Nov 23 , 1999

Time out for training


AFTER 10 years in journalism, with nine of them spent writing about technology, I finally attended my first formal class on using a personal computer.

Kinda cool, I thought, let me try and see how this matches my ``tech streetsmarts.''

Like most of my peers, I learnt how to use a PC through a process of trial and error. I acquired my ``PC savviness'' by chatting up industry members and watching the pros hit the keyboard and navigate menus with their mice. Anytime anything went wrong, or when the ``Bluescreen of Death'' appeared on my monitor, my hand would automatically reach out for the phone, automatically dialling a number to get expert advice.

But finally, here was an opportunity for me to correct past mistakes. Redemption was at my door. I was going to undergo formal PC training.

Lesson in discovery

According to our instructor, Joyce Chong, the eight-hour Windows95 Basic class would be cushioned by three break-out sessions for lunch and tea. After setting down the ground rules, she proceeded to explain the format of the lesson.

She also explained that for the duration of the class, we would learn the ``function and role'' of Windows 95 as an operating system.

The hands-on tutorial was indeed a lesson in the elementary. It was also an eye-opener to discover that many of us tend to take the terminology -- simple terms like ``double-click'' -- for granted.

The words may be in everyday English, but the actions are still arcane to people who've never used a mouse before.

In my class of six, comprising myself, a retired radio newsman, two professionals, a student and a beautician, almost everyone had at least used a PC briefly. But the level of understanding was as different as night and day.

Some (like moi) knew what the Windows 95 desktop looked like, but did not know that you could ``tile'' (there's that terminology again) some of the wallpaper designs into patterns ....

Others knew how to open a new document and proceed with the typing, but were not sure of the difference between the functions of ``save'' and ``save as.''

Or even that the absence of a Windows key on the keyboard was no big deal -- hitting the Ctrl-Esc keys simultaneously activates the Start menu.

And not everyone was used to manoeuvring the mouse to make sure that the pointer was still sitting on the desktop and had not stepped off into virtual oblivion.

It was indeed a refreshing experience. I must confess that I myself was not too familiar with all the terms associated with Win95 basics, having limited my previous ``street education'' to areas that were work related.

But it was free

It was the same with most of my classmates, who also said their experiences with the PC were also confined to what they used daily. No wonder many PC users complain that Windows is bloated with tools that are not needed for day to day use.

But we were all pleased to be able to attend classes for free, through a complementary coupon given by New Horizons Computer Learning Centre (NHCLC).

According to the company's general manager in Ipoh, Patrick Hoo, free classes started when NHCLC opened its doors here in October, 1996.

The rationale behind it, says Hoo, was to allow prospective customers to experience the training methods for evaluation purposes.

``This helps them decide whether they should invest with us,'' he says, adding that the centre has trained over 1,000 people for free in the last three years.

Free lessons are however limited to the beginners level for Windows 95 and 98, as well as for applications like Word 97, Excel 97 and Powerpoint 97.

Hoo points out that these courses are regularly offered for free as they are commonly used by the majority of PC users.

``Other levels and/or free courses are on a case to case basis. Customers are welcome to audit our technical courses on Windows NT, Novell NetWare, A+ Certification, Network+ Certification, and others,'' he adds.

Good guidance

Our instructor, Chong, was both patient and an enthusiastic teacher. Instead of students stopping her mid-way to clarify matters, Chong would pause in mid-sentence and ask if we understood what she said.

The lesson was neatly divided into little steps that added up to a complete module. It was well conducted, with elaborate explanations. Chong also delivered a recap of each module at the end of the session.

However, the class would have been better conducted if all were taught the most basic of skills, like, you know, how to switch the PC on.

That, apparently since the days of yore till today, still confound most helpdesk staff. The most common complaints, they say, stem from people who did not know where the power switch on their PC is located.

Unfortunately, I did not bring this up to Chong during our classes. It is my personal belief that learning how to use a PC is partly a private journey. It is kinda like the ``school of hard knocks meets the guiding hand of a friend'' as you traverse the world of information technology.

You have to encounter some problems and learn to resolve them yourself.

Pros: Good instructor who was able to engage class attention.
Cons: RM199 for basic stuff is a bit steep.