To give my clients a sense of control over their computers, I like to help them add or change features to meet their needs. The value of the exercise is increased if they learn how to download something, install it, and use it in a way that enhances their computing experience, but that is not the main reason for doing it. The main reason is to give them experience on which to build confidence.

Little things such as the desktop utility Iconoid are ideal. Iconoid is small enough to download quickly, and it is easy to install and use. Its purpose is straightforward: it makes the desktop icons disappear after a period of mouse inactivity. For seniors with pictures of their grandchildren on the desktop, this is a nifty feature.

Many useful apps can be found on safe sites. In particular, I like to emphasize the importance of good filing habits. After working with a student on how to make and populate folders and sub-folders, I ask if they have trouble distinguishing at a glance the various places where they have just put things. The answer usually is yes. So I suggest we consider changing the appearance of individual folders to help distinguish them. For instance, a folder of current bills could be red.

At first I had students download Rainbow Folders, which serves the purpose, but is a little awkward to use. More recently I’ve switched to an alternative, icolorfolder. The user interface for this app is nicer for a novice. They simply highlight a folder and right-click to see a new option has been added to the drop down window, and that option allows them to select a new color from a palette.

Desktop eye candy and colored folder icons might not seem like a big thing to you, but to someone who is struggling to determine who is master – them or the computer – small victories like seeing icons disappear and the reappear when they move the mouse can be good positive reinforcement. Knowing that the color scheme they have imposed on their file system is unique and something they selected empowers them to continue to learn and do more useful things.

We sometimes play around with various ways of enabling a true Caps Lock function (I would like to read a justification of why Caps Lock was turned into Caps Inversion) and using various types of magnification, including the functions in Windows.

Activities of this type might seem a long way from email and spreadsheets, but I think of them as little steps in getting control.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.

[tags]confidence, senior computing, senior learning, tutor[/tags]