Westminster students and Friendship Manor residents strike up 'Computer Friendship'

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 2 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Sure, there was the lure of free doughnuts.

But a group of Westminster College students soon learned that their "students" at Friendship Manor were serious about learning more about technology and putting it to use.

The instructors, technical writing students, have conducted weekly classes at the apartment complex for seniors and people with disabilities since August.

Some of the learners were more advanced then they let on. Others were nervous about turning on a computer.

"They were afraid it was just going to blow up or something else would happen to it," said Westminster senior Adrianna Montero.

After two hours of instruction every Wednesday for 10 weeks, questions from the "students" became far more sophisticated, Christine Seifert, associate professor of communication, said during an interview Wednesday. "I think they learned a lot," she said.

The Westminster College technical writing students' interaction with the seniors became the basis of "Computer Friendship," a 300-page manual that covers everything from turning on a computer to creating a Facebook account. The book was written by Seifert's 410 Technical Writing class specifically for the Friendship Manor audience.

For some, the experience whetted their appetites for more knowledge.

"Do you have anything in the book about Twitter?" asked 77-year-old Reyes G. Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, a retired priest, was hardly a technological novice. "I was already on the Internet, Facebook and email," he said.

But the classes enabled Rodriguez to learn more about how his computer worked. "There was a lot of terminology I didn't know," he said.

Beyond the instruction, the regular contact between the college students and the seniors created community.

Laura Ward, a Westminster student from Idaho, met a Friendship Manor resident who had been friends with her grandparents.

Another Westminster student, Nick Christensen, made "house calls" to the apartment of a 97-year-old Friendship Manor resident to ensure he could email his grandchildren.

Lydia Whipp, 86, said the instruction "opened up a new world."

She's learned to download music, to search the Internet and play new computer games.

"Wow, you have all that information out there," she said.

"I did email. I knew a few of the basics. I don't do Facebook, but I've learned a lot about it. I might try it," she said.

Ward said she especially appreciated the seniors' willingness to learn and to accept the college students as teachers. "I was impressed how many of them would come every single week," she said.

Rodriguez said he was impressed with the humanity of the Westminster students.

"These people have been absolutely marvelous," he said. "They have been kind, considerate and patient."

Montero said the experience taught the students patience and to communicate instructions in an effective manner.

The one-on-one instruction helped the seven students refine their contributions to "Computer Friendship."

"It was working with the seniors every single week. If I had asked them to write the book cold, I don't think they could have done it," Seifert said.

On Wednesday, class started just as it had begun, with doughnuts. Then, the students presented each of their pupils a copy of the instructional manual and expressed their thanks.

"I'd like to thank all of you for letting us come in here and be part of the Friendship Manor community," Christensen said.

Email: marjorie@desnews.com

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