The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Can You Teach Computer 101?

The HeliOS Project has settled nicely into our new home.  We've stashed, stuck, and stacked all of our computers and components in the correct places.  We've built our work environments and stocked the shelves with most of the parts we need and we're well on our way to getting these computers to kids who need them most.

 Another part of the HeliOS mission is to teach people how to use computers...and it's not the kids that need this help....

It's the adults.

Here are just a couple of real-life examples for you.

While we were teaching a 101 class down at the Bruno Knaapen Technology Learning Center, we covered keyboard shortcuts.  You and I know how much time they can save, but the computer novice has no clue.

Many older adults finally get tired of not being able to receive emails from the grand kids and family so they grudgingly decide to at least try to learn the basics.  Just teaching them to grasp the difference between left and right mouse clicks can test one's patience and compassion.

As I ran through the different shortcuts, I demonstrated the F11 full screen feature.  Most everyone met the discovery with assorted "meh" attitudes but one older lady sat with her face in her hands and was visibly affected.  She asked me....

"Is this key the only thing that can make that happen, I mean make everything go away but the screen?"

I assured her that under normal circumstances it was.

She went on to share with the class that from time to time, she would inadvertently hit that key, making the screen go full.  Of course, she had no idea what key she had pushed.  

Honestly, I thought she was going to cry.

No one in the assisted living center knew how to bring the menus and task bar back and she was frozen in place, unable to do anything.

In desperation, she would reinstall Windows from scratch.  Not knowing anything about data backups, she would lose everything she had accumulated.

Just because she did not know that the F11 key was the culprit and the cure.

And this just in from the "If I had only known" desk...

You and I take the cut, copy and paste commands for granted.  I think almost everyone does.

Almost everyone.

We ran into a gentleman that had no clue about these commands.  When he wanted to keep or send a particular part of something on a website, he would shrink his browser to half size, open an instance of notepad and then type the text verbatim and then save it.  He had an entire library of folders, based on subject and date, filled with text files of things he had copied over time .

Keep in mind, the gentleman did not touch was index fingers and cramped wrists for his efforts. 

I swear, when he finally grasped the concept of copy and paste, I thought the Hallelujah Chorus was going to fill the room.

And it's for reasons like this that we teach computer and Internet 101.

Our classes are held at our classroom in Taylor, every other week on Tuesday-Thursday evenings, from 7 to 8 PM.  Currently, I am caught between staying at home with Diane and teaching these classes.  There are some nights I am not comfortable in leaving her alone.

If you are interested in volunteering to teach for us, please contact me via email

The very best we can offer you is unlimited cold drinks and our thanks.

Of course, you can always help us save someone from reformatting a hard drive and reinstalling an operating system out of ignorance.

All-Righty Then


Amenditman said...


I can teach these classes for you.
Just send me the airline tickets and I'll be there.;{

Anonymous said...

Anyway you could record some of your classes (maybe just the teacher portion) and put them on youtube?

Also thanks for the F11 thing. Been using Linux 12yrs, 12 virtual desktops, use multiple xorg sessions virtualization, the whole thing. Never thought to hit F11!???


PV said...

I have to ask, does Linux come in anywhere here? Because I remember a post from you long ago about how a lady asked you to come help with computer troubles, and you were all prepared to dive in with Linux to the rescue; then, it turned out to be a simple faulty Control Panel setting, so you fixed that and left without doing anything to her computer Linux-wise.
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Anonymous said...

I taught High School Science and Mathematics for ten years. I now work Network/System Administration on RHEL, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, AIX, HP-UX, and Windows servers. I would LOVE to help teach that class, but I am in West Virginia about 40 minutes from Pittsbugh PA. There simply MUST be former teachers in your area with computer credentials who would love to help. I hope you find a few.

Mark Shaw said...

@ PV

I helped Ken move in and set up his new operation. I will also be teaching his Computer 201 classes when they start and I've helped him produce the 101 class material.

Every computer in the classroom runs Linux. Every computer he gives away runs Linux. I mean, what more is there?

