The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Know Thy Machine...

Giving someone a computer is one thing....sure you've given someone a tool to participate in current technology...

But making sure they know how to use that tool is just as important.

If not more so.

We recently set up a series of classes at the Bruno Knaapen Technology Learning Center.  The classes were more for the parents and adults than our kids.

Trust me, our kids get the computer.

Adults not so least the ones we encountered that night.

And before I go any further, my sincerest thanks to Christina Collazo for doing the English to Spanish translation.  The majority of our class that night were native Spanish-speakers and our session would have been a Tower-of-Babel failure without her presence.  Thank you Christina.

I went into that classroom with the intention of teaching basic Internet and search skills but as the class started, I realized that many of the things I was saying were being met with quizzical or blank stares.

Stuff like:

Focus your mouse and do a ctrl A key combination.

Copy that line and paste it into the address bar.

Bookmark this for later, we will visit this page again.

It dawned on me that this classroom of people, ranging in age from 30-60 didn't have a clue as to what I was saying.

What was intended to be a quick class in how to browse and search turned into a "computer 101" session.

We started from the beginning.  With Christina, myself and other volunteers, we began circulating among the individual students, showing them keyboard shortcuts, showing them the difference between left and right mouse clicks, explaining tabbed browsing and a basic introduction to a browser and its function.

As we spoke to these people, they scribbled quickly on their note pads and as we discovered specific issues or commands that many of them struggled with, we did whiteboard notations, explaining them more fully.

I think what impacted me mostly was the amazement and personal revelation these people exhibited when we showed them simple ctrl A, C, D and V commands.  It was like the clouds parted and the angels sang.

Well...not really.  I personally did not hear the Hallelujah Chorus that night, but it was close.

So I suppose the main point of writing this is to remind us that we cannot take basic computer skills within anyone as a given.  We had one young lady tell us that she had literally typed in entire paragraphs that she wanted to send to someone in an email.

Showing her copy and paste was to her, a miracle.  Simple things like demonstrating the scroll wheel on a mouse, implementing mouse gestures in Firefox and additional keyboard shortcuts can mean ending months or years of frustration and open up an entire new attitude in using a personal computer.

Those people were not the only ones to learn valuable lessons that night.  I learned that it's the simple things that pave the way to the greater.

Maybe this is a lesson many of us can take to heart.

Maybe there are others counting on us to do so.

All-Righty Then


David Lemire said...

I've had this experience, getting my mother, in her late 80s, set up with a laptop and a broadband connection. Initial setup at her house went fine, and I let my wife handle a lot of the training, since she doesn't descend to geek-speak like I do. :-) When we left, things were fine. A few days later, when I was hundreds of miles away at home, my Mom told me the Internet connections wasn't working. Well, the remote desktop login doesn't help much with no Internet connection. Talking my non-computer-literate Mother through fixing that was an about 3-hour process, during which it was really brought home to me just how much jargon and other things we computer literati take for granted. Two good things resulted by the end: 1) my Mom was back on line, and 2) my teenage daughters were really impressed with my patience. A real learning experience all around.

Anonymous said...

I learned that it's the simple things that pave the way to the greater.

Maybe this is a lesson many of us can take to heart.

Maybe there are others counting on us to do so.

Maybe this is one of the most profound ideas I've read in ages.

Ben said...

In IT, I find that the teaching aspect of customer relations is one area that can quickly atrophy if not tended to. It's all fine and dandy that you can sniff packets and set up an exchange server with one hand tied behind your back. But if you can't teach your customer how to use the basic functionality of their new software all your expertise is for naught.

Great article, I love reading this site.

PV said...

That's always true; unless you've seen someone use or talk about using a computer, don't take their skills for granted. And anyway, in such a case, Linux is more user-friendly than that other OS because it's more customizable and adaptable to the user's specific needs; in any case, when a user is starting out, as long as there's a reasonably modern GUI, it doesn't matter whether it's Linux, PC-BSD, Mac OS, or Microsoft Windows.
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Anonymous said...

