Self-taught tech wizard helps fellow residents navigate technology
When Vista del Monte resident Joe Conway purchased a new laptop, he had trouble syncing his email to his cell phone. He also had an external hard drive that failed and needed to be restored. When he had problems with technology in the past, Joe would often seek help from sources outside of Vista.
“I really didn’t know who to trust and I found the people I hoped would help me found little success,” said the retired teacher. “Now when I need help, I just call Ellin. She gets it done.” Within an hour, Joe was up and running.
Vista resident Ellin Ostler is a self-taught technology wizard who has been using computers since the 1970s, which began during her career as a college administrator and educator at BYU and associate director of the Student Center at UCSB. As an older adult, she understands the struggles that others may have regarding ever changing technology and cyber security concerns.
“I love to teach and being a retired educator, nothing brings me more joy than to see someone learn something for the first time,” Ellin said. “It’s great to see someone have one of those ‘Aha!’ moments or see that sparkle in their eyes.”
Ellin is proud to be a part of the community’s learning process and provides all the help as a volunteer. During the height of the pandemic, many of her requests were to help residents set up Zoom calls with family.
“Many residents have gone to classes but became frustrated because they were at too fast apace,” Ellin said. “Some of them even asked their children, but at times that also was a struggle. Vista residents are very smart and desperately want to learn. Learning with their peers is great to help them discover that they aren’t the only ones who didn’t know technology. It builds self-confidence.”
Ellin estimates she helps two or three people per day with technology issues, which is fine with her since one of her favorite things is problem solving. For those she can’t assist immediately, she has created and amassed easy-to-read, encyclopedia-like documentation that includes illustrated help guides, links to trusted websites that provide tutorials, videos, detailed instructions and even a pamphlet about cyber security, she says is a must for seniors these days. She has even created her own tutorials that residents can access at home or via the computer workstations in Vista’s library.
Ellin also has developed and teaches multiple classes at Vista, either in person or virtually.
Topics cover the basics such as various devices and how to operate them, WI-FI and data, email, photos, search engines, using and programming a TV remote.
Resident Diane Stowel recently asked Ellin to help her with her newly purchased Apple computer and iPad, a new platform she was unfamiliar with as a former PC user.
“She is so patient and clear,” Diane said about Ellin. “I told her what I was having trouble with and she did all of the research and the materials she supplies are just wonderful.”
Ellin began teaching residents about tech after her experience on the community’s Residents Committee. “They (the committee) knew I had experience with computers and asked me to set up a computer and technology committee after hearing many residents request help with various technologies,” she said. One of the first things Ellin did was survey residents about what types of devices they owned, what type of help they needed with them and if their needs were being met.
“We found quite a few people had questions about or problems with their devices,” Ellin said. “We also discovered that while Vista staff are happy to help with setting up a computer, for example, they do not have enough time to meet the demand to help with troubleshooting or to teach people how to operate the devices. Vista employs a consultant but that person is only on campus four times per month. It wasn’t enough.”
“She certainly has helped a lot of people here,” said resident Len Hoffman, who uses his Alexa daily for online shopping and several “smart” devices around his home. “No one knows more about this stuff than Ellin.”
Whether making online doctor appointments, connecting to family members on Zoom, playing online games, or making sure a favorite TV program is successfully recorded, Ellin wants older adults to join the technology-driven world and she enjoys being a part of this process.
“If I help one person be happier and more connected, I have done my job,” Ellin said.