Teaching Computers to the uninitiated

I taught my forth computer literacy class at the Reno Job Connect center at Reno Town Mall (formerly Old Town Mall).  My students are people who have avoided computers for all of their lives.  Mostly people who have gotten caught out in this crappy economy and who have been working for years.  Probably the last time they applied for a job, they filled out an application at the place of business and just turned it in like everyone has done in the past.

I found out that employers no longer operate that way.  Now, you can’t get anyone to talk to you if you haven’t already filled out an application on line.  You also need to have an email address before anyone will try to contact you.  If you’ve never used a computer before in your life, this can be very intimidating.

First, I tell people how important basic computer skills are (they already know usually) and then I tell them to go out and buy a thumb drive (flash drive, USB flash drive, etc.) so they can store their vital information on it and take it from computer to computer.

Next, I show them the mouse.  You’d be surprised at how difficult it can be using a mouse if you’ve never put your hand on one (even once).  I’ve had some folks that tried to steer their mouse like a car to get to different places on the screen (Lord help them if the pointer is above the thing they want on the screen). The first thing I tell them is to keep the cord facing the monitor.  Sometimes there is a language barrier (and I don’t mean that I’m speaking Tech Talk).  You can never be sure someone understands you even if they smile and nod their head a lot.  I tell them about the buttons, double clicking, click and drag, context menus (right click), and the scroll wheel.  This can be very confusing.  Sometimes they discover that the scroll wheel will act as a button too, and this leads to no end of trouble.  I always tell people that they need to play some computer solitaire so they can get more used to the mouse.  I don’t know if they will, but it is an excellent way of gaining skills with a mouse.

I show them some of the important keys on the keyboard like shift, caps lock, Ctrl, Esc, space bar, Enter, and Tab.  Then I proceeded on and forgot what I told them about how to use the Tab key to move between boxes on a form.

Next, we start up MS Word. The version of Word we are using is 2003, so if they get on one of the newer versions, they’re hosed.  Sometimes I think we should be using Notepad or at most WordPad because it’s so much simpler than MS Word.

I have them type some things, maneuver around in their text with the arrow keys and the mouse, use the backspace and delete keys, and then save a file.

I’m pretty sure this goes in one ear and out the other, but they do have a handout that they can take home that may be some help.

The last thing we do is help them set up an email account.  This usually takes up the remainder of the two hour class.  I usually run two hours and fifteen minutes easy.  We’ve tried yahoo mail and gmail.  Now we are using Hotmail.  The ladies in the class always get a kick out of my use of the term “Hotmail”.  They think I’m talking about myself.

None of these email programs are very easy to use.  Yahoo and Gmail keep locking up before they are finished.  I usually get about 8 out of 10 people to successfully set up their email account.  If I do the work for them, I don’t think they will be able to log on by themselves.  I really hope that I’m helping these people.  I think one lady has signed up for my class for the third time.

One thing I always have to watch out for is speaking in Jargon.  I can usually tell when I’m doing this by the blank stares.  Also, sometimes I get carried away explaining some cool thing you can do with windows when they haven’t mastered the double click yet.

The saddest part of this is that it is all volunteer work….

More on the subject later.

About whatisblivit

I have been working with computers since the Commodore Vic20. I've been building PC's since about 1989. I received my Electrical Engineering degree in 1986. I have been building and maintaining my extended families computers since about 1996.
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2 Responses to Teaching Computers to the uninitiated

  1. Kiziah says:

    Well I think it’s great that your helping these people. I couldn’t imagine my life without computers.

    • whatisblivit says:

      Yeah, I told them about my first experience with computers (Running punch cards through a keypunch machine). I was very excited telling them about it (it was in 1980), but I couldn’t seem to generate any enthusiasm in my test subjects. I’ve been in love with computers since long before I could get my hands on one. The people taking my class have been avoiding computers for just as long.

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