Well I have been earning my living in the computer industry since 1974, using linux since 1993 and I *still* don't know what

"Focus your mouse and do a ctrl A key combination."

means. :-)

Focus your mouse?

Michelle Minkin said...

You have two to three different fields open on your screen. Maybe a text editor, a browser and a music player. Each open thing represents a "field".

Are you going to just start typing into anywhere to type in an address into the browser and just hope it will appear in the right "field? No, you have to "focus" into that field with your mouse by clicking into that field.

You may have been "working" in the industry for a while but I am wondering if you have been doing much teaching. I'm a relative computer dummy and I knew what he was talking about.


Blog of helios said...

Focus your mouse?

You slam it down on your desk a couple of times and scream at it to pay attention.


Blog of helios said...

Ah, I think I see your point.

Maybe to many, the command "focus your cursor" would be the correct one to give.

No. Two points to take into consideration.

1. Many of these people are not proficient in English.

2. New computer users only rationalize or understand their physical environment. What they can see, feel, and control.

To them, the cursor is an abstract thing. It sits behind a piece of glass or plastic on the monitor and represents an unknown or foreign element. The mouse on the other hand resides in their physical presence.

The mouse can be focused as it can be manipulated...trying to make the connection between the mouse and an appearing cursor seems like an inconsequential hop, but to the new user, it makes more sense to tell them to "focus" something physical.

I can see see where "focusing a mouse" wouldn't make sense to you, but to those who don't understand the basics of computer use. it does.


Anonymous said...

I have to say, that this "I can see see where "focusing a mouse" wouldn't make sense to you, but to those who don't understand the basics of computer use. it does." makes me a little confused as well. Could you please clarify? Do you mean, perhaps, "focus on your mouse", or are you referring to the act of clicking a part of the screen (ie, a particular window) so that the following necessary actions can be completed?

Please don't take this as me being pedantic. I suppose that this is just an example of how an experienced user can be just as easily confused as a beginner.

Love the blog BTW.


United against said...

I work at a helpdesk and a lot of our users are very uncomfortable around computers. I tried to teach my mother but she got frustrated and so did I. I thought myself computers but still do not know how to do most things. I know enough to get by but not enough to be more productive. I enjoy when we get new people at work as they show me things that I did not know were possible or show me other ways to do things. I wish that I knew more and glad that you were able to make people more productive.

r_a_trip said...

"Focus your mouse and do a ctrl A key combination."

I've been mucking about with PC's since the early nineties, but this one had me scratching my head at first too.

It could be a cultural difference, but in The Netherlands we don't do "mouse focussing" and "key combinations". We're much more literal then that.

We "left or right click in or on a thing on the screen". We "push the arrow towards it with the mouse". If the "thing" is marked with a color or a text, we mention that the thing is marked with it. If we need to use the key board and multiple keys, we, for example, "press and hold the control key, then press A and let go".

It might be a bit more wordy, but usually it does the trick just fine.

Blog of helios said...

makes me a little confused as well. Could you please clarify? Do you mean, perhaps,

I already did in the comment right above the one you posted.

Anonymous said...

A first step, once receives a computer, would be to look at it's keyboard, in conjunction with the user manual, to figure out what each key and button does. Then, one proceeds, with the help of the owner manual, to the sides and underside of the computer to figure out what each port and slot does. Then, one moves on, with the help of the owner manual, to the operating system and applications. For the extremely curious and geeky, I would recommend a peek under the hood, in combination with the owner manual.

Anonymous said...

""focus your cursor" would be the correct one to give."

Probably so. However, what I see here is people commenting who have USED a computer for years, but have not TAUGHT computer use on a daily basis. When working with people that are generally scared of their computers, you have to be as literal as possible.

Besides, I did a Google search for "focus your mouse" and "focusing the mouse" and it was clear that it is common and well-understood language.

