A classroom with a twist

By Michele Kisthardt | | No Comments »

On a blustery November afternoon, about 50 Laurel Lake residents gathered for a preview of New York Times Technology Columnist David Pogue’s “The Digital Generation Comes of Age” program, part of the Townhall of Cleveland speakers series. Pogue interacted with the residents, responding directly to an audience member’s question about a Kindle e-reader.

Except Pogue wasn’t at Laurel Lake; he was in a studio about 30 miles away and delivered his program on a 12-foot screen via live videoconferencing technology.

Residents at Laurel Lake, an active retirement community in Hudson, are enjoying countless academic and cultural enrichment opportunities thanks to a new collaboration between Laurel Lake and University Circle Inc. that connects Laurel Lake residents to world-class museums and educational institutions.

Sandy Kreisman, manager of education initiatives at University Circle Inc., shares the rationale behind introducing videoconferencing for seniors, noting, “research shows that the senior population is growing significantly and will nearly double by 2030. Baby boomers, the newest group of retirees, are a well-educated and independent group of people. They are seeking educational and leisure opportunities where they continue to learn and experience intellectual growth.”

Kreisman sites a study by the National Endowment for the Arts which concluded that older adults’ participation in individual and collaborative cultural activities offered significant overall health benefits, including less depression and loneliness.

For a number of years, University Circle Inc. has offered distance learning programs to students, primarily in K-12 schools. Kreisman says, “When I saw what was happening with the aging demographics, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try similar programming with adults. I thought the idea would fly, and it has.”

Laurel Lake Programming Manager Susan Busko says when she heard about the concept of live videoconferencing she knew it would be a good fit at Laurel Lake. “I think this is the future wave of learning, and I told Sandy that Laurel Lake would be interested,” Busko says.

Distance Learning with University Circle, a pilot program with Laurel Lake, began in 2010. In addition to videoconferencing programs featuring University Circle institutions, such as The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland Institute of Art, and The Western Reserve Historical Society, opportunities exist for field trips to the museums and cultural institutions.

Much of the program content was already created; it simply needed to be adapted to a senior audience, Kreisman says. She adds that one of the ways she makes the programs more adult friendly is by adding supplementary readings, a component dreaded by students but one that the adult population enjoys.

A recent Civil War program series demonstrated how Kreisman employs multiple techniques to enhance the learning process. Residents were offered a number of live programs via videoconferencing, including “Ohio’s Civil War Soldiers” from the Western Reserve Historical Society and “Civil War Soldier’s Lives: Union and Confederate” from Fort Mifflin on the Delaware. The director of the Canton Museum of Art, M.J. Albacete, came to Laurel Lake for an on-site lecture to discuss “Music of the Civil War.” In addition, Kreisman offered a list of suggested readings, bibliographies, and digital resources to supplement the learning experience.

The Civil War program was well-received, as have the majority of the lifelong learning videoconferencing programs to date. Kreisman and Busko survey the residents to find out what topics they’d like to learn about.

What are some of their favorite programs? Busko says, “We did a program with the International Wolf Center in northern Minnesota. They heard from a biologist and were able to watch wolves in their habitat. Our residents were fascinated.”

Laurel Lake residents have embraced the technology. Marion Galwardy said that a NASA space program was one of her favorites; Gloria Donovan enjoyed a live program from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum. Ruth Olson loves the cultural programs, noting that she “was thrilled to see a recent French production of Cinderella at the Cleveland Institute of Music.”

A group of residents agreed that they never imagined such technology would exist. Resident Ruth Chase remarks, “It’s just uncanny that they can see us. I can’t imagine what lies ahead.”

Residents laughed and unanimously agreed when Chase said she knew of one type of program she had no interest in watching — surgery in progress. “We’ve all seen more than enough of that,” she remarked.

Programs are either point-to-point or multi-point. An example of a point-to-point program is a themed series of classes or experiences put together by University Circle Inc. Town Hall Speaker Series presentations, such as David Pogue’s daytime preview of his evening performance. Multi-point means they are broadcast to up to 40 sites around the state. For instance, when Laurel Lake was watching Pogue, so were a number of middle and high schools around the area.

All of the programs are provided at no charge to Laurel Lake residents, thanks to a grant from the Laurel Lake Foundation. Typically about 50 to 70 residents attend the events. Community members are invited to attend the programs and may register with Laurel Lake’s marketing department.

“Our residents’ bodies aren’t as active any more but their minds still are. They still can travel and stretch their minds through this program. For many of them, it’s a chance to revisit the past and go to places they’ve visited in person years ago,” Busko says.

Laurel Lake Advertising/Public Relations Coordinator Donna Anderson is encouraged by the results. “Residents who attend lifelong learning programs have reported improvements in mood, quality of life and satisfaction,” she says.

“I give Laurel Lake so much credit,” Kreisman says. “They recognized right away the opportunity to enhance the lives of their residents.”

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