Thursday, February 24, 2011

More on Teaching Technology

I've had conversations in the last few days with a few different librarians, who work at a few different libraries, about computer classes offered to the public at public libraries. This is not something I'm heavily involved in at my library, but it is something that I care deeply about. As my previous post stated, I have some past experience with this topic.

I've submitted a proposal to speak at the Michigan Library Association 2011 annual conference about this topic. It would be foolish to give away that presentation now (assuming it works for this year's conference and is chosen by the committee...) but since these conversations are fresh in my mind I wanted to offer just a little advice.

If your library has never offered classes, or if you think you're not qualified or experienced enough with computers, think again! I noticed an undercurrent in each conversation about the confidence of the would-be computer class instructors. Do they think they have to be computer experts? Do they think they have to have an answer to every possible question that a participant might ask? The answer to both questions, in my opinion, is NO!

Public libraries often offer basic classes in word processing, spreadsheets, and maybe desktop publishing or presentation software. Here's an outline I have used in a two-part word processing class in the past:

Word Processing I:

Keyboard basics:
-When to use backspace vs. delete
-What's the TAB key for?
-Do I have to press the ENTER key at the end of every line? What's "word wrap"?
-How do I capitalize letters? How do I type symbols? (ie. What does the SHIFT key do?)
-Why are there numbers across the top of the keyboard AND on the right side?

Getting Around the Document:
-What is a cursor? (Hint: It's NOT a mouse pointer!!)
-Backspace/delete move the cursor, but erase everything in the cursor's path
-Arrow keys move the cursor without deleting anything
-Clicking the mouse moves the cursor to a specific spot
-Enter key moves the cursor down one line, as well as any text to the right of or below the cursor

-Why do you block, or highlight, text?
-How do you block, or highlight, text?
-What does copy do? (Leaves text where it is, makes a copy so you can have that text in more than one place.)
-What does cut do? (Removes text from where it is so you can put it somewhere else.)
-How do I tell the computer where to put the thing I've copied or cut?
-How do I paste it there?

-Bold, italic, underline
-Font style, font size, font color
-The undo button. Wow, can you change lives by showing people the undo button!
-Margins (How do I get that one line on page 2 to fit at the bottom of page 1?)

That's it! That's plenty for Word 1. This outline takes about one hour to complete. It's very basic, I know. The keyboard part might be able to be covered in a Computer Basics type of class, but since you use the keyboard so much in word processing (after all, it's what puts the words on the page...), I like to include it in the word processing class. Notice, too, that I make no assumptions about previous word processing skills. When I say "Word Processing I," I really, truly mean basic, beginner, numero uno. Finally, it's four handouts; one for each section I mentioned above. You hand them out when you're ready to move on to the next portion of the program.

What's Word Processing II all about, then?
-Bullet points and numbering
-Clip art
-Headers and Footers
-Envelopes and labels

If you're ambitious and have time and money, you could teach mail merge, tables, and all kinds of other less-used features in a Part III class. My goal for a basic word processing class is to give the class just enough to get them started and to build their confidence enough to try things. Once they know about the undo button, they can just click buttons and see what happens. It's those basics like "know where your cursor is before you do anything" and "highlight your text to make changes to it" that help people be able to experiment more successfully.

How much do you need to know about spreadsheets to teach a Spreadsheet Basics class? Here's what I cover in Part I of spreadsheets:

-Types of data: numeric, alphabetic
-Cell location/cell address
-Auto sum
-Start every formula with the = sign and use cell addresses, not the data in the cells, in your formulas
-A little formatting, like cell borders, cell height/width and auto fit, wrap text, choosing

I like project-driven classes, so set up a fake checkbook (include "library donation" as a monthly category for expenditures, and make it a big amount!) and set up formulas for deposits and withdrawls with starting and ending balances.

Spreadsheets II could include charts and graphs, adding multiple worksheets to one document, and maybe referencing data from one worksheet to the next in a formula.

When I get questions from class participants that are beyond the scope of the class, I simply say so. I'll offer to talk to that person afterward so as not to hold up the momentum of the class. If I don't know the answer, I also admit that. Either I offer to figure it out and email them with the answer later or I just commit to getting a book and figuring it out. I know a few people who are pretty good with Excel that I can hook the patron up with, too. That's always an option. The worst thing you can do is pretend to have all the answers and give bad information! It's perfectly ok to reiterate that you're there to teach basics and can't answer their question right then and there.

What do you include in your basic classes? What software do you teach? How do you handle questions that are out of your league?

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