Things have moved on a lot since I first started to work in IT. When I started, we didn’t have a mouse attached to the PC, and it wasn’t the norm to have a PC at home. Thus it was a steep learning curve for new users when their companies took them into the silicone age, and those strange gray boxes started to appear on desks all over the country.


I particularly remember when the mouse started to come on the scene, with the arrival of Windows 3. For most people, using the mouse was totally instinctive, but for others, learning to use it for the first time was a stressful time. It wasn’t easy to teach some people to use it; they had great difficulty in relating a hand movement to a little arrow moving about on the screen.

The college I worked for had ordained that no games should be allowed on the college PCs, and accordingly, all traces of Solitaire and Minesweeper had been removed. Later we realized that Solitaire was the best way to teach uncertain newbies how to use a mouse, and we restored it to the group of PCs used by the beginner classes.

It might seem a bit strange, but the type of brain we have dictates whether we find certain jobs easy or difficult. One particular student I worked with was a highly skilled palliative care nurse. She had an instinctive way of knowing the right thing to say and do in any situation but had a complete blind spot when it came to using the PC. She was in my class because the department she worked for had decided that they would keep all future records on a database, rather than the paper reports that had been in use up to that point.

When she came to my class, I was struck at how good she was with interacting with other people, but the machinery in the office sent her into a panic. We searched for some freeware games that would allow students to use the mouse in a completely nonthreatening manner. You have to remember that the mouse was not always an instinctive part of every household back in the early 1990s.

With students like this, you have to make the PC relevant and fun. We found that one of the favorite games involved moving the cross hairs of a rifle sight onto prairie dogs and shooting them before they popped back into their holes. A few sessions of this improved her hand and eye coordination immeasurably. Once we got through the nervousness, she thrived and found fun ways to get jobs done. Nearly fifteen years later, and I still get e-mails from her.

We still encounter nervous first-time PC users but nowhere near as many as those far-off days. Remembering these old tricks, and also remembering my own first time using a computer, helps me to support them better.