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Students Learn Computers to Get Ahead at Work

May 20, 2019

By Katie Ward, CTEP AmeriCorps Member at Metro South ABE

Those of us who teach basic computer skills know that the language of computers can be confusing. I’m not talking about HTML or Javascript, but simply the words we use to describe actions on the computers and names for certain things.

There’s the “pointer,” the “cursor”, and the “mouse” (all the same thing). There’s also the “taskbar” or “dock,” depending on what kind of computer you are using. Then you start using Microsoft Office and have to find the “Ribbon.” This is baffling enough for new computer users who are native English speakers. Imagine understanding these terms while still trying to learn the English language.

I am the CTEP AmeriCorps member at Metro South Adult Basic Education in Bloomington, MN. I teach a diverse adult population from around the Twin Cities Metro, and most of our students are English Language Learners (ELL). At Metro South, I run an open computer lab and also teach computer classes, including my recent “Computers for Work” class for slightly more advanced learners who have a basic understanding of the computer.

I had the pleasure of teaching 16 students who attended 24 total hours of instruction  on the Microsoft Office Suite and general professionalism. From the very first day, I could tell I would love teaching the class.

We learned about Word and resume writing, and then we moved into Excel and budgets. While Excel is a hard program to learn, my students kept pace with the fast rate material was covered. As with any course teaching technology, we ran into some technical difficulties with the pre-programed data in Excel. During one session, I split the students into groups of four. Everyone had to fill out a brief survey on what class they attended and when they went to class, as well as the Northstar skill they wanted to learn. As the students worked together to enter data and create graphs, I saw a transformation in the group. Students understood the material, and were able to help each accomplish a common task.

The last Microsoft skill we studied was PowerPoint. In this segment, students created a presentation about themselves, including their hobbies, dream job, and education/skills needed to get their dream job. During the last two days of class, everyone stood in front of the class and presented.

I loved seeing my students get creative with their PowerPoints, adding many pictures. Some students were very nervous about standing in front of everyone, but with encouragement from the class, they were all able to present.

One of the first presenters was from Venezuela. They had spent 25 years as a lawyer in their home country and are now working on their English to become a lawyer here in the US. Another student explained they want to be a theology professor and is taking some beginning theology seminars with their church. A few students wanted to be teachers, one with the goal of returning to their home country eventually. Some students wanted to be entrepreneurs and start their own businesses. Others want to work in the medical field, as nurses and interpreters.

It was amazing to listen to everyone’s stories. I also enjoyed seeing them interact with each other, asking how long someone had been in the US or what their favorite activity in their home country was.

My students have big dreams and are slowly moving closer to achieve them. Since we just wrapped up the class at Metro South, I have yet to see whether learning computer vocabulary and skills will indeed help our students achieve these dreams. I certainly hope they are a step closer to breaking down barriers to digital fluency. But along the way we are building community and self confidence—a beautiful, and important, product of our Computers for Work class.