Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

What Should a Community Computer Lab Offer? 383

Ballresin asks: "A local computer company is expanding and including a computer lab in their setup, and they want me to come in as its Administrator. I am supposed to be giving them input on what to teach/host. What does Slashdot think a medium sized tourist town (Okoboji, Spirit Lake, Arnolds Park, Iowa) should have to offer to the locals? I was thinking something along the lines of 'How to Use Windows 101' and 'How to Use Office 101'. My compatriots want to offer some off-the-wall classes such as 'Hacker Ethics: Why and How' and a few other odd classes. I have polled people in the area, which resulted the discovery that 80% of them are from out of town, so don't really care. What you guys think; What kind of classes or what games/LAN party setups should a new, small business offer? Any ideas/input is greatly appreciated."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

What Should a Community Computer Lab Offer?

Comments Filter:
  • by Hogwash McFly ( 678207 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:24PM (#6574959)
    No explanation needed....
  • well for starters (Score:4, Insightful)

    by egoff ( 636181 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:25PM (#6574980)
    How many tourists (80% out of towners) are going to take a Windows 101 class on vacation?
    • by azadism ( 578262 )
      There should be Linux 101 class to go along with the Windows. Or even better, a class showing the transition from Windows to Linux
    • by Lev13than ( 581686 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:53PM (#6575281) Homepage
      Cater to the locals instead of the visitors. Since this is a tourist town, I'd suggest courses in computers for small business. This would include classes in email/www/word/excel/database/simply accounting/cash register apps (or freeware variants etc...).
      You could tie it together in a series and work them up to bookkeeping/inventory control packages. You could even partner with an accounting firm to teach bookkeeping on a different night. Customers could run the apps on a dirt-cheap used computer & improve their businesses - you would be helping to support local industry.
      • At a local Junior College where I work we had some summer classes for older women. IT was highly successful. It was just basic usage, but women in general were found to be uncomfortable outside their peer group.

        Another class would be technical skills for younger girls- Networking and the like. You could probably get money from Cisco for this, they are forever trying to attract women into the field with their Cisco Academy program- just look at the frontpage of

        Even better if you can get
  • Policy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by claydean ( 230881 )
    I know that the post asked about courses, but I would have some good policies setup if you allow public internet use.
  • by rice_burners_suck ( 243660 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:27PM (#6575002)
    I would set up a system of prerequisites, like they have in colleges or something, where the one main prerequisite to everything else is Computers 101: Assembly Programming with the Zilog z80 Microprocessor. After that, you can teach them how to use Windows XP; you know, things like how to move a mouse cursor, how to minimize and maximize windows on the display, etc.
    • There's one skill you can teach to get people ready for the opportunities in the booming computer industry: "Hindi for beginners" and "Basic business Russian."
  • by neye_eve ( 212185 ) * on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:27PM (#6575004)
    You can get to theoretical stuff eventually as you guage community interest and expertise distribution. But the practical classes are the ones grandma and junior will find the most helpful. You'll get more potential teachers and students that way, and it will be easy to pass off the classes to other people if necessary.

    Give them meaningful titles though. Don't title it "Excel 101". Title it "Using spreadsheets to make your life easier". People will come to classes in order to do things better, not to learn a specific app (well, most people at least). In the description, say "this uses iMovie, and we'll touch on moviemaker", but for the title, something like "making home movies that last forever".

    good luck with your project!
  • by kwerle ( 39371 ) <> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:27PM (#6575006) Homepage Journal
    There's just 2 things that most users will want - the same 2 that made the internet what it is today:

    Email do's and don'ts would be good - including handling of spam and crap (the junk your father-in-law sends you that is either urban legend, or ancient, or both).

    Web browsing, security (don't tell folks your passwords), and virii are all important things to know about.
  • Because if it is, I want to short.
  • by Sans_A_Cause ( 446229 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:28PM (#6575012)
    Most people, especially in small communities, probably don't realize that they don't have to buy M$ Windows to do 90% of what they want to do (e-mail, surf the web, download pr0n). The other things like "Windows 101" they could get at the library or various adult education centers.
  • by egg troll ( 515396 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:28PM (#6575014) Homepage Journal
    Not really an idea for a course, per se, but I wouldn't let users install any software onto PCs []. Good luck!
  • 101 (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hermione Kestrel ( 690696 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:29PM (#6575026)
    Whatever you do, don't name your subjects "blah blah 101" the 101 just makes you look like a tosser. Everyone knows its not a university :P
  • 'Finding Information 101' -- GOOGLE. There are too many people that still haven't figured out how to use Google.
    • Re:I'd suggest.. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by stroudie ( 173480 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:53PM (#6575282)
      Actually, you make a good point.

      Knowing how to drive a browser is not sufficient. A course teaching meaningful search construction, search-result filtering (on relevance and reliability), and the often-successful art of 'guessing-a-URL', could be of value, and of interest.

      Of course, I guess these are the study/research skills we're all supposed to learn at school...right?

      • Re:I'd suggest.. (Score:4, Informative)

        by luzrek ( 570886 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @07:03PM (#6575361) Journal
        Guessing URL's. Heck, I play guess the IP-address.

        Seriously though, a course about how to find information could start out quite simple and end up being quite advanced. You could start out with something as basic as different search engines and what techniques they use to return results and go all the way through how to organize information effectively. It sounds like it could really be a good class.

        I'ld also consider doing some publicity stunts for your lab. You know, to try to get people excited. The easiest one might be a LAN party with prizes.

