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Seniors learn about technology together
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Carolyn Dankel looks at her iPad during class at Lanier Village Estates. - photo by NAT GURLEY

While grandchildren may not always take advice from their grandparents, seniors are taking a cue from the younger generations at least when it comes to technology.

Three years ago, Don Kinkaid, 81, a resident at Lanier Village Estates, a retirement community in Gainesville, bought an iPad “at the urging of a grandson.”

After teaching himself how to use the device, Kinkaid gave an iPad demonstration at the community’s activities fair. By the end of the fair, he had 30 people lined up, ready to learn more.

As a former professor of physics at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, Kinkaid was happy to use his skills as a teacher to learn about the technology with his neighbors.

Lecturing to so many people with limited and varied technology experiences proved challenging, however. So Kinkaid adapted a teaching method he first noticed in the 1970s, a self-paced, individualized course.

Today Kinkaid’s classes are smaller and taught over a few weeks. People are free to learn at their own speed with textbooks as well.

The classes are always full because residents are “continually buying” the product.

Wednesday afternoon, a class of five seniors ranging in age from 76 to 92 brought their iPads to Kinkaid’s lesson.

The students agreed their motivation to get the device came from their desire to connect with younger family members.

“I use it for everything,” said Carolyn Dankel, 76. “Keeping in touch with family. Everybody has one, so why doesn’t grandmother?”

The students often use applications like Face Time and Skype to make video calls to family members they might not see as often as they like. A video call provides an opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation with loved ones even if they’re halfway around the country.

“The other incentive was that children seldom and grandchildren never tell you what’s going on and where they are and what they’re doing, that sort of thing,” said Bob Kirkland, 82. “So Facebook is the tie. It’s easy to do on this.”

But the technology’s benefits go beyond communication. Some of the students’ favorite applications are iTunes University, a catalogue of free educational lectures, and FollowMyHealth, an app that provides access to doctors and medical records.

Regardless of their computer experience in the past, residents are impressed with the small tablet’s power.

As a younger man, William Roberts, 92, worked as an engineer in the early space program in California.

“In those days we had computers, matter of fact I was trained to program ... computers,” Roberts said. “We had computers that were larger than this room we’re sitting in. That was the computer, and it was probably not as powerful as that iPad is right there today.”

While the students are becoming more savvy with each lesson, near-constant upgrades threaten to slow the learning curve. Well-meaning grandchildren sometimes upgrade the devices before students have finished learning how to navigate the old one.

“You just have to stay on top of it,” Kirkland said. “But I figure you just have to stay on top of the territory. Some classes you can use one book and teach off the notes for the next 20 years, but you can’t do that at all (with this). It changes so fast that you have to stay with it.”

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