Not long ago, the picture tube on my TV died. It was a quiet, somewhat dignified blanking of the screen. I still could hear all 60 or so channels, but I couldn’t see a thing. After I made the choice to eat for the next few weeks rather than replace the set right away, I tried following a few of my favorite shows by only listening to the soundtrack. It just wasn’t the same.

The few days I spent trying to “listen” to the TV taught me something about IT training. I determined that if I neglect any means of getting information across to my audience, I’m doing them a disservice. While some students may favor auditory learning over visual learning, my television example shows that a combination is necessary for people in our audiences to get the full benefit of what we’re teaching.

Applying TV rules to the classroom
When we’re teaching a version of the Windows operating system or any Windows applications, it’s important that we make sure our students can actually see what we’re discussing. While paying attention to the room layout and using the newest LCD projection technology helps, neither one helps if what you’re showing the audience is too small for them to see. The very first thing you should do to improve visibility is make some adjustments to your Display Properties Dialog (see Figure A).

Figure A
Display Properties Dialog box

Changes to Display Properties
Windows 9x and Windows NT 4.0 allow users to customize the appearance of the desktop and applications through the Display Properties dialog box. It’s typical for Microsoft products to have multiple ways to accomplish most tasks, and accessing the Display Properties is no exception. Here are the various ways to get you to the Display Properties:

  • Click Start, select Settings, choose Control Panel, then double-click the Display icon
  • Double-click My Computer, double-click the Control Panel folder, then double-click the Display icon
  • Right-click on the Desktop, then choose Properties from the context menu

Once you’re at the Display Properties dialog box, click the Appearance tab to adjust the elements of your display. We’ll get to the items we’re changing by choosing them from the Item drop-down list.

Active Title Bar
The first item that I recommend you change is the Active Title Bar. Go to the Item list and click on the drop-down arrow. The items on this menu are arranged alphabetically, so Active Title Bar will be near the top. Selecting Active Title Bar will activate some variable elements to the right of the menu. Remember that our goal here is to increase size and contrast, so we’ll want to make the Active Title Bar larger. Simply select a larger font size, and let the actual height of the Active Title Bar accommodate itself to the font. I recommend a font of at least 12, but you may go to 14 if your class is exceptionally large. I also suggest that you make the font face Bold by clicking on the B button near the lower right corner. In terms of contrast, I suggest that you choose a dark color for the Active Title Bar.

Appearance tab
Adjust the Caption Buttons, Icons, Menu, Message Box, Selected Items, and Tool Tips the same way, using the appropriate controls on the Appearance tab. Table A shows the settings I’ve found most helpful and effective. If there’s no need to change an attribute, I’ve put a dash in the appropriate cell.

Table A: Appearance Tab Changes
Element Size Color Font Size Font Color
Active Title Bar 14+ Dark 14 Bold White
Caption Buttons 25
Icons 50 14 Black
Menu 12 Bold Black
Message Box 14 Black
Selected Items 12 Bold Black
Tool Tips Light 12 Bold Dark

Active Window Border
Changing the Active Window Border helps your audience focus on a particular window when you have multiple windows open on the desktop. In your Item dropdown list, select Active Window Border. The default size is 1, and the default color is gray. Change the settings to a size of 2 and make the color red.

In the dialog box’s graphic, you’ll see a thin red border appear around the active window. Once you apply your changes, this distinctive border will appear around the open window in the desktop that you select.
What steps do you take to make sure that your students can see what you are demonstrating? Post your comment at the end of the article.
Save your changes
Once you make all of your changes and are satisfied with the look of the desktop, save the color scheme you just built by clicking Save As…, just under the graphic. You’ll be prompted for a name; choose one that you can remember. Training, High Resolution, and High Visibility are all good candidates. Once your scheme is saved, click OK to save your changes and put them into effect.

Increased visibility
Your audience will always appreciate any effort you make to help them get the most out of their training time. And happier audiences generally give better evaluations. Try this technique the next time you teach a Windows-based class, and see how big a difference these few small changes can really make.

Bob Potemski, MS, CTT, is a writer and trainer transplanted from New York. He and his five dogs now make their home in the Midwest. He has spent the last 10 years working in human development.