QHS students digitally connect with local seniors

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Despite being skeptical about how much time Facebook might require, this participant was game to learn more about the world's largest social network.

Does being a senior learning how to use Facebook, YouTube or Amazon.ca sound daunting? Would you rather teach such a class than be a student in it? For nearly 30 students from Quebec High School, the answer was simple - they wanted to teach. Thanks to a collaboration between QHS, Voice of English-speaking Quebec, and the Community Learning Centre at QHS, these students have spent the past few months doing just that.

Digitally making a difference

Quebec High School's Fannie Marsh teaches a leadership class which is working in small groups to provide single-topic computer and internet workshops for area seniors. Marsh explained to the QCT, "We focus a lot on making a difference. This project is great, because it is so concrete to the students. Making a difference is not an abstract concept when you can actually help someone learn."

Students empowered as teachers
The students fully agree. "It's really nice. I felt like I was really teaching something," said Angela, who took her turn Friday, February 21. She helped introduce seniors from Quebec City, and four participants who travelled up from Thetford Mines, to the possibilities and complexities of Facebook.

Marsh elaborated on the students' perspective, saying, "They have been so empowered by teaching to seniors." In particular, she emphasized how meaningful it was to teach someone older than them - a chance teens rarely have. In fact, Marsh added, "We have two teams that actually wanted to do it again, and there was enough interest from seniors, so we will offer those workshops a second time in March."

Not too old to get online

Marsh pointed out that senior participant reactions have been quite positive. VEQ's Heather McRae attributed the seniors' general satisfaction to the students' abilities, saying, "The students are really great with the seniors. They give one-on-one support and go at the seniors' pace."

Participants in the February 21 Facebook session appeared to genuinely enjoy and appreciate students taking the time to explain the merits and pitfalls of the world's largest social network. As CLC coordinator Ed Sweeney described to participants, the perks include staying up to date with relatives living outside Quebec City, reconnecting with old friends, and even following the news and updates of favourite organizations, news outlets and celebrities. Upon hearing about the news aggregation possibilities, one participant announced, "I'm sold on Facebook, for that reason alone!"

On the other hand, some participants were not entirely convinced, and were merely present to learn more about Facebook. Susan noted, "I don't have enough time to get involved with that. I have so much else going on in my life, and I already get my news from places like the QCT." Maureen concurred, saying, "I have to maintain a Facebook page for the organization where I work, but I don't really want a personal one. Happily, the students today were able to answer some of the questions I had about my employer's Facebook page."

How it works

McRae from VEQ described the way the workshops are organized. All workshops are held in the library at QHS (945, avenue Belvédère), with computers and iPads provided by the school. The students do the instructing, in English, and are subtly supervised by McRae.
McRae explained, "We adults stay out of it. These sessions are entirely student-led. We're just there for back-up." "The students start with a short presentation, then go right into hands-on application of the material," she continued. She also noted the ratio is typically 2-3 students for 5-10 seniors, which further ensures the students are able to manage the workshop primarily on their own.

Several workshops still to come

Funding comes from a provincial source which prefers to remain anonymous, and was sufficient to deliver workshops through March 2014. However, Marsh was optimistic, saying, "Hopefully this will be an on-going project." McRae added, "There is always a possibility to continue if we can demonstrate there is a need in the community."

Meanwhile, the remaining scheduled workshops include "Youtube - Learn how to watch videos on-line" on February 26, "Online Shopping" on March 12, "How to use an iPad" on March 14, and "Internet 101" on March 26. Refer to the Community Calendar for more details, or register with Heather McRae by calling 418 683-2366 x 224.