This fall Syracuse University students and local senior citizens enrolled in "HNR 360: Election and New Media" to learn about the impact of social media on political campaigns.
This intergenerational course is comprised of 20 Renee Crown Honors students and 11 members of the OASIS educational program for mature adults. OASIS is an organization that provides enrichment to those over 50 years old in the Syracuse community by offering continued learning programs. Professor Margaret Thompson opened her honors course to OASIS members in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
OASIS members enroll for personal enrichment, not for college credit. They do not do the assigned readings and are not expected to write papers or complete term projects. Enrollment was solely dependent upon having high speed internet connection and basic computer skills. Thompson’s class relies heavily on social media as a collaborative tool to aid in learning, and she required OAISIS members who had never used Facebook or Twitter to create accounts.
“I think most of them were eager to do it but a little bit nervous until they learned,” said Thompson. “These are people who are self selecting, they are not people who are afraid of that kind of challenge”
The class meets twice a week, but OASIS students only join for the Tuesday sessions. On those days, SU students and OASIS members intermingle, sitting together and working in small groups. Thompson requires all students to post on a class Facebook page and to participate in Twitter assignments.
“Some the OASIS members are more active on the Facebook page than me and I know it is a lot harder for them to learn how to do it because they did not grow up with it,” said Dana Senderoff, a biology senior. “I am pretty impressed with how excited they are to learn about it and how active they are with social media.”
The majority of the OASIS members who participate in the SU class are over 70 years old, and some members are even nearing 90. “It is really interesting to get different perspective from both our generation and the generation of what would be the age of our grandparents,” said Senderoff. “Clearly they have been through much more than us so it is interesting to combine all of the opinions.”
The SU and OASIS students share a mutual flow of information that allows both generations to learn from each other.
“When I originally started this, my assumption was that the OASIS people would bring more experience and more awareness about politics to the class and the SU students would bring more familiarity with social media," said Thompson. “To some extent, that has been true but it has not been entirely true and not every class has been the same.”
Eric Lyons, a political science and magazine journalism junior, described this class as one of the most interesting experiences he has had at SU. “You always hear about Syracuse's diversity policy and how they promote diversity but it always seems to be geographic or racial diversity,” said Lyons. “The fact is that there are so many different perspectives at different ages.”
And the OASIS members are eager to share their perspectives, so Thompson warns the SU students to speak up if they want to be heard. “Sometimes I think the SU students get outweighed in the discussion by the OASIS members. They have so much to say and much of it is really interesting, so sometimes the SU students have to fight to be included in the discussion.”
SU provides a classroom in the School of Management as well as free parking for the OASIS members in the parking garage adjascent to the building. “Although most who have taken this class have not had physical disabilities, we want this class to be open to senior citizens who might not be able to walk very far and for whom it might be an obstacle being on the main hill,” said Thompson
Thompson wishes large lectures were opened up to people from the community and believes it would be favorable in terms of improving relations. “We talk about community engagement here at Syracuse University and this is one way that it can be carried out, so I wish there was more of it,” Thompson said. “I think it is also beneficial to the students to be around people who are older, different and who would help expose them to different perspectives.”
On the first day of class SU students were asked why they enrolled. More than half answered “Because I know nothing about politics.” But the following class, they were joined by 11 OASIS members who have experienced and participated in more than 50 years worth of elections.
“We are not really learning about politics from each other, we are really learning a lot from the OASIS members,” said Senderoff. “Without them it would just be our professor who is our main source while with the OASIS members it is like we have all of these teachers around us.”
Each intergenerational group interacts outside of class to prepare for weekly presentations. “Just yesterday I looked over and saw Sam Sloan and an OASIS member interacting like they had been friends for years,” said Senderoff. “I think it is really exciting that we are actually building relationships and learning with them."
Thompson plans to continue teaching intergenerational classes every other fall. The next class will likely be a honors religion and politics class, offered in 2013, as it is a topic that lends itself to discussion and typically has a wide range of interest.