What I’ve learned from my first month of Bournville Village Trust digital workshops

Francis Clarke from OpenUp Digital holding ipad and Sharing digital skills with older couple at BVT digital workshop at Shenley Court

OpenUp Digital is currently working with Bournville Village Trust (BVT) to deliver a series of free digital skills and confidence workshops for local, mainly retired residents. The sessions are scheduled to run from February through to June, with participants learning a new topic every month. This month, I’ve delivered three beginners’ workshops at Shenley Court Hall. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Start with people, not digital devices

Before participants get drawn into their devices I’d recommend you encourage participants to gather together without their digital devices whilst you briefly introduce yourself and what you’ll be covering in your workshop. Make sure to allow enough time for participants to quickly introduce themselves and say what motivated them to sign up for your workshop. This will help you start to better understand people’s expectations and learning needs. Making time to introduce your workshop will save you time in the long run by giving people clear expectations of what you will and won’t covering. For example, when one learner started to ask me a detailed question about online security, I was able to remind them that we would be focusing on the basics for now but that we’d be looking in-depth at security at a future workshop.

2. Clearly introduce the devices learners will be using

A significant chunk of my beginners’ workshops was taken up by explaining the different types of digital devices learners are likely to encounter. I spent time explaining the similarities and differences between desktop PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Often, learners would ask which device was ‘best’? This provided me with a chance to explain that each device has its advantages and disadvantages and encourage learners to think about what which device would best suit what they wanted to do online. When introducing devices, it’s important to distinguish between device types and brand names.

3. Learners, start your devices

Francis Clarke (far right) helping an older couple while two other learners use their own digital devices at BVT digital workshop at Shenley Court Hall
Helping an older couple while two other learners use their own digital devices at BVT digital workshop at Shenley Court Hall

When you’ve only got a limited amount of time it’s tempting to jump ahead and focus on all the things you can do online. Doing so, however, is counter-productive if learners aren’t clear on the very basics. Getting learners to start by switching on their devices is a great way to tease out any issues which could prevent learners getting the most from digital. For instance, it soon became clear that one learner wasn’t clear on the difference between the on/off button and the volume +/- buttons on their tablet. Spotting this, I was able to quickly explain the difference. Going through the switch-on process also helped identify another source of frustration – the fact that mobile devices go to sleep after a period of inactivity – and show learners how to adjust the timing.

4. WiFi, the 8th wonder of the world

Explaining how WiFi works turned out to be a more important part of the beginners’ workshops than I initially expected. I found using the metaphor of radio stations helped cut through the confusion. Learners were quick to understand ‘tuning in’ to a network but less clear on what happens when they moved to a new location. Here again, the radio metaphor helped. I explained how modern devices remember passwords for every WiFi network they’ve connected to like an in-car radio stores presets.

5. Omniboxes aren’t obvious

Once learners were connected to the internet, it was time to get to work. For their first task, I asked learners to use Google to search for and visit a website.

While all learners had heard of Google and were familiar with the concept of a search engine, the mechanics of searching for a website proved tricky. Most learners were comfortable entering search terms into the iconic Google search box. Learners were surprised to discover, however, that they could do the same thing by entering their search term into the address bar at the top of their browsers. I also found myself having to explain that the Google search app on mobile devices contained an in-built web browser.

Even though I am a committed Firefox user, if you find yourself teaching absolute beginners I recommend you keep things simple by asking all users to use the hugely popular Google Chrome web browser. That way, learners can easily make use of the familiar Google search box before progressing to using the omnibox, Google Chrome’s searchable address bar.

Next up: online safety and security

Our next round of free digital workshops start on Wednesday 1st March. This time, we’ll be looking in depth at online safety and security. If you know a BVT resident who doesn’t go online because they think it’s unsafe, please encourage them to sign up.

For more information about OpenUp Digital is up to, check out our Recent Projects page and follow us on Twitter, @openupdigi.

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