Eastern Michigan University, University of Michigan partner to train students to ‘coach’ older adults in tech

Older adult using computer. (Pexels)

ANN ARBOR – Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan have partnered on a new program to help bridge the intergenerational digital gap in Washtenaw County.

The Engage@EMU office and U-M’s Ginsberg Center are launching the Digital Connecting Corps that will train students at both schools to be “tech coaches” for older adults. The student coaches will offer one-on-one instruction to help participants learn how to use their laptops, desktops and smartphones.

The sessions will be held virtually and the training program is free. Additionally, laptops will be available for those who need a device.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased social isolation and the lack of digital access and digital literacy among older adults in Washtenaw County,” project coordinator for Engage@EMU Julie Vogl said in a release. “Before the Digital Connecting Corps, there was no County-wide infrastructure or nonprofit focused on digital connection and literacy for older adults -- the DCC begins to fill that void.”

“This partnership is really using institutional resources in a groundbreaking way to help address that divide,” professor and director of Engage@EMU, Decky Alexander, said in a release. “We anticipate this program will increase our county’s older adult digital access and literacy, all while providing a mechanism for older adults to learn needed technology to decrease social isolation. We’re really excited to be launching this program and know that it will be transformative for older citizens in the County.”

Each training session will be customized based on the needs and interests of each participant. Whether they are interested in opening a Facebook account or want to learn how to download apps on their phone, the student coaches will aim to offer the most relevant help.

A tech support hotline will also launch as part of the program this summer so that seniors can solve short-term issues. These would include instances of computers that won’t turn on or sudden changes in font size.

The pilot program was made possible by an initial grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

For more information, visit the DCC website.