Teaching Computer Basics

Tomorrow morning at 9 AM the program begins. Actually, we already presented the orientation, with an overview of what will be taught and a little bit about my style of instruction. Nobody bailed out based on that presentation, so I guess we will go ahead with instruction.

Here’s the thing. How or where does one begin to explain to people just exactly how to use a computer? Note to self here; eventually your students will be able to find this post in your blog, so don’t say too much about not knowing where to begin. Here I switch to Word for the auto-save and spell checking functions.

At the orientation, I put up 3 categories on a white board. They were; “Vocabulary”, “Computers and You” and “Learning”. So, to explain, it becomes obvious very quickly that there is a language associated with computers and you have to learn some new words, some new definitions for old words, and a few acronyms and their expansions, just to get a handle on how to discuss this kind of technology. That was my point with the vocabulary category. I’ll expand on this in the next section. We talked about computers and you in the context of “the computer has nothing to do without your input”. The explanation included my assertions that computers are not so smart – they can’t catch, for instance. I’ll give you more on this point later, as well. When I talk about learning, I always point out that you can learn how to use a computer by using a computer. That’s a catch-22 for beginners, but I promise that I can teach people how to continue their learning, after they have mastered the basics.

So, here is the more in the next section I promised you. There are at least dozens of acronyms that technical people use to describe what goes on with computers and communication. Expanding a few of these in many ways kind of draws the curtain and sheds light on the idea that it isn’t so difficult to understand computers, once you know what some of the acronyms mean. Heck, if you know how to use a computer, you can just look them up and learn on your own. As for the computers and you part of my spiel, I almost always throw in this demonstration. You can ask for a volunteer, request their keys and a willing participant will give them to you. Then, you say; “Are you ready?” And, when you toss the keys to your volunteer, invariably that person will catch the keys. At this point, I explain that a computer cannot do that and if someone wanted to program a computer to be able to do that, it would require millions of lines of code. A human simply recalls instructions ingrained since childhood and properly positions his hand and closes it in time to capture the projectile. It may sound like child’s play, but that really is the point. The computer does not have that experience, or the ability to recall instructions necessary to carry out this simple task. That last piece about showing people how to learn is almost purely focused on guessing well and using help and search tools as aids to the learning process. Once you know how, learning more is very easy to do.

OK, that’s enough for now. I am going to work on my syllabus. So much depends on how much we can accomplish in two hours on that first day. I’ll keep you posted.


  1. Jillian Lee says:

    Very nice blog post. How do you think “Computer 101” went? (Smiles)