Teaching Computer Applications to First-Year Students—The First Class

By Denise Seguin

Students arriving at campus this fall have grown up with the Internet and a smartphone as part of their daily life. For most, using a computer began as a young child. Because of this prior technology experience some students arrive at the first computer applications class feeling that the course will not benefit their career path.

Typically, the first class is an overview of the syllabus, dates for tests and assignments, a peek at the course website, and information about other course housekeeping matters. Although this information is important, consider beginning the first class with a discussion of the reasons why a student will benefit from the skills learned in the Computer Applications course.

Here are a few ideas to present in the first 15 minutes of the course:

  • Acknowledge that students can send text messages, stream videos and music, use a variety of apps, and perform Internet searches. For daily personal life, these skills are essential. But what do employers need from new hires? Ask students to list the skills needed in the workplace. Direct the conversation towards the use of technology to carry out business tasks with professional language and context.
  • Students will most likely list workplace skills that involve using email, word processing software, presentation software, and spreadsheet applications. Mention other software skills such as database management, personal information management, and integration of data amongst programs.
  • Ask students if they use a well-organized file management system for storing documents and pictures. Lead this discussion towards a workplace that stores thousands of files. Meaningful file naming and organizational skills are essential.
  • Effective Internet searching involves more than typing a phrase into Google! Consider conducting a search using a phrase in Google and then show the same search with advanced search techniques, locating relevant information more quickly.
  • Employers want students who can create documents and reports in a word processor using best practices, such as not using spaces to align text and correct use of page breaks, headers, and footers for document continuity. The best way to showcase these skills is to show a multipage report that has the text aligned using spaces and with continuation text typed at the top of each page. Delete a few paragraphs and show students how the document reformats and requires extensive editing. Then, switch to a properly designed document that aligns text with tabs/indents and uses a header for continuation text. Delete a few paragraphs and show students the reformatting issue is eliminated.
  • Show a professionally-designed PowerPoint presentation and point out topics students will learn in the course such as the use of design templates, footer text, and the master slide for consistent formatting.
  • Have an Excel spreadsheet prepared with errors in formulas or no formulas and then show the corrected spreadsheet with charts added to visually display complex data.
  • Many students are not aware of database management software. Show one of the databases the student will create and point out key features such as the searching and querying tools.

Although students are arriving to college with computer competence, the skill level will vary widely within the first-year classroom. The key to engaging students is to offer to meet them at their level and offer opportunities to expand their knowledge. Demonstrating advanced new skills in the first few minutes of the course will generate their interest and excitement to begin the coursework. Demonstrating advanced new skills in the first few minutes of the course will generate their interest and sets the tone for a productive semester.

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