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SENIORS AND THE INTERNET: Lessons from the Cybernun Study **** Deborah J. Smith, Ed.D. Empire State College Center for Distance Learning **** Presented at the College Teaching and Learning Conference Santorini, Greece June 2005

The Literature in Brief: 

The Literature in Brief Nuns: researched declines in membership, mental & physical health issues Retirement: satisfaction differs by gender, marital status, health, finances and other variables. Internet helps with tasks and connecting with others. Computing: biggest senior issue is training; accommodations and adult learning focus.

Sisters in the Study: 

Sisters in the Study Seven orders of Roman Catholic nuns Diocese of Albany, New York Final N=103 All aged 60-95 years Computer users (N=53) Non-users (N=50)

The Sisters in General: 

The Sisters in General Largest group (23%) were 80-84 years old 58% described their health as “Good” 57% held Masters degrees. Over half taught K-12 in Catholic schools


Majority of sisters (98%) kept in touch with ………………….family, friends and other sisters in order. Contact by letters, phone or personal visit. 20% of sisters used e-mail for social contacts. Patterns of Social Contact

Computer Users & Non Users: 

Computer Users & Non Users CU Sisters (N=53) Five years or less of use (56%) Masters degree (64%) Half still working Health: good (64%) or excellent (23%) NU Sisters (N=50) Masters (50%) or Bachelors (32%) 69% retired Health: good (52%) or fair (36%)


Independent Variable Computer use Dependent Variable Life satisfaction

Research Question One: 

Research Question One Do CU senior sisters report greater life satisfaction than NU senior sisters? Measured by: Life Satisfaction Index-Z (LSIZ) Unpaired t-test No statistically significant relationships were found.

Research Question Two: 

Research Question Two What are senior sisters’ perceptions of computer use? Measured by:Attitudes Toward Computer Use Scale (ATCUS) Analysis of Variance and Interviews Computer users, as expected, significantly more positive toward technology (p < .05)

Data Collection: 

Data Collection Pencil & Paper Surveys LSIZ ATCUS Demographic data Interviews with 17 subjects 6 highest ATCUS scorers 6 lowest ATCUS scorers 5 highest LSIZ scorers

What ATCUS scores mean Score range: 20-140: 

What ATCUS scores mean Score range: 20-140 Low ATCUS scores Indicate greater ease and positive attitudes toward technology High ATCUS scores Indicate less ease and less positive attitudes toward technology


Communication Low ATCUS Scorers positive experiences: provided fast global access prior use required by work or ministry for order communications tool High ATCUS Scorers negative initial experiences: no “personal touch” interface/instruction/ access problems F2f, phone or postal mail preferred


Mastery Low ATCUS Scorers tangible personal benefits seen decreased labor, increased accuracy, improved appearance of work accomplishment-excitement-learning High ATCUS Scorers no personal benefit seen speeds life to impersonal levels TV vs. hypertext memory-training-recall

Internet: use and safety : 

Internet: use and safety Low ATCUS Scorers mastery leading to transparent use teach & communicate differently concerns: isolation, privacy, Internet dangers High ATCUS Scorers prefer to rely on one’s own skills, not machine feel mental calculation to be learned first concerns: real Internet dangers, online addiction, fragmenting of life, privacy

Perceived Benefits: 

Perceived Benefits Low ATCUS Scorers benefits both specific to person & global drawbacks not seen as reasons to limit use yes: our world has improved BUT—my life has improved; I can do things better High ATCUS Scorers benefits both global and to society technology may drive pace of life faster still yes: our world benefits (medicine, research) which may potentially impact my life.

Study Limitations: 

Study Limitations Computer use improves life satisfaction was partially supported by logistic regression and interview data. Other elements also influence life satisfaction: NU senior sisters often had high LSIZ scores. Study limitations : all single females, community lifestyle, religious in Upstate NY, shared computing resources, self-reported data.

Accomodation and Usability The easier to use, the better they’ll be…: 

Accomodation and Usability The easier to use, the better they’ll be… Ergonomics Physical comfort is key Compensate/minimize effects of chronic conditions with supports Assistive devices for users with low vision and similar limitations

Accommodation and Usability : 

Accommodation and Usability Location Locate hardware and software in easily-reached areas Instructions should be nearby Avoid twisting and bending by user Type and fonts Minimum 12 points Large screen monitors Instructions nearby Large type manuals

Accommodation and Usability : 

Accommodation and Usability Visual Interfaces on the Web White background Avoid darks/designs and “text dense” Highlight key points Avoid blue-green color range Provide consistent, concise information

Usability Testing : 

Usability Testing Real users doing real work Live feedback on problems, good points Consistent trials with multiple users Feedback indicates areas of concern or what works well for the user

Adult Learning Principles: 

Adult Learning Principles Tailor training to learner interests Show curriculum topics and progression Integrate safety advice Simple to complex

Adult Learning Principles: 

Adult Learning Principles Advance organizers for notes and overview Small class size Allow time for repetition, questions clarification Allow for increased time for tasks


A Word of Thanks... This work was possible because of the participation of the religious sisters of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York. My special thanks to the Daughters of Charity and the Sisters of Mercy, who were over half the study volunteers.


Religious Sisters in This Study Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent De Paul Menands, New York The Sisters of Mercy: Albany, New York: * The Convent of Mercy * St. Teresa of Avila Elementary School * St. Teresa’s Convent * Maria College


The Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet Latham, New York The Sisters of the Resurrection Castleton, New York Little Sisters of the Poor Latham, New York


Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm: *Avila on the Hudson, Germantown, New York *Teresian House, Albany, New York Kenwood Convent of the Sacred Heart Albany, New York Additional research with Sisters of the Atonement, Assisi, Italy The Grey Nuns, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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