themselves range from very computer savvy to totally clueless (and generally content to stay that way). The computer savvy ones, of course, wouldn’t even look at the site; neither would the totally clueless. That still leaves a wide range of computer users, some who are already doing the things BigScreenLive wants to introduce them to, some that are struggling to learn even the basics just to be able to do the things on BigScreenLive, and some who are frustrated by the very things BigScreenLive offers to help with.

I suspect the target audience is children of older adults: the ones who call me about signing up their parent(s) for computer classes. For this group, the site looks the most inviting and promising, because this is a group that is already fairly comfortable on computers, and that wants their parents online also, but without the frustrating computer problems older novices face. The marketing makes it look like the perfect solution. Will its marketing be successful? Probably so, with enough money. I keep thinking of how many people continue to use AOL.

Whether it is a good product is another question, however. From looking through the site, and watching its tutorial, it is evident that older novices would need training just to use the program (for example, they have to know how to enlarge the text themselves). The e-mail program, while fairly basic, will definitely be confusing to novices. It boasts “Easily upload digital photos to the Family Album” (emphasis theirs). Easy, maybe, for the adult children, but not for the older novice, without some training (which is the whole problem to begin with). I think the product would be really useful for about 2% of Seniors wanting to use the computer. But I think far more will be “given” a subscription, with little hope of actually using it.

Advertisements

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #7

October 20, 2007

The older we get, the more we know. But sometimes that gets in the way of learning (see Tip #5). The process of learning, of itself, becomes more difficult due to factors in aging. Learning new concepts for familiar terms inserts a certain level of confusion into the process, enhanced by the declining ability to exclude the prior associations with those terms in order to learn the new associations. Frequently combined with this is a decline in hearing, caused by both physical and cognitive factors. The physical factor is the declining ability to hear sounds. The cognitive factor is the declining ability to distinguish sounds, caused by cognitive slowing and by neural noise (random signals that are unrelated to actual stimulus). This means what is actually getting through (what can be heard) is getting lost in distractions of prior associations and unrelated associations as the person attempts to “decode” it and make sense of it, causing increased difficulty in understanding what is being said. When this happens in the context of learning new terms and concepts, the ability to hear and understand becomes even more strained.

Rapid speech is obviously not going to work well with this group in a setting where they are learning something new. But slowing down the speed will not completely solve the problem. It is just as important to be very precise and explicit, and to enunciate clearly. Keep in mind many consonant sounds are similar. To older adults with hearing problems, words like com and con sound the same, and they may not have learned enough about the Internet to put “com” into context.

Because of the declines in hearing, context becomes even more important to older adults’ ability to decipher and understand speech. Precise and explicit speech will help keep them on track and in the correct context. For example, spelling out what is to be typed is a good idea, and to be more precise you could use phonetic alphabet words (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.) to indicate the specific letters. But unless you explicitly say, for example, “type the letters C as in Charlie, O as in Oscar, M as in Mike…” some will just start typing the words you say.

Tip #7: To lessen the effects of hearing loss and related issues of aging, speak slowly, using language that is precise and explicit.

How to do that visual stuff in handouts (OpenOffice.org)

August 28, 2007

Here is an example of a handout created in OpenOffice.org Writer, using screenshots:

healthreshandout.jpg

The post on how to do this in MSWord is here. This particular post applies to OpenOffice.org 2.0 on Windows. Although most of the handouts on the ncrlab eSnips page were done in MSWord (a few are in WordPerfect), I actually use OpenOffice.org for handouts now instead of MSWord. It’s just more portable. It’s also easier in some ways (although there are a few minor gripes I have).