        Whatever you do, I'ld suggest concentrating on locals though, not tourists. Very few vacationers want to sit in front of a computer, even if it is to play a video game.

        Alternatively, if your town is in a really nice place (you said it was a tourist town), you could offer some (relatively) advanced workshops and try to bundle them with a local hotel/Bed & Breakfast and cater to corporate executives.

    • This was modded "Funny" but it ought to be taken dead seriously.

      A vast number of questions asked both online and offline can be answered with what I call "5SOG": "5 Seconds On Google".

  • Our community lab... (Score:5, Informative)

    by nhaze ( 684461 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:29PM (#6575029)
    We offer our locals a variety of courses and are always taking suggestions. When an interesting idea is submitted we usually set up a sign-up sheet and post a notice in the paper to test the interest levels. Our regular classes include:
    Building a Webpage
    Intro. to Windows
    Intro to Macs
    Office 101
    Using E-Mail
    Finances and Bills with Your Computer
    An Introduction to Digital Photography

    And depending on your community...We have a lot of immigrants in ours and we offer a lot of computer-based ESL programs/courses
    Good Luck!
    • >>Intro. to Windows
      >>Intro to Macs

      Of course there should also be Intro to LINUX or intro to Lindows.

    • by Xerithane ( 13482 ) <xerithane@n e r d f a r m . o rg> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:59PM (#6575323) Homepage Journal
      Building a Webpage Without a star-pattern as a background nor using the blink tag. would be a better course.

      Just my $0.02.
    • Not just courses (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lommer ( 566164 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @07:30PM (#6575582)
      The community lab needs to provide a lot more than just courses. In fact, I would think that its best buisiness would come from being an internet cafe catered to a non-tech community.

      Get some of the local kids onto LAN gaming and encourage it in your lab. In addition to weekly classes (in the evenings or whatever), make it clear that it is a place where people can come to check their email, type up something in word, or whatever. The most important part though is to always have someone friendly and knowledgable staffing the place so that people know if they come in at a slow time they can get personal help with whatever they're working on. This help shouldn't cost them above and beyond what the computer time is costing them, nor should it be the only reason they come there. They should come there to get stuff done, knowing that if they get stuck someone will be there to help them out.
  • by JUSTONEMORELATTE ( 584508 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:29PM (#6575034) Homepage
    But before you decide what to do with the lab, you've got to know why the computer shop wants to open one. If it's to drive up sales by pushing the shop's good directly, then tailor classes towards Making The Most Of The SB-Live! Audigy Card.
    If it's to be an uber-cyber-cafe and hope that business picks up based on your civic contribution, then teach Using The Internet For Research and Homework Help, or maybe How To Install Filtering Software To Keep The Kids From Porn.
    Whatever it is, it's got to jive with your employer's reason for doin' it!

  • Maybe a basic, semi-techy discussion of how the internet works, so that the users can protect themselves.

    They don't need to know how to configure a DNS server, but understanding basic concepts like cookies, HTTPS (and when it is safe to use your credit card), SPAM, etc. could be very useful for Joe User.

    Also, creating some kind of list of common acronyms & buzzwords would be helpful to the same folks. When I say that to 'connect you Win2K box to the ISP with a CAT-5 cable w/PCMCIA NIC', I might as wel
  • How about offering a class on computer self-defense? How to set-up a firewall, the importance of keeping your favorite anti-virus up to date, how to document your browser and e-mail client settings, for instance. As for frills - how about an introduction to eBay - might as well let them earn while they learn :)
  • some suggestions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:31PM (#6575054)
    If you're thinking of Windows 101 and Office 101, then I'd suggest Internet 101, and go over email, browser basics, Usenet, FTP, etc. It's remarkable to me how so many people think the Web, email, and IM make up the entirety of the Internet.

    A more advanced class on WWW usage would be good - teach people how to use search engines effectively, etc. That would be a short one-day thing that a lot of people could get a great deal of benefit from.

    Another good idea would be 'Privacy & Security 101'. Teach people about software firewalls and hardware NAT routers, how to keep their privacy on the internet, and how to avoid spam, etc. Definitely a lot of value there.

    Perhaps something about how to use digital cameras with photoshop to do photo editing / printing. And maybe another one for an intro to video editing. Lots of people take pictures & home movies. It'd be good to show them how to get that stuff off their cameras and onto CD-Rs and DVD+/-R(/W)s.

    Basic home repair & upgrades, though that may cut into your business. :)
    How to set up a (wireless?) home network, perhaps?
    Connecting your TiVo to your home network.
    Intro to Linux & the BSDs.
  • Wireless internet (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SixDimensionalArray ( 604334 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:31PM (#6575057)
    Considering that it sounds like a small town which probably doesn't have a lot of connectivity, teaching people how to set up or connect to a wireless network would be a great idea. That way, the city's inhabitants could share any connectivity (even between neighbors) it gets very efficiently and happily. Wireless also makes the tourists happy and might make them want to vacation there more!

    This of course, presupposes courses on Microsoft 101 and the Internet 101.

    Don't forget Linux 101 for those who like a challenge! ;)

    • Oooh. Oooh. Call on me.

      Get somebody to donate a server (read old PC) and make a project course to do a wireless local community network. Apache, Linux, sendmail (OK qmail) etc.

  • would be to teach them about how to effectively use the Internet and all the different stuff that's on it. I mean, Office is basically something home users don't really use anyway and the OS itself is preinstalled or should come with support for configuring it.

