Class offers hope for computer-fearful

Scared of the Start menu? Frightened of files and folders? Petrified about programs and printers? Then “Computers for the Terrified” may be just the thing for you.
The two-night class — to be taught March 12 and 14 at Lord Baltimore Elementary School — is among the adult-education offerings of the Indian River School District this semester and promises to take the intimidation factor out of interacting with a computer.

Instructor Tony McClenny said he can’t take credit for its title, since the adult-ed staff came up with the name, but it’s right on target for the class’ intended students.

“I think it’s great. That’s really who we’re teaching to,” said McClenny. “We want to remove the intimidation factor that most people who haven’t used them feel.”

To learn
Computers for the Terrified: Microsoft Windows will be offered Monday and Wednesday, March 12 and 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Lord Baltimore Elementary School. Computers for the Terrified: Internet and E-mail will be offered Monday and Wednesday, March 26 and 28. The cost of each two-night/four-hour class is $45. There is a limit of 10 students per class. Register by mail or in person at Indian River Educational Complex, Adult Education, Route 2, Box 156, 31 Hoosier Street, Selbyville, DE 19975; or via the Internet at, where a full list of all adult-ed classes can be found. For more information on registering, call Rhonda Morgan at (302) 436-1010, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS: 'Computers for the Terrified' instructor, Tony McClenny, will teach those who are technologically-challenged about the comptuer.Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS:
'Computers for the Terrified' instructor, Tony McClenny, will teach those who are technologically-challenged about the comptuer.
It’s a common problem for many among the area’s retiree population. “Most all of them are seniors,” the Bethany Beach vice-mayor said of his students, though he emphasized that the class is open to anyone who wants to learn.

“As long as they can have some control over the computer, we can teach them,” he said. “And if they have difficulty controlling the mouse, I tell them to play solitaire,” he added.

McClenny said many of those who most need the class are scared that they’ll do something to break the computer.

“I tell them that as long as they don’t spill their coffee into it, or dump cigarette ashes into the keyboard, they won’t do anything that can hurt it,” he said.

He introduces his students to the computer’s brain — the central processing unit or CPU — as well as the monitor that lets them see what it’s doing and the mouse and keyboard that let them interact with it.

And he makes at least a passing acquaintance between the students and the computer peripherals they’re most likely to come into contact with in the future: printers, scanners and floppy or compact disc drives.

The goal: to teach these would-be computer users how to do the most basic things they’ll need to do to use a computer — and to make it do what they need it to do.

They’ll learn to copy and rename files, to create folders and set up a directory structures. They’ll learn about the Windows desktop and launching programs from the Start menu’s Programs subsection.

“And we’ll teach them how to find the programs that will let them do what they want to do,” McClenny said.

He noted that, in addition to the basic Windows functions, the classes focus primarily on the software that is already included with most Windows computers: Notepad or Wordpad, for instance, rather than a separate word processing program that might not come with their computer or might cost extra.

“They’ll learn to create a document and print it,” he said.

McClenny also throws in little tricks that can come in handy when things don’t follow the standard procedures, such as teaching his students how to capture the screen in front of them when it doesn’t otherwise allow them to print its contents. They can save it as an image file in Paint, which is also included with Windows, as are a built-in calculator and other computer software accessories that the new users could find extremely handy.

The class won’t go into any depth about games, but McClenny noted that recommendation for those new to the mouse to take some time at home for playing solitaire — also built-in to Windows. “It will help them develop the finger/hand coordination they need to use the computer,” he explained.

Once they’ve mastered that, there’s a world of files and programs to conquer. They’ll learn to copy their files to a floppy disc, or to a compact disc. They’ll learn ways to put their photographs on their computer, too, and to e-mail those photographs to friends and family, as well as receive the ones sent to them.

That could be one of the most vital uses of the computer for many of the students in the class. “They’ll get an e-mail from their daughter with a picture of their granddaughter in it, and they don’t know how to actually see the pictures,” he explained. “We’ll show them how to do that.”

McClenny said he’ll also show them how to play music or video on their computers – an increasingly popular use even among seniors.

Along with all of those photos and files goes organization needs, and McClenny’s class will teach the students how to deal with the My Documents and My Pictures folders – specifically how to create a directory system that will let them know where all of their important files are rather than populating the main folders with thousands of individual documents.

And while McClenny plans to do just a little education about the innards of a computer — such as what the computer’s memory looks like — he said he will explain some of the more confusing issues for new computer users.

That will include the difference between the memory and hard drive. They are both things that a computer can run out of or that might fail, but McClenny said the worries that many of his students have about running out of memory are generally unfounded. Usually, he said, they’ll run out of hard drive space first.

Those are circumstances when they might be considering getting a new computer, he noted. Plus, many of his students will come into the class thinking their existing computer might be too old. He said that’s not usually the case. But if they do need a new computer, he’ll also be able to offer advice on what they should look for in a new purchase.

The class will also deal with the ever-important process of backing up the user’s files. “Sooner or later, your hard drive will crash,” McClenny warned, noting the ease of restoring a computer after a crash if proper backups are made ahead of time.

It may seem like a recipe for information overload, but McClenny has that handled. Rather than having to focus both on what they’re being taught and taking notes for later reference, the students in Computers for the Terrified are told to concentrate on the hands-on experience in the class, with McClenny’s example to copy shown on a large screen at the front of the classroom and personal attention at their individual stations.

“Having them do it — it sticks with them better,” he said.

They’ll take home with them a 30-page document that goes through everything they’ve learned, step by step, so they can repeat it at home after the class is finished and reference it at will.

At least as valuable is McClenny’s personal pledge that they’ll eventually absorb the lessons, or he’ll continue to help them. While speaking to the Coastal Point at his Bethany Beach home, McClenny got a telephone call. “That was one of my students,” he explained. “She said, ‘I have a problem.’ I give them my number. They can call me for help, as long as it isn’t after 10.”

That help might be assistance with installing new software, if that doesn’t go as expected, or in getting a new printer to work with their computer, or just in viewing those pictures of a new granddaughter. He wants to get them over the hump from being intimidated by their computers to making the devices do what they need them to do.

“It’s very gratifying for the instructor to be talking about something and hear a student say, ‘Oh, my! I always wanted to learn how to do that,” McClenny said.

Beyond the basics of Microsoft Windows, McClenny is teaching a second Computers for the Terrified class this spring. The Internet and e-mail class is set for March 26 and 28, with the four hours this time spent on learning how to search the World Wide Web, send and receive e-mail, and even read Internet newsgroups. Both classes cost $45 for the two two-hour sessions.

Once students have mastered those issues, the IRSD adult-education program also offers specialist classes for certain kinds of software, such as McClenny’s Microsoft Word (beginning and advanced) classes in May or the staff’s Quicken 2007 class in February.

McClenny has also added a new Quickbooks class targeted at getting small-business owners up and running with the accounting software, though he emphasized that that class will be more demonstration than hands-on work.

It was a special request, he noted — something students asked to have added to the course list. In the past, he’s taught classes on Microsoft Access to Realtors who wanted to automatically manage their mailings and client lists. And he said each class takes advantage of student feedback to try to improve the course and other offerings for local adult students.

“This is a really good service Sussex County is offering,” McClenny said of the adult-education classes. “People around Sussex County have the ability to get this training inexpensively.”

For the instructors, though, the payoff is in more than tuition.

“You see these people when they get it, and you realize you’ve done something really good for them,” McClenny said.

This is the first in a series of Coastal Point stories highlighting some of the wide variety of classes offered through the Indian River School District’s adult-education section. Next week: Ballroom dancers take to the floor.