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How To Get Efficient at Using Your Computer

June 3, 2008

Well, that may be a title for a book rather than a post, but I have many very smart friends who declare themselves Luddites or troglodytes when it comes to anything beyond email. I keep thinking that there must be a way to entice them into learning more about the computer and the web.

I know I don’t help them by whizzing around the screen and doing stuff in front of them (but knowing that doesn’t always stop me from doing it). I know telling them how easy it it just causes the, voiced or unvoiced, response, “For you, maybe” and cynicism. I created my thesis, Following the Thread, as an exploration of how I managed to move from hating and fearing the computer to my current absorption with it. I discovered some things:


  1. I was forced to use the computer as part of my job. Having no choice is very motivating.
  2. I learned from my students. I could make “deals” where I earned my teacher “cred” by coaching students in their writing, and they earned their learner “cred” by showing me how to use wordpro and the web. (It worked in the mid-Nineties but it might not as much now.)
  3. My college had ongoing half-day hands-on tutorials that I could take over and over till I “got” it. I think was especially useful because using the computer and the web required a fundamentally different understanding, and I needed a lot of guided repetition before it started to make sense to me. In a way, it was like learning a new language where it takes a while to “think” in it. Before I could get “fluent”, I had to grasp the pattern, and it was radically new. (I find it interesting that many ADHD sorts “get” this new pattern faster than the more academically inclined. My most helpful students were often dyslexic and really struggled with writing, but they grasped computer and web understandings very quickly.)
  4. Having real-life projects drove my learning. I found weekend courses on creating web sites excruciating, but I was happy to work on material for my teaching all weekend till I figured out how to make stuff work. (I soon discovered a great passion for WYSIWYG, the essence of user-friendliness in my opinion;->)
  5. Having a loose network of friends with expertise in different aspects of using the computer and the web allowed me to ask for help when I was stymied for too long. Joining the committee that created P.D. events to help teachers learn how to use the web for teaching (and volunteering to share what I knew) was a great leap forward for me, because I had a more structured network of experts to get help from.

Because I was one of the pioneering teachers on the web, these approaches helped me learn, however, I think the landscape and culture have changed, and some of the approaches would no longer work.


What changes in this list might work now?

  1. Having a strong reason/desire for having to use the web is essential. If a group decides to use a wiki, or a family decides to set up a Ning network, or friends start using Facebook or Flickr, that might be the kind of pressure that encourages learning. Work demands are always “encouraging”.
  2. Learning for social reasons also creates a situation where you can learn from others; asking questions from your fellow learners or the group’s “experts” works really well. (I remember, when I was learning wordpro, just asking my cubicle neighbour the same question over and over, and she graciously answered me over and over.)
  3. Repetition is highly under-rated as part of academic learning, but dancers, musicians, athletes understand its value. If you want to learn something that’s difficult, repeat it as often as you can. Using Slideshare, you can repeat watching presentation as often as you want.
  4. Agree to take on web projects that stretch you. (Make sure someone can answer your questions; ask either someone you know or make sure you know where the “Help” button is – it might help.)
  5. Having a network of people you work or play with is still very helpful. The biggest change since the early stages of my computer and web learning is all the help that is now available online. Search for sites to learn from and bookmark blogs that offer on-going tips for whatever it is you want to learn. If you follow a few blogs regularly, and comment occasionally, you may find yourself part of a “community” and comfortable asking questions in comments or by email.

My blog is aimed at providing helpful information for those who are learning more about using the web. Finally, I suggest you set up a account, if you haven’t already, and an RSS reader, either Bloglines or Google Reader to use the web to help yourself learn about it.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2008 6:28 pm

    Great post Joan. Looking forward to collaborating with you.

  2. June 4, 2008 12:54 pm

    I liked your use of “patterns” in terms of using the web. In one of my classes, we decided that the way in which a computer is set up is different for each person. Try working on another’s computer! Just as we have idiosyncrasies in the speech, how we do math, writing (think of handwriting), we develop different patterns for tools and how we use them. If we can see how to modify a tool or how it is used to achieve our goals, we are more motivated to ask for help, persist through problems, and look like fools when we make a mistake (such as broadcasting you’re sick to the entire school when you meant to send an e-mail to the office secretary).

  3. June 5, 2008 7:21 am

    Hi Virginia,
    What a great comment: “Try working on another’s computer! Just as we have idiosyncrasies in the speech, how we do math, writing (think of handwriting), we develop different patterns for tools and how we use them. If we can see how to modify a tool or how it is used to achieve our goals, we are more motivated to ask for help, persist through problems,” You’ve inspired me; I’m going to post in the next couple of days on that very observation.


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