16-year-old Jordan Mittler has always been passionate about technology. From the time he was young, he was messing around with a computer toying around with graphic design and making short videos.
When his grandparents got their first iPhones, Jordan was around 12 years old, and he was ecstatic to be able to have a new way to communicate with them.
“I was so excited to be able to FaceTime them and message and play games and do everything that I liked to do on the phone, but they weren’t able to do simple tasks that I thought were so easy,” said Mittler. “They just weren’t getting it as fast as I thought they would, so I sat with them and walked them through everything. It taught me that others must have been having this issue and that there must be many other seniors who need this same sort of one-on-one technology help.”
As a result, Mittler decided to start Mittler Senior Technology, a hands-on social media and communication technology program that offers professional education for seniors. Mittler began to reach out to nursing homes, synagogues, churches, and community centers within a 5-block radius and also handed out flyers to see what kind of interest there would be in a class like this.
Though the response was slow at first, Mittler started his first round of classes with 15 students in his school’s computer room.
“I designed a 10-week curriculum that basically covers both computers and smartphones. I taught that class for 10 weeks, and I had people emailing me saying they heard about the class and wanted to take it,” said Mittler. “I wanted to keep the class population small because the seniors have questions and like it when I walk around the room and help them out. I also had a limitation of the number of seats in the room. I limited it to every 10 weeks and I would cycle out a new group of seniors to start the next semester.”
During his in-person classes, Mittler would often share his screen or hold up his phone while explaining a concept to the seniors, such as sending a text message or accessing FaceTime. He would walk around the room and help where he could while the seniors tried to do it themselves, and sometimes had them working in groups together. Mittler would repeat himself as much as he needed to before moving on with the lesson and would give the seniors handouts and homework covering what they just learned.
Mittler ran through his course about four or five times before the COVID-19 pandemic reared its head in New York City. Mittler was forced to rethink his teaching strategy. His school stopped letting him use the classroom and Mittler recognized that holding the class in person would not be safe for the senior citizens. However, Mittler felt he couldn’t just leave them behind.
“I knew that a lot of seniors that I work with either lived alone or isolated and are retired, so this time was harder than ever for them. I couldn’t say, we’ll pick up classes after COVID, see you whenever,” said Mittler. “I knew I couldn’t abandon them, so I was consistent on getting the seniors on Zoom.”
Though Mittler was still getting the hang of using Zoom himself because he switched to online learning for school, he did everything he could to make sure that his students could get onto Zoom. Mittler says he made many individual phone calls to seniors to help walk them through the process.
Naturally, Mittler had to adjust his methods for teaching over Zoom. Mittler says that his seniors learn better with visuals, and he didn’t know how long he’d be teaching over Zoom for.
“I put together a single class called ‘Interesting topics you should be aware of at this time,’ which covered things like online shopping, accessing the news and also playing games online. There were about 15 people on zoom, and I just lectured. Seniors occasionally raised hands but they still had some trouble with Zoom.”
However, once it became more apparent that the pandemic was going to keep people at home for longer than expected, Mittler designed a brand new 10-week curriculum covering topics that are more relevant to the lives of seniors during the pandemic, such as social media, online shopping, using the internet and FaceTiming grandchildren. He also made access the class as easy as possible, eliminating Zoom passwords and waiting rooms so seniors can access the class without issues.
Mittler’s class runs every Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and is completely free to participate. Since bringing the class to Zoom, his class has grown from 15 seniors to 50-60 seniors, not just ones from New York as well. Because the class size has grown, Mittler and his team at Mittler Senior Technology have started a Q&A session every Monday to help seniors who have any questions following the Sunday lessons.
“My goal is for them to be able to do this on their own without my help,” said Mittler. “Everyone who I have taught and has been through the 10 weeks has not left until they knew everything I wanted them to know, even if that meant taking the class again. I would not have seniors participate in my class and say bye without being confident that they could go outside and participate and communicate with friends and family without my help.”
As for the future of Mittler Senior Technology, the company has recently launched a portal full of videos of lessons that Mittler recorded over the summer so seniors can take the classes on their own time, including a new class called “Advanced Computers” that was meant to be taught in-person but has been put on hold as a result of the pandemic. Mittler made sure the portal was as user-friendly as possible so the seniors could access the classes.
“I spent a portion of summer professionally recording the basics class. [Seniors] can enroll in a class, it’s free, watch the video and click on the next one. There’s also a link to handouts,” said Mittler. “This is the future I want to go in. I don’t have to be teaching live, but I try to make it as interactive as possible. I’m a junior in high school, I have time to do 1 class a week, but if I got to 50,000 seniors in a class I don’t know how much available time I’ll have. Having the recordings uploaded will be very helpful for a senior in any timezone.”
Mittler hopes that he will be able to teach the seniors in person again, as he enjoys having one-on-one time with those in the classroom. However, he does think that he will incorporate Zoom into his lessons.
“Zoom has been very very positive for my company. I’ve never been able to reach seniors beyond a 5-block radius before and now I can,” said Mittler. “I will go back to in-person lessons but I can see myself setting up a laptop with Zoom and having seniors participate.”
For more information, visit mittlerseniortech.com.