    The interesting thing is: once you have everything set up and want to do something, where to begin? So teach them about Google, how to effectively use it. Tell them about keeping an additional yahoo/hotmail-account to avoid a lot of spam in their per
  • by jeffg ( 2966 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:31PM (#6575061)

    Tourist town, you say? You will make them happy by providing every digital media reader known to man, and the means to burn and e-mail the photos back home. They can burn a CD full of photos and empty their camera, and they can e-mail a few photos home to family/friends. This, in addition to "the usual" public kiosks that aren't annoyingly locked down, printing services, internet access for people with laptops, etc.

    Also, get in touch with your local public library/libraries. See if they have a computer lab. See what they offer. Look into working together, if only from the standpoint of "oh, we don't offer that service, but they do". If you can refer people to each other, you will both benefit.

  • by Jonah Hex ( 651948 ) <> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:31PM (#6575063) Homepage Journal
    I'd definately focus at least half the machines towards basic Internet access, and would probably prefer using old junker (donated?) machines and Linux Terminal Server Project [] to host it. The other half should be quite a bit more powerful to run games and an "Office" suite. Quite a bit depends on what your target audience is, which currently seems vaguely defined.

    Jonah Hex
  • OpenOffice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Un pobre guey ( 593801 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:33PM (#6575085) Homepage
    Teach OpenOffice [] and distribute CDs of it. Burn CDs with the Windows, GNU/Linux, and Mac versions, and give each student three disks so that they give a couple away to friends.

    Free. Gratis. Libre.

    Software y Libertad!

    La computadora es de quien la trabaja!

  • By definition, SlashDotters are here because they're deeper into the community, the practices, and either the hobby or profession (for many, both) of computing.

    We are going to have no idea whatsoever what Joe Average will want from a set of computer classes. Hey, we don't even know if you're dealing with residents, which won't want the same classes every year, or transients, which will want brief and to the point classes.

    I suggest you take all the ideas that SlashDot comes up with, cull at least half of them, put them in a list, and put that list up in the business. Print it on flyers with five or so entries. Ask people to check which ones they would be interested in - maybe let them say sorta interested or very interested - and allow them to write in suggestions. Given that they'll be looking at other things of scale, they'll be able to input what's germane to them.

    When you're writing down what you'd present, don't just come up with a topic and go. Think about it: what would Office 101 be? It's not going to be enough time to cover the whole suite. Some people will want document layout and setup in Word, like it was a publisher; some will want Excel and Access, for their small business (maybe tax stuff too.) Some will want to learn how to use Outlook, or Exchange, so that they can function in their corporate environment. Some will want to learn to make PowerPoint presentations.

    You've got to remember that most people do not learn computer topics at the rate of a slashdotter. This isn't because they're dumb, or clueless, or any other such geek slander; it's because they have less context to bind to. I'm not stupid, but a mechanic is gonna pick up the specifics of fixing a foreign car way, way faster than I will, even though I likely have a better grasp of the underlying physics. You're going to need to allow a lot of time for basic cluestickery.

    Maybe, here's a thought. Every month or so, offer a 101 course on one Office suite app. See how it goes, and have a second one prepared. If it goes well, do your second one while you prepare a sequel to the first.

    Above all, don't get stuck in plans. The people that show up won't always be the same ones and they won't always want the same things. Some things (word) you'll be able to repeat. Prepare occasional side-tracks into the weird for geeks if you find them; if you don't, get ready to explain MS Project.

    Basically, it's all about your audience, and we aren't your audience. What you get here is nothing better than a starting point.
    • We are going to have no idea whatsoever what Joe Average will want from a set of computer classes.
      I have to disagree with this -- being the resident geek, I find that many lay people consult me with questions about how to buy and operate computers. I am sure other uber-geeks here have the same guru status among their mortal friends.
    • what do you know? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by twitter ( 104583 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:55PM (#6575303) Homepage Journal
      SlashDotters are here because they're deeper into the community, the practices, and either the hobby or profession (for many, both) of computing.

      Part of that is advocy. That involves teaching and listening. There are plenty of people here with a clue.

      I've been teaching a newbies class for the last four or five months. I've worked in large and small companies and have some idea of what people want and what software can reasonably offer them.

      Set up multiple OS for demonstration. This is the hardest thing for a newbie to do, so it's the best service to offer. Windows 101? Sure, teach it on KDE and give them a reasonable notion of why there's a log on, what it protects them from and what it gives them. Games, OK, windoze wins there for now. For everything else, free software is easier to use and maintain. "Sheilding" newbies from the "complexity" of different OS and desktop environments does them a disservice. They quickly master basic concepts of files and GUI. Giving them more makes them happier and lets them make up their own mind down the road.

      Visit the, admittedly windoze heavy, Cajun Clickers Computer Club [] for an idea of what a community, all volunteer computer club teaches and people want to know.

  • If people really are blowing through town all the time, then I'd suggest you target your services at them.

    Advertise at the local hotels. At least once per month, drop off fliers with a listing of the services your lab offers and the class schedule. Most small town hotels have truly horrible business centers with one or two outdated PC's with no dialup access. Travelers love finding places to surf.

    Have traveler-starter classes, such as how to check your home email account from anywhere, how to research
  • Crazy Ideas (Score:2, Insightful)

    by neuraljazz ( 307431 )
    First - assess age and experience. If very low, basics such as using the mouse and what is the internet. Introduce email and chatting to them.
    Second - assess local business needs: spreadsheets and document writing. Basic desktop publishing. Also, give out certificates so people can take classes and have something to add to resumes.
    Third - student and school needs. More than likely you have student classes needing access to computers. These range from low to high, but I'd start out w/ computer basic and
  • by Eberlin ( 570874 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:35PM (#6575122) Homepage
    Intro to the PC, Internet I, Searching the Web, E-mail (free web-based), [MS Office stuff], Creating Web Pages.

