Four Week "Introduction To Computers" Course

I was asked to teach a four week “Intro To Computers” course for the month of November at the Weyburn Public Library, one of two city branches in our region, while they are temporarily short-staffed. 

Last week was my final class so I thought I'd put up the outlines and some thoughts in case that's useful to anybody who ends up doing something similar in their own library. 

Planning The Class
I wasn't sure if it would be the same people all four weeks so I structured the classes so they could be stand-alone (if the patron wanted to only take one) or that the classes would  build on each other so somebody who took all four would (hopefully) learn something new each week.

I had five spots available and five students registered for all four sessions (each being an hour long) so the second option turned out to be the popular one.  I had five attend the first week, six the second (somebody brought a friend to sit in), only two the third week and three the final week. 

I have no idea why the numbers dropped off but suspect I might have scared some people off as I really had trouble throttling back to a completely “beginner” level.  As with any computer course at any level, there's going to be a range in the knowledge of participants so that makes a challenge – for the students and instructor, whether you're teaching “Intro to E-mail” or “FIMS526 – The Internet and Libraries”.  Still, that was another challenge – some of the students found my material too basic and some found it way too advanced.  (I probably could've done a whole hour on “using the mouse” for at least one of the people who dropped out after week two.) 

Five was a good, manageable number for the most part – I felt I was able to keep everybody on track but also give some personalized attention.  I've heard of classes in libraries with more students and I've heard of some libraries that are able to do one-to-one (or one-to-two) classes which would've been even better. 

The configuration of the computers at WPL suited having five students as well.  They have two round tables of six computers each right beside each other so I had one table reserved for my students (with one machine for myself) and one was left for library patrons to use (and for teens to snicker as I talked about “this is a keyboard, this is a mouse.”)

Here's an outline of what I had on the agenda for each week.  I tried to be very open-ended and started each class asking the students what they knew about that week's subject and what they wanted to learn then tried to tailor the night to that.  I never covered everything on my agenda – some weeks, I got to a good portion of it, other weeks we focused on only one or two things. 

It's funny to think back to how, on week one, I was worried if I could fill an hour.  By week four, I wished I had three. 

Anybody out there done this before?  Notice anything major I missed?  I'd love suggestions and tips in case I'm asked to do this again in the new year.  There are tons of resources online as well.

Week One – Intro To Computers
– introduce myself, explain my background, plug the library and its other programs
– have round the room introductions to get names, experience levels and what people want to learn from the course
– parts of a computer – CPU, monitor, mouse, keyboard.  Touch briefly on peripherals such as printers, USB drives, digital cameras, scanners. 
– what is an operating system?  Different operating systems.
– MS-Office applications
– MS-Word and basic word processing techniques (return, space bar, delete, moving cursor around, etc.)
– useful keyboard commands – CTRL-C, CTRL-V, CTRL-X, CTRL-Z, CTRL-S, etc.

If I changed one thing here, I'd do some basic mouse control exercises near the start of this week – perhaps with MS-Paint or Solitaire or something.  I might also have a typing tutor web site at the ready in case anybody asked – though nobody did.  I also stressed the importance of jumping in and just trying stuff without being afraid of wrecking the computer or messing it up this week and the other weeks as well.

Week Two – Intro To E-mail & The Internet
The Internet
– What is the Internet?  Different parts of the Internet.
– The world wide web
– browsers and how they work – toolbars, address bar, back button
– surfing the Internet
– search engines, Google
– Internet safety – privacy, fraud, security

– what is e-mail? 
– the “killer application” of the Internet
– Web-based and local e-mail services – advantages and disadvantages
– e-mail etiquette
– address books
– spam and virus protection
– attachments

We spent a good portion of this class setting up Hotmail addresses for everyone (again, some already had them but most didn't) then practiced by sending messages to ourselves. For this week, I gave the students their only homework assignment – to send me an e-mail to my work account.

Week Three – Electronic Resources 101
For this week, I basically spent half the class showing the students the various electronic resources the library has available – newspapers, magazines, databases plus how our online catalogue works and half the class talking about Google and some simple tricks for more successful searches.

I failed miserably when I asked students for two things they'd like to find online – one wanted to find an old high school friend and one wanted to find the title of a book that was recently featured on Oprah but she could only remember what it was about, not the title or author.  I still think the idea of showing students what a well-planned, well-executed search with the right tool can accomplish is a good one.  I think next time, I'd ask for just one suggestion and focus on finding that info.  

Week Four – Everything Else 101
I'd kept this week's agenda purposely vague as I wasn't sure what we would cover at the end.  There was some interest in learning about digital cameras and also MP3 players but because of the scope of the course and the problems of trying to show someone how these items might work on a library computer when it could be completely different at home, I unfortunately had to use the “get a techy teen you know to show you” line. 

In the end, this week basically became a quick overview of some of the most popular and useful web sites online.  I started with (which led to a quick digression on e-commerce and buying online) then moved to Google Books then Flickr before ending on Wikipedia.  I also had YouTube, Facebook,, E-bay, Google's other services (images, news, scholar, etc.), IMDB, and more “local” sites like and in the cue as sites I could talk about as well. 

I also had the following on my list of potential topics but never got to them (and realise now, that was probably for the best):
– blogs, wikis, RSS
– downloading/uploading
– instant messaging
– digital cameras/scanners/printers/MP3 players

The idea of having everyone e-mail me in week two turned out to be a good one as I was able to e-mail everybody a SurveyMonkey feedback form instead of handing out a paper version at the last class.  I'm not sure if this is a good strategy with a group of 50-75 year old computer beginners but I was really trying to get them to say whatever the equivalent of “wow – cool!” is for their age group and sending the electronic survey was another way to do this. 

Overall, it was a great experience and I'm sure I'll get the chance to do it again in the future many times in my library career!  

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