January 19, 2011

Going digital: more learning with computers and the internet

When Dr. Randi asked me to pick up where our Computer Class left off last year, I was excited. I’ve logged some hours teaching my parents basic computer skills, and I even enjoyed it -- so I was eager to participate in this project. I even offered to help develop a class to be taught in Spanish.

Once a week during the month of November we met with a group of students, ranging in size from two to eleven people. Being adults and never having any kind of exposure to a computer, our students were very eager to learn. First, we covered basic computer hardware and then moved on to explore topics including the Internet, search engines, and what makes a website reliable. Toward the end of the month we focused specifically on diabetes and the process of researching health information online.

I’d say that the things our students were most interested in learning about were the things that their children are using, like Facebook and photo sharing sites. But we had an agenda, and stayed focused on learning how to navigate the Internet to find health information.

The main website that we used was Medline Plus, to search for specific information on health topics. It is a great teaching tool because it provides easy access to tutorials and offers easy to understand material via print and video. We even had them compare Medline Plus (which is published by the National Library of Medicine) with other less authoritative websites (like those produced by commercial or amateur parties), so that they could consider the trustworthiness of internet sources.

By the end, participants no longer approached the computer with timidity. The students realized that it takes practice to learn something new, but that they also have incredible potential and will continue to improve their computer skills as they continue to practice. And they were proud.

Students from our computer literacy class, on the day of their "graduation."

“I’m coming back for classes in January!” was often repeated during our last session, when we awarded them with a Certificate of Achievement signed by Dr. Randi. In the English speaking group, our graduation party turned into a true celebration as one of the students had decided to cook food for the whole class!

Student feedback was generally positive, but it also voiced the need to focus on another aspect of computer and Internet use: how to set up and use an email account. Maria Hernandez noted, “these days, everyone is asking you for your telephone number and your email.” It’s important, then for the students to know how to create email accounts so that they can take advantage of job opportunities. “I hope to maintain employment,” LaDonna Grinage said, "and to stay in contact with family and friends, too." So we will be sure to incorporate email as a primary focus of our future classes.

In the future, as we settle in to our expanded Northwest Center, we’ll have access to a new conference room and even better equipment -- much more appropriate for a curriculum like this. People are already signing up even though we haven’t announced dates yet! It’s a service that we hope to provide more of in the future.

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