iConnect: Help Internet Beginners Get Connected!by Eric Sakai, Community College of Vermont

A couple of years ago, my then-85-year-old mother called me from California in a panic to tell me, “They took away my inbox!” Email was the one internet resource she had more or less figured out on her shiny new iMac computer, because it’s the one resource she really needs in order to keep in touch with family and friends. But she accidentally clicked on something that made her inbox go away, and nothing she knew how to do would bring it back.

As I attempted to assist her over the phone, hearing dead silence in response to questions with words like “cursor” and “window” and “toolbar,” I realized that my familiarity with computers was getting in the way. I was taking far too much for granted about what she knew and could do. Add to that her frustrations and fear that she had been forever cut off from contact with loved ones, and I was quickly over my head in trying to get her reconnected.

We eventually managed to retrieve her inbox, but the incident made me realize that helping internet beginners requires a different pedagogy than, say, a training for college faculty on how to add images to PowerPoint slides. And the need is growing, as internet use becomes all but obligatory for job applications, shopping, research, communication, and many other common tasks.

The Vermont Digital Economy Project has developed a free, three-hour training to guide those who work with internet beginners, including town librarians, state agency personnel, and staff at community organizations. The iConnect workshop helps participants get into a “beginner’s mind” and look at computers and the internet through the eyes of people who are unfamiliar and even intimidated by the technology tools that are second nature for many of us. Workshop exercises have participants playing the roles of teacher and learner to help them understand how to walk beginners step by step through basic tasks that they need to accomplish in order to find their way online. Workshop materials include a self-assessment to help beginners to know what skills they already have and instructions that they can refer to after a help session.

CCV professor and iConnect trainer, Mary Kay Dreher, has been teaching this iConnect digital skills training course for more than 4 years. “I am particularly excited about these upcoming workshops,” says Mary Kay, “because we will be launching new training material that includes tablets and mobile devices, since a growing number of digital literacy clients are using non-traditional computers to access the Internet.”

The iConnect workshops, along with Internet Interns — college students who provide one-on-one assistance to computer and internet users in selected town libraries — are two of the programs developed by the Digital Economy Project to increase the number of Vermonters who can use the internet and other technologies to find information, seek employment, engage in community activities, and enrich their lives. Four iConnect workshops have been scheduled for this spring at academic centers of the Community College of Vermont. Workshops run from 9:00 am to noon at these locations:

For more information and to register for a free iConnect workshop, please contact Christine Friese at: [email protected].