    At least that's part of what we offer at the local library (grant from Gates Learning Foundation)

    For our demographic, we keep things simple. You figure people who frequent a computer lab don't have a machine at home with internet we gear towards the basic stuff.

    I'd have loved to do more OSS stuff like maybe some Linux or (again, the demographic...let them know they don't have to shell serious $$ to get decent apps) -- and if at all possible (unlike here) show them Mozilla and compare it to IE.

    Any chance to let people know of the "alternatives" should be taken.
  • by AndyChrist ( 161262 ) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .tsirhc_ydna.> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:36PM (#6575131) Homepage
    That's great if you want job security, I guess. It'd be nice if there was a course that could teach people how to apply what they learn about one program to another, even if it doesn't do the same things. For example, that the "print" menus are almost always under "file" or that "properties" are usually to be found in "file" or "edit." Simple things like that that will make them actually functional when they are faced with something novel.

    I suppose that's really placing too much of a demand on the students rather than too much on the teachers, though. Sigh...

    (Worked in computer labs for 2 years...has stories)

  • Photography (Score:3, Insightful)

    by r_j_prahad ( 309298 ) <> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:38PM (#6575142)
    Out of town? Tourists or snowbirds? You mean your typical camera toting crowd? Teach them digital photography, a few types of image compression, and the best ways to e-mail photos to the family back home. And throw in a little Gimp/Photoshop to show how to remove the wrinkles from their faces, brighten the Oregon skies, and in general make the stay-at-homes jealous. I'll be happy to sell them the cameras....
  • How to get Paid writing Viruses for the RIAA..

    preferably with Working for the MCA by Lynard Skynard playing in the background :)
  • USB flash drives (Score:3, Insightful)

    by puck01 ( 207782 ) * on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:43PM (#6575195)
    Not a big deal to most users yet, but they are catching on. I'm a big fan of them personally - more reliable than floppies and easy to carry around ie. your keychain. Drives me nuts when I'm using a public lab or work computers and I'm not supposed to use one because I'm not allowed to install a new device. Yes there are ways around that ;), but most normal users wouldn't know that.

    Anyway, if you're gonna restrict people from installing a new device on your windows machine, go ahead and install the USB flash drive ahead a time for everyone...i'm betting it'll pay off eventually.

  • by 4of12 ( 97621 )

    medium sized tourist town

    Basics, of course (clicking the mouse, dragging and dropping, word, email, web browsing).

    Advanced: Creating a web page, running a spreadsheet, maybe even setting up a simple database for logging hotel guests, etc.

  • by wideBlueSkies ( 618979 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:45PM (#6575208) Journal
    I've found that I almost always get blank stares when I start to explain to folks why they need memory, storage or processor upgrades. They especially have a hard time understanding the concept of disk space. "How can you run out of space in that big white box?"

    Perhaps a class called "How Your Computer Works" would be in order. The class would have gentle, simplified explanations of all the tech "mumbo-jumbo". And how it all fits together.

    People aren't stupid (well most aren't). Sometimes they're just overwhelmed by information and lingo. A guiding hand could make all the difference in the world and actually help make them computer literate.

  • What computer to buy (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jon Abbott ( 723 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:46PM (#6575224) Homepage
    I have consistently found that most people are clueless when it comes to buying a computer. Because of this, I think one of the classes you should teach is "Fundamentals of buying a computer". You should go over the basics, like what to look for in a computer, what brands to avoid, what brands to look for, the laptop/desktop option, the PC/Mac option, the building-from-parts option, etc. etc... The more you teach this class, the more feedback you will get from students about their purchasing experiences -- this will be great for you and your students.
  • by utexaspunk ( 527541 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:47PM (#6575227)
    call them "certifications" and make stupid little "certificates" for them to hang on their walls. maybe then a local business will try to get all their employees "certified". it seems to make the people in my office think they're competent... you may also want to offer testing.
  • I don't know how much longer I can take mom calling at 6:30 PM on a weekday and saying, "Hello son, how was work? My AOL intraweb is broken and I think it's because the Tivo has a general protection fault."

    Thank you, that will be all,
    -- RLJ

  • Wireless 101 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pcwhalen ( 230935 ) <> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:51PM (#6575265) Journal
    Since wireless cards and base stations are cheap, it might be good to show people they can use the cable modem/dsl from anywhere/any computer in the house without hardwiring.

    First part of the class is how to put in the card and attach the router to the modem. Then to get to the internet with the wireless setup. Then how to run a peer to peer local network using the DHCP sever on a wireless router.

    WEP and security are good topics for later. If you had people that wanted to share but were a little distance away from each other, you could even do Yagi 101, but that's a little much.

    Have everyone bring a can of Pringles. You could have snacks for the class and materials for an antenna.
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:55PM (#6575305) Homepage Journal
    Sure, you want to help the locals get there feet wet.
    But you also need to allow tourist a place to get email. You might be able to offer thema temp email account and call them if it gets an email from a specific person(for a fee, naturally)

    If ypour a sking town, you could offer the tourist a place to go to check the price and availability of things inside the town. make it a free service, then get your money from the merchants, either paying to be listed, or a finders fee.

    Offer a WiFI account.

    Not a lot of people go on vacation so they can learn Word. yes, some do and I know of geek cruises, but I'm talking about MOST people.

