What we learned partnering students & seniors for health literacy

 In this photo, one of our participants who has a high computer literacy brought his new iPad. It offered him an extra challenge so he didn't get too far ahead of the other participants.

In this photo, one of our participants who has a high computer literacy brought his new iPad. It offered him an extra challenge so he didn't get too far ahead of the other participants.

Hi Everyone – Kate here to give you a quick wrap up of the final two sessions of our health literacy workshop last month.  As Kelly mentioned in the last post, we spent the first week going over drug information searching, and a quick overview on the ins and outs of using a browser. 

In week 2, 9 participants joined us to learn how to look up illnesses and conditions. For homework, participants were assigned news article that came out the day before about shovelling and heart attacks. We asked them to read the article, and then find information about heart health and their personal risks. All of the feedback we got about the homework was positive–-as one of the participants said, “it was great to think about what I’m reading, instead of just reacting to what I’m reading”.

We finished the workshop in week 3 with a session on searching for symptoms and medication side effects. The final 6 participants learned about critiquing symptom checkers and they even found a few we didn't know about! 

Scaling Up

Overall the sessions were a wonderful experience – the students and seniors all had a lot of fun doing it, and there were some great lessons learned. I’m really excited to build the pilot program into a longer 5 session program together with our local public library. Building the program to teach more about  tablets and smartphones, and drawing a bit more on media health literacy out will be really valuable to the participants.  

Lessons Learned

I think some of the best learning was how well the students and seniors paired up. Kelly and I have long said, the worst person to teach seniors about their computers are their children (just ask my parents, and I do this for a living). We often hear from seniors that the most helpful computer teachers are grandchildren.  I’m really excited to see what happens – be it continuing with UW student volunteers, or reaching out into the community to draw in high school students. 

Here are some tips if you are thinking of doing something similar in your own area:

  • Don’t forget why people like Dr. Oz--the participants continually told us that Dr. Oz's videos and accessible language were invaluable. If you are going to steer people away from his content, you should be able to suggest something just as accessible and easy to understand.
  • The internet is… well, that song from Avenue Q is right.  It took about 5 minutes for one of our student/senior teams to find Reddit as a potential resource – and about 0.3 seconds for that student to turn bright red and click away from a thread of nude photos. There was lots of great info on Reddit--just be prepared.
  • There is such thing as too much information – when you’re searching for drug information online, sometimes a laugh at some of the wilder sites is a welcome break from what can be a mountain of information.
  • Don’t take for granted the resources you use daily on the internet – Wikipedia, Reddit, Twitter can all be great – as long as you’re critical enough and know where to fact check them.
  • Don’t underestimate anyone – a lot of the students were shocked at how comfortable the seniors were using the internet, and ended up learning just as much about new resources as the seniors did.