Material to teach Introduction to Computers
March 3, 2005 3:38 PM   Subscribe

I'll be teaching a smart, almost completely computer-illiterate person the basics of navigating a PC. Does anyone know of good material that I could use?

I thought that the best way would be to do an introduction to hardware (what a CPU, RAM, hard drive, USB etc are) followed by a simple introduction to Windows.

Things like left and right clicking, files and directories and drag-and-drop are all foreign concepts, so I'm really hoping that someone has done this before and can offer some hints.
posted by quiet to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd seriously start with Solitaire. Good for learning mousing skills. (double click, right click, drag, etc)

As for teaching computers, I have found that the best approach is to simply teach them how to do the thing they bought the computer for and how to get help.

So for my parents, for instance, I taught them how to check e-mail and surf the web, and how to use Google and the MS help system to figure out how to do other stuff. I figured when they were ready for the next thing, they would self motivate, and they did. Now they use digital cameras with their computers, have iPods, etc.
posted by xyzzy at 3:53 PM on March 3, 2005

From experience (with Nigerians government officials no less): some higher-ranking types have rarely or never even used a keyboard, typing being something "beneath them" that their secretaries traditionally have done for them.

So stuff that you take for granted may be entirely new to your students. Like the shift key and what it does. Power buttons and how to use them may also be essential curriculum foundations. If they're using laptops, how to open the laptop will be a major concern. Getting used to the mechanics of moving the mouse will take a while. "Right-click" or "function key" will be meaningless until explained. Just distinguishing the boundaries of windows, what's the application and what's the "desktop" will have to be explained. The difference between mouse cursor and text cursor, and even getting them in the habit of seeing the text cursor. Remember, these are smart guys, but you're explaining a whole metaphor to them.

In my experience (yours will differ) they'll have one or two apps they want to learn to use, and will care about little else. Stuff that is important to your understanding (CPUs, RAM, hard drives) will perhaps be much less important to them than stuff like "putting words in boldface".
posted by orthogonality at 4:01 PM on March 3, 2005

I think the most important thing you can do is avoid dumbing anything down. Be thorough. Let him ask questions.

Start with the basics and then build out from there. Show him how to open the Control Panels folder via the Start Menu and also through Windows Explorer. Help him understand the logic of the Windows desktop and how it's system of shortcuts. I think that will help him put the pieces together. Seeing the system this way might encourage him to discover things on his own and feel less afraid of it.
posted by glyphlet at 4:33 PM on March 3, 2005

My only advice with this is that you guide the person through doing the process themselves rather than showing them what to do and expecting them to reproduce it and/or giving a lecture. I've tried to lead by example countless times when training a user and I've almost always failed. It's not that they don't understand what I'm doing, I think its more like they don't identify each step as having a definite purpose and see it more as one fluid motion, sort of like the difference between cooking food from scratch and microwaving a TV dinner.

As the other posters have stated, a lot of computing is conceptual in nature. If you have the person step through whatever task you're working on, it will be easy to identify which parts of the process they don't understand conceptually and clarify those steps for them.
posted by mmcg at 4:43 PM on March 3, 2005

What's your intended goal? To teach them how to use the web and send e-mail, or how to do more advanced things?
After your introduction the first night. You may include parts of the above comment in a question for each pupil as he/she introduces his/herself. In doing this too, the class will fill like one in completing the class together.

A suggestion for books, none off hand. I would check out a teaching store and start with the most current one yet a very basic learning level, leveled at high school or lower grades. Because when was the last time they attended school and there may be many new terminology since then.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:54 PM on March 3, 2005

Response by poster: I'm getting the strong impression that describing the hardware is a bad idea. I get frustrated by not knowing how things work, but this is probably not mirrored by my student (or other normal people?). So thanks for that.

I hadn't thought about it before, but my aims are:
- Be able to use Windows in a meaningful way. So run applications, move files around, understand the taskbar, minimizing and maximizing applications
- Understand the desktop metaphor (thanks orthogonality)
- Be able to use Outlook email in a basic way (read, reply, file messages)
- Become less afraid to try things before asking for help

But thanks everyone, this is really helpful.
posted by quiet at 5:22 PM on March 3, 2005

I remember being snagged by a description of how to cut and paste--the person teaching me kept saying to highlight something, and it wasn't obvious that you can highlight something by making it darker.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:55 PM on March 3, 2005

Nancy Lebovitz writes "I remember being snagged by a description of how to cut and paste... it wasn't obvious that you can highlight something by making it darker."

Yes, that's a perfect example of what comes out of userland! Bright people who don't get "tech speak" because tech speakers have forgotten that they learned these terms slowly and incrementally.

One other suggestion, now that you mention using Outlook is one goal of the training. From recently showing my mom how to use email (mom isn't stupid: she's an MD who got a full scholarship to undergrad): the preview pane was extremely confusing to her, most notably because the up and down arrow keys scrolled the list of messages, not the message displayed in the preview pane. Attempting to scroll the currently previewed message, she'd scroll to the next message, and it wouldn't be obvious to her what had happened (and with all the fancy-backgrounded HTML email she was getting, it wasn't even obvious to me). Getting rid of the preview pane entirely helped her quote a bit, but it wasn't the sort of thing I initially thought of, because to me the preview pane is a great convenience and I rarely ever open an email in it's own window.

