The Victoria Film Festival, held this year from February 7 to the 16, will be screening a film called Cyber-Seniors on February 11.
The film, directed by Saffron Cassaday, is a feature documentary about Cassaday’s two younger sisters, Kascha and Macaulee, who began a high school community project in 2009 that would eventually evolve into the Cyber-Seniors program. The project was meant to introduce seniors to technology and the internet with the help of high school student volunteers and has inspired a North-America wide campaign that hopes to engage one million youth and seniors in 2014, the International Year of the Family.
The Cyber-Seniors project began in a Toronto seniors care home with Kascha, Macaulee, and some fellow high school students. Seeing how access to the world-wide-web changed the lives of their grandparents, the two sisters came up with the idea to gather a few friends and to begin offering computer tutorials to other seniors.
Although they were initially met with some hesitation, the project gained traction as the seniors discovered all the possibilities that being online presented them with. Between using YouTube, Facebook, Skype, and email, the seniors were able to connect with their families better and they became especially equipped to interact with their grandkids who often lived far away.
The Cassaday sisters created a tutorial manual and recruited fellow students to volunteer at the homes. After running the project at one home successfully for over a year, they expanded to another home with the help of their mother, Brenda Rusnak, who had worked with seniors for years. Using the computer labs that existed in the homes themselves or in local community centres or libraries and helping seniors who had their own computers or tablets master how to use them, the students were able to help the seniors learn a wide variety of new skills.
The interests in gaining tech knowledge varied. Although the most common motivation was to connect better with family and grandchildren via email, Skype, and Facebook, seniors were also interested in YouTube as a learning source, but also as a time machine.
Many seniors liked searching for and listening to some of their favourite old songs and were amazed at what they could find online. They also loved using YouTube to learn new things and even created their own YouTube videos as part of a Cyber-Seniors contest. Others enjoyed exploring with Google Earth, virtually visiting their old neighbourhoods and seeing the houses they grew up in again.
One of the main challenges faced by both the students and the seniors was communication. As most of the seniors were not familiar with the common terminology of browsers, navigating, windows, and more, it was difficult to find the words that would help them understand how everything worked. A glossary was developed to help the seniors have a reference point and many creative analogies and metaphors were used by the students to better convey what the Internet was and how it functioned.
The Cyber-Seniors project is spreading throughout the country. Seniors in many care homes are now connected and can begin to bridge the generational gap using their new email addresses, Facebook accounts, and Skype. The two sisters, Macaulee and Kascha, are now both in university, but they continue to promote the campaign and film and encourage more high school students to get involved in their communities in this way. All three Cassaday sisters hope this project will inspire more seniors to get online and make use of the resources available.
The film’s official premiere will be in March in New York city. The screening at the Victoria Film Festival has already sold out, but those still wishing to attend can request an additional screening by emailing email@example.com.