Since this is Windows, get screenshots using the Print Screen key and the Paint program, as described here. Once you have the images saved, open the OpenOffice.org Writer (select “Text Document” from the options). Click on the View menu, then go to the Toolbars submenu and click on the Drawing option to make the drawing toolbar available:

ooviewdrawtoolbar.jpg

The toolbar will be visible at the bottom of the page. To insert an image into the page, click on the button on the draw toolbar to insert an image from file.

ooinsertfromfile.jpg

Navigate through the dialog box to the picture you want to insert (in this case, the large one from the Print Screen exercise), and open it. Notice the Grahics toolbar that automatically appears docked at the top of the page. Right click on the image and click on “Picture” to get to the picture properties dialog window:

oortclickimage.jpg

It is not necessary to change the image wrap; the default works just fine. However, if you have problems shifting the image on the page, change the image wrap to “Optimal.” The best way to resize the image is to check the box to keep the image ratio then adjust the height or width by typing in the target size or using the arrows beside the boxes to adjust the size. With the “Keep ratio” box checked, the size will stay proportional as you increase one side (either height or width). This is also an easy way to make sure similar images are the same height or width.

ooimagekeepratio.jpg

Click the OK button to get back to the image. Now reposition the image by clicking inside the image and dragging it to where you want it on the page:

oomovepicture.jpg

You could also resize the image by clicking on one of the corners and dragging diagonally, but the aspect ratio will not be automatically preserved as it is when changing the size in the picture properties dialog window, so it may end up stretched in one direction or the other.

ooimageresize.jpg

Insert the smaller image using the same steps, arranging the two images on the page beside each other. Now add a box to the larger image. Click on the box shape button on the toolbar and select the rounded rectangle from the popup display.

oodrawboxmenu.jpg

Click and drag across the part of the larger image that was copied to create the smaller image. An opaque box will overlay the image:

ooopaquebox.jpg

Next, remove the fill by clicking on the “color” drop down menu in the graphics menu at the top of the page, and selecting “invisible.”

oochboxcolor.jpg

Now change the line width, and color (if desired), by clicking on the related drop down options on the graphics toolbar:

oochlinewidth.jpg

oochlinecolor.jpg

Do the same for the smaller image, creating a box around the whole image, and changing the line width and color to match the box on the larger image.

Now draw lines connecting the two boxes: Click on the line tool on the Drawing toolbar at the bottom.

oodrawline1.jpg

Now click on a corner of one of the boxes and drag the cursor to the corner of the other box, creating a line between them. Then change the line width and color, just as you did with the boxes.

oodrawline2.jpg

Create another line between the two opposite corners, adjusting the color and width as with the first line. The final effect should look something like this:

oodone.jpg

The boxes and lines can be moved by dragging when the cursor turns into a four-way arrow over them.  If the box is snapping to a grid rather than staying precisely where you move it, hold down the Alt key while dragging.  This will override any grid restrictions.

How to do that visual stuff in handouts (Windows MSWord)

August 26, 2007

I have told a lot of people, and posted advice here, to use handouts with visual cues, like this one:

gsclass4handoutgm.jpg

Someone asked how to create this type of handout with screenshot images, so here’s a rundown on how I do it in Windows. I have used OpenOffice.org, Word and WordPerfect, but this post will only cover MSWord; I’ll do OpenOffice.org and WordPerfect posts next.The first step is to get screenshots. If you don’t know how to do that, see the instruction page for Windows.Once you have the images saved, you are ready to put the images into the handout document. Open MSWord. I usually do this in Word 2000 or Word 2002, but these steps should work in Word 97. Make sure the Drawing Toolbar is visible; if it isn’t, go to the View menu, select the Toolbar option, and click on Drawing if there isn’t a check by it already. It should appear at the bottom of the window.

selectdrawingtoolbar.jpg

Type whatever text or instructions you are going to use, and move the insertion point a couple lines below the text (by pressing the “Enter” key). Click on the “Insert Image” button on the Drawing Toolbar:

paintinsertpicture.jpg

Navigate through the dialog box to the image you want (in this case, the larger image saved in the Print Screen exercise), and select it to open. If the Picture Toolbar is visible (notice it “floating” above the image in the example?), click on the text-align button. (If it is not visible, right click on the image and move the cursor to the align option.) Choose the “Tight” option in the menu that drops open.

