Blackberries and Boomers

Disclaimer: This post was adapted from a post I originally wrote for work. The post was not used. I work for a literacy intervention program that is part of a major non-profit organization. I had to reach out to some of our volunteers, all of whom are over the age of fifty, and educate them on some technological issues. Any words that in BOLD CAPS have been redacted to hide the identity of that program.

Right as LITERACY INTERVENTION PROGRAM  lifted off the ground, I was asked to develop a simple training for our team leaders. Our team leaders were to be issued BlackBerry cell phones, and being the resident technical troubleshooter as well as the youngest person in the office, I was tasked with showing our ten team leaders the in’s and out’s of using a BlackBerry cell phone.

You see, my work sends volunteer tutors into Chicago Public Schools to tutor students grades K-3 in literacy. According to studies by Washington University in Saint Louis and Johns Hopkins University, our students make significant gains in reading achievement.

Team leaders serve as the liaison between  staff and volunteers, and although they are volunteers themselves, team leaders have already gone above and beyond for us, just as all tutors have.

I was told I needed to make our team leaders—all older adult volunteers—literate and able to use these cell phones. I developed a curriculum of sorts: the basic buttons, how to make a call, how to text, how to access and respond to email, and how to trouble shoot. For about a full week, I thought about it from every angle.

What made me most nervous, though, was that their COMPANY-provided BlackBerries are the tool they use to do their job. I envisioned myself as a boot camp instructor training lieutenants to lead small squads of troops.

Blackberries: still around, and still complicated.
Blackberries: still around, and still complicated.

I stepped in front of the classroom and passed out each cell phone to the corresponding team leader. Each phone was assigned to each school, and while there was some confusion over who was assigned to which school, that part went smoothly.

The rest did not go as I envisioned, but it was not for the worse.

As soon as I started, it became clear that our team leaders had widely-varying levels of technological literacy. Some understood how to use the track ball immediately. Others took some coaching to find the buttons.

I became nervous. Because BlackBerries are unique in that they each contain a full keyboard, we spent a lot of time on the layout of buttons. I did not anticipate that.

We went through it with much precision and fidelity. Other staff members moved to help our team leaders on a one-to-one basis. COLLEAGUE NAME jumped in, as did OTHER COLLEAGUE and others. The team leaders turned to help each other.

Pretty soon, no one was alone in figuring out their phone, and I was only a moderator, and not an instructor. I abandoned my syllabus, and walked around the room, answering only the most difficult questions.

The training became not a test of my individual abilities to teach technology to older adults, but rather, a team-building exercise that showed how quickly older adults are able to work with each other, to band together as one.

It showed why our team leaders chose to be team leaders—each person was uniquely dedicated to helping others learn the system, and each leader used their experiences to ensure that everyone learned what they needed to learn.

When it was finished, I hadn’t covered the majority of my points, only because I felt as though I did not need to do so.

The lesson I glean from the BlackBerry training was one that had been coalescing in my head for a while. Whereas my generation—Gen Y’ers—prefer to use technology to develop ideas individually, the Baby Boomers often favor a “All Hands On Deck” approach when it comes to solving problems.

My generation is driven by the individual pursuit of cold, hard data and impartial information. The Boomer generation is more social and group-oriented in combating problems.  Both approaches have many positives.

The Baby Boomer approach to solving problems—putting together the experience of a whole group of adults to form a stronger team—the full thrust of that approach is harnessed by LITERACY INTERVENTION PROGRAM.

When the meeting was over, I walked across the hall to our office, and a coworker asked me, “How did the training go?”

“It went great. They solved the problem themselves,” I responded. And, in my head, I added the thought, They’ll work together to solve whatever problem is in front of them. Low literacy rates don’t stand a chance.

That was a thought I did not anticipate.

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