Digital Learning in Rural Ontario, Canada: An Evaluation of the Computer for Seniors Program

Judith M Dunlop, Derek Chechak, William Hanby, Michael J Holosko

Abstract


This article presents an evaluation of an educational intervention that provided computer skills training for a sample of n = 17 rural seniors in North Middlesex, Ontario, Canada. Due to the rural nature of the community, this cohort had limited access to and knowledge of computers. A total of N = 36 originally participated in a designed basic computer training intervention consisting of 8-week training sessions, offered sequentially in three smaller cohorts of 12 seniors. The evaluation included a pre and post-test using the Seniors Basic Computer Skills Scale (SBCSS) to assess the effectiveness of this training. The evaluation team developed the SBCSS to measure basic computer skills of seniors and pilot-tested it with the sample. Psychometric testing of the SBCSS showed exceptionally high degrees of reliability. The SBCSS measured 11 basic computer skills including: (a) talking
about computers, (b) using computer technology, (c) using the Internet, (d) using an Internet resource such as Skype, (e) using a computer mouse, (f) using Web browsers, (g) manipulating the computer screen brightness and size, (h) using bookmarks, (i) sending and receiving emails with family and friends, (j) sharing
photographs with family and friends, and (k) using social media such as Facebook. There were some encouraging results regarding increased computer skills for this sample of rural seniors. However, there were other areas where learning did not increase significantly. This article speaks to the need to identify and recruit rural seniors who may benefit from such targeted interventions to increase technological skills, and also to the need for a second-level enhancement of the municipally funded Computer for Seniors program (CSP). We contend that community workers have a
unique role to play in such initiatives, as they may encourage local seniors to both explore their computer literacy in rural areas, and help to increase opportunities that are often missing in rural communities.


Keywords: rural seniors, computer technology, digital divide, community development

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.

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