    You could offer to send an email at a latter date, so a person boss thinks they are working, when they're on the slopes!
  • Things like:

    - Intro to Linux
    - Word processing with
    - Graphics with the GIMP
    - Programming with Python

    You can charge them a $5 materials fee that includes a CD-ROM of the software!
  • Duh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by naelurec ( 552384 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @06:59PM (#6575325) Homepage
    Are you going after tourist? If so, why not have a class for people who travel --> "Making the most of your computer while traveling" Some topics could include "finding great rates (air/hotels/cruises/etc) online, wireless connections, tech saavy hotels, etc" as well as how to allow them to be the "mobile techie" -- ie getting connected to the internet from various locations, using webmail, gps & computers, etc. If you want to gear toward the locals, decide on what YOU want to do -- if your looking for larger classes, then you will probably need to stick with the basics "Intro to the Internet, email, computers" with perhaps a few lan parties for the kiddies every few weeks :)
  • Some useful ideas. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Yaztromo ( 655250 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @07:01PM (#6575341) Homepage Journal

    I've been tempted to get back into teaching classes such as this. One of my previous employers, an ISP, held such sessions for its customers to teach all sorts of interesting things, and they were generally well attended and well received.

    To get people to show up, however, you have to teach them stuff they're not going to just be able to fumble their way through on their own (or with their neighbours kids help :) ). So, some of the ideas I can think up off the top of my head include:

    • Home Networking. I've been known to answer some home networking questions on some of the PlayStation 2 newsgroups, and you'd be amazed by the number of e-mails I get from people saying "I've just bought my son a PS2 network adapter, but don't know how to connect it to my existing cable/DSL modem". Alot of basic computer users out there are afraid of things we find simple like home routers, even though they're pretty much plug-and-play. Just having a course to cover the simple stuff like "how to select a router" and "how to connect everything" would probably help a whole lot of people. A more "advanced" course that showed people how to safely setup file and print sharing would probably also be well attended.
    • Setting up a Website. Lots of people tend to be interested in things like this as well, but don't know where to start. Even if you just show them a common page creation utility, they'll still need to know how to upload the content to their web space provider.
    • How to use search engines more effectively. How many of us here have a friend/relative that can never find things they're looking for online, even through Google? Probably most of us. I routinely get calls from family members who don't know how to narrow their searches to ensure they get more relevent information, and who ask me to find things for them. Things like "I wanted to look for a good local restaurant, so I typed in 'restaurants' and got results from halfway around the world!". Most basic users I know don't even know the basics of how to use a search engine effectively.
    • Playing with Linux. You might be suprised. While most people do still equate "computer" with "Microsoft Windows", there are people out there who have heard of Linux, and are sufficiently interested to see what it looks like. Such people probably don't know anyone running it, and thus haven't been exposed to it, but would be willing to fiddle with it in a "safe" environment (ie: where they don't have to install anything onto their computers and risk losing all their data ;) ). A "course" where people could play around with Linux and some of its applications might just be popular. You could even hand out Knoppix CD's as a part of the course sign-up fee (assuming there is one, of course). People will sign up for anything that hands out free programs they can take home and use ;).
    • Online Console Gaming. Okay -- similar to "Home Networking" above, but in this case you could specifically offer a course on how to hook up a PlayStation 2 or Xbox to the Internet. Lots of kids have these devices and ask their parents for the necessary online kits to play with their friends on the 'net, but lots of parents wouldn't know where to start in hooking such a system up.
    • Tutoring. If you're in an area with a University, Community College, or even a high school that teaches programming courses, you can always offer a tutoring service for students.
    • Home Internet Security. Lots of people out there are either afraid of hackers, or too ignorant to be afraid. There is a lot of need for courses like this, although you have to walk a fine line when advertising them that you don't wind up scare-mongering.

    Some thoughts, FWIW.


  • Wouldn't it be neat to send each student home with a CD containing a (legal) copy of the tools they have just learned to use?

    If teaching generic 'word procesor' and 'spreadsheet' courses, consider at least one session on gnumeric and abiword. Both are quite usable. Their user interfaces are close enough to excel and word that the session won't be a huge culture shock, but at the same time different enough to make students have to understand what they are doing, rather than just clicking 'the third butto

  • Don't bother lecturing to them about the evils of commercial software, big corps and the like. Try a common sense approach and see how far you can push it.

    1. Show them in MS Office how easy it is to type a letter or to do home budget spreadsheet. Then show them how to do it with OpenOffice or KOffice. Then tell them the price of each, including what happens if they have more than one PC in the house.

    2. Show them how easy it is to install Windows XP or SuSe (or Drake). Or let's push this one a bit farther:
  • This might be an opportunity to demonstrate new and exciting technology. Show people what is being done to make their lives on their home computers easier. Instead of showing them how to use applications on an outdated and burdensome OS, Windows, show them how some other people, particularly GNOME and KDE, propose to solve problems. At the very least, make this one of your "classes". In this sense, you could become a bit of an attraction for tourists. I know this is a longshot, but we're just here to
  • $20.00 per seat for an "all-day" gaming pass. Or $5.00/hr. That would allow people to come in and hold LAN parties on your modern equipment - an attractive thing for poor students who have a Celeron 300 and ATI Mach64.
  • Warez. No seriously. If it wasn't for the Commodore Club at my local community center, I'd probably never have gotten into computers. The ability to borrow software for a week at a time was a great boon to my learning more about computers.
  • ...and jump straight into it when people walk in the door, straight into predicates, lookahead tape the entire course...and post it to slashdot...mod +5 funny immediately
  • I runned a cybercafe myself for 2 years and quitted because it took too much of my time. It was in Europe so maybe the data will not be accurate in the US. It may go beyond the scope of your question but many issues in the success of such a place comes from marketing and such.

