Shelia Cotten, a professor in the Department of Media and Information, has received a lot of good news lately surrounding her research in Gerontology. Cotten was awarded Fellow status in The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) in addition to earning the American Sociological Association’s Communication, Information Technologies, and Media Sociology section (CITAMS) William F. Ogburn Career Achievement Award for her work in discovering how to help the elderly cross the digital divide and utilize technology to enhance their lives.
GSA, with over 500 Fellows, is the largest organization focused on studying older adults with a focus on trying to proactively improve their health and well-being.
“Most of the work I do is thinking about: How can we use technology to enhance people’s lives? Are there existing technologies that could be beneficial, or technologies that need to be modified or created that could enhance older adults lives?” Cotten said.
Cotten and her research team have recently conducted focus groups with older adults around the state of Michigan. She looks at how older adults benefit from technology and what is most useful to them and their needs. Tablets are increasingly being used by this demographic, but some of these individuals still don’t see the device as the right fit for them.
“A lot of times older adults don’t want to use (tablets or other technologies) because they don’t see the relevance of them for their lives. If you can help them see the relevance then they’ll be more likely to learn to use the technology,” said Cotten. “Showing them how they can communicate and find information can be really powerful for them.”
The American Sociological Association's CITAMS William F. Ogburn Career Achievement Award is given to scholars with outstanding research that has contributed “to the advancement of knowledge in the area of sociology of communication, media, and/or information technology.”
Cotten, who has studied technology for nearly 20 years, said that the Career Achievement Award recognizes the larger body of her work with technology-use over the life course and, specifically, how we approach the idea of the digital divide.
“They’re both wonderful organizations and I feel very fortunate to be a part of both of those organizations,” said Cotten. “I hope I’m not done yet and have more to contribute to enhance people’s lives through the use of technology."