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Old Dogs & New Tricks: Students Teach Seniors How to Be Tech Savvy

Posted by Steve Jones

Sat, Dec 13, 2014

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Certainly not Brenda Rusnak, producer of a Toronto-based documentary called Cyber Seniors, an inspiring film about the ability of technology to unite anyone, at any age. The documentary follows a group of high school students as they teach seniors how to use the web, including Facebook, email, Skype, and YouTube.

Inspired by this documentary, a group of grade 12 students at St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School decided to tutor seniors as well in their volunteer program, Grads Giving Back. They invited residents of Oakville's Delmanor Glen Abbey seniors’ home to a screening of the film and to register to be tutored.

This film is starting a conversation between many seniors and young adults, bridging the generational divide, as well as the digital one. Through these conversations, seniors are finding more ways to stay in communication with their children and grandchilren and are opening up a whole new cyber world to explore.

Below is the original article, published in The Star on November 3, 2014, written by


At 88, Shirley Emerson has few desires.

One of them is an iPad.

“All my children and grandchildren have iPads,” she says. “I want one.”

But before the resident of Oakville’s Delmanor Glen Abbey seniors’ home can run, she needs to learn to walk, so she’s registered for tutoring with one of the students from local St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School. They start Nov. 3.

Their volunteer program, Grads Giving Back, has taken on the challenge of helping to shrink the generational digital divide, by teaching seniors how to use the internet.

The grade 12 group was inspired by Cyber Seniors, a Toronto-shot documentary released last spring that’s spawning a movement across North America to pursue the film’s message: technology can unite anyone, at any age.

The film follows high school students as they help seniors embrace the web.

The resulting campaign, called Connecting Generations, aims to engage youth mentors in bridging the technology gap by helping seniors expand their social and physical environments.

This outcome was not their original intent, says Brenda Rusnak, producer of the film. “We made the film because we thought it was an interesting, timely story to tell,” she says.

But they saw themes emerge while editing. “We realized…it’s really a story about human connection and the role that technology plays,” she says.

St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School hosted a screening, inviting seniors from Delmanor. A few dozen expressed interest in being tutored.

“Seniors often feel a little bit isolated from their families when they make that transition into a long-term care facility,” says teacher Sherida Scott. “The internet is a great way to keep in contact with people that you love.”

The force behind the Oakville project is Susan Hyatt, who brought the documentary to the community, enticed corporate sponsorship, recruited the school and Delmanor and organized both events.

The students are eager to begin.

“One day, all of us are going to become that old,” says Ginni Ting, 17, one of the leaders of the student group. “If we can help them to better understand us through technology, then of course we should do it.”

When it comes to technology, it’s as if the generations speak different languages.

The response from the audience at the first screening inspired the campaign, Rusnak says.

“What we realize now is that the film is a great platform to get the discussion going and to inspire people to get similar programs going in their communities,” she says. “Digital inclusion is huge now.”

And that can be as simple as helping grandma or grandpa use Skype.

Ting, who has no living grandparents, looks forward to spending time with seniors. “It’s an interaction that I never had,” she says.

Emerson, who has children, grandchildren and 8-month-old great-granddaughter twins, looks forward to keeping in closer touch with her family. “I have grandchildren all over the place,” she says.

And although her daughter has urged her to learn computing skills, it just hasn’t taken. They bought her an e-reader, but Emerson found it confusing and gave it back.

Now she’s looking forward to navigating through cyberspace. She’d like to have e-mail and possibly start a Facebook page. Mostly she is looking forward to being in electronic touch with her loved ones – she’s proud of them.

“And they will be very proud of me if I learn to do the iPad,” she says.

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