Giving Swiss Computer Courses

When we lived in Berne, Ben and I gave lots and lots of computer courses. It took a lot of energy and money keeping up with and buying the newest program versions. But it was well worth it. We gave courses lasting between ½ day and a year (once a week). Some of our courses were direct results from our company advertising. Others were organized by other schools or institutions. Most were held directly in our course room in Berne, but not all.

Very often Ben and I gave a course together. One of us would be up front giving examples or explaining something. The other would be running from one person to the next answering questions and helping directly.

Microsoft Excel

Over the years we came to know what to expect from our students but occasionally there were surprises. Like the time I gave an intermediate Microsoft Excel course. Normally you can give a course like that alone, no need for two people. After all, everyone has worked with the program to some degree. You expect that the participants in an intermediate course all know how to open and save files at the least. Not always, once I had a person in an intermediate class that broke all the rules. I think the closest this person ever came to Excel was that they had heard it mentioned in a conversation.

This was not a course that we had organized so we did not have the freedom to send the person home. Luckily, Ben was in the office so I called him to help me out. He gave a one-on-one beginner course to this person while I gave an intermediate course to everyone else.

Microsoft Word

If you give Microsoft courses you can’t get around Word. The intermediate/advanced courses were always fun to give. Showing people how they could accomplish their work tasks more efficiently was always satisfying.

Once, after showing how Word automatically makes a table of contents and index I noticed a student shaking her head. I asked her if she understood how to do it now, she said yes, but that wasn’t the problem. She told me how she had typed a huge report for one of the bosses in her office. She wrote the table of contents and index completely by hand! Every time something changed, she meticulously checked and rechecked the report. She was ecstatic when she was finally finished and then digitally sent the report to everyone on a long list.

Now that I had explained how to do this automatically she realized, when done correctly, the days and weeks she had spent controlling and correcting were totally superfluous. As if that wasn’t bad enough she had sent the open document to many, many people. Anyone who had any knowledge in Word could see that she had been clueless as to how to use it.

Different Strokes for Different Folks – Listening and Doing

Switzerland, although small, has many different types of people. It would be boring otherwise. Sometimes you end up shaking your head at the different situations, other times you out and out have to laugh.

In one of our earlier web courses Ben and I took the time and energy to explain file naming conventions. Nowadays it’s not as important, but at that time it could make or break your work; it was essential. In essence, we said “Do not use any umlauts.” Umlauts are ä,ö and ü and can easily be replaced with ae, oe and ue.

We thought everyone understood. Until  about ½ hour later one person started swearing, waving her hands about and saying that the program didn’t work. Her site, about fairy tales, was indeed having massive problems. Only a few pictures and pages were showing correctly. Scanning the filenames we saw umlaut after umlaut. She used the German word for “king”, “König” among other umlaut problems. We asked if she didn’t understand what we had said earlier about the umlauts. Of course she did, but she thought it was just one of our quirks and didn’t think it applied to her. This was where we shook our heads. We told her she was going to have to change all the names of her files to make it work.

After about an hour she called us over to show us how bad the program really was. She had made all the changes and it still didn’t work correctly. Scanning her filenames again, we found a lot of missed files with umlauts. There was no getting around it, she would have to change those names, too.

We had to laugh when she yelled “this stupid computer is so pernickety!” Ultimately, in the end her site functioned perfectly.

Being Creative

Sometimes it’s not about being able to listen but about being creative. In one of our Photoshop classes we had someone who just didn’t like going the road well traveled. She didn’t like having to do our examples exactly the same way we did. She thought it was boring to see all the participants end up with the same results. So principally she did it her way. Unfortunately, she didn’t understand that our examples were not to make unique works of art. It was to give the students an overview of the tools and what can be accomplished with them.

More than once we ended up at her computer. Always trying to figure out what she had clicked on or didn’t and set her back on the correct path. She lost more time backtracking and her creativity was more often than not blocked by her limited knowledge. But that was what she wanted and her principles were right in line with her creativity. She was happy with the course.

The Language

All of our courses were given in Swiss German. When I gave courses in Berne there was no problem with the participants understanding me or me understanding them. We spoke the same language. What was interesting was when I gave courses in other parts of Switzerland. German speaking parts, of course, there is no way I would or could give a course in French or Italian!

These were usually a week long and at the end I always got a verbal and a written feedback. One person from the eastern part of Switzerland said she loved listening to me and the way I speak. She said some of the things I said were so “ürchig”. That means I speak an “old fashioned” Swiss German! Well, well, well.

Then there was the time we gave courses in Valais. The dialect there is extremely difficult to understand, not only for me but sometimes for other Swiss, too. They had no problems understanding me and what I said. But quite often I had to ask them to repeat what they said. Even worse was listening them talk to each other. Were they really speaking Swiss German? Ben and I agreed, it would have been easier if they had just hung subtitles around their necks so we would know what they were saying.

Social Workers

Not only did the types of computer courses we gave greatly differ but also to whom we gave them to. Teachers, businessmen, secretaries, seniors and social workers to name a few. The group of people who stood out the most were the social workers. Interestingly enough it wasn’t that they were slower to grasp ideas or understand concepts. What set them apart from the crowd was during the breaks.

Our course room had a big table where we served snacks and coffee during the breaks. The food and drinks didn’t cost anything extra for the participants. Still, in most courses we had leftovers at the end of a course day. Some people thought that the croissants and chocolate had too many calories and just didn’t take one. Quite often during the break the conversation would be about whatever course we were giving. Sort of like a questions and answer part with coffee. After everyone finished their coffee the group migrated back to their computers anxious to continue the course.

Not so with our social workers. There was always a lot of laughing, coffee drinking (sometimes two or more cups), croissant and snack eating going on. There was never leftover anything after a course with social workers. And, there was absolutely no urge to get up and get back to the computer. A little encouragement goes a long way. We figured it was because, well, they were very social people.

That was okay, we didn’t mind. We loved giving all our courses and the people who took them with all their differences.


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