Students Keep Claremont Seniors Connected with Online Social Media Workshops

Although classes may be remote this semester, Scripps students have found ways to connect with members of the Claremont community—including those beyond The Claremont Colleges. In Molly Mason Jones Chair of Psychology and Professor of Psychology Stacey Wood’s geropsychology class, students partnered with the Claremont Senior Program to teach a series of workshops called “Staying Social with Social Media.” The four-session series focused on teaching participants basic and advanced Facebook and Instagram skills, such as creating a profile, adding friends, uploading photos, and adjusting an account’s privacy settings, so that Claremont seniors could safely connect with their loved ones during the pandemic.

Wood is an expert in geropsychology, which helps older populations maintain and improve their quality of life by applying psychological methods to understanding their challenges. Due to their increased risk factors for COVID-19 and the associated precautions they must take, many older adults have suffered from higher levels of anxiety, depression, and isolation since the start of the pandemic, as well as decreased access to caregivers. In some instances, a lack of familiarity with technology has limited their ability to access telemedicine services or connect with family and friends through virtual platforms.

“Even before the pandemic, I had wanted to teach a class on aging with a strong service learning component,” Wood said. Working with Christina Delgado, the site coordinator for the Claremont Senior Program, Wood identified isolation and boredom as mental health threats to local seniors, many of whom were now cut off from their usual communities and activities. She then asked her students to come up with a project that would help Claremont Senior Program participants combat these issues during the pandemic. “I would never have picked this project before, but so far it’s working really well,” Wood added. “The students have total ownership.”

Although the class first considered organizing a series of virtual museum visits or online games, “we decided on Facebook and Instagram [workshops] because we felt these two social media platforms would provide the most opportunity for human connection,” said Caroline Strang ’21, a psychology major. The Claremont Senior Program had already conducted an introduction to using Zoom, so Wood’s class divided into teams of three, each of which taught two virtual social media workshops and hosted two virtual office hours for follow-up questions. One group focused on Facebook, the other on Instagram.

“There was very clearly a need for older adults to learn about these social media platforms, and Dr. Wood’s class came in to fill that programming gap,” Delgado said. “The workshop series has also provided the benefit of allowing us to tap into the talent and expertise of our local college students, something which was a bit more difficult to coordinate prior to the pandemic, due to conflicting schedules.”

Wood’s students made sure that the hour-long sessions were lighthearted and fun. In the workshop that focused on Facebook basics, students shared fun facts about themselves, while the participating seniors shared their reasons for wanting to rejoin or refamiliarize themselves with Facebook: interacting with private groups that share similar interests, sharing photos, or keeping up with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The session finished with a game that asked seniors to guess the meanings of common online acronyms such as LOL (laughing out loud) and TL;DR (too long; didn’t read).

Since many of Wood’s students grew up using at least one social media platform, they had to strategize the best ways to communicate basic aspects of apps that, to them, are almost second nature. “Explaining things that we were very familiar with could be challenging,” said Strang, who helped lead the Facebook sessions. “We had to get into the mindset of someone who may have known very little about navigating Facebook and Instagram, or may have even felt intimidated by these platforms.”

For this reason, each session included a lesson on how to avoid internet scams. Incidents of elder fraud have increased dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Wood. “When you’re fearful or stressed, you’re more likely to make impulsive decisions. Scammers know this,” she told AARP. Because scammers often use information found online to build trust with their intended targets, Wood’s students urged workshop participants to maximize their account privacy settings. They also provided examples of tricks that scammers might use to coax Facebook users into sharing their confidential information, such as creating posts meant to look like games.

“It’s possible that someone who could detect a scam in person or over the phone wouldn’t be able to do so on a social media platform because the format is new to them,” Strang said. “Scams can have devasting consequences to people’s finances and confidence, so it’s important to learn about scams’ formats when consuming media in a new way.”

Post-class surveys revealed that the workshops were a massive success, with each session filled to capacity. Technology-related programs are generally popular with Claremont Senior Program participants, according to Delgado, and the uniqueness of the student-run workshops created additional excitement. For psychology major Lauren Braswell ’22, who helped lead the Instagram sessions, the workshops’ biggest accomplishment was the participants’ newfound sense of confidence in using their social media accounts. “At the beginning, it seemed as though most participants were wary and unsure of their ability to navigate a platform like Instagram,” she said. “However, by the end of our second session, participants were eager to try out new tools and share what they had accomplished with us.” She added that the relationships her classmates built with participating seniors were also a high point: “They seemed to really enjoy conversing over Zoom and meeting other members of the Claremont community, instructors included!”

Delgado confirmed that the instructors were the participants’ favorite aspect of the workshops: In the post-class surveys, many remarked on students’ organization, patience, help, and knowledge of the topics. “They appreciated that the students created a comfortable environment for the participants to ask any and all questions, and that each question was regarded with respect,” she said. “Most of all, they liked the individualized attention and assistance that they received. They really enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the younger generation.”

Braswell, who hopes to become a teacher, said that her experience leading the workshops was a rewarding one, and Strang felt that the sessions were a highlight of the semester. “I really enjoyed watching the seniors’ confidence increase as the session went on in the Facebook basics group,” Strang said. “They asked thoughtful questions, and they let us know that they had learned many new things that they were eager to try. I hope that, with their new knowledge, they’ll be able to stay even more connected to their friends and families.”