FaceAge course provides opportunity for intergenerational connections

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new course at Penn State counters the traditional look of a college classroom by bringing together younger and older adults to examine aging issues.

HDFS 497, FaceAge: Perspectives on Aging, is an eight-week course in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) that brings together HDFS students and adults aged 50 and older through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Penn State to provide real-life, intergenerational synergy.   

The course, which launched this spring, focuses on perceptions and perspectives of the aging experience and offers students the opportunity to learn from different perspectives and generational cohorts. Throughout the course, students reflect and analyze conversations and co-create a product that documents interactions and perspectives, such as a video or podcast.

“Together, through facilitated conversation and activities, we explore the experience of growing-up, family, aging, well-being and more,” said course instructor Amy Lorek. “A technology assistant in the class helps partners jointly develop a video or podcast to be screened and kept.”

Lorek also directs community engagement for Penn State’s Center for Healthy Aging and creates opportunities for undergraduate students and community members to come together to learn from and inspire each other.

The new course, which is funded by the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, includes various activities to encourage interaction among students. For example, recently participants were divided into groups of four – two undergraduate students and two OLLI members. Each group then discussed a specific generational-related topic or issue.

HDFS students Erin Kowey and Woojin Kim, and OLLI members Patty Stephens and Timmy Shanahan, explored the topics of “Millennials” and “Baby Boomers.” What defines and differentiates them prompted a discussion on technology and communication.

Kowey said that while the millennial generation may be considered largely media-driven — they use iPhones and other mobile technology for almost every form of communication — eye-contact and one-on-one conversation is not lost among them.

“It depends on the individual,” Stephens agreed. “I don’t think how we communicate is just a generational matter. I know some people my age who are glued to their mobile devices. Also, my generation is catching up to the younger generation when it comes to technology and social media.”

Kim agreed. “Both myself and my parents are always on their iPhones,” he said.

In another activity involving groups of one undergraduate student paired with one OLLI member, participants were asked to share a childhood photo of themselves.

Liza Daroff, HDFS student, had brought in a photo of herself at a camp in Maine. Then Daroff’s partner, OLLI member Sandy Lopez, shared that she also attended a summer camp in Maine, prompting the two to discuss and compare their childhood camp experiences.

The class will culminate in May when students present their final video and podcast projects.

Collaborative partners of the course include the Arts & Design Research Incubator, the Center for Healthy Aging, the College of Health & Human Development, the College of Arts & Architecture, HDFS, OLLI, and the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence.

The course was inspired by the FaceAge project, an immersive three-screen video installation presenting a 56-minute loop of interconnected chapters built around cross-generational encounters featuring younger (ages 18-22) and older (65+) participants studying, describing and touching one another's faces.

Andrew Belser, professor of theatre and director of the Arts & Design Research Incubator in the College of Arts and Architecture at Penn State, started FaceAge while a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. When he came to Penn State in 2013, he enlisted the help of both the College of Nursing and the Center for Healthy Aging in the College of Health and Human Development.

FaceAge outreach events have provided opportunities for viewers to reflect on and share their FaceAge experiences during “story circles.” In the fall, the FaceAge exhibit was on display at the HUB-Robeson Center on the University Park campus.

OLLI is a volunteer-driven membership organization open to all members of the community aged 50 or older. For more information visit olli.psu.edu.

Amy Milgrub Marshall, writer at the College of Arts and Architecture at Penn State, contributed to this news release.

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Last Updated May 15, 2017