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Subject: How to Introduce Family Member t
(Posted on Oct 12, 2010 at 01:24PM )

YeeHa!   My elderly Aunt got her first computer. Yep, she's trying to learn the skills that most six-year-olds take for granted. Her grandson got her set up with an "easy" Apple, and then this whiz-kid who manages a few dozen websites and writes iPhone apps "introduced her" to computing in half an hour.
Needless to say, I'm now having to provide technical support for her... and I've learned that teaching computers to the Greatest Generation is tougher than you might think.
If you ever find yourself in this position, remember that this is the generation whose VCR blinked "12:00... 12:00... 12:00" throughout the entire 1980s, or at least until some teenager fixed it. Chances are Dad or Grandma is going to need a little more coaching than you're used to. You might want to try these hints.

Things You'll Need:
 

  • Time
  • Patience
  • Understanding

1 Get the computer set up for an elderly user.
Make the desktop icons as large as possible, and set the text size to large as well. make certain your pupil can see text and menus, or she won't want to bother. Work with other settings, too: volume control adjustments may be needed for the hard-of-hearing; and almost every new user needs to have the mouse settings adjusted for their failing hand-eye coordination.
2 Be patient.
Remember how hard it was for you to make your first bar chart in a spreadsheet, or convert a word-processing document to a PDF? This is just as hard for your pupil - maybe worse, since she's being taught by some young whippersnapper!
3 Introduce these new concepts by using analogies to your pupil's past experiences.
Remember that Grandma or Dad is a grownup, with a wealth of experiences in the workplace, running a home, or both. You can make learning easier by drawing on those experiences when you teach. For instance, my aunt worked as an office manager, so we talked about how she had different tasks every day - bookkeeping, correspondence, messages - and how the computer has different "applications" to match those tasks.
4 Liberally apply the KISS principle - "Keep It Simple, Stupid."
Only teach one thing at a time. I taught my aunt how to use a mouse by playing the solitaire game, for instance. I taught her that all of her "tasks" (applications) will use words she's already familiar with, in the same way: "Send" is the same thing as licking a stamp and dropping the letter in a mailbox, "Reply" is the same thing as answering the questions in a letter from her bank.
I *didn't* go into lengthy discussions about re-sizing windows or multi-tasking: those are for the advanced class.
5 Avoid computer jargon: all those "new" words (and worse, old words in new uses) just confuse people.
My aunt has no idea what "double-click on the email icon" could possibly mean. Instead, I had to talk to her about "moving the arrow over to the picture of the mailbox and clicking the mouse button twice."
Point out that modern computers use a lot of graphics called "icons," but they are no different from the stylized pictures of a man and a woman on restroom doors, or the street sign warning you of a curve. Past experiences are the key to understanding icons.
Instead of jargon, use simple, unambiguous words: instead of "open" your email program, use "start." Instead of "hit" reply, use "click on" (after your pupil has graduated from "place the pointer on it and press the button" to "click on"). To my aunt, "click on" is almost as foreign as her next-door neighbor trying to chat with her in Swahili!
6 Give your student time for things to soak in.
Keep training sessions short and allow the trainee plenty of hands-on practice. It took two weeks before my aunt sent her first email, because all of the other people who tried to teach her zipped through "basics" in five minutes and then moved on to file systems and pictures and window management and... you get the picture. By the time all that was done, she had forgotten how to open her email program!
7 Above all, be patient: this person might have changed your diapers when you were a baby. You owe 'em some patience!

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