The no techno-phobia zone

Walla Walla's Center at the Park technology classes bring seniors into a digital world.

Larry Goodhew instructs seniors how to use their digital cameras by using a laptop computer to project camera settings onto a screen. Students Laurice Shafer and Marilyn Klock look on during the class at Walla Walla’s Center at the Park.

Larry Goodhew instructs seniors how to use their digital cameras by using a laptop computer to project camera settings onto a screen. Students Laurice Shafer and Marilyn Klock look on during the class at Walla Walla’s Center at the Park. Photo by Donna Lasater.

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Center at the Park computer instructor Eugene Alexander helps student Lawanda Benzel de-mystify the labyrinths of computers.

FYI:

Digital Camera Basics

Mondays 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Jan. 7-Feb. 13 $60

Microsoft Word For Beginners

Tues. and Thurs.

Jan. 8-24

9:30-11:30 a.m. $60

Open Computer Lab

Mon.-Wed.-Fri.

8:30 a.m.-noon $1 per day

Maybe the grandkids want you to email them or have a cell phone handy in case of an emergency. Or just to share photos or stay in touch more often.

But when it comes to newfangled technology gadgets, some seniors love them. Some don’t.

A big reason for the latter is because people who’ve grown comfortable with old fashioned paper, ink, envelopes and stamps all their lives can be bewildered by all the keys and functions on computers and smartphones, not to mention having to learn the lingo of high-tech. And when something goes wrong ... .

The Center at the Park, a Walla Walla senior center, offers a variety of classes aimed at taking the mystery out of computers, digital photography and to ease techno-phobias.

“Computers are so much a part of our lives these days,” said Howard Ostby, executive director. “Some seniors are real savvy with computers and some are just beginning.”

Accommodating both the ultra beginner and those with more computer experience can be a challenge. The Center’s classes take things step by step, starting with a beginners class and moving to advanced classes later.

Ostby said the beginning class is “geared specifically for those who had never touched a computer or a mouse before.”

He said the computer lab set up makes it easy for both the students and the teacher. There are two rows of computers and a screen in front of the class so students can follow along more easily.

“We have new computers with Windows 7. The class in Microsoft Word has a limit of 10 students — that’s the number of computers we have in the lab. They have more access to the instructor and not the cost or pressure of a college class with younger students.”

Ostby has heard plenty of stories from seniors who were encouraged by their grandchildren to get a computer. Sometimes they are given computers as gifts. Then the out-of-town grandkid teaches grandma a little bit and then leaves. Grandma knows some basics but not much more.

So, at that point, it’s time for a class.

“A class is great,” Ostby said. “Everyone makes mistakes; you can learn together.”

A worry for novices is vulnerability to hackers and scammers. “We have a couple of firewalls, so we’re OK,” Ostby said. “And not to worry about breaking the machines — we can just go back to yesterday’s settings.”

But that worry — about breaking a computer — is one of the first hurdles to overcome, said instructor Gene Alexander. Seniors are often interested in learning computers and many excel. But there is a learning curve; for older people it is completely new machinery.

“That’s why we started with beginners ... Now we are moving on to meatier projects,” Alexander said.

The students in the computer lab the Center set up in April have very different levels of experience.

“Some have computers at home; those students are more familiar with it,” he said.

One of these students is genealogist Lawanda Benzel, who has used a computer for 10 years, with mentoring from her daughter and grandchildren. She did her research on the computer but needed to learn Word and other programs, which continually evolve.

“I just bought a laptop this spring and I need to learn some of those other programs,” she said.

The Center also offers instruction on digital cameras.

Photographer Larry Goodhew said his students come in for different reasons and, like Alexander’s students, at different levels of expertise. “Some are very knowledgeable about film cameras and are getting up to speed on digital. Or maybe they just got a camera and are learning to use it,” Goodhew said.

“I was an early adopter of digital cameras. I’ve used them since about 1998. The hardest thing I found was getting used to the fact about no per click cost,” he said.

With digital you can “extravagantly” shoot as many pictures as you want and not be killed with film processing charges.

Don Keen said he’s attending the class because he has a new camera. He’s not new to computers or to digital photography, but his new camera is more complex than the point-and-shoot he had before.

“You learn the essentials first, he said of Goodhew’s class. “Then you go out and take pictures.”

Although Keen is comfortable with digital cameras and computers, he’s not as good as his grandchildren at fixing things that get fouled up.

“If I’m having a problem with my cellphone or computer I just give it to them. ‘Here, just fix it,’” he said.

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