    I suggest that you advertise some around the schools/universities (schools will give you more casual customers because they will not have probably already a computer)

    I will divide the games market in 3 categories:

    Action games: they

  • by slaker ( 53818 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @07:11PM (#6575421)
    I teach classes for a training company, so I can suggest classes that are successful for us:

    1. CD Burning. We teach using Nero, since it comes with the drives we buy, but the major topics are the different kinds of CDs (audio vs. data, CD-R vs. CD-RW). We just added ripping and burning DVDs (using DVD Decrypter and DVD Shrink). VERY few people actually understand the filesystem; a substantial portion of the class is explaining that, say, "My Shared Folder" lives under the Program Files Folder on the C: drive. In real life, I've found most home users just don't do very much with files. Maybe that's another class?

    2. Internet Security. The "anti-Spam class". We demonstrate pop-up blocking, programs like adaware, manipulating the hosts file, antivirus software, anti-spam techniques. All this is predicated on reasonably advanced internet users.

    3. Troubleshooting. Break a bunch of computers in a thematically appropriate and easily fixable way (sound issues, network problems whatever). Let folks pound their heads against the display for awhile. A decent tech can have a lot of fun with this.

    4. Internet Searching. Hard as it is to believe, many people click the search button in IE, that takes them to MSN search, which may very well be the worst search site on the internet. Teach google, refining searches, choosing keywords etc.

    5. Shopping Online. Goes over magically in oh, October or November. Teach safety habits, finding product reviews and lowest prices (simpler now that there's froogle, but show differences between say mysimon and dealtime).

    6. Digital photography. Many, many people buy a camera and never change the settings from the defaults. Showing things like color and white balance controls, basic photography (when to use a flash, whatever), and how to make things look good when you print 'em out.

    Those are things that get decent numbers of sign-ups every time we offer them. Maybe you can do something similar.
  • by Archfeld ( 6757 ) * <> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @07:13PM (#6575437) Journal
    the basics of privacy, and securing yourself to go online 101. It should be a REQUIREMENT to get your community lab drivers license so to speak...

    Things like DO NOT INSTALL COMET CURSOR, YOU DON'T REALLY HAVE A URGENT MESSAGE even though that popup says you do, Broadcasting an IP address is NOT A BAD THING even though the OTHER popup says it is, How NOT TO respond to spam, what a GOOD password is, and the survival tools needed, such as a popup blocker, purging histories and the implications of using a SHARED computer. In a similar situation in Yuma, AZ, the snowbirds like email, you could not get an ID until you passed their very basic course, and the heightened awareness gets things reported.
  • I would start with data management. I think its important to teach people how to make backups and move their data between systems.

    On the other hand if you're not willing to touch the command line could we possibly recommend you never touch a computer again?
  • Internet access (Score:3, Interesting)

    by X-Nc ( 34250 ) <> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @07:16PM (#6575476) Homepage Journal
    If they want to make some money on the "lab" they'd probably be better off making it into an Internet Cafe. Offer 'Net access for X amount of dollars per hour and provide coffee or juice and you're off. This would probably be a very good thing especially with the majority of people being tourists.

    Just a thought...

  • by ooh456 ( 122890 )
    Foreign language and English improvement labs are great applications for community centers, libraries, etc. We have sold them to hundreds of organizations and people love them and actually learn something useful. What's more, they are quite affordable.

    For more information email me or visit
  • A class on how to interface PDA's with computers, and what PDA's are good for what uses.
  • by aero6dof ( 415422 ) <> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @07:20PM (#6575518) Homepage
    One topic that I've always thought would help your average user:

    Effectively using a search engine (or how to use Google :)

  • A few suggestions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kallahar ( 227430 ) <> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @07:51PM (#6575732) Homepage
    1) How to avoid identity theft on the web (don't sign up for stuff using your real info)
    2) How to combat spam (don't sign up for stuff using your real info; use filters)
    3) How to avoid spyware (don't click on banner ads; use ad-filtering software; don't install file sharing or useless stuff like cursor/theme changers)

    You could offer stuff like "How to pirate software and not get caught" but hopefully people would have enough of a clue to not sign up for a class about that...

  • More research. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BenTheDewpendent ( 180527 ) <ben@jun k n> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @07:52PM (#6575739) Homepage
    If you found 80% of the people don't care I'd say seriuosly rethink classes.

    you could make a cybercafe style setup. But with a few perks such as: card readers, scanners, web, e-mail, etc. Allowing users e-mail photos to loved ones where ever they may be. Games are never bad either for the kids who dont want to go see some sites with mom and dad all day or go shopping all day let them game all day until mom and dad get back.

    If you absoulty must do technical classes do more research to find out what people will want or use. What about appealing to other local businesses to train their people to use word, outlook, excel, acces etc?
  • by TheViewFromTheGround ( 607422 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @07:59PM (#6575786) Homepage

    I work in Chicago's housing projects and have taught lots of little and big courses on computer skills.

    What I've learned is that teaching a class in any given application is 1% of the work of teaching people how to use computers. What's most important, in my experience, is providing space and time for motivated people to just keeping banging away and learning new things. The great fallacy of many computer technology centers is that they are closed to the possibility of letting people goof around for a couple hours, when that's exactly what teaches folks.

