Parent Tech Briefing – Session 1

MonkeyWorking in collaboration with First Code Academy, I have been working to design and deliver a series of tech-focused workshops for parents. Dubbed the Parent Tech Briefing, these sessions are aimed to help parents understand the meaning of technology, become more fluent computer users and experience some of the opportunities their kids receive in school and at FCA.

This post will be used to capture and share notes of each session, for use by the participants as well as anyone else who has interests in these areas.

Session 1

In our opening session, the aim was to answer the question Why Technology Matters and then move onto look at some desktop basics. In looking at the issue of technology we took a whistle stop tour of the history of technology, its deep and central meaning to our survival and flourishing as a species and where it might be taking us (try not to think about this too much, it can feel scary for anyone with kids).

To get started, take a look at the slide deck we used to start the session off. Through these images we looked at the importance of technology to our past, and some of the problems it poses for us as a species. This was supplemented by the video below:

With a back story established, we moved onto some practical computer basics. These might seem very basic, but the context and details usually provide something for even the most advanced user. The notes below give a little summary of this segment (they are somewhat Mac-specific, but plenty applies to Windows too):

  • Desktop metaphor – we generally think that desktops are so called because they sit on a desk. In fact, the name comes from the use of a traditional desktop as a metaphor for how the computer works: we have a space, on which we can put files, folders and various apps. We can drag and drop: a simulacrum of moving things around with our hands. The video below illustrates this quite nicely:

  • WIMP – in a desktop environment we find windows, icons, menus and pointers: the four essential elements that make up a desktop’s Graphical User Interface (GUI). This is very different from older computers that offered only a Command Line Interface (CLI). CLIs are super fast and powerful, but very time consuming to learn. Conversely, GUIs take more time (a mouse is slower to use than a keyboard), but easier to investigate and learn as you go.
  • Clicking – everyone knows how to click a mouse, but these distinctions are often lost on users:
    • Single left click – aka primary click, this is used to select things, open links, etc.
    • Double left click – this is often over used, but in fact is generally only useful to open icons (but not links, buttons, etc) and to highlight a word.
    • Right click – aka secondary click, this is used to show a context menu. This can be done with two finger click, clicking with one finger whilst holding the control key, or natively on the right side of the trackpad (if you enable it in System Preferences).
  • Mission Control – on a Mac, window management is a little tricky, until you discover Mission Control (which used to be called Expose). You can initialise Mission Control by clicking F3 or swiping up with three fingers. You can also create new virtual desktops here, spreading your windows across more space.
  • Trackpad Gestures – modern computers (both Windows and Mac) are learning from mobile devices (phones, tablets), and now support some great gesture controls via the trackpad. On a Mac, try these:
    • Scrolling – two fingers up and down.
    • Mission Control – three fingers up and down.
    • Desktop switch – three fingers left and right.
    • Show/hide desktop – “exploding claw” in and out.
  • Files & Folders – files contain data (text, images, video, music, etc), and can be renamed to make it easier to search for them. Folders can contain sub folders and files, allowing us to create a hierarchy of organised content.
  • Spotlight – this Mac search function, which we can launch using command-space on the keyboard, can be used to quickly launch applications, find and open files, define words, calculate sums…and as of El Capitan (10.11) even get exchange rates. Really helps to work faster.
  • Keyboard Shortcuts – although the pointer is powerful, it is much slower than using the keyboard. We can use special keyboard combinations to shave time off each part of our work. This really adds up over 40 years! Remember, cheat sheets can help us learn and remember these tricks.
  • Hot Corners – this Mac feature lets us assign functions to the corners of the screen, so we can (for example) put or display to sleep just by touching a screen corner. Go to > System Preferences > Mission Control > Hot Corners to enable this.
  • Dock – the Mac dock is useful, but takes up precious vertical screen real estate: try hiding it, or moving it to the side in order to get more out of your display.
  • Quitting Apps – and finally…Windows quits applications automatically once the last window in that app is closed. Mac does not, keeping them handy for quick opening in future. This is great, but having too many apps running fills your RAM, slowing down the whole computer. If you have more than (roughly) five apps open, you might start to notice performance dip. Look for the little dot beside dock icons, indicating an app is still running. Quit apps in the top menu (File > Quit), or by right clicking the dock icon or using the command-q shortcut.

This was a busy session, with lots of learning. Try and find some time during the week to practice these skills before we meet again.

Image credit: Monkey image from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

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