8 Tips for Being Your Family’s Personal IT Department

Co-authored by Pamela Ridley (Intern Librarian, Digital Initiatives) 

There are plenty of folks of all ages who aren’t necessarily troubleshooting wizards with their phones, tablets or computers. When a tech problem arises, it’s common to rely on a helpful relative or friend to sort it out. This makes up good chunk of our staff's time, and we’re always happy to do it!

But until our branches re-open, it is perhaps up to you, dear reader, to navigate the treacherous waters of teaching digital literacy to your family at home. Today, we’re pooling our knowledge and sharing these tips for instructing any learner so that they can pick up the digital literacy knowledge you’re laying down.

1. Don’t Do it For Them

With complicated programs and processes, or with anything that you don’t immediately know the answer to, this is sometimes difficult to practise. But I implore you, especially in situations where the answer is a few well-placed clicks away, guide your learner to make those clicks themselves.

No matter what, don’t touch the mouse! The ‘muscle memory’ they gain here will help them feel more effective—and might spark their confidence so that they can solve this problem on their own the next time it appears.

2. Provide Encouragement

On that note, be tender with your learner; acquiring new skills takes time! Your most vicious enemy in the struggle for digital literacy is not your learner, but their own lack of self-confidence. Remind them that a lot of people struggle with technology tasks like this and that you know they can learn!

Get excited about their successes or good guesses, big or small! Did they remember the keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste? Amazing! Now’s the time for a fist pump, happy dance or quiet “Good job! You’ve totally got this!” Your enthusiasm and encouragement will build their confidence and help keep the experience positive for both of you.

3. Ask Questions

Lead your learner to the fountain of digital literacy, but don’t force them to drink. Instead of telling them the solution outright, try using questions like “what would happen if we right-clicked on this?” or “where do you think we could find that?” If your learner self-generates a solution, they’ll be more likely to remember it later!

4. Use a Visual Aid

Written instructions are great, but they can sometimes be hard to follow— if you can, try drawing a simple flowchart or visual representation that your learner can keep with them when you’re not around! Make sure the terms you’re using resonate with your learner; if they say “Internet” instead of “browser”, use that! Pay attention to what they call the elements of their desktop and include those in your drawing’s labels.

5. Model Troubleshooting

It’s important for your learner to realize that nobody knows everything—even you! If you get stumped, model the process of troubleshooting to them. Explain and demo simple troubleshooting tips: Google the problem, see if you can track down the manual, or see if a relevant company has any online support channels you can consult. Hopefully, they’ll start to incorporate these strategies into their own learning process; let them know that anytime they get stuck, they can use a search engine, check a manual, or ask a friend, and that’s all troubleshooting!

6. Practise Patience

It’s okay to get a little frustrated when working with your learner; try not to blame them or yourself! If your most natural way of explaining a concept hasn’t worked, try framing it a different way, or finding an alternate solution. Does clicking and dragging a file not seem to work for them? Maybe they would find it easier to re-save that file in its intended location.

7. Connect Them to Resources

If your learner is hungry for more knowledge, connect them to one of many online learning options! For computer beginners, check out Learn My Way or GCF Global. These sites have tutorials on everything from using a mouse and keyboard for the first time to Internet skills and online safety.

EPL has a ton of FREE online learning options as well. If they’re interested in developing their skills with Microsoft Office, check out Learning Express Library or LinkedIn Learning and search for the application they want to learn (you might just find something cool for yourself, too!). Keep in mind that some of these options ask you to sign in. Depending on the skill level of your learner, you might need to give them a hand.

8. Take a Break Together!

Co-troubleshooting can be frustrating, especially when you’ve been sharing space with someone for a long time. If you’ve hit a roadblock or just want to take a breather, why not promise to come back to it later and watch a couple of silly videos with your learner? Our epl2go Literacy Van crew has taken the liberty of compiling some playlists that showcase the best of YouTube.

While practising physical distancing, staying connected online is an important part of maintaining community and accessing reliable information. The work you do to help your family and friends use their devices helps keep us all nourished! We thank you for all the assistance you provide, and we hope these tips and tricks are helpful to you and your learner, whoever they are.  

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