Again as stated, it might be an English thing and translates poorly to other languages, but as far as it being confusing, it is exactly the opposite. If you have more than one application or browser open on one screen, how are you going to insure you type into the right place? You "focus" your mouse.

Or cursor. but telling them to focus the mouse makes more sense to a new computer user.

Anonymous said...

You slam it down on your desk a couple of times and scream at it to pay attention.


Anonymous said...

I have been using computers for a long time. I remember
using Windows 3.1, then Win 95, then Linux. Then I got an IPod touch so I could run a proprietary app to control remotely a Linux-powered device. Being a proprietary product operated through the iTunes software, I had to do some software contortions to get the iTunes app store running on Win 7 in Virtualbox under Linux so I could install the iTunes app that I wanted on my iPod.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. Yes, it's amazing how we can take prior knowledge for granted, not just in computing but in any training field.

As for focusing the mouse... well, coming from a Windows background (even though I'm a Linux user) I'd tend to talk about which is the "active window" i.e. the one which receives input from the keyboard. It's not really to do with the mouse other than you use the mouse to make it active.


James Dixon said...

> I can see see where "focusing a mouse" wouldn't make sense to you, but to those who don't understand the basics of computer use. it does.

I would say "move the mouse until your pointer is in the place you want it, then press the left mouse button". Ken is right. Cursor is a foreign concept to most. But most people seem to know the word pointer.

Fred said...

Great job, Helios.

As a foreign-born American, I can tell you that the availability of teaching in your own language is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, Helios has given these persons more computer instruction than they obviously ever had, so it's an immediate benefit.

On the other hand, most resources in the US are in English, so the sooner a foreigner jumps in and learns English, the better his chances are. There was no namby-pamby teacher in my native language, no sir, I had to scrape by and learn Engrish or die!

So I'd respectfully suggest to Helios that he amends his teaching curriculum by adding an English-Spanish lexicon of useful computer terms. That'd be a start.

ka1axy said...

From way back in X11-land, I remember that "focus" was a concept that applied to windows: either a window had focus (and you could type in it) or it did not (and you couldn't).

The mouse is usually used to give a window focus, either by clicking in a window, or, if your X settings were set this way, by simply moving the cursor within the window border. "focus your mouse" is probably a shorthand way of instructing someone to do that.

I guess language (even of the geek variety) changes with time...who'd o' thunk it???

Anonymous said...

Well, I've been using PCs since the original IBM PC on almost a daily basis, and have used every version of Windows, several Macs, and countless Linux and BSD distros, I have instructed countless people in basic and advanced computer use. I have even read the above posts.

Even so, I have no idea what "Focus your mouse" means.

Perhaps you need to do an introductory computer course?

Anonymous said...

" I have even read the above posts.

Even so, I have no idea what "Focus your mouse" means."

That is really sad. Maybe a re-cert in CompTIA A+ would help. Maybe not.

Michelle Minkin said...

Maybe a re-cert in CompTIA A+ would help. Maybe not.



Anonymous said...

Add me to the list of people who had no clue as to what "focus your mouse" meant. The first thing that came to mind was a camera lens, like the scroll wheel on the mouse was used to focus it on the screen.

But I love this blog.

Blog of helios said...

OK boys and girls...that'll be enough silliness about "focusing the mouse". It's a simple term, people in the class understood the meaning once it was explained and there's really no more need to discuss it. If you think that people didn't understand how to bookmark a page, they would understand how to bring a field into focus?

Some of the comments have gotten ugly so we'll just end this particular subject here.

Nuff said on this topic.

Anonymous said...

So, I win?

Blog of helios said...

LOL...yes, you win. I was willing to give you my children if it would end this silly argument but if all I have to do is concede, then concede I will. wasn't your posts that were offensive, You should have seen some of the comments that came across for moderation.

Sheesh...get a life folks...and a dictionary/thesaurus.