Mastering your computer

17:00, Apr 05 2014
Barbara James
Barbara James is the president and head tutor at Seniornet Marlborough. She helps one of its members, John Dodson.

"Practise, practise, practise" is a Seniornet Marlborough student's tip for mastering new technology.

It is constantly changing but BBI (born-before-the-Internet) generations are offered some key tips on keeping up with the advances by joining Seniornet.

Each month it runs a range of courses and workshops, says Blenheim president Barbara James, 70.

She is speaking to this reporter during the last half hour of a one-on-one session with student John Dodson.

He and another man, helped by a second Seniornet tutor, have come to the Russell Terrace premises to improve their understanding of computers.

"We teach all sorts of different things," Barbara says, listing topics like Paint, email courses, spread sheets, One Drive, Excel and digital photography.


Seniornet has nine tutors who voluntarily run the programmes. Extra computer-savvy helpers are sought, with preference given to those in the same Seniornet age group: 50 years and over.

At the Russell Tce centre, Barbara is finishing her session with John.

Seniornet desktop computers are plugged in around the room but members are encouraged to bring their own laptops if they own one.

John has a new one and wants to better understand its Microsoft Windows 8 system. Under Barbara's instruction, he is typing out a "business letter" and using some of the new system's commands.

Microsoft's transition from its former XP system to Windows 8 and the even newer Windows 8.1 has seen Seniornet membership swell, Barbara says.

Anyone aged 50 years and over can join for a $30 per annum subscription, then, for nominal extra fees, enrol in any workshops and courses it runs.

There are about 16 a month, Barbara says.

Asked if there is homework, John calls out the answers: "Yes. Practise, practise, practise."

It is the best way to learn, Barbara confirms. She offers some one-on-one tuition in people's homes, too, typically negotiating her way around Blenheim on her mobility scooter.

"I'm not a technician . . . [people] want someone to sit alongside them for half an hour to build their confidence up a bit. Technicians don't have the time for this."

She once worked in an office but it was in the days before keyboards had mouse controls and internet connections.

She was a North Islander then, and made the southern transition in 1998 with her partner, arriving on the mainland with a caravan and a four-wheel-drive.

After a few years' exploration, they arrived in Blenheim in 2003.

"I've been here ever since."

Barbara says it was a wish to have more regular contact with her adult children and their children, still based in the North Island, that triggered her interest in computers. Email and Skype allows separated family members to have regular contact these days, she says.

"So I went to school here, at NMIT [Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology]. They gave us a book, sat us by a computer . . . I couldn't even hold a mouse, much less work one!" she says.

Determined to master the new skills, Barbara bought a book, Windows XP for Dummies, and read it from cover to cover.

"I would think: ‘Nooooooooo, computers can't do that. Then I would get up and try it."

In 2006 she joined Seniornet and liked its community-based format that helps older adults of all computer competencies come together to help one another.

"You have to be 50-plus to join Seniornet and the oldest at the moment is probably 86, 87 . . . we don't really ask their age."

■ Click through for more information about Seniornet Marlborough

The Marlborough Express