Gabi Arnovitz studies economics and business administration at the Hebrew University. A few years ago, he initiated a project bringing together student volunteers and seniors for smartphone lessons. Wanting to advance his project, he participated in the first cohort of Asper-HUJI Innovate's program, OPEN Social. While conducting market research, he came across Uriel Shuraki, who was independently teaching similar classes at community centers across Jerusalem. After completing OPEN Social, Gabi began teaching with Uriel. Along with David Suraqui, they got to work developing a start-up relating to smartphone lessons.
Unfortunately, their classes were cancelled mid-spring, as the virus spread. Yet social distancing wasn’t going to stop them. Gabi, Uriel, and David realized that demand for their service would sky-rocket, as seniors found themselves feeling increasingly isolated. David suggested starting a digital course. They advertised and within ten days, 600 seniors had signed up. As of late May, the group had grown to include 1,700 people. The service is offered free of charge.
Experience had taught them that most seniors are capable of opening Whatsapp messages. Thus, participants receive a daily instructional video via Whatsapp. The seniors need only to hit play, watch, and learn! The lessons range from 3-8 minutes long and focus on a specific function of their phones: adjusting the volume, forwarding images, silencing groups, turning on the flashlight, various apps, and more.
To help solidify the seniors’ learning, they began holding weekly Zoom meetings. At first, these meetings enabled the seniors to practice opening and using the program. Later, these became opportunities to review lessons and ask questions. Now they are using Zoom to offer additional content. In mid-May they hosted a guest lecture on the topic of fake news, which was attended by 176 people.
This project was the first to be awarded a 5,000 NIS grant from Asper HUJI Innovate and the Student Union, in response to a call for proposals that employed technology to alleviate loneliness during social distancing.
Looking forward, Uriel and Gabi have begun translating their program into English, making it available to an even broader audience – in Israel and abroad. They are committed to keeping the program free of charge, and hope to develop brand name recognition that enable them to charge for more advanced or specialized courses in the future.