Zara’s Space on the Web – Musings

March 25, 2010


  1. Nice metaphor :) But what if people don’t want to learn more than their remembered route? I’ve tried every possible approach with my mother: The pedagogic approach (“So which menu item do you think you should use to *open* a *file*?”), the by-analogy approach (“Okay, you know how to open a file in Word, how do you think you’ll open a PDF?”), and, yes, explaining everything from fundamental principles (“Each file is stored on your hard disk, which is organised in directories, and you can use the Explorer to look at all the files, no matter which type…”). What do you think she still does? That’s right, remembered routes.

    I think the problem (besides computer usability, which is a whole other topic) is one of attitude and willingness to invest time. You need to have the right attitude (i.e. be curious about what different things do, and not be scared of breaking things) and you need to invest a certain amount of time up-front just exploring the different options. If you don’t do that, then you’ll never get beyond the remembered routes phase, no matter how many helpful people try to explain how things work to you.

    PS: I often use Google to find websites I haven’t bookmarked. Not because I can’t remember, but simply because I use the Google search bar more often than the address bar, so I’ll go there first without thinking.

    Comment by Frank — March 26, 2010 @ 10:14 am | Reply

  2. I use Google Chrome so my address and search bars are the same :D

    Your post was very interesting, especially the analogy. I was expecting it to be different! I have been using maps more than usual lately and what they do for me is exactly what you suggested: they show you the shortest route to where you want to go, they provide the overall picture for you to realise that the route you have been walking to get to place X actually makes very little sense. Computer literacy allows you to know the safest, shortest route to getting your computer doing what you need to do.
    But you wouldn’t find the museum, the hidden church and the pretty canal-side walk if you used maps! How often do you find a really nice place by wandering about your neighbourhood with only a vague idea of where you want to get? Learning IT skills for me is generally like that. Ok, I have had some formal training at school (by a teacher who did Ctrl-X for Delete), but most of it I have picked up like most people do – by doing. And I think that for learning beyond your basic needs that’s the best way. Not only you never really retain information about actions that you don’t then usually do (MS Word and macros! What’s that about), so a lot of the learning falls on deaf ears, but most of the “cool” things I learnt I have found by randomly looking at drop down menus while trying to find something else.
    What is worrying is the lack of awareness about other issues, especially when people browse the net etc. So instead of maps, perhaps we need big danger signs, that explain what people need to look out for. The level of computer literacy needs to be whatever necessary to understand these dangers. If they keep doing Ctrl-X for Delete, that’s okay.

    Comment by eleonoraonline — March 26, 2010 @ 4:39 pm | Reply

  3. The ReadWriteWeb fiasco really underlines the illiteracy that you’re discussing. But that said, if I want to login to Facebook then why shouldn’t I be able to type “facebook login” into a browser and expect it to work? Sure enough, if I do that in Chrome right now it does indeed do the Right Thing and show me the URL for the Facebook login page.

    On a similar vein I find it interesting that more and more adverts now have “Search for xyz” on them rather than a URL. Ultimately people don’t really want to ‘go to a webpage at this URL’, they just want to ‘go to what I want’. This behaviour also manifests itself in the Windows Vista/7 start menu where you just type what you want and Windows works it out.

    But back to your point, when I was a kid I would endlessly experiment with my PC to learn how it worked, and install loads of different programs to work out which was best. But as I get older I have less-and-less time to do this and would rather just get on with the task at hand. Even generally I’m more reluctant to muck about with new OS’s etc. on my PC because it is now an essential tool and I can’t afford to have it not working. This is especially true of my Android phone where I have put off upgrading the firmware because I need to re-install everything afterwards and I just can’t afford any downtime with my phone.

    Nevertheless, the experience that I gained mucking around as a kid has stayed with me and I think youth is an ideal (and possibly the only) time to experiment with computers. I’m not sure what ICT teaching is like these days but I only hope that schools are encouraging this experimentation and not stifling it by sending kids down pre-determined paths…

    Comment by Chris Paton — March 27, 2010 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

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