    When I started working on resume writing with some folks in the projects I work at, I was really disappointed that they couldn't remember anything I'd told them, etc. Now, three years later, a couple of those folks have home computers, write lots of email, are good typists, know how to use spreadsheets, etc. Persistence, time, and self-exploration and discovery are what teach lasting technology skills.

    Lastly, it's important to remember that you should be trying to teach computing principles. One of my aforementioned buddies has been able to quickly pick up all sorts of other computing skills because he digs on the principles of how computers work, networking works, etc. I think that should be a goal.

  • by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @08:04PM (#6575823) Homepage
    The question most folks who havn't used a computer before will have is: What can I do with it an why is that better?

    For the Internet part, cover things like:

    Read the local newspaper
    Check the weather report
    Use Google to find the complaint address for the company that made your shoes

    and so on

  • by _aa_ ( 63092 ) <> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @08:12PM (#6575870) Homepage Journal
    A class that taught people how to assess their needs, order parts individually, and then assemble them into a computer would probably be very useful.

    I think it would help a lot of beginners to lose their fear of computers and give them a better idea of what the different components do and why they do them.

    Not only that, but part of the curriculum might invole leaving with your own PC that you built yourself. And then once you have it, knowing what to do when a fan fails, or if you wish to add more memory.

    As my dad always told me, everyone who drives a car should know how to change a tire, change the oil, and get a jumpstart. In my opinion, computers should be looked at the same way.
  • by Sedennial ( 182739 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @08:42PM (#6576023)
    Many parents of the 50's-70's generation have no idea what their kids are doing on the internet, and would like to know.

    Download all the popular chat clients, some irc clients, and install all the common browsers.

    Offer clases teaching parents how to find browser history, change their security and ratings settings. Show them how to review chat history and url history for IM clients. How to check file sharing folders and search their computer for images, movies, etc.

    You'll find that (80%) disinterest or not, you'll draw quite a few attendees, especially if you repeat the course and offer a basic and advanced course.
  • by Ironica ( 124657 ) <{pixel} {at} {}> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @08:43PM (#6576029) Journal
    ...because you have two audiences.

    First, you need your tourist side. Very simple stuff. Web browsing, email, a scanner for photos, a color printer for stuff they get from home. This can be on any OS, and might as well be on something robust (*nix) if you can get the right drivers. If you can afford credit-card reader setups, do that... if people can walk in, stick in a card, do their thing, get their total, and click ok and walk out without ever talking to you, they'll be very happy. (Just make sure there's someone easily available to talk to if something comes up... don't *rely* on the no-interaction setup.)

    But your locals need something very different. I've done a lot of support and teaching in some pretty wacky environments, and I have a pretty different idea of how it should be done. So these are the kinds of classes I'd offer:

    - What is the Internet? This is not a class on how to use Outlook to check your email. This class, if someone's paying attention and taking notes, will after several hours allow someone to get on the phone with their ISP and actually get their internet connection fixed. Learn the general topography of the Internet, insofar as data turns into packets and hops from server to server. Learn how to do and read a traceroute. What a DNS server does. Why email and web are not the same thing. Why they might be able to get to one website, but not another. People use the internet hours and hours a day without having the slightest idea what's going on... and when there's inevitably a problem, they are completely at the mercy of a $9/hr tech in Texas who has a script, but no brain. (Not a comment on Texas... that just seems to be where companies go for cheap tech labor. We have the same brainless idiots here in Los Angeles, but they cost $11/hr.)

    - Computer structure. Open up the case. Here's your memory... this is what it does. This is the hard drive, and this is how it's different from memory. That over there is your processor, and it performs this function. People won't necessarily come out knowing how to build a computer, but they'll be able to buy one without being dizzied by the gigahertz and gigabytes. The difference between RAM and drive space is crucial, and very difficult, mostly because it's measured in the same units. Actually showing them the parts may help to make the distinction. It will also help with a surprising number of error messages... I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who were very dissapointed that the "low memory, close programs" message didn't go away after they deleted a bunch of documents.

    - Databases. Sure, teach SQL, Filemaker Pro, or even *retch* MS Access. But offer a class on what a database *is* and how it works. One-to-many relationships. Fields and records. Just try to get across the three-dimensional nature of database information. That way, once they learn a database program, whether it's Postgre SQL with PHP or MS Access with VBA, they'll actually be able to *use* it as more than a glorified spreadsheet.

    - Microsoft Word productivity. Lots of people have been using Word for years, but they will spend hours and hours trying to make a somewhat complex document print out correctly because they don't really know how to use tabs, tab leaders, tables, etc. A couple hours of the "tips and tricks" can save people cumulative days on typing up their simple-seeming menus, brochures, flyers, and resumes.

    Teach them what they ask you to. Listen to the questions they have. Maybe offer "office hours" where people can just come in with their questions and others can sit in and (hopefully) learn from them. Make it a community thing. You've got a heck of an opportunity to empower people (yes, I used that word... but it's appropriate here) with technology, and you can do a lot with it. Make it your goal to put yourself half out of business, because when people know the fundamentals of computers, they won't need your expertise nearly so much anymore.
  • by eselgroth ( 629022 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @09:34PM (#6576336)
    Good question. I teach "Adult Continuing Education" (non-credit) computer stuff part-time at my local community college. My student's LOVE anything that saves them money... e.g.... . StarOffice/OpenOffice (instead of MS Office)... . using a free service such as to "alias" their email and/or web space... . student discounts at sites such as ... . shareware and freeware offerings at ... . PopUp ad blockers such as ... ...and so on. See (Not exactly a stand-alone page... it's designed to support my classes). _Very _basic newbies are enthralled by "tips" such as keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl-X = 'Cut'), Line Returns (Ctrl-Return), "Tab" to jump to the next whatever, email using "bcc", exploiting "phrase quotes" and "+" or "-" in search engines, and so on. --TE
  • by Kernel Kurtz ( 182424 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @09:46PM (#6576402) Homepage
    At the lab in which I teach, we have the usual Intro and Advanced levels of Windows and Office, as well as a few others like HTML.

