Several years ago a student in Mary Anne Murphy's sociology class on aging asked her a question that made her rethink how she taught the class.

"A young male student came up to me and said, 'If I'm supposed to be learning about aging, why aren't there any older adults in this room?'" Murphy told Radio West host Rebecca Zandbergen.

"I was quite inspired by his question, I went around mulling it over for a year, and decided he was absolutely right."

For the last five years Murphy has invited a number of seniors to audit her courses.

Mary Ann Murphy

Mary Ann Murphy is a sociology professor at UBCO. (Mary Ann Murphy )

"What happens is that they both recognize there's a tremendous amount of age discrimination in our society, both against youth and older adults, so the two groups actually get along quite well, they have a natural affinity."

Murphy said she's seen a lot of friendships form, and the seniors have shared their skills with the students — including impromptu knitting lessons.

Tinder, and other learning curves

Jim Lawrence, who is currently auditing one of Murphy's courses, welcomed the opportunity to come to the class and offer his input.

He said that though he was "apprehensive" at first, he found that he and the other seniors were quickly accepted by their younger counterparts.

The skill and culture gap between the generations has resulted in some entertaining discussions — for example, when one student explained to them what the app Tinder is.

senior aging course

Jim Lawrence, 77, is auditing a sociology course on global aging at UBCO. (CBC)

"I had no idea what Tinder was. I thought it was something you burned," he laughed.

"Technology is moving so fast these days. In the old days when we dated we would do it through going to a dance."

Lawrence said that though his generation has a lot to offer, he has been learning a lot as well.

"They're very mature, they're educated, and they're very open. So it's a real learning experience for us seniors as well," he said.

Lives of students

Murphy said the seniors are learning about "the tremendous complexity and stress of the lives of these students, and the contribution of student debt to family formation, because they're all clearly saying, 'Look, I've invested in my education, I'm deep in debt, I have no intention of coupling off until I sort out some of these other things out in my life.'"

Lawrence said he was surprised to learn that all the students have part-time jobs, despite their course loads.

"When I went to school first of all you didn't need a 90 per cent average to get into university, and secondly in the summer we all got good jobs. And then when we graduated we also got jobs. These young people are into a totally different environment now."

He said it has helped him understand why young adults are starting families later.

Any seniors who interested in joining one of Murphy's classes can contact her at mary-ann.murphy@ubc.ca


To hear the full interview listen to the interview labelled: UBCO prof invites seniors to share their perspectives in her global aging sociology course