Workshop October 15, 2013

By Greg Stone

VCN interns take part in an exercise to help them become better computer workshop facilitators
VCN interns take part in an exercise to help them become better computer workshop facilitators

On the evening of October 15th, interns from the Vancouver Community Network (VCN) Youth Initiative (YI) met up for a workshop at the UBC Learning Centre on how to facilitate computer training workshops, or as Mark Smith would puts it, “How to help someone learn how to use a computer without having to cry.”

Smith is the Community Programs manager at the UBC Learning Exchange. He facilitated the VCN workshop alongside Dionne Pelan, Coordinator of Computer and Dropin Programs. Smith and Pelan both have extensive experience working on the digital divide.

Located at the corner of Main St. and Keefer St., the UBC Learning Exchange is a space and a resource for residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It offers computer and internet access, along with computer workshops on computer basics like word processing and PowerPoint, English language lessons, and free coffee and conversation to drop-ins. UBC Learning Exchange’s focus on narrowing the digital divide makes its activities very relatable to VCN and its lessons valuable to VCN interns.

The workshop focused on the process of learning how to use a computer, and Smith and Dionne asked the participating interns to see things from a learner’s perspective.

“The first and most important lesson in facilitating computer workshops,” says Smith, half-jokingly, “is: Don’t touch the mouse.”

After this first rule of thumb, the participating interns went through a series of exercises and discussions. An initial exercise asked interns to discuss moments in their lives when they learned something effectively, and the factors behind that effectiveness. A list was drawn up summarizing these factors, and included humour in the learning process, interactivity, an appropriate environment and incremental learning, among other things.

The workshop was punctuated by several other interactive exercises served up by Smith and Pelan. Interns were asked to sit in pairs with their backs to each other, and dictate to each other how to draw a shape, first without the ability to ask questions, then with questions. “I was supposed to draw an arrow, but I drew a star instead,” chimed in one participant, to giggling. The exercise was designed to demonstrate the power of feedback and the importance of asking questions during facilitation.

Other exercises explored the power of metaphors to explain how computers work. For example, a ‘window’ can be explained to a learner as a ‘frame’, or ‘casing’ for a program. Another exercise focused on different types of learners, and how to be sympathetic to the different needs of different types of people.

Interns also learned about the importance of pattern recognition in learning computers. For example, a floppy disc icon in word processing software has become the universal symbol for saving a document. “This kind of consistency can be very useful in learning computers,” says Pelan.

Twelve VCN interns attended the workshop; Allison Hill, David Miller, George Mohan, James Goertzen, Michelle Hickey, Nathan Chan, Sally Zhao, Thanh Lam, Wendy Lin, Ayesha Kanani, Sidney Curtis, Patricia Chu.

Allison Hill, an intern at the UBC Learning Exchange who helps to facilitate computer workshops with locals, took away some perspective from the workshop, “I learned that it is important to focus on the broad concepts of what we do,” says Hill. “In practice, it is easy to focus on the details, but in the long term a more conceptual approach is valuable.”

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