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Hi Ellen -- I'm so glad that Firefox is working for you. I have two different types of email classes that I've taught over the years. One of which is a sort of one hour "let's learn about email" class and one of them was a several session class as an evening program. I'll tell you about both of them.

The first one was a monthly class we did at the library. The idea was to try to proactively deal with the huge number of novice email users we had, to suggest that they go to a class if they had a zillion questions for the ref. librarians. I'd love it if we had some simple "this is what email is" books but they don't seem to exist. We taught this class monthly but probably could have taught it weekly with the interest we got. It wasn't specifically set up for seniors but that's mostly who came to them. The slides for the class are here. [click next to go to the next "slide"]

It wasn't hands on and mostly introduced people to email. There was a handout along with it that was very very clear that it was an "email topics" class and not a practice class. As you can see, it's really basic. Introduces email vocabulary, talks a little about how the internet works [to answer some questions like "what happens to my email when my computer is off?" and that sort of thing]. It talks about how an email address is constructed [to answer questions like "why didn't this message send" when people have malformed email addresses] and talks about how an email compose box is organized, what CC and Bcc and Subject mean with some explanations of examples ["let's say you want to send a letter to your ex but BCC your lawyer..."].

There was also a little discussion about etiquette and spam and why there are no internet police and things you can do if people are spamming you. I didn't even get into topics like organizing mail into folders, etc but any class that was more than one session should probably deal with this. So, it was a totally brand-neutral class. I showed people different sorts of inboxes [yahoo, gmail, my local mail at work] so that people could find the same parts of the screen [inbox, trash, address book] and learn the ways that email was sort of the same even when it looked really different. The second class was a four evening class, something like eight hours. The class was for people who either had a webmail address or wanted to get one. I had maybe four students so it wasn't too tough. The first class was all about getting people set up on email. I had a handout where they would WRITE DOWN their email address and password which was always a challenge. The biggest issue for people getting an email address was that they wanted to be and they wound up having to be so I gave a little coaching about how to form a personalized email address that wasn't all numbers. Let me know and I can forward my handouts along to you.

This class was ALL seniors and happened in a computer lab with an overhead projector where I could demonstrate things and we covered topics like

  • same stuff from before, how does email work, what is happening when I send an email
  • how to send an attachment. we did this OVER and OVER
  • how to get an attachment, why attachments don't work sometimes
  • how to reply to a message and including the text, how to edit the included text
  • how to use the address book, make a mailing list, send an email to more than one person

We did NOT talk about stuff like getting on the internet but we did talk about stuff like how to get your email from other places (library, vacation) and how to make sure you were maintaining your privacy, not having the computer keep you checked in, etc.

In general, people has questions and the hardest part was saying "that's outside the scope of this class" but people would ask about something that happened one time at home and it was almost impossible sometimes to get enough information to really answer them. I also encouraged people to call their ISP if they were having connectivity problems and look things up in Yahoo help if they have a problem they can clearly explain. We also did basic troubleshooting like how to copy down an error message, how to check if an email is in your sent folder etc.

With seniors, I found that they were often very motivated and often had computers or easy access to computers but often had more trouble with fine motor skills necessary to move a mouse in these teeny ways, so we'd talk about the scroll button on the mouse and also how to do key commands for some things. Sometimes they had memeory issues, which I think is pretty par for the course for anyone learning a ton of new technology all at once, so I'd encourage them to write down the steps for the things they'd do most often and also as I said before write down username/assword stuff. I showed them how to save a draft which was a HUGE favorite and mostly we practiced practiced practiced sending email to each other in the classroom before I sent them home.

If you want to get fancy -- but also extra helpful -- you can show them how firefox has a pop-up blocker which can be very helpful and also an ad-blocker extension which I use all the time to keep Yahoo from being totally unmanageable and terrible but that may be a little advanced.

So, that's the getting started part of it. I figure if I can get one more grandma a photo of her new grandkid or stop one more email from BEING SENT IN ALL CAPS I've done my job. Feel free to write back with questions. I'm in and out this week but would be happy to help if I can.


changed November 6, 2007