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Take Advantage of College Short Courses to Learn Computer Skills

You don’t need to understand how digital software works to be able to use it to study, but some help mastering the system as you practise is useful. You may find support is available through your college’s computer or study support centre.

There may be free short courses, in-house online tutorials written specifically for the needs of students in your college or expert advice available for particular problems. You can also find free online tutorials that you can work through at your own pace.

Most colleges offer short courses on using the library online that’s important to attend as each institution operates its own particular system. In addition, courses may include some to help you master particular skills relevant to your course of study, such as the use of graphics, so take advantage if you’re offered them.

General housekeeping skills and good habits you need to develop include:

  • Regular file saving: Try to backup all important files at least once a week. For word documents this can be as simple as e-mailing them to yourself. For bigger files, either back them up onto recordable media (CD/DVD) or use a portable hard drive independent of your machine to save them on.

  • Consistent file-naming: Try to use filenames that allow you to easily access what you need. There’s no point, for instance, in saving a History essay as ‘Document 1’, because you won’t be able to relocate it easily without a more identifiable title. Also, try to keep your files organised into folders, so you do not have to go through 3.000 to find the one you are looking for!

  • Using email effectively: E-mail is only effective as a means of communication if you check it regularly, at least once every day. Also, try to keep e-mails as concise as possible, especially to your tutor. Remember, he or she may have to read several hundred a day so you need to get you message across effectively and without wasting unnecessary space and time.

Take courses for the use of software that you aren’t familiar with early in your student life so that you benefit as much as possible and have a greater effect on your student career. Blocks of time become more difficult to find later on as you progress through your course.

Courses are usually offered in the late afternoon and early evening (even at week-ends) over a week or so, with the same course repeated at different times to take account of those who have to miss some to attend lab sessions or similar.

Your Student Union office can probably give you information about free courses available on campus for those who aren’t so familiar with computers as tools for study – perhaps you have used them mainly for playing games. Courses may include basic word processing, using search engines and other skills.

If you happen to be a computer whizz-kid, you can often find opportunities for part-time work, like being available at certain times in a computer cluster to troubleshoot should the need arise. You can get on with your own work until such times as you’re needed. See the Student Union for rates of pay and acceptable conditions.

A good idea is to join the local library near where you live. As well as being a good alternative source for reserving books you can also use the computer facilities. Librarians tend to be very supportive and helpful to those using basic functions.

Some local adult education and night school classes also offer basic courses in computer familiarisation, perhaps in using Excel and PowerPoint, as these tools also have business applications and therefore courses are quite popular (and cheap – ask for a student discount).

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