Feature Profile

A New Take on Intergerational Learning

Undergraduates and Villagers in Action

Undergraduates and Lasell Villagers learning together in new course modules.

Exploring the idea of science gone wrong through Frankenstein, Jurassic Park and I. Robot sounds like a popular freshman seminar, but it's actually a new class activity for Lasell Village residents and undergrads.

Bringing seniors and students together in a learning environment has been a part of Lasell's fabric for more than a decade. But a new approach, where age is not the focus, has been the catalyst for course modules from Science Gone Mad! to Fashion Trends for all ages.

Directed through the RoseMary B. Fuss Center for Research on Aging and Intergenerational Learning and as part of the College's Connected Learning approach, the intergenerational program activity for Lasell Village residents and undergrads is part of a new model connecting older and younger adults in classrooms, and communities.

"In this model of teaching and learning, both older and younger students are now ‘participants,' rather than in the model used more often where older adults are the ‘targets' of the interaction," says Joann Montepare, Director of the Fuss Center. "For example, instead of having younger students probe older students about their wartime experiences, older and younger students are able to jointly discuss their views on contemporary international conflicts."

Montepare shared her perspective, and Lasell's recent efforts, earlier this year when she presented the "No Age" model of intergenerational programming at the 2014 meeting of the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education in Denver.

"Individuals hopefully will take away a clearer sense that aging is a common developmental human quality, not something that simply happens to ‘older people,'" Montepare says. "Diversity is an integral part of our human nature, and should be embraced and utilized."

Montepare believes the new model will also have a greater impact in reducing age discrimination and normalizing age diversity.

Now in its second semester on campus, the Intergenerational Program Activity has garnered a smorgasbord of classes from a psychology study of Delusional Perception to discussions of Contemporary Social Policy Issues to a World Percussion drumming session.

The module format enables faculty to integrate aging without having to change existing course content. This also allows for students in courses across the curriculum to participate more easily and residents, who may not wish to sign up for a semester-long class, to nevertheless participate in ongoing classes, Montepare added.

Since Fall 2013, the Fuss Center has invited faculty to develop course modules to engage Lasell students and Village residents in the shared learning experience, drawing on existing class content and fostering intergenerational exchange.

"Instead of talking to my students simply about changes in culture over time, students got to engage in a conversation with residents who grew up in 1940s and the 1950s about gender roles, their college experiences, their connection to technology," says Communication Professor Dana Janbek whose Intercultural Communication Course offered an intergenerational module in February.

Lasell Village resident Carolyn Slack has taken several intergenerational modules and finds she has a better understanding of a younger generation through those interactions.

"I love being near young people and getting their viewpoints on lots of things. Some seem to be more comfortable talking with us and having us in class," says Slack, who moved to the Village in September 2012.

Slack adds that one of the misconceptions she and her fellow Villagers resolved in the recent Intercultural Communication module is that the younger generation fully embraces the move to digital communication.

"We adults think the kids are using technology all the time and that's the way they want to communicate," she tells Leaves.

However, a young man in the class shared that he feels alone when everyone around him is texting and communicating on a device.

Students have also gained much from the new class offerings. Sophomore Jade Bermudez says she has become more sensitive to "ageist langauge" as a result.

"One of the Village residents said she dislikes when people talked down to her -- like she hadn't been taking care of herself for her entire life," says Bermudez. "It really got me thinking about how I relate to the older generation, in particular my grandmother. I sometiems find myslef getting frustrated with her because she doesn't know how to sue technology. Now, I step back and ask myslef, 'How is she supposed to know?'"

Assistant Professor of Psychology Zane Zheng, who held an intergenerational module for his Sensation and Perception psychology class, also believes the intergenerational connections enriched the class well beyond what undergraduates would have experienced alone.

Zheng says the best way to illustrate the theories and principles of experience-driven perception is to show how the same stimulus would lead to different percepts among younger and older adults. In the module, he was able to play that out for the class in real time.

"Students can achieve an advanced understanding of psychological phenomena and appreciate the notion that ‘What you see depends on who you are," he concludes.

That deeper meaning is exactly what the College is looking to provide -- across generations.


Past Issues