The larger lesson is that things that work well for you as an experienced user may actually be detrimental to newbies.

Microsoft knows this, but the way it accommodates this -- especially hiding unused menu options -- I think only make things worse. Turn the menu hiding crap off before you get a dozen calls saying, "I thought it was Edit|Foo but I guess I was wrong, foo's not an option anymore." Lock the taskbar toolbar to prevent them from inadvertently mmoving/hiding/changing it.

And always assure them there are backups of their work, and make sure their are.
posted by orthogonality at 6:29 PM on March 3, 2005

I've had a terrible time teaching my mom, for the same reason that so much of this is only intuative if you've been doing it a while.

I remember when I was first playing with a browser, I had no idea what to do once I had typed an address in. There was no button to click or anything and the idea of hitting "enter" on the keyboard just wasn't an obvious one.

Just be amazingly patient and don't assume anything is simple or obvious.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:57 PM on March 3, 2005

I teach 70 year old people who have never touched a computer before how to use email. It's my favorite part of my job. Everyone has good advice, here's mine:

- avoid "computers are awesome" jingoism and focus on computers being useful tools to do what you want to do on them. Many people come in to the library thinking they should "learn computers" but they're not sure why. See what your friend/student needs to know and teach towards that. Basic vocab is always helpful but don't spend too much time on word processing if all they need is email. [similarly, if they are using a PC spend zero time explaining "operating systems" until they are comfortable with the one they are using]

- deputize the person to ask questions, interrupt you and experiment. Draw lines at what NOT to do [i.e. don't make hidden files unhidden and then delete them please] but encourage troubleshooting within reason. Explain that not all warnings mean that something bad has happened, just like how not all manuals help you use the software/hardware.

- I find that the "for Dummies" books are good to leave on a desk and useful for reference. They have good indexes, fairly straightforward language and a lot of basic how-to stuff. I wouldn't start with them but they're good resources.

- things that are much more difficult than you'd think to novice users: double-clicking, the whole CTRL-click thing for cut and paste, scrolling with tiny scrollbars [invest in a scrolling mouse], multiple "windows" open at once, and the idea of selecting text. Solitaire is really helpful for practice and not unfun besides. Weird things that you may not think about any more can be important
      - the key called, alternately return/enter, make sure you call it what's on the keyboard
      - the fact that they need to confirm most dialog boxes that pop up by clicking OK
      - the concept of something being "greyed out"

Again, I'd stress goal-oriented work. It's easier for a novice user to stay focused when there's something they want to do, and then you can both work towards a task and feel a sense of accomplishment as you move nearer to it.

The more you can let them run the mouse as you help out, the better. I find that more people learn by doing, even if sometimes that means they're doing it quite slowly or doing it somewhat wrong. patience and a sense of humor are really helpful, as is being available to answer questions as they proceed along the path to learning how to use their computer.
posted by jessamyn at 7:25 PM on March 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

A couple of things my mom had trouble with:

1) She didn't understand why two files couldn't have the same name.

2) She didn't understand that the document she was working on was a temporary copy of the one on disk and that she had to explicitly save to keep changes she'd made. (No, the alerts did not clear that up for her, she assumed the alert was talking about something other than the work she'd just done, changes the computer had made rather than her.)

Once she got over these humps she was able to do pretty much everything, only needing to call me a few times.
posted by kindall at 7:39 PM on March 3, 2005

I agree that explanations of hardware, etc. should wait for later, and that you should begin with the immediate issues of how to work the mouse, understand the desktop, etc.

Also, it would be a good idea to draw up little lists of short, confidence-building exercises for you to pepper your lessons with. Once a person is able to successfully understand and complete a task, they feel more reassured and optimistic, which is a great psychological teaching aid. One task, for example, should be to open notepad (if on a PC) enter some text, name and save the file. Another will be to re-open the file, make an edit change, and save again. Later, a copy-paste exercise using the same file, etc. The earlier you can establish that s/he is capable of completing a task, the better, and don't let too much time pass between these kinds of encouraging exercises.
posted by taz at 7:54 PM on March 3, 2005

Some thoughts from having taught a person or two.

1) Skip the whole hardware thing. At least for right now.
2) Teach the analogous items.
Use the desktop metaphor. Desktop. Trash can. Files. Folders.

You have couple major objectives.
Show them how it's like their office.
Give them the idea that they have to take the typewriter out of it's case (launching it) and remember to put it back.
Do teach their questions. Don't feel you have to answer in equisite detail

In other words find ways to connect the experience to the real world.

Find practical uses; do not, under any circumstance go beyond an hour. Keep it friendly and comfortable.
posted by filmgeek at 9:13 PM on March 3, 2005

One little trick I use when I discover a person is excessively afraid to wreck stuff: I lay my hands all over the keyboard, while looking at their face. I have found, over the years, too many people are timid about computers, and it really blocks them.

Taz: kudos on the exercises, a great idea.
posted by Goofyy at 10:57 PM on March 3, 2005

it wasn't obvious that you can highlight something by making it darker

Which is why official term in the Apple and Microsoft style guides is "select." You "select" text or other things to be manipulated. You "choose" things from the menu. Actually, being at least familiar with these terms and using them as much as possible in training will probably help them later when they go to read manuals, where those terms are nearly universally used.
posted by kindall at 8:23 AM on March 4, 2005

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