What Computer Skills do students need?

While it is hard to imagine a student entering college today without basic computer skills, I’m sure there are still a few. There are still some high schools without a computer lab, schools where students are not taught the basic computer skills. These students need to catch up quickly. You can be do this with or without having your own computer.

What skills do You need? You need word processing, email,  and Internet Skills. In some schools you also need skills in using spreadsheets and  PowerPoint. Even if you don’t absolutely need these, they will be useful. To know what other skills you need, ask someone in your department, in the area you plan to major in. They will know what skills you will need to use in classes and what you will need for working in this area.

The student in the picture learned basic computer skills in high school but soon discovered that he needed to learn a lot more. He needs to learn to use Spreadsheets and Powerpoint to pass a test of basic skills. What does your college require?  What do you still need to learn?

Do Students NEED their own computer?

Need? No.  Most colleges will have a computer room where students can use a computer. Sometimes computers may even be available in your dorm. But Students who have their own computers are likely to use them more often, are likely to use many more programs, and are likely to develop stronger skills. I would suggest using the computer room when — Your computer is being repaired — You don’t have a printer and need to print a document — You are having a problem and need some expert advice.

So if you can afford a computer, buy one and use it. If you cannot afford it, do not go into debt. Perhaps you can get a job and save your money for a computer.

For many jobs today, and certainly in your future, you need excellent basic computer skills, especially word processing skills, and date entry skills (spreadsheets), The more computer skills you can list on your resume, the more easily you are likely to find a job.

The very basic skills: A, B, C.

A. All students need to know how to turn the computer on and turn in off.  This isn’t as easy as it sounds, since different computers may turn on and off in different locations and turning it off doesn’t just mean pushing a button.

B. They need to understand that pushing the wrong key is not going to hurt or “break” the computer.

C.  They need to know what to do when the computer freezes and won’t respond. You hold down three keys at the same time, Ctrl (control), Alt (alternate) and del (delete. The first two are usually on the lower left side. delete is often on the upper right. This should allow you back out of the program that isn’t working. If it is still not responding Repeat until the computer closes and then restart the computer.

Many years ago, we bought one of the very early Apple Computers. It had no keyboard and the word processing program was too expensive, so all we did was play “Pong” and a few other games. Our son, Tony was in second or third grade. When his school bought computers like ours, none of the teachers know how to use them. They would get Tony out of class to show them how to turn it on. They would get him out of class to help when the computer stopped working. Tony was a patient teacher. “If it doesn’t work,” he’d say, “Just turn it off. Then turn it back on and it will work.” He was very proud to be the expert consulted by the teachers.

Basic Computer Skills that every student entering college should have

A.  Word Processing Skills

1. Every student should be able to use the keyboard. But you need more than that. You should really have learned basic keyboarding skills. If you are still using the “hunt and peck method”, you should immediately learn and improve your keyboarding skills. Search the Internet for “Keyboarding Practice”. There are many sites with FREE keyboarding practice exercises. Learn where to place your fingers. Learn to type faster and faster. I would predict that 10-20 hours of Keyboarding Practice will save at least 40-50 hours spent on papers in th first year alone. Keep practicing until you are both fast and accurate.  If you don’t expect to need to type numbers, then you might skip them, at least for now.

2. In addition to using the keyboard, you need to know how to do simple things like

— Holding down the shift key for capital letters. — Press the caps lock key to lock in capitals if you want a title all in CAPITAL LETTERS. Press again to turn it off. — Hit the enter key to end a paragraph or skip a line. Do not hit it just because you seem to be at the end of a line. Computers do that by themselves. — Learn to use the mouse. Sometimes you need a single click. Try that first. If it doesn’t open a file, use a double-click. Learn to use the mouse to highlight a selection. — Use the back space to erase an error you just made or the delete key to erase letters in front of the cursor. — Highlight a section and erase it all at once with delete or backspace. __ Highlight a section and edit using cut, copy, or paste. Use this to move a paragraph or sentence or phrase to another place on your paper. — Use different fonts and different sizes —  Use bolditalics and underlining   Pressing these keys again to undo or return to normal for the next section — Open a new page for a new document. — Save or “Save as” your work and learn to find the files again when you want them. — Print the page, marking all pages or which pages to print and the number of copies. 3.  Most student will know all of that and so much more. Depending on your computer and how recent the word processing program, some of these other skills are simple, some are harder. You can just check all your tool bars and see if you know how to use all of them.

—  Change margins for one document only or reset the default — Change the spacing between lines: usually single space (1), double space (2), or in between (1.5) — Insert a page break or section break — Insert a picture or pieces of clip art — Insert a header and footer and page number…. be able to leave them off page one. — Create and use tables — Change the orientation of the page: portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) — Open and name a new folder and save documents to that folder. — Change the alignment from left justified to right or center justified. —  Find and insert symbols — Use colors and word art. — Use keyboard shortcuts — Use a spellchecker,  and if your computer provides a series of likely corrections making, use them.  AND be aware that spellcheckers won’t catch all errors. You still need to proofread before printing.

B. Email Skills

Most students are quite skilled in this area.

