MTU students teach tech to non-technical
HOUGHTON — Jillian Jacobsen started using computers about 15 years ago for her work as a dental assistant, but using a personal computer is sort of a mystery for her.
“I can’t get on Yahoo,” she said.
The computer she used at work had software related to dentistry, Jacobsen said, but using a personal computer for such things as social networking is different.
“That didn’t help me much,” she said of the knowledge she got using her work computer.
Jacobsen said twice she has attended the free computer adult help program at the Portage Lake District Library, which takes place every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., except when Michigan Technological University is on break. Students from Tech provide the assistance for the program.
Jacobsen said she’s learned much about using her computer from the Tech students at the instructional help sessions.
“They’re very helpful,” she said.
Charles Wallace, Tech associate professor of computer science, said he started the adult computer assistance program in 2011, because he saw a need for helping adults become computer literate. Although some things, such as paying bills, can be done without a computer, many of those and other functions are online.
The number of people attending the help sessions varies, especially in the winter, Wallace said.
“We get as low as one or two on a snowy day, and on a busy day we’ll get 12,” he said.
Wallace said as part of his class instruction at Tech, he gets the students to think about computers from the perspective of non-technical users because for some people learning about computers can be daunting.
Although anyone can get instruction during the no-cost help sessions, Wallace said typically it’s people ranging in age from 50s to 70s.
“It’s open to everybody,” he said.
Tech is on break, so the next help session will be March 18 and they will end April 22, Wallace said.
Wallace said people attending the help sessions ask questions as basic as how to turn on a computer.
“It’s not always obvious where the buttons are,” he said.
Most of the questions users of the help sessions ask are related to the use of software, Wallace said.
Working with Wallace in the help sessions is Kelly Steelman, Tech professor of cognitive and learning sciences, who said the help sessions will be part of a research project she’s doing about computer use. She’s keeping track of the interactions between the instructors and the people seeking help.
“(The instructors) actually divulged some tricks of the trade,” she said.
Those “tricks of the trade” can help relieve people’s anxieties about using computers, Steelman said.
During the help sessions at the PLDL some people even ask how to use their smartphones, Steelman said.
Wallace said most people bring their laptop or tablet computers to the help sessions, but for those who don’t bring computers, instruction is given on the library’s computers since the classes take place before the library is officially open.
However, with the tablets, Wallace said there is less screen space, which means possibly less information is visible on the screen.
“It can be very mysterious,” he said.
The goal of the help sessions is to relieve the stress many people feel when using computers, Wallace said, and to keep them informed about software updates.
“There’s always more to learn,” he said.
Judy Albee of Hancock said she’s been attending the help sessions off and on for about four years. She’s trying to learn how to use software icons.
She used to have a computer, which used Microsoft software, but now she’s using Apple software.
“I have to figure how they talk to each other,” she said.
Albee said she’s appreciates having access to the help sessions.
“It’s very beneficial,” she said.