Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to connect with Colin Rhinesmith, Community Media Coordinator at Cambridge Community Television (Cambridge, MA, USA) and Adjunct Lecturer for the Media and Culture Program at Bentley University.  Colin told me that they recently held a very popular social media workshop for seniors at Cambridge Community Television (@cctvcambridge) but that it is a topic that would benefit from more coverage – so, I asked if I could interview him!  You can learn more about the workshop and the issues seniors face with social media in the interview below.

How did Cambridge Community Television get involved with social media and social media trainings?

At CCTV we strongly believe that providing the tools to create media enhances citizens’ ability to participate in civic life. Since 1988, CCTV has provided Cambridge residents with access to media production equipment, training, facilities, and cable television channels to accomplish this goal. In 1996, CCTV opened computerCENTRAL, a state-of-the art community technology center, to extend our mission by providing our community with access to computers and the Internet.

Social media is a perfect compliment to our public access television channels. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other online tools extend our community into virtual spaces where our members can make and share media. The physical location of CCTV, as community media and technology center, provides Cambridge residents with additional opportunities to build community through face-to-face interaction; something social media can’t replicate in quite the same way.

CCTV first got involved with social media in 2005 when we switched our website’s content management system over to Drupal. Since then, CCTV members have used our website to set-up accounts, start a blog, and share their community-based, non-commercial media with residents in Cambridge and beyond. As a result, we have grown a vibrant and diverse online community.

In late 2005, Steve Garfield and Ravi Jain taught our first videoblogging workshop, Blogosphere: Video Blogs 101. Here is a fun video from a class they taught here at CCTV the following year. The social media classes have been a great addition to our training program ever since. More recently, we have expanded our offerings to include specialized workshops for seniors, nonprofit organizations, city departments and agencies. The response has been overwhelming. The extraordinary interest in social media training has allowed us to use our mission to serve a new information need in our community.

How did the social media training for seniors program develop?

CCTV has offered computer and Internet access to seniors in Cambridge for many years. As an example, we offer special hours for seniors in computerCENTRAL every Monday from 10AM – 12PM. We are also located up the street from the Cambridge Senior Center. The social media training for seniors program began late last year through a partnership with the Agassiz Baldwin Community. Members of the organization asked us to provide a workshop for their seniors. We saw this as a great opportunity for us to expand our social media trainings to an underserved population of our community.

When it comes to seniors using social media, at least in your experience, what are their goals?

Seniors want to know what’s going on. They hear about Twitter and Facebook, but many seniors don’t know what these tools are and how they work. They know their families are using them, and they see social media as a chance to connect more with their friends and families. Seniors also see social media as a way to connect more to the world around them.

What are their struggles?

Many of the seniors I’ve worked with are not sure how to get started with social media. It’s important for seniors to trust and feel comfortable with the tools before using them. Many seniors also prefer to use social media with people they already know. Some seniors don’t understand why a person would use social media to connect to people they don’t know. Lack of experience using computers and the Internet is also another struggle for many seniors.

Have you found, or has Cambridge Community Television developed, any valuable resources targeted directly at seniors moving online?

We had a difficult time finding social media training materials that were relevant to seniors in our community. Through Twitter, we connected to David Wilcox of Social Reporter who recommended that we take a look at the UK-based Digital Unite to find social media training materials for the “Over 50s”. David’s recommendation turned out to be an incredibly useful resource (Thanks, David!).

DU’s Learning Zone offers guides with PDF downloads on a wide range of social media topics, including information about how seniors can share photos and video, get started with social networks and blogs and learn more about web tools and security.

As we continue to offer more social media trainings for seniors, we hope to contribute our own Creative Commons licensed materials that other community-based individuals and nonprofit organizations can use in their work. People who are interested in getting involved can join our Technology Resources for Nonprofits group on our website.

How can interested readers contribute to your work and that of others assisting seniors in moving online (and doing so in a way that meets their goals and recognizes their fears)?

CCTV is excited to join other community-based organizations that provide social media training to seniors. However, we are still looking for successful training program examples that other individuals and organizations have offered to seniors that we can use and learn from here in Cambridge. Creative Commons licensed training materials would be particularly beneficial.

How can people follow you and Cambridge Community Television?

Connect to CCTV on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. You can also follow us on Friendfeed.

If you are interested in supporting community voices in media, please consider connecting to CCTV in person or through our social media platforms listed above. If you live in Cambridge, please stop by our community media and technology center at 675 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square to say hello and learn how you can make media for your community.