formatpicturetextwraptight1.jpg

Resize and reposition the image where you want it (notice the enclosing box disappears and the black square “handle” boxes have been replaced with circles) by clicking and dragging on one of the corner dots (to resize) and clicking inside the image and dragging (to reposition).

formatpictureresize.jpg

Click on the “Insert Image” button again, and navigate to the smaller image to insert it. Change the image alignment as with the larger image, and position it where you want it. Click on a corner and drag to enlarge the image when the cursor turns into a double arrow.Click on the Auto Shapes button at the bottom and choose the rounded rectangle from the Basic Shapes options.

paintbasicshapesmenu.jpg

Now move the cursor to the part of the image you copied earlier and drag across what you had copied. An opaque box will overlay the image.

drawopaquebox1.jpg

Move the cusor back to the Drawing toolbar and click on the “Fill” button. Select “No Fill” from the pupup menu.

drawboxnofill1.jpg

Click on the “Line” button and select a wider width.

drawboxlinewidth.jpg

Click on the “Color” button and select a different color, if desired.

drawboxlinecolor.jpg

Repeat these steps to put a rounded rectangle around the smaller image. You can resize the rectangle at any time by clicking and dragging its corner. If the boxes or lines seem to be snapping to a preset grid (they won’t change position to exactly where you want them), hold down the Alt key (next to the spacebar) while you click and drag.Now click on the Line button and move the cursor back onto the document.

drawlinetoolb.jpg

Click on one of the corners of one of the drawn rectangles and drag across to a corner of the other drawn rectangle so there is a line from one box to the other.

drawlinebox2box.jpg

If the line is not the right thickness or color, change it now using the line width tool and color tool you used for the boxes. You can also change the length of the line by clicking and dragging one of the ends.

drawlinechcolorwidth.jpg

Draw another line from an opposite corner of one box to another corner of the other box.There is only one thing left to do: “glue” them all together. Click on one of the lines or boxes. Hold down the shift key and click on each of the drawn units until they are all selected. Keep holding down the shift key and click on the images as well, so that everything is selected.Click on the “Draw” button on the Draw toolbar. Click on the option that says “Group.” Now the images and boxes will stay together as one group as you continue to add to or edit the page.

drawgrouptogether.jpg

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #6

August 20, 2007

The cognitive slowing that occurs with aging affects an older adult’s ability to maintain linear connections required for learning. Most teaching involves steps, but the older adult’s ability to remember those steps is affected by the aging process (see Tip #2). What may seem obvious for younger learners can no longer be taken for granted. They will not necessarily make the connection between a cause and effect without explicit instructions broken down into discrete steps. An instruction to “click on ‘New’ in the File menu” may be easy for a younger learner, but what the older adult hears is “file” and “new” and tries to figure out what is where. They need an instruction like the example above broken down into discrete steps, such as: “Move the cursor to the upper left corner and click on the word ‘File’. Move the cursor over the word ‘New’ in the list that opens. When the word is highlighted, press the left mouse button.”

Consistently using specific step by step instructions begins to take the mystery out of computers for older adults. It also reduces the load on their processing, which is already taxed.

Also, since repetition is important (see Tip #4), handouts or other materials intended to give them practice should use discrete, numbered steps. Numbering is important as a way of isolating each step. For example, instructions to copy and paste might be broken down into four distinct steps: highlighting something, copying it, moving to the destination, and pasting. Each step should then have detailed instructions. Using the example to copy and paste, printed instructions for steps one and two might look something like this (but would, of course, include relevant visual cues):

Step 1 (highlighting):

Place the cursor on the item to be copied

Hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor across the item

When the item is highlighted, release the mouse button.

Step 2 (copying)

Move the cursor to the top of the window

Click on the word “Edit”

Move the cursor over the word “Copy” in the list that opens

When the word “Copy” is highlighted, press the left mouse button

Tip #6: Use discrete, step-by-step instructions, both verbally, and in printed materials