I teach a bunch of little “Getting Started with X” night classes at the local vocational high school. They’re fun. I’ve been doing them for years now. They’re the sort of classes you’d teach at a library if you had a computer lab, but the libraries here don’t have computer labs. They’re usually 8-12 hours broken down into two hour classes. Given that, you might be surprised how little we cover, but we go slow, do a LOT of review, and do a lot of things together so that everyone can keep up.
I’m lucky to have access to the computers in the lab, so I can put documents and example spreadsheets on them ahead of time. One of the most important things in teaching novice users is that they’re often bad typists so saying “Type a few paragraphs and then we’ll edit them” is a recipe for disaster and frustration. I usually have them work from some standard text like The Gift of the Magi or something I’ve copied from Wikipedia. I’m also very clear about what sorts of things on the computers are customizeable and what are functions of how the computers work. For new users, they can’t tell what’s a setting — all those annoying pop-up warnings using Internet Explorer when you go to a secure site for example — and what’s something you can’t easily edit — how the cursor behaves. One of the biggest thigns I had to learn is that a lot of my students have no idea what the word “default” means, so when you say “Oh that’s just the way MS Word is set as a default…” that’s not a sense-making sentence to them. We spend half a class just adjusting the settings, turning off grammar-checker, adding and removing toolbars, so they know how to do that if they ever get a computer at home.
It’s fun work and I really enjoy it. Over the years people have emailed me asking for advice so I’ve zipped up my class handouts and sample documents and made them available here. Please feel free to use them in your classes in any way you’d like to. If you do, please remove my name and email address first :)