Many of the people who will attend these classes will go home to a family that has Windows already installed. The stuff we put together for class purposes such as keyboard,mouse and browser use is agnostic material. They can apply what they learn to any Windows OR Linux Computer.

The HeliOS Project classes are not meant to proselytize on behalf of Linux. They are meant to introduce complete novices to the computer. That being said, the student is made well aware of the Linux system in front of them and is taught the value of Free Open Source Software.

I know Ken and company well enough to know the Linux stuff comes later.

Let us gain their trust first. We can get a lot further that way.

Christian Schumacher said...

I am between incredulous disbelief and anger.

All Ken is asking is for someone local to help him teach classes. Does anyone here have any idea what toll caregiving takes on a person's body and psyche? He is the sole caregiver for a stroke victim. He is working or on call 24/7 and the fact that he can break away for anything is wonderful.

Full time caregiving is a horrible task. As one who cared for his Ill and dying father for 10 months, I both empathize and respect Ken for staying the course with Diane. People often offer their sympathy to the ill but they completely forget about the person emptying the bed pans, washing the clothes, cleaning the house, doing the dishes, waking up every time the ill person changes breathing tempo or pitch and using the ill person's nap times to catch up on yard work. Even that is done with an earpiece for the bedroom monitor.

Linux isn't the answer to every problem. Sometimes just fixing a screwed up panel fixes everything. Some people are lazy, some people are stupid and some just don't see the need to change the way their computer works if it's working well.

Ken, Brussels is a long way off but I will be in Dallas this September. I will come see you if time allows. Emailing you now with details.


PV said...

Ahhhh, nononononononono. I did not mean at all that this post sucks because Linux wasn't involved or anything like that. I was just curious, that's all. I realize now that it wasn't evident at the time, but my original comment was supposed to convey pleasure regarding the story I linked to as well, that Mr. Starks could often fix these issues without needing to bring Linux (or OSs at all) into the discussion. And just to be clear once more, what Mr. Starks is doing is amazing. I wish I could be there and help out, but unfortunately I am rather far away from Texas.
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Unknown said...

@ PV

No worries buddy. I understood what you meant. I was going to mention it after Christian's post but he will figure it out and feel stupid.

Not that I've EVER over-reacted to something I misunderstood or took wrong.


kozmcrae said...

Many people suffer from logizomechanophobia (fear of computers) to some degree or another. They may also feel the computer is smarter then they are. Hollywood has a lot to do with instilling those idiosyncrasies.

It's heartbreaking to hear about people struggling so hard with such basic computer skills. I suspect teaching them is only half the battle, finding them and letting them know there is help is the other half.

Anonymous said...

I've been teaching basic computer courses for over 20 years and having a class with a number of students who are not at all familiar with computer usage, regardless of their age, is quite a challenge. If you don't feel up to actually teaching the class, ask if you can be a lab assistant. One of the big problems is the time interval between a student's identifying the problem and raising her/his hand and getting the help that is needed. It's a shame when it's so long the student forgets the question or the context. A roving lab assistant can make quite a difference here.

A problem some people have is holding the mouse still while pressing a button. When my father was in his late 70s, he learned to position the mouse with one hand and click the button with a finger on the other hand.

I've been in contact with Ken occasionally and have been able to help with a few small items, such as the network cards that were hard to find on one occasion. Ken, if you would take a very few words at the bottom of the column once in a while and list a few such items, I'm sure some of us would come through.

Everybody have a great week and be careful if you have to be outside in the heat.


Automations Inc said...

Hey, is there a curriculum you use that you would share online? I cannot help teach these classes for you, because I live in Calgary AB, Canada, but I think there is just as much need around here for the class as there is down there. However, I have never been able to find a good curriculum to even think about getting it started.

Unknown said...

Hi Jonathan...

Yes, there is a curriculum of sorts...basically it's just a bunch of stuff I typed up as I pulled it out my a...I mean my mind. I have put it up on my file server and you can retrieve it from

Let me know if you have any trouble getting the file, and yes, we are always open to ideas on how to make it better.