Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

Pathways to Macintosh Learning

By Bob Jarecke

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

In my past service as a member of the Board and now as Pi President, I’ve received many questions about the Pi providing tutorials. Our recent survey on Pi Benefits and Services gathered members’ views regarding possible tutorial options. The survey results, as well as comments submitted by many of the respondents, indicated sufficient interest to warrant a careful study of what the Pi could do in this area. This article is an effort to get our arms around the real need for tutorial assistance and decide how to meet members’ expectations.

Without rehashing the reasons why the Pi stopped offering tutorials, yet drawing from that experience, we are exploring some alternative options to meet the need. I think it would be fair to say that most Pi members hope they could receive some credible tutorial assistance when they need it.

In laying the groundwork to finding available tutorial resources, this article will first endeavor to assess your learning needs and preferences. It will also briefly address some equipment issues that affect the learning process. The second section provides numerous resources and venues to help you in your quest to become a more proficient Mac user. By the end of the aricle, you will have a sound start to help you decide the best method or methods for you to enhance your computer skills.

Part One — Some Questions and Things to Consider

What Makes You Tick?

To start, there are several important questions that you, as members, need to be consider:

First, what is your experience level?

In all of these cases, and others not listed, you need to evaluate your basic needs, the time you can devote to the learning, and perhaps, set some goals.

Another important question: how do you learn best?

The above questions are by no means all-inclusive; learning is an individualized process; the most common response to the above cases would be, “it depends.” In any event, there is help for all of you!

Before we get to some of the good stuff, I would like to ask a bit of a personal question: are you a list maker? More specifically, when someone explains how to do something on the computer, do you have to write down all the steps in checklist fashion? In defense of the practice, it is a sure way to “get it right,” but it is not very efficient and simply reinforces a dependency on that list. You aren’t learning, you are only imitating. And if you lose those lists — OMG!

So learning how to use the computer is much like many other things you do. First, you study to get a good basic understanding. Then as you learn how, you begin to understand why, which helps true understanding take place. And finally, through repetition of the process or task, you gain proficiency. Think about the things you do well. In those cases, you know the how and why — you understand. And after years of doing these tasks or processes over and over, they become second nature. Computing is just another process to learn, and if you get the basics down and practice, you will advance beyond the beginner state and enter the ranks of the intermediate user — progress, to be sure. Now, one more matter needs to be addressed…

Tools of the Trade

To do certain jobs, you need the right tools. Sure you can do a lot around the house with simply a hammer, pair of pliers and a screwdriver, but more specialized tools can generally make fixing a household problem a piece of cake. So it is with your computer.

The amount of memory your Mac has, the type of mouse and keyboard used, and the specialized peripherals attached can all make a big difference in how efficient and enjoyable using your computer can be. If you have a Mac made in the 21st century and it doesn’t have at least 512 megabytes of RAM (Random Access Memory), you are probably suffering performance problems and slowdowns. A two-button mouse with a scroll wheel is a must, while an extended keyboard is more efficient for desktop computers. How you use these two essential interface devices is also important — see sidebar item: Keyboard or Mouse, You Decide. Finally, having external devices like external hard drives, scanners, USB and FireWire hubs, and printers all properly routed and connected is important, too. The right tools make the task easier, but using these tools properly is important.

Part Two — Some Resources and Things to Consider

Help at Your Fingertips!

To begin, what is the quickest and easiest source of help? The answer is “Help” — that is the “Help” item on your Mac’s main menu. It is available in every application and works through a browser-style application that gives you a search window and topic links to information. One particularly informative Help selection is the one for Finder. It provides lots of descriptive information about the operating system and many of its components. It is a good place to review how things work and where they are located.

Another assist to learning more about various aspects of the Mac OS (Operating System) is offered on Apple’s Web site:


This URL will take you to a directory of ten common computing topics. The topics are general, but they quickly evolve into very specific definitions and explanations. It is appropriate that the page is titled Quick Assist. Check it out.

And what other close-at-hand resources are available? The Pi, of course, but not in a tutorial sense. The TCS forums and the Pi Hot Line list are immediate forms of help, and although the methods differ, the quality and personal touch are the same.

The TCS has been touted for some time now (more than two decades) as a great source of information. We have consciously tried to promote it by publishing our Best of TCS series in every Journal. These highlighted discussions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the degree of information available to each and every member. Many positive comments and complimentary thanks have come back to me as a result of members getting quick and thorough answers to their questions. Also, the depth of knowledge of some of the TCS regulars is amazing, and the resulting discussions can sometimes become lengthy with several point-counterpoint postings. And all of this takes place in a collegial setting through the willingness of members to help others, a win-win situation.

The Hot Line list is another case of members offering to help. Hotline helpers have agreed to be contacted and to assist other members with questions about a particular software title or technology. Members should not hesitate to call anyone on the list, for help is just a phone call away. Here again, I have heard some glowing remarks about certain members on the Hot Line list that have provided indispensable help. Another win-win situation!

