Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Teaching Computer Classes

I stepped in for an ill co-worker recently to teach a beginning word processing class. Teaching classes is something I used to do regularly - sometimes several times a week. Since starting my current job, I have only done a bit of it here and there, and I definitely miss it!

I've presented and published about computer classes for beginners in the past. I believe strongly that classes for beginners should be short enough to stay within the average person's attention span, short enough to force the instructor to hit the highlights and not go overboard with too much information, and short enough to entice people who think they don't have time to come to a class. About an hour is right on all counts. I went about one hour and fifteen minutes in this particular class on actual instruction, and then hung out for an extra fifteen minutes to talk about other computer things that came up.

I also believe that handouts should be topic-oriented. I have created topic sheets for many classes so that students can go back to a specific handout and get step-by-step directions with screenshots (where appropriate) on how to do something. My handouts are available at The beauty of topic sheets is that you can really focus on one task at a time. For example, if you're teaching cut, copy, and paste, the topic sheet only gives directions for that specific thing. These topic sheets, handed out one at a time as you start teaching that topic, also help keep student morale high and frustration low. When a beginning computer student shows up and is handed a several-page booklet, they may already be overwhelmed. If they're handed a topic sheet one at a time, it seems more do-able. You can also tailor each class to the speed it sets for itself. If you only get to page two of a several-page booklet, the class feels like they didn't accomplish much. If they finish two or three topic sheets, it is clear that they accomplished a few tasks - and they don't have to compare those few tasks to the several pages-worth you may have had available. For all they know, you only planned to cover two or three topic sheets.

I could go on and on about teaching methods for beginning computer classes and setting up a curriculum (and would be happy to, if you're looking for a speaker on the topic!). Subbing for this class was a good illustration of how each teacher has to fit the curriculum and handouts to his/her individual style. Adopting someone else's style and handouts when it just doesn't work for you makes for a less than stellar class for the participants. At the same time, respecting that other teachers have different styles and handouts that work just fine for them is important. I did what worked for me and would expect each instructor to do the same. Experimenting can also be beneficial, and I certainly spent years figuring out what works best for me.

Thought I'd share what it is that works for me!

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