Phones weren't silenced in this Golden Lopes class

Honors College student Lauren Geiser (right) helps Denise Hernandez set up some apps on her smartphone during a Golden Lopes class, Tech Savvy Seniors.

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso

GCU News Bureau

One senior citizen said he was quite adept on his laptop, but “as for the telephone …”

I’m in my 50s, but even I smiled hearing the word “telephone.” It made me want to call my over-80 mother to hear her say, “Well, it’s your nickel,” thinking we’re on “long distance” while I hold my smartphone/mobile/cell/anything but telephone.

Honors College student Kendall Smith references her cellphone as she assists in teaching a Golden Lopes class for Tech Savvy Seniors.

The GCU Golden Lopes class at Grand Canyon University was like that – a wonderful trip crossing five generations, face to face, about our handheld whatever-you-call-'ems. Honors College students in their 20s led folks as young as 87 on a journey with their devices and answered random questions, such as “What’s that other thing, TikTok?”

Tech Savvy Seniors is one of five new courses in the Golden Lopes program, launched last October and offered for the second time on campus this spring to citizens age 55 and older. And 47 seniors signed up for four-session courses for no other reason than to learn new things, which also includes courses on the brain, the Bible, personal finances and books.

Homer Drew, who inspired the idea for the free courses, cheerfully welcomed the “tech” group, standing before people who had accomplished a lot in their lives but know it’s never too late to learn more.

That included one participant who said that she views technology as the enemy of the people.

Nora Hodges listens as she learns to AirDrop photos on her cellphone during a Golden Lopes class.

But hold the phone (or telephone) on age stereotypes. That same senior citizen just “came from the gym” and is an online graduate student.

What they really had a problem with is what all age groups do to varying degrees – keeping up with rapidly changing technology used for necessity and fun. The first class covered mobile phones, so I turned to the woman sitting next to me holding hers.

Nora Hodges said she ran all the McDonald’s company franchises in Arizona at one point in her life, but now she was just trying to find a way to send a photo from her phone with a wireless direct link. In iPhone parlance, it’s an AirDrop. But she had an Android phone, and I was brand new to mine after longtime iPhone use.

So in unison we started poking at our screens as Honors College instructors circled the room helping others.

Hitting various buttons and doohickeys is actually a good thing, we learned.

Emily Barnett explains the problems she has when working with her laptop.

“Clicking around is OK,” said Gabby Marrama, an Honors College program manager helping the class. “Technology doesn’t always have to be scary.”

But the biggest fear of this group of seniors, according to their very first Kahoot! survey they took in class, was getting scammed by clicking on the wrong thing.

They’ll cover that later in the course, including URLs that look suspicious.

But back to the important thing – me getting a photo from Hodges.

“With all the constant changes, I picked this class to try to get up to speed,” she said.

She went into settings. I went into settings. It was a whole thing. The teacher chimed in to say turn on this or that. We clicked on some more things. I know this is technical, but try to follow.

And voila, I received Hodges’ wonderful photo of a Lake Pleasant sunset.

Honors College student Kendall Smith (left) helps Denise Hernandez set up some apps on her smartphone.

GCU student Kendall Smith was practically giddy, bouncing around the room, helping Golden Lopes out as another teacher, albeit one who studies film and dance. She said she hopes to be like them one day, not coming to college to get a degree to get a job or make money, but just to keep learning new things.

She imagined someday she would be in their shoes, thinking, “Wow, this is what college is like. I remember it was similar when I went."

“I think going to a class again brings them back to the old days,” she added.

That’s how Smith came to help Sherral Spencer.

“When I’m not sure what I’m doing. I have to ask my son and he has to stop what he is doing and help,” she said of deciding to join the course. “My son said, ‘Please take it.’”

For years, Spencer said she has struggled with little frustrations of technology. Phone calendar reminders would never appear for things like doctor’s appointments. But in less than five minutes, Smith helped solve that problem.

Neil Saunders listens to tips on using his smartphone.

Another Golden Lope, Neil Saunders, uses technology to dictate letters, translate foreign languages, even operate his hearing aid. But when he received a new television for his recent 87th birthday, he couldn’t set it up and had to call his son. So there’s always more to learn.

The person coming to his aid in class had her own tech issues in the past. Just because English major Lauren Geiser is young doesn’t mean she knows everything about these gadgets.

“I struggled with the tips and tricks of technology,” she said, but had to bear down and learn them.

Now she wanted to help people like Saunders. He was a 45-year employee of the Salvation Army responsible for the finances in “16 countries with 18 currencies,” and Geiser was showing him how to send a photo via AirDrop.

“I was not familiar with what that is,” he said. “She helped me set it up in 30 seconds.”

Geiser answers some smartphone questions for Saunders.

Now he is free to drop some photos to his buddies at his upcoming University of Melbourne reunion of graduates from 63 years ago, when the television was becoming a mainstream device.

Other lessons in the class will include exploring the populated world of applications, the buzzwordy landscape of social media and the scary minefield of scammers.

The teachers say it’s all about helping each other.

“We are all lifelong learners. We are not above anyone,” Marrama said.

The same older student who said technology is the enemy acknowledged it’s a necessary tool these days.

Or simply a convenience, like sending a photo.

Smith laughed to think that her grandma still prints out photos from family gatherings and sends them to her granddaughter student via snail mail. She loves it, it’s quaint and grandmotherly, but there’s a better and cheaper way.

So she helped us all learn and save several hours of our lives to do other things, like maybe make a dancing video on TikTok.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: Golden Lopes opens more classes to older adults

GCU Today: Older students keep learning through Golden Lopes


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