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Like teaching someone to drive.

August 13, 2007

OK, I just finished teaching an “Internet for Beginners” class, and I’ve gotta tell ya–I hate doing it. It’s so frustrating! The reason is that many people who sign up for a beginning Internet class are beginning computer users: people who have not touched a computer before, or people with so little experience that you really have to start from scratch.

This means that you have to teach people how to use a mouse. Learning to use a mouse means learning how to make your eyes and hand work together; holding the mouse between the thumb and ring finger while resting the index and middle fingers on the appropriate buttons; not pressing on the buttons while holding and moving the mouse; not moving the mouse while pressing the button; looking for the arrow to change to a pointing finger; not accidentally pressing the right button instead of the left; etc.

I’ve limited my class to ten basic things to learn about the Internet, but we spend the majority of minutes of the class simply getting on top of a link and clicking on it.

The next class in the series is about signing up for Google mail. In most cases so far, the people taking the class are simply not ready to move on to signing up for e-mail. At last month’s e-mail class, it took a full hour to just create the account because the patron did not do mouse practice as I suggested.

Clearly there is a need for this type of instruction (the class is always full and we always have a waiting list), but I don’t know if I want to continue to do it. What I want to be teaching is Web 2.0 skills: e-mail, bookmarking, blogging, Flickr, etc. The problem is, when people sign up for a class, they say they have Internet experience but still may not be able to use a mouse.

My head tells me that I should teach what I enjoy. Trying to instruct something you hate will kill your spirit. This is why the majority of the world’s population doesn’t teach eighth grade math.

My huge guilt monster tells me, “But the people need basic instruction!” Do it, you big meanie!

So, I’m taking comments. Please let me know what you think.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan Mellott permalink
    August 13, 2007 7:55 pm

    I feel for you, its hard enough for me to teach my mom! But it is really nice to have someone who has the patience to teach people because they really appreciate and need it. I know mom gets frustrated because she can’t find anywhere to just learn some basics first and the classes always go too fast for her. If you can do it, I think it is a great service for people. Maybe there is a way for a group of people to teach so no one has to do it all?

  2. Ian permalink
    August 13, 2007 8:32 pm

    I think one of the secrets to teaching basic computer use is to do it in just a few bite sized chunks at a time – don’t make the class an hour, because that’s information overload, not to mention new skills overload. Make it half an hour at the most – and THEN: require a demonstration of mastered skills to take part 2. “Oh, you didn’t practice your mouse movement? I have an extra instruction handout that you can go practice with, and then you can sign up for part 2 again. Good luck!” Or even suggest they attend part 1 again. I think that you probably don’t hate the material as much as you don’t appreciate the meaningless assurances that they can do something that they patently cannot do.

    However: you would have to have Computer Basics 1, 2, 3, and maybe 4, who knows … bite-sized. But that means that you can kick people out of Internet Basics when they need the earlier class. Okay, I know, no kicking in the library. And you’d probably want to give a one or two step test to determine if someone was really ready for Internet Basics – like “before I sign you up, I need you to use this mouse to click on the start button.”

  3. Heidi permalink
    August 14, 2007 7:19 am

    I would guess for beginning computer users that “Internet”=”computer” since surfing the web is what most people do, aside from word processing. I don’t work directly with the public anymore, but on the few occasions where I have been flagged down to assist patrons, I’ve notcied that their request for help setting up web email also includes help with basic mouse movements.

  4. Melissa permalink
    August 14, 2007 7:21 am

    A major part of the frustration is also that I cannot teach certain skills or abilities. I cannot teach someone to type. I cannot teach someone to be able to see the keyboard and the characters printed on it. I can’t teach someone to hear better!

    I’m afraid staffing levels don’t allow for more than one person to present a program at once. We used to have a wonderful volunteer who would teach this class. Perhaps I can find another one.

    This morning I find myself thinking, It’s just one hour a month, it’s just one hour a month.

  5. Melissa permalink
    August 14, 2007 7:28 am

    You are right about that, Heidi. To beginning computer users, it’s all one big mystery.

  6. Lisa permalink
    August 14, 2007 8:45 am

    What we did at NWH was offer hour long, one on one sessions with patrons so that they could get the individualized computer instruction they needed. Unfortunately a decision was made to discontinue because we just don’t have staff time available to do this anymore, and it seems that with demand as high as it is at your branch, this might not be possible. I like Ian’s suggestions. (My first two responses were much better, but my crazy cat managed to shut me down twice by pulling the plug out of the wall.)

  7. Susan Mellott permalink
    August 14, 2007 9:24 am

    I just thought of another thing after reading the comments. Your list to teach to beginners might be too (maybe way too) ambitious. I think sometimes we forget what being a computer/internet beginner is like. Real beginners really don’t know how to use a mouse or what a link is or how to open and close windows or pretty much anything. And of course, the mouse is a skill that needs practiced.

    I think people would greatly benefit from and appreciate a class just in basic mouse skills (and then later in keyboard skills like the F keys, esc, the pgup, pgdown, ctl, alt, etc). I know it sounds simple, but if people have those skills, they can then learn and concentrate on the others instead of concentrating on where the cursor is.

    Like Ian said, if you could have a standalone class on that, then if people didn’t have those skills, you could refer them there first. And in that class you could just do mouse things, no real computer stuff. Maybe find a simple game that everyone knows like jigsaw puzzles or checkers or hearts (and have several choices of varying beginning skill levels) and let them just play it in class. You could have maybe some ones that are just moving the mouse around to places (like where something happens if you get the cursor on top of something) or drag and drop (like jigsaw puzzles) and if they get that down, something with some clicking like right clicks and left clicks and double clicks.

    It could be more where each person does it at their own rate (as far as difficulty of mouse coordinating) and you could just be there and help them get the learning thing or game they want and show them the basics and let them practice. I’ll bet there are training things for this on the internet too, for simple mouse manipulation.

    Moving the cursor around with the mouse and being able to right/left click and double-click allows them to understand and implement your instructions. And games are an easy way to practice since everyone knows the rules, you just have to use your mouse instead of your hand.

    Maybe a once or twice a week say a 1/2 or hour class on using the mouse that they could take over and over again to get their skills up (and have fun!).

    I’ll bet people would drop out of the other class and go to that class over and over until they felt more comfortable and that would be good for everyone.

    Just more thoughts! (I’m fulla thoughts… 🙂

  8. Carly permalink
    August 14, 2007 1:33 pm

    Hey Melissa,

    I understand your frustration with teaching basic users. Let me ask a question – If you don’t host this basic training, will you have to teach these folks one-by-one the same skills as they come in as patrons?

    Any chance of using volunteers – Not to teach the class, but to assist?

    Completely off topic – Lynda Barry rules!

  9. Melissa permalink
    August 14, 2007 1:51 pm

    Teaching them one-on-one would probably take up more staff time than doing a one-hour class once a month. Because after the class, it is the patron’s responsibility to practice. So, doing a class is probably a better option.

  10. Melissa permalink
    August 15, 2007 11:46 am

    Here’s my Top 10 Things to Know About the Internet list for the class:
    HAVE FUN! (practice)

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