    We also do two other popular courses;

    -How to buy a computer, which is a vendor neutral description of the latest hardware technology and what people should look for to suite thier particular needs when they are box shopping, and

    -Using the Internet, where we talk about all things internet, including browsers and searching, firewalls and viruses, file sharing, messaging, online gaming, home LANs, and ISPs as well as many other things.

    I'd like to convince the commitee to add an Intro to Linux course in the future, but I doubt the administrators will consent to partitioning all the labs HDDs and installing Linux, so I'm hoping I can use something like Knoppix or Suse Live for starters.

  • Ah, that's easy:

    • How To Save Files To Where You Can Find Them Again
    • How To Locate a Technician Who Has The Patience To Remove All Your Spyware Every Month
    • How To Actually Get Your Computer Rebates
  • by PotatoHead ( 12771 ) <doug&opengeek,org> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @10:54PM (#6576751) Homepage Journal
    There are many suggestions here for the basics (win 101, excel, photography, internet)

    How about a ground rules class?

    Brief overview of computing today. Platforms, types of computers, and the very general reasons people use them. Perhaps a bit about where we came from, where we are today, and where we could be going.

    Then a bit of positioning for them. The sort of thing that helps them place themselves in charge of their experience. Let them know they have choices and how those choices can potentially affect their computing future.

    Then expand by area.

    The computer itself. What does save really mean? Does it mean "keep this for later?" or does it mean to "toss what I had in exchange for what I have now?" Continue with that sort of general sort of knowledge that will help them to make sense of what they are doing no matter what the application.

    The Internet. Putting new people on the Internet without some basic cultural guidence is like walking around in the worst part of town with no clue. Use scenarios to illustrate how things like e-mail, IM, web forums and such work. Let them know what others expect. Let them learn by interactive example. Make sure they can e-mail you and others in the class. Be sure they have a forum to use both in class and away from it. Privacy on the Internet. (Read: what privacy?) USENET in the form of google groups would be nice as would be the rules.

    One thing about e-mail in particular to illustrate and allow them to work with is the fact that things can easily come across far differently than intended. Tell them why and help them with creative and funny examples they can remember. Same goes with forums. Tell them what a troll is...

    Their Data vs other peoples data. What are backups and how best to perform them. What needs to be archived for later and why?

    Software and data. Let them know the difference between Open Standards and Closed ones.

    Getting help. If you have framed the discussion right and managed their expectations, they should be able to make use of USENET, web-forums (Your own in particular with volunteer help from the smarter ones helping along), friends, and books.

    Lay out the rules for technical support. Let them know exactly what they can expect for a few common situations. They should know enough to decide what is worth the money and what is not.

    All of these suggestions are directed toward empowering these people to help themselves as much as possible.

    Computing today is really easy if one has the right expectations. It all can be done one simple question at a time. Everyone getting started should somehow know that.

    A lot of things would be a lot better if they did.

    Good luck with your project.

  • by ke4roh ( 590577 ) * <jimes AT hiwaay DOT net> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @11:16PM (#6576896) Homepage Journal
    The August 2003 Scientific American [] has a relevant article by Mark Warschauer [], "Demystifying the Digital Divide []" talking about the complexities of bringing computers to communities, particularly in third-world countries, but the same problems apply in various parts of the U.S. You (obviously) can't just put computers there and expect people to use them.

    The article lists several more sources for information:

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @11:18PM (#6576906) Homepage
    Don't try to teach people how it works inside. They don't care, and they don't need to care. To the extent that they need to care, computing is broken. Once upon a time, owning a TV set required that you understand adjustments like "vertical linearity" and "horizontal drive", be able to use a tube tester, and know how to discharge the high voltage supply before touching the second anode lead. No longer. That's called "progress".

    Apple gets this. Microsoft gets it but has a business-model problem with it. The Linux community doesn't get it at all.

  • 80% Cash Cow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Paul Johnson ( 33553 ) on Thursday July 31, 2003 @03:32AM (#6577914) Homepage
    The 80% of people from out of town are a potential source of funding, especially as they will want to use the computers to check their email when most other people are at work.

    Set up a membership scheme that gives locals cheap access to the whole works, but charges visitors more for cybercafe facilities. Then get your business customers to give you free advertising pitched at visitors.


  • basic training... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RMH101 ( 636144 ) on Thursday July 31, 2003 @05:46AM (#6578246)
    *Basic keyboard/mouse skills. Sounds obvious but as a trainer, it isn't for some people

    * What directories are and how to use them. Again, the number of people who just save to a default directory and then can't find the file later is surprising * How to use Office or similar - word processing using your favourite package, etc. By default this tends to be MS Office because that's what they'll face when they hit the real world. You can push OO or similar which may be ethically nice but it's less useful.

    *Use of the internet. This includes web searching, email and *usenet*! There are kids today who think "Google Groups" is news!

    *Run options in things you think they'll be interested in: DTP, graphics, etc etc

    *Anyone who runs a "hacking 101" will be rebuilding their community PCs every few hours and fending off enquiries from their ISP. Why give yourself the hassle?

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling