How to Help Someone use a Computer

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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby Luna Moon » 2018-05-09 18:29

The original post is actually full of a lot of valuable advice!

phenest wrote:I think my method for teaching involves making sure I'm approachable and won't mock them because of their trivial question. And then give them a straight answer. I've always believed that not knowing does not equal stupidity.


I like your approach and I agree with you. A person, who does simply not know, but wants to learn and understand is far from stupidity. Helping them to understand and not only give them solutions, which only work in that exact situation is the key in my opinion.
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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby Starborn » 2018-11-17 10:32

A small anecdote :)

I have an office job (I'm also the "LPU" and the guy that my colleagues come running to, when Windows is being stubborn again). We used to buy our own office stuff, and many many years ago one used to get a small thing as a thank-you gift. One day such a gift was a small, oval-shaped, battery-powered radio. Our boss gave it to a colleague (an older woman that since retired years ago) and told her it was a new, wireless mouse.

She didn't understand why her mouse cursor did not work. :lol:

-oo-

He meant it as a joke, and not as a way to mock her. But to be honest, I don't like such practical jokes: one does not make fun of people's not-knowing something.

I myself too have learned SO much about computers and operating systems. Back in the MS-DOS days, the . (dot) was the main directory (or whatsammacallit?) of DOS. Well, one day I apparently managed to delete everything by simply deleting that "dot" (in DOS?). It is years ago, but I still remember that the guy at the computer shop said I could come work with him right away. :)

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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby phenest » 2019-08-04 19:36

Despite how I hate mocking people that are a bit lacking in computer skills, here are 2 anecdotes of my own, and done to the same Supervisor at work:

1.
The supervisor left his office to do something, so one of my colleagues changed the display settings so the orientation was upside down. When the supervisor returned, he was confused but tried to solve it. His solution was to turn the monitor upside down.

2.
Again, the supervisor had left his office, but this time, he had not turned the computer on yet. As he has to login, we switched 2 of the keys over on the keyboard and tried to keep a straight face. We decided to switch the N & M keys as they are next to each other on a QWERTY keyboard and would not be easy to spot what is wrong. Incidentally, his name is Simon. He never managed to login. We had switched the keys back by the next day and he never worked it out.

I guess that's how you get to be a supervisor.
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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby Onsemeliot » 2020-08-11 07:19

Most questions on this forum are to advanced for me to help anyone with. (I sometimes browse through the questions and try to find something I could be helpful with.) But in my immediate surrounding I am still usually the guy people come to if they are having problems with their computers. And since I value freedom I try to help them by using free software when ever possible.

I agree that the fist post here is very valuable. I just think it doesn't stress one important thought enough: Most people don't want to administrate their own computers at all. They just want to use a device that works. Therefore, learning about computers isn't something they see as an option. I often encounter people who don't even want to know what the problem is or how they could solve it on their own. And I do get it: It is an emergency if they attempt to find a solution to a problem when they actually wanted to do something else entirely. It is unfortunate that paying for professional computer support doesn't really make much sense for private people because it quickly gets more expensive than just buying a new device when something goes wrong.
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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby LE_746F6D617A7A69 » 2020-08-11 08:22

Onsemeliot wrote:Most people don't want to administrate their own computers at all.
That's true - unfortunately.
Computers are probably the most widely used tools today, and IMO it's a catastrophic situation that majority of people don't have even a basic idea of how it works. Of course I'm not expecting that everyone would now how to build a CPU, but I think that everyone should be able to manage the HW, applications, configurations, etc. Form My observations it seems that each generation knows less and less in this area, what leads Me to a conclusion that in 100 years we will be very close to a situation like in Egypt 4000 years BC. I mean that only narrow group of people will know that solar eclipse is a normal, periodic phenomenon and not a magic ;)

I can't remember it exactly, but there was a saying:
"Linux is for people who want to know how the computer works, Mac is good for those who don't want to know why their computer works, and Windows is for people who don't want to know why their computer does not work" :mrgreen:
Bill Gates: "(...) In my case, I went to the garbage cans at the Computer Science Center and I fished out listings of their operating system."
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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby Onsemeliot » 2020-08-11 11:35

LE_746F6D617A7A69 wrote:"Linux is for people who want to know how the computer works, Mac is good for those who don't want to know why their computer works, and Windows is for people who don't want to know why their computer does not work" :mrgreen:

This is indeed funny. :lol:

On the other hand I don't fully agree because nobody expects us to understand how a stereo works or how to service a car – especially this modern stuff with more electronics than anything else where you aren't even allowed to do anything yourself.

Not being personally able to do everything ourselves (for one or the other reason) isn't the same as being cut off from our freedom to do with our devices as we please. Free software is also valuable for people who don't even know that they are using a browser to look at web pages. I think most free software advocates underestimate the importance of independence for non-technical people. We all should at least be able to decide who we trust and what services we want to use.

Of course it would be ideal if every computer user would understand his/her system. But this doesn't seem to be a good way to organise our resources.

I don't think it is fair to expect all computer users to administrate their own (rather complicated) devices. Cooking isn't as complex but there are very few cooks who argue that people not cooking for them selves should just eat raw food ... or farmers who say people not growing their own food don't deserve to get anything decent to eat. We understand that we do have professionals in many areas because as a society it is much more efficient if talented and interested people do what they love instead of everyone having to do everything on his/her own in order to get something worthwhile ... which often is only achievable when we specialise. So, I basically think we as a society didn't adapt yet to the reality that computers are general tools (almost) all need or want to use.

In theory I could try digging up minerals and start creating metal to build my own tools but it is obvious I would never be able to reach the quality of the things we have managed together as a civilisation by allowing specialists to focus on their field and to provide them even with basic things instead of insisting on them to do other things they in theory could care for on their own. Therefore, they would have less time to focus on what they love and do best.

I don't see people who aren't interested in computers as errors. They are just focused on something else and it is the task of passionate computer people to provide these other people with the best solutions possible in order to support the other work they are doing better than probably most computer people. If we support each other we all are much better off. After all, collaboration seems to be the corner stone of (technological) development. Of course it is much nicer to concentrate on things we are interested and talented in. It's great that we don't have to do everything our selves.

Concerning computers I think we still need to find a way of providing the general public with the best solutions we can. We are not there yet. Ideally, the tool should be transparent to those who want to use it. Only those tasked with it's maintenance should need to dwell in deeper. For me it's clear that the best solution can't be proprietary software because the whole concept of unnecessarily restricting others is plainly stupid and highly inefficient. Therefore, we need to organise our computing in a way that makes free software the default and clearly most convenient solution – even for people who are totally reluctant to think about how computers work. And there is a good chance this way of managing our needs will provide a nice stable living foundation for all people who love to tinker with computers.
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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby cuckooflew » 2020-08-11 13:36

Computers for many are like a car, they only use it because it is needed to get to and from work, then the computer is needed to do the work, and they rely on mechanics to fix the broken car, it is bad enough one needs to take time on their only day off and take the car to the mechanic, but after that or while waiting they are free to enjoy the day off. The same with the computer, when it breaks, or the software breaks they rely on technicians to repair it.
If they do not have the technical skill to at least follow instructions, on a forum , for example .... well probably the best thing to suggest is to take it to a repair shop , or call a tech and have them come to the office.
for now that's all
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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby Onsemeliot » 2020-08-11 17:04

Well, there are those who help out others – often for free. Unfortunately, most helpers aren't very educated about ethics and most stick with bad solutions without mentioning or even considering software freedom.
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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby LE_746F6D617A7A69 » 2020-08-11 21:29

Just to clarify: Even the most "unfriendly" distributions, like Debian (joking), have a very nice graphical OS installers - You just need to answer few basic questions (clicking Yes/No/Next/What_is_Your_NickName) - so it's trivially easy to (re)install the system without having much knowledge. Of course this is just example, but it's showing that many people are just "afraid" of doing simple tasks - because they don't have a knowledge at the very basic level - and this is not a rocket-science - all what is needed is the ability to read some text in a native language.

Of course there are also very complex OS configurations possible, but the forums are mainly littered with trivial questions about some very basic things - which IMO is an effect caused by the fact, that most users not only can't understand how-the-computer-works - they are even unable to use web-search engines, such as google, not to mention duckduckgo ;)
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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby cuckooflew » 2020-08-11 22:06

Teaching them to do searches is perhaps the most important and useful thing they need to know. But the search engines are so corrupted with spam , it can be very difficult to find the good tutorials, there are many that come up in a search, but the page is so cluttered with adds, you can not hardly read the tutorial, but if you can read it, you see that it is just bits and pieces that were copy pasted into the page, but now I guess that is another topic,...
The basic commands are important or used to be, now a days when we try to explain and show even a basic command, EG:
This is how to see what is in a directory:
Code: Select all
$ ls
we get a response,
"Oh no, isn't there a GUI for that "... sheesh,...ok well I guess there is, install a file manager, and use it,..."But how do I install a file manager ?",
Code: Select all
# apt install thunar

"Of no, but I can not use a CLI, How do I do that with the GUI ? ", "what GUI do you have ? " (type the name of it in the terminal and hit enter) "Oh no, I can't find the terminal , and don't use the CLI, I am using Gnome , I need the GUI, and so on,..
We then have to explain how to install something using synaptic package manager, or do a search for them and find one of the many tutorials that explain the details of installing packages, including a file manager, or we need to give them screen shots of which menu item to click, etc,... I enjoy helping new users, but sometimes it does get frustrating,......Sometimes it is fun and hilarious, though...any way, I think if and when one has the time ,screen shots, and even screen videos, are great tools for helping them. Oh and by the way:
Just to clarify: Even the most "unfriendly" distributions, like Debian (joking),

The most Unfriendly OS is MS windows, at least to me, but the last time I looked at it , Gnome was doing a good job at getting unfreindly, I really could not find the terminal, and needed it to start a editor,...I finally found it burried in a menu, behind a icon that I was not yet familiar with,...In a library , and I did not have my laptop with me, so I needed to use their computer, it was MS windows,...don't remember off hand which version,...any way, I could not figure out how to print some documents I had downloaded, same problem as Gnome, "Where is the terminal ?" Librarian says "I don't know what you mean,", me :" You know, for the commands, to start the printer", she says "No, it does not have that, I will show you,..", we go to computer, and she moves the mouse around and a menu pops up, it has a option that says "PRINT", she then asks me to show her which files were mine, and quickly printed them,...Windows is the most user unfriendly thing ever created, but the people that are used to it , think it is user friendly, ..... :mrgreen:
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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby Onsemeliot » 2020-08-12 07:05

I have the impression we are talking about different target groups here. The people I have in mind will never try to tweak anything with their system as long as they are somehow able to deal with what they have. Even if they consider the situation they are in to be deeply annoying they will go along because they couldn't be bothered to even think about any better solution. They are afraid of change on their system because it could force them to figure out new ways of doing things. And they are not in any way interested in that. They just want things to get done without the need to spend any thought on the tools they are using. Every consideration of how to interact with their computer would be a very unwanted distraction they want to avoid in the first place.

This is the typical computer user I have in mind. You will rarely find those on internet forums like forums.debian.net. And if you do, they are constantly annoyed. To my knowledge this is by far the biggest group of computer users out there. My vision is to supply them with a free software solution that makes them happier than what they are using right now. And I actually have the impression this is possible. We just need an other approach.

Professional support for private computer users is just to expensive. It isn't sensible because it is to much work to deal with the involved complexity. The possible hardware, software and administration history variation is just to big. The way to go seems to be a standardised system on a standardised device that customers can get pre-installed with the apps they personally need with even an introduction on how to use it. They would get 24/7 remote support instead of administrative privileges and in complicated cases (or when the hardware fails) they could get a replacement device delivered with the automatic backup from last night. Of course this solution would use full disc encryption, encrypted server backups and even setting up GnuGPG by default.
Something like that could be done by a normal company. But a decentralised community of certified supporters around a standardised technical solution would be more reliable, inclusive and it would provide countless local free software enthusiasts around the globe with an opportunity for a stable income.
The most difficult part might be a communication problem: Why can't customers use random appliances, proprietary tools and DRM content on such systems? If it was possible to get the good reasons for this across the computer world could become a much better place. Things like Edward Snowdens book Permanent Record might help in some cases.

LE_746F6D617A7A69 wrote:this is not a rocket-science

You probably don't know how much you know. If you can't get your stick to boot because you don't even know that you need to care for the right UEFI settings you have no clue how to even access or because you have obscure hardware that doesn't even allow you to change the boot configuration things get to tricky for the average desktop user quickly. If you aren't interested in computers such things are just dreadful. The laptop should just work. Most users wouldn't bother asking any questions on forums if they didn't feel the need to do so. In my experience most such users just ask the next best person they consider to be better versed with such "annoying computer crap" for help. And that most of the time is someone who will know just enough to get at least a little further by using Windows. And the user in need will gladly accept the chance to not be confronted with a new operating system.

cuckooflew wrote:Gnome was doing a good job at getting unfreindly, I really could not find the terminal

I don't consider myself to be a fanboy. GNOME has indeed left behind the way things are done on most other desktops. But I mostly prefer it that way. The few shortcuts I need are easy for me to remember and I enjoy using the default keyboard commands instead of having to click through menus. (If I would want them I could still have them. I included an application menu top panel extension but I actually never use it because it is easier for me to just hit the super key and start typing the application name.) But the best thing about it is that the UI is very lean and it so far has never left me without the features I do actually want in any given situation. Most of the time I work without seeing any panels. (I admit that I use a few add-ons to actually get, what I want.) But then I can use the whole screen for the application I am working with without the need to actually use an other more limited window manager which would take away many things I do actually like to have available. I am indeed surprised that many distributions made GNOME the default because it truly enforces a different way to interact with the desktop. And that surely is a bummer if you have no reason the learn a new usability concept. For me it was worth the little effort because I love the minimalistic and (in my eyes) beautiful design. And it has gotten a lot faster in more recent versions also. The odd thing is that to me GNOME feels closer to LXDE than any other desktop I have tried. And I like LXDE for its simplicity. Unfortunately it looks like it won't be around much longer. And GNOME adds some features I can't have in LXDE. But on weaker hardware I usually go for LXDE.

But all that is a different subject that surely has been discussed in detail already.
Last edited by Onsemeliot on 2020-08-13 03:57, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to Help Someone use a Computer

Postby cuckooflew » 2020-08-12 23:56

Yes , you are right on that it is a different topic.
Harold wrote:Phil Agre -- http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/how-to-help.html

Computer people are fine human beings, but they do a lot of harm in the ways they "help" other people with their computer problems. Now that we're trying to get everyone online, I thought it might be helpful to write down everything I've been taught about helping people use computers.

First you have to tell yourself some things:

  • Nobody is born knowing this stuff.
  • You've forgotten what it's like to be a beginner.
  • If it's not obvious to them, it's not obvious.
  • A computer is a means to an end. The person you're helping probably cares mostly about the end. This is reasonable.
  • Their knowledge of the computer is grounded in what they can do and see -- "when I do this, it does that". They need to develop a deeper understanding, but this can only happen slowly -- and not through abstract theory but through the real, concrete situations they encounter in their work.
  • Beginners face a language problem: they can't ask questions because they don't know what the words mean, they can't know what the words mean until they can successfully use the system, and they can't successfully use the system because they can't ask questions.
  • You are the voice of authority. Your words can wound.
  • Computers often present their users with textual messages, but the users often don't read them.
  • By the time they ask you for help, they've probably tried several things. As a result, their computer might be in a strange state. This is natural.
  • They might be afraid that you're going to blame them for the problem.
  • The best way to learn is through apprenticeship -- that is, by doing some real task together with someone who has a different set of skills.
  • Your primary goal is not to solve their problem. Your primary goal is to help them become one notch more capable of solving their problem on their own. So it's okay if they take notes.
  • Most user interfaces are terrible. When people make mistakes it's usually the fault of the interface. You've forgotten how many ways you've learned to adapt to bad interfaces.
  • Knowledge lives in communities, not individuals. A computer user who's part of a community of computer users will have an easier time than one who isn't.

Having convinced yourself of these things, you are more likely to follow some important rules:

  • Don't take the keyboard. Let them do all the typing, even if it's slower that way, and even if you have to point them to every key they need to type. That's the only way they're going to learn from the interaction.
  • Find out what they're really trying to do. Is there another way to go about it?
  • Maybe they can't tell you what they've done or what happened. In this case you can ask them what they are trying to do and say, "Show me how you do that".
  • Attend to the symbolism of the interaction. Try to squat down so your eyes are just below the level of theirs. When they're looking at the computer, look at the computer. When they're looking at you, look back at them.
  • When they do something wrong, don't say "no" or "that's wrong". They'll often respond by doing something else that's wrong. Instead, just tell them what to do and why.
  • Try not to ask yes-or-no questions. Nobody wants to look foolish, so their answer is likely to be a guess. "Did you attach to the file server?" will get you less information than "What did you do after you turned the computer on?".
  • Explain your thinking. Don't make it mysterious. If something is true, show them how they can see it's true. When you don't know, say "I don't know". When you're guessing, say "let's try ... because ...". Resist the temptation to appear all-knowing. Help them learn to think the problem through.
  • Be aware of how abstract your language is. "Get into the editor" is abstract and "press this key" is concrete. Don't say anything unless you intend for them to understand it. Keep adjusting your language downward towards concrete units until they start to get it, then slowly adjust back up towards greater abstraction so long as they're following you. When formulating a take-home lesson ("when it does this and that, you should try such-and-such"), check once again that you're using language of the right degree of abstraction for this user right now.
  • Tell them to really read the messages, such as errors, that the computer generates.
  • Whenever they start to blame themselves, respond by blaming the computer. Then keep on blaming the computer, no matter how many times it takes, in a calm, authoritative tone of voice. If you need to show off, show off your ability to criticize bad design. When they get nailed by a false assumption about the computer's behavior, tell them their assumption was reasonable. Tell *yourself* that it was reasonable.
  • Take a long-term view. Who do users in this community get help from? If you focus on building that person's skills, the skills will diffuse to everyone else.
  • Never do something for someone that they are capable of doing for themselves.
  • Don't say "it's in the manual". (You knew that.)

This is well said, and pretty well sums it up, I am not going to try adding to it any more. No need to make it harder or more complicated for those that do try to help.
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