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Seniors on the Net? You bet your mouse

Joe Kilsheimer
of The Sentinel Staff

Published in The Orlando Sentinel, Oct 17 1998

Of all the misbegotten notions that people believe about computers, here's one of the biggest myths of all:

Computers are just for kids or young adults.

I know it's a myth because I have seen Senior Net, a place where there are a lot of seniors who can put their Pentiums through the same paces as any wired whiz kid.

Senior Net is also where seniors teach seniors how to use computers. You have to be at least 50 to get in.

Senior Net's Orlando chapter is based at the Marks Street Senior Center, at 99 E. Marks St. in downtown Orlando. For my money, Senior Net is one of the most "happening" places in all of Central Florida.

Every time I drop in for a visit, the place is abuzz with activity. There are either classes in session or there are groups of people gathered around individual machines, going over the nuances of programs such as Netscape or Word Perfect.

Since the Orlando chapter was founded two years ago, Senior Net has graduated about 450 people through its beginner and intermediate training classes, said Tom Springall, president of the nonprofit agency.

A retired IBM executive, Springall is all too eager to disabuse seniors of the idea that they're just too old to learn how to use computers.

"This is a generation that simply was there too early for computers," Springall said. "A lot of our students left the workforce before computers really took hold. Consequently, they just weren't exposed to computing."

With most of Senior Net's students, Springall said, it takes only a few hours behind the keyboard before they realize computing is not so hard after all. "It's really fun to see the light bulbs come on."

The Orlando chapter is part of a national organization, based in San Francisco. Founded in 1986, Senior Net has 25,000 members and more than 140 learning centers around the country.

Like Springall, many of Senior Net's volunteer instructors are retired IBMers, or formerly served in the military. A lot of them got into computing during the early days when it really was hard, and only for the technically inclined.

More than many trainers in the corporate world, Senior Net instructors generally understand how and why a computer does what it does. They tend to have a relaxed, I've-seen-it-all-before attitude, giving off a definite sense that you're in good hands at Senior Net.

The agency offers about a dozen different classes, starting with a nine-hour course for "absolute beginners." It covers the basics of working with a keyboard and a mouse, and exposes students to the range of jobs a computer can tackle.

The intermediate classes take students onto the Internet with demonstrations of how to send e-mail and how to get the most from the World Wide Web. There also are several classes that focus on specific software, such as Quicken, a financial management program.

Customarily, each class is limited to 10 students. And for each class, there is an instructor, plus three or four coaches who assist with individualized attention. There is a nominal charge for each class. Course fees range from $20 to $35.

Because of the limited class sizes, Senior Net's sessions are often booked weeks in advance. You can make a reservation by calling (407) 318 3256.

Or you can visit the Senior Net center during its monthly open house. It's held on the fourth Sunday of every month from 1 to 3 p.m. The next one will be Oct. 25.

Or get one of your grandchildren to fire up their computer and take you to the Orlando Senior Net's Web site. The address: http://www.seniornet

[Posted 10/16/1998 18:24]


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