Each of these excellent help options is easily reached by just logging into the TCS. The main Menu page is the starting point for the TCS Conferences as well as a link to the Hot Line list that is located in the green sticky tab on the right portion of the page. Try it, you may not have to go any further to get the help you need:


TCS opening page

The Answer is a Mouse Click Away!

With the advent and proliferation of the Internet, information is just a Google search away. True, effective and efficient Google searching is somewhat of an art form, but even the novice can put a word or two in a search window and come up with something of value. However, rather than pass everyone off to Google, here are some very good training options for all Mac users. Please, keep in mind that most of the training on the Web is best suited to someone who is comfortable learning on the computer. Also, getting something for nothing on the Web is much like life: normally, you can expect to pay in some way for good tutorial assistance.

The beginning Mac user should find the following useful. The first three links are to short training sessions on the Apple Web site with some rudimentary information for the beginner and the Switcher to build on. The next two links take you to Web sites that appears to be a treasure trove of information for the first time Mac user:






There’s Nothing like a Good Book!

There are some folks that simply need to read to grasp a subject, especially if the reading material is accurate, logical and, for some, concise. There are many good books that meet these criteria and cover a gamut of topics.

For basic to advanced information on all the latest versions of Mac OS X, books by Robin Williams and David Pogue have been consistently rated as excellent. Here are their most recent ones:

The Little Mac Book: Tiger Edition by Robin Williams (Peachpit Press, 2005)
Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger by Robin Williams (Peachpit Press, 2005)
Mac OS X Leopard, the Missing Manual by David Pogue (Pogue Press)

Also, there are the “…for Dummies” books, which cover a huge range of topics! The numbers of books and the areas they cover are countless. Just to get an idea, type “book, Mac OS X, (substitute your version here)” into a Google search window.

Of course, after you have decided on a book you want, where to buy it is another issue. You can save time by Googling the title, then clicking on the link to it on Amazon.com where the prices are generally quite good. But, for those who are tactile and need a book in hand to browse the Table of Contents and skim areas of interest, all while enjoying a cup of Joe in a book store’s café section, online just doesn’t cut it. Copy the titles down and head to your favorite retail bookstore to browse to your heart’s content. To each their own!

And to muddy the water a little more, there is the issue of what type of book satisfies your learning needs. Me? I like pictures!

There are some highly recommended books that use great illustrations to help the reader better visualize the task. One particularly good series is the Visual Quickstart series, but there are others. Here are some that relate to the latest versions of Mac OS X:

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide by Maria Langer (Peachpit Press, 2008)
Teach Yourself VISUALLY Mac OS X Tiger by Erick Tejkowski (Visual, 2005)
Master VISUALLY Mac OS X Tiger by Daniel Drew Turner (Visual, 2005)
Teach Yourself VISUALLY Mac OS X Leopard by Lynette Kent (Visual, 2007)

The Other Book — eBooks!

What is more appropriate than reading a book about your Mac, on your Mac? If you are not averse to using the computer for extensive reading, then eBooks might be for you. A quick Web search on www.eBooks.com finds almost five hundred hits for Mac OS X eBooks. The selection seems comprehensive, with coverage from earlier versions of the vaunted operating system to the latest on Leopard, as well as tons on Apple and other applications.

And one highly regarded, Mac-centric set of eBooks is called the Take Control series. While they are available by downloading, they can also be purchased in traditional book form for nearly double the cost. The varied authors are well versed in all that is Mac, and at a recent Pi General Meeting the Apple Representative, who was presenting, put in a solid plug for these books. Here are three examples:

Take Control of Upgrading to Leopard by Joe Kissell
Take Control of Switching to a Mac by Scott Knaster
Take Control of Customizing Tiger by Matt Neuburg

The above titles and many more can be found at: http://www.takecontrolbooks.com/

Tutorial CDs, DVDs and More!

Another way to learn “how to” is by using instructional videos. Many of these lessons are available on CDs and DVDs, but they aren’t the only medium for viewing tutorial lessons. With the advent of the iPod, there is a whole plethora of audio and video Podcasts covering every facet of the Mac and associated topics. There is even an online show dedicated exclusively to Photoshop called Photoshop TV. It can be viewed on the Web (http://www.photoshopusertv.com/) or downloaded right to iTunes. Of course, you don’t have to own an iPod to listen to or view any of these lessons; all are easily accessible via iTunes.

What are some of the titles and Web sites where you can browse what is available? Before I list some of them, I will point out there is a whole other way to learn: online tutorial services. These are generally for-pay services that can, in some cases, add up to a bit of money; however, the benefit is you have access to the material over and over again. A couple of the more notable of these services are Lynda.com (http://www.lynda.com/), Atomic Learning (http://movies.atomiclearning.com/k12/tutorials), and VTC Online and CD Computer Software Training (http://www.vtc.com/).