I’m happy to share this interview with Colin on the blog and hope to hear from you about issues, case studies, or resources you’ve found in working with seniors in social media.

Interview: Colin Rhinesmith, CCTV Cambridge
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  • Amy, thanks for posting this interview.

    Colin- Thanks for sharing. Your project resonated with me on a lot of different levels. In particular, within the last two years I’ve conducted research that may be particularly relevant to your pursuits. I hope to have the research published shortly. Application of my research to learning among Seniors is one of the areas I defined as a “someday I think we need to do this” kind of a thing.

    Specifically, I’ve conducted research about how principles of influence can be integrated as metaphors into computer interfaces to improve learning. I used Carol Dweck’s (Stanford University) “implicit theories of intelligence” about learning motivation and outcomes, which states that our own beliefs about our own intelligence (i.e., our capabilities to learn) are extremely predictive of our willingness to entertain new learning, master content, and ultimately improve our ability to learn. My premise for the research was that if I could metaphorically represent learning as “working out” (i.e., getting a stronger brain is like getting stronger muscles), learners would adopt the belief that their mind is a muscle that can improve with dedicated effort.

    Lots of research has shown that when children and adults believe their intelligence is fixed (e.g., “I don’t have a brain for computers”, or “My mind doesn’t do numbers”), they tend to avoid learning situations that might “expose” them as inadequate, give up when confronted with learning challenges, and ultimately have poorer performance than others who have the other mindset–the growth mindset. When people have the growth mindset, they believe that their intelligence and ability to learn is a matter of effort.They accept new learning challenges, maintain motivation in the midst of learning challenges, and ultimately have better performance outcomes and scores than people with the fixed mindset.

    My research was with non-math major undergrads (the people who tend to believe they “don’t have a brain for math.”). I developed a computer program in Flash that asked participants to respond to math questions, then changed the kind of feedback each participant received. In the experimental condition where I showed an avatar proceeding in a work-out and growing muscles when participants answered correctly, participants accepted more learning challenges and had better overall scores than when I didn’t include the “work-out” metaphor, or when I told them in literal terms to work harder. In other words, by introducing the metaphor of “working out,” and equating it to the learning environment, participants were more willing to accept new challenges and performed better than those who weren’t presented with the “working out” metaphor.

    My sample population for the research was college students. I’ve wondered, however, how the “mind as muscle” metaphor might resonate with Seniors. I would guess that the majority of the people who sign up for your program already lean towards having the “growth mindset,” while a LOT of others don’t approach your program because they hold the “fixed mindset” relevant to their ability to learn computer skills. Social media can be a big scary world for a lot of seniors! If you can address the mindset, you may be able to encourage greater participation in your pursuits. Additionally, if you can integrate the metaphors into the process of instruction (e.g., “Today’s workout will be about status updates in Facebook”), as well as the computer interface, I would expect that you would see increased motivation and greater outcomes than what you might currently be seeing. Assessing the mindsets of your program participants is simple and consists of 3 questions, which I could get to you if interested.

    In research down the road, it would be interesting to assess what Seniors think about their ability to not only LEARN new information about computers and new uses of technology, but to also RETAIN information. I wonder if some believe their ability to retain information is metaphorically equivalent to a sponge, a “steel trap”, a rock, or some other metaphor. The implications of the research on learning and memory retention are extremely pertinent to cognitive functioning in aging, quality of life issues, and relevant medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s and other conditions that may challenge learning. If these conditions have a natural (genetic) AND a nurturing (social interaction based) root cause, I hope we can at least do everything possible to maximize the nurturing/interaction based part.

    Anyway, great interview. It struck a chord with me. I appreciate what you’re doing.

    • Thank you for your comments, Scott.

      It’s great to hear that our work at CCTV resonates with your research interests.

      Good luck!

    • Scott – wow! Thank you for sharing all of this. You research with college students sounds really interesting and it definitely made me analyze myself (how would I respond? thoughts) as well. I really appreciate you including all of this here and wonder, like you, if a similar strategic approach could be applied in the scenario of teaching seniors. Please keep me and the other readers here posted on your research when it comes out!

  • Wow, this is cool. Very timely. My 78-year old Mom just moved to Cambridge. And she just got on Facebook last week and needs help with it – I will tell her all about @cctvcambridge.

  • Thanks, Laura!

    Please tell your Mom that she is welcome to stop by for assistance during our Computers for Seniors hours, 10am-12pm on Mondays.

    She might also be interested in attending our next CCTV orientation on Tuesday, July 6. More information is here: http://cctvcambridge.org/node/40697