— Access your email, click on incoming mail and read messages — Reply to an email — Forward an email to someone else with a note added — Delete email — Open a new page and write an email, spell check, and send, — Add names and information to your email address book — (More advanced) Create a group so you can email everyone in the group at the same time. — Attach a document or picture to your email. — Open or save an attachment sent to you. — (more advanced) Enable editing on an attachment, edit the document, and return it to the sender. — If you store your photos on your computer, email photos and message to friends. — Change from the Inbox to the Sent Mail, and Drafts you never finished.

Different email programs make it easy to do different things with your email. You may or may not have a spam-blocker, You may be able to label your emails and store them away in different folders. You should try to learn to use all tools available on the email you use.

You also need to know how to reply to an email and get your name off of their email list.

C.  Spreadsheets

You may not use spreadsheets that often in college unless studying accounting, statistics or other areas where you work with a lot of data, but many employers expect all applicants to be able to do word processing and to enter data on spreadsheets such as Excel. If you don’t already know how to use them, check with your department and see if it is required or likely to be useful.

There are many uses for spreadsheets. In many of the sciences it is helpful for organizing data.  I have used spreadsheets to do a bibliography because I could arrange the names alphabetically later. You can use them to organize your budget and keep track of spending.

Skills you will find most helpful are

— Data entry, how to make corrections, and using the tab to go to the next cell. — Creating a new spreadsheet document, selecting how many columns you need and labeling them — Changing the size of each column and row to meet your needs. — Learn all the formatting functions like defining the kind of data, Words, dates, money, numbers, etc. — Learn how to add formulas to process numerical data — Learn different ways of reorganizing the data. — Printing only the material you want printed — Use your data to create a variety of different kinds of graphs

D. Using the Internet

Again, most students are already experts in this area, often knowing more than most teachers.  The website teachers know more about than you do are those that enable a professor to know if your paper is original or if you plagiarized (copied and didn’t cite the source) usually leading to a failing grade, sometimes worse. It’s actually fairly easy to read a paper and get some clues. Students rarely write like scholars.

— Use a web browser like Google to search the Internet — Know how to return to a previous page — Bookmark or save to Favorites and use this to revisit a website — After Searching for a topic  Recognize  websites that are paid for – and trying to sell something — Learn which websites are likely to have reliable information, and which are not.  In general, the sites with a lot of advertising are most unreliable.  Sites with a URL ending in .gov should be very reliable. — Know how to use a website citation if you plan to quote them in a paper. — Know which material including images online can and cannot be lifted and used without permission to use in a website or blog or for a publication. Look for “Terms of Use”. If information or images are described as “Fair Use” You can use them. Most things on government sites can be used without permission. Nearly all photographs and most website and blog material is NOT acceptable to use without permission.They are copyrighted. You can be sued for using them.  Nearly all the images on Google Images are copyrighted. They warn you to be sure the images are not copyrighted. It would be hard to find one that isn’t. — Keep up with the latest news, weather, and other information. — Use Online dictionaries (compare several), listen to pronunciation, and use a Thesaurus — Get help with questions on grammar — Get helpful medical information – WebMD is good. — Get information and reservations for hotels, flights, rental cars, and more — Get tickets to movies and special events

It is wonderful to be able to find so much useful information in a hurry. but it is very important to understand that much information on the Internet is not reliable enough to use in a paper. If you are doing research for an important paper, you might want to get good overview online but double-check important information with a more reliable source.

E. Most students can use one or more networking site such as Facebook. Again there is a lot to learn to use this site well such as adding photos, adding a header photo, deciding what parts to make public, open to friends and family or only to special friends.

It is highly recommended that you never use language or pictures or information that you wouldn’t want an employer to see. Be smart. Think before you post anything. Imagine a future employer being able to see and read everything you ever posted. Imagine a future wife or husband seeing this. Imagine your mother or grandmother seeing this.

Consider using your Facebook page to talk about important issues, not what you had for lunch or who you met last night. You could turn it into  blog, at least the public part.

F. Other Programs your might want to learn.

Some schools expect students to know Powerpoint. It is certainly helpful for making classroom presentations although it is better NOT to write the same information on the screen that you are saying.  Instead, put a visual on the screen, a picture or chart or graph and then talk about its importance.

— You might also want to learn to use  Access or other data base. — You might learn to create a website or a blog — You might want to learn to use Photoshop or other similar programs — Some students will want to learn programming, in order to create programs and software.

I will repeat information I began with. You need excellent computer skills. Taking the time to strengthen your skills will save time in the long run and possibly help you get a good job later. To understand which computer skills you need most, talk to someone in you department. They can give you the best advice.

When I was working on my second Master’s degree, I told my professors that I planned to use a computer and they were horrified. Students always hired a local woman with outstanding typing skills who did the final copy. My professors were upset that the paper would come out of the printer on a long roll of perforated paper that had to be separated. The paper would have lines on it and be connected to a strip on both sides with holes… also needing to be neatly detached.

I explained that we had one of those new “letter quality printers.” They were still shaking their heads but agreed that I could bring a few sample pages for them to see. So I was the very first student in this school’s Biology Department to print my thesis on a computer printer.

At that point, I was somewhat innovative. But today, technology is racing far ahead of me. The best advice I can share with you is to learn all the computer skills you possibly can and find creative ways to apply these skills in your field of study.

I’d be very interested in your comments, especially about other computer skills that you found necessary or helpful.