In all the above cases, you can view online, download a lesson or buy a disc with the lessons on them. Generally, Podcasts are free as well as some introductory lessons at the training Web sites. Here are some examples of tutorial CDs and DVDs that were found on Amazon.com:

Mac OS X Training For Windows Users by Terry White
Class on Demand: Basic Training for Mac OS X Leopard: Apple Educational Training Tutorial DVD by Tom Wolsky
Okay, I Bought a Mac! Now What?

Going Back to School!

Another option is to use higher education. The benefits of taking reasonably priced and comprehensive classes at a local community college cannot be over emphasized. For those members with the time to devote to a semester’s worth of classes, the opportunities are boundless. And for those who learn well in the structured environment of a classroom, this might be your cup of tea. Here is one example of some classes offered at Montgomery Community College in Rockville. The class schedules are online; here are two noncredit, online courses available through the school:

101 Tips and Tricks for the iMac and Macintosh
101 Tips and Tricks for the iMac and Macintosh. Use your Macintosh more efficiently and increase your productivity by learning dozens of tips, tricks, and shortcuts involving the Operating System, Keyboard, Desktop Navigation, the Internet, Editing Text, Fonts, Special characters, Maintenance, Viruses, Keyboards, Monitors, Disks, Sound, and more.
Introduction to Photoshop CS2
Introduction to Photoshop CS2. If you want to work with graphics, Photoshop is the program you will most need to learn. Artists, photographers, designers, and hobbyists all rely on Adobe Photoshop for graphic design work. This course will teach you how to use Photoshop with detailed, step-by-step instructions that you'll have no trouble following--even if you've never used a computer for graphics before!

This is only the smallest hint of courses available in Maryland’s Montgomery County; there are far more higher education resources throughout the greater Washington Metro area. The search for what is available and how to interpret what you find might be a little daunting, but with the help of others who have taken or are taking courses, you can learn what is available. If you have a particular interest here and need more help, let the Pi office know with an email to office@wap.org and we will try to provide you with some additional guidance on going back to school.

Apple Pro Care

While it may be a bit of blasphemy (Apple’s advertising strongly suggests Mac users don’t need help), it would be unfair not to mention Apple’s excellent Pro Care program. For $99 a Mac user can have the services of an Apple certified instructor for one hour, every week, for one year. That’s fifty-two hours of instruction for just under a hundred bucks!

While on paper this is a fine deal, consider that you will obviously need to get yourself to the Apple Store each week, and you will need to find the time in your schedule for the training. While for some folks this might be easy to do, others have found some difficulty scheduling their training at a time that fits with their busy lives. Scheduling is conveniently done online and begins fourteen days in advance. To learn more, go to:

So Where Do We Go From Here?

For those members who feel they need tutorial assistance, these are just a sampling of the options available today. By no means are these hints and references all-inclusive. However, if these suggestions can help you better define your learning needs and what might help you, then you are one step closer to using your Mac more effectively and efficiently.

On the other hand, pleas for help have been made and heard! And, while the Pi is about “members helping members,“ there is the matter of time. Who can help and when? Where can help be rendered? And as you might guess, an all-important issue is making the best use of the helper’s and student’s time. Getting these variables in alignment is not an easy feat, but the Pi Board is willing to try to help using a more novel approach: in-home tutorials.

Our concept is a little different from anything that was listed above. We are not offering canned tutorials per se, but rather a lesson plan on a specific topic with a live instructor connected to the student(s) through one of two screen-sharing applications. The first one is Adobe Connect, used in conjunction with Adobe Reader and Apple iChat audio. The other, if both participants have Mac OS X 10.5, is Apple iChat video exclusively with Leopard’s screen-sharing feature. Because of iChat limitations, the latter method limits the student number to one, whereas Adobe Connect allows multiple students to participate in a lesson.

As for the tutorial training, one notion is to use a couple of specific lesson plans developed by Travis Good as the basis for individual review. Then a live connection could be made to elaborate on the topic and answer any questions the students might have. This type of lesson with a couple of students could easily use up most of an hour’s time.

As for cost, we are looking at members getting a discount with Pi Dollars, while non-members will pay full price. Pricing and other details have not been determined at this point. Our first step is to see what the demand might be, and that is where the reader comes in.

It is up to Pi members who have asked for tutorials to consider the available opportunities for learning. If a match is found, then the need is met. If something else is required, then that too can be pursued.

In the end, the onus falls on the members. Please, let us know what you think. An email to office@wap.org with your thoughts will do a great deal to help us decide the level of effort required to get the membership the tutorial help that is needed. If sufficient interest is shown, I envision the development of a Pi Tutorial Resource Guide that will give you a more detailed listing of everything mentioned. Think about it and let us know.