Computer Basics

Please refer to the Syllabus Master Page for an overview of the course.


Students will learn the minimum basic knowledge to use a computer, and will be able to access the web, e.g. at an internet cafe. Students should be able to:

Why (And Why Not) Use Computers ?

Computers process data very quickly. They handle automated tasks efficiently.

Computers require reliable electricity. Computers require training to use effectively. Computers are expensive.


Computer System Components

Main Unit

The main unit, also sometimes referred to as the CPU (central processing unit), is the heart of the computer. It is where nearly all computation occurs.


The display, or monitor, is used to show output, the results of computation, to the user.


The keyboard is used to enter alpha-numeric input data into the computer.


The mouse is used to enter non-alpha-numeric input into the computer, such as positional data.


A UPS (uninterruptable power supply) is used to provide reliable electrical power to the computer. It conditions the power from the electric mains (power company) so that it is suitable for use. It also provides a small battery in the event of power failure, so that the computer can be shut down properly.

UPS may not be present for thin client configurations.

What else is needed for a computer system to function ?
A user !

Starting operations

(Minimum necessary knowledge to access the lab computers.)

This will vary depending on the hardware available.

Local Rules & Equipment

Every computer lab is different; it will have specific equipment, configuration, and rules for use. As a computer user, you are responsible for understanding the proper usage of the equipment and any rules. If you don't know these rules, or are unsure of how to use the equipment, ask first. Improper use of the computer can break it, and you might be responsible for paying for the repairs.

Present local lab rules.

Sign-on / Sign-off

Nearly all computer systems require a user to have a username and password. These will be assigned by the system administrator. Some systems have a guest account that can be used by anyone.

Do not go into details, just get everyone signed on. Everyone should already have an account, or use pre-set accounts.

Shut down

It is important to shut down a computer before removing power. If power is suddenly removed without a proper shut down, it can damage the computer. Different computers have different procedures to follow for shut down. If you are working on a computer that you aren't familiar with, ask a system administrator how to shut down.

Status lights

Nearly all computers have lights to indicate if they are on, or if certain components are active.

Power light

The power light indicates that the computer is on.

Disk light

The disk light indicates that the computer is accessing the hard disk. This often indicates that the computer is busy working on a computation. It can be a good idea to wait for the disk light to go out before starting a large new task.

Basic Mouse Skills

The mouse is used to move the cursor. It is also used to perform actions, by clicking buttons. Notice that the mouse has at least two buttons, left and right.


The cursor shows where input on the keyboard will be placed. It is sometimes the same as the mouse pointer. The pointer icon may change to indicate what will happen if the mouse button is clicked.

Show a short demo of this, possibly including:

Note that, at this point, it's not important to know what each pointer means.

Single click: Buttons, certain other I/O elements

Interface elements with a single action, such as buttons and links, and are activated by clicking once on the left mouse button (single click).

Double click: programs/icons

Certain interface elements, such as program icons, can be selected with a single click. They are activated by rapidly clicking twice on the left mouse button (double click).


A network is a set of computers that are connected with communications cables and can interact with each other. The internet is the network infrastructure that connects most of the computers in the world. It is used for communication and research. It the most valuable computer resource available.

Web Browsing

Data on the internet is usually stored on a web page, and is viewed in a web browser. The collection of all publicly accessible web pages is often called the world wide web. Web pages generally have hyperlinks, which connect web pages and data.

When a web page is accessed, the contents must be downloaded from the web. This means that the data must be transferred from the internet to the computer over the network. If the web page is small and the network is fast, this download may occur quickly, or if the page is large and the network is slow, the download may go slowly.


A URL (uniform resource locator) is the "address" of a web page. For example, the URL for the web page of the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training is "". A URL usually begins with "http://", often "http://www.", and often ends in ".com", ".gov", or ".org". Entering a URL into the address bar and then pressing Enter or clicking the go button will cause the browser to load the web page.

Activity indicators: activity/wait indicator, download progress bar

Most web browsers have an activity indicator, which indicates the state of the browser. It can show that the browser is not finished accessing the internet, or that the download is complete.

Sometimes a browser will also display a progress bar, which can indicate how much of a download is complete.


Some web pages change frequently. In this case, it can be useful to re-load the page. To do this, click on the refresh button.

Link (Hyperlink)

A valuable feature of most web pages is the hyperlink or "link", which is an easy way to go from one page to another. A link contains the URL of the destination page, so it doesn't need to be typed into the address bar. A single-click on the link will load the destination page. Links can appear differently depending on the browser and the web page. Often, they will appear underlined, or in a different color. Also, the pointer will often change to a "hand" picture.


After clicking on a link, it is common to want to go back to the previous page. To do this, single-click on the back button

Portal/Search: Yahoo, Google, etc.

Some web pages have specific content on a single subject or set of subjects. Other sites are portal sites, and collect information about multiple pages. Portal sites often include a search function.

Some popular portal sites are:
- Yahoo (
- Google (

Window Basics






Scroll Bars


Contents, Index, Search

Effective searching


Students will learn learn additional input basics, and the minimum basics of computer care. Students should be able to:

Keyboard Skills

Standard keys: a-z

Modifier keys: shift, ctrl, alt

Lock keys (& lights): shift, num

Special keys:








Function Keys/Short Cuts

Note that pressing more than one key at once (i.e. using the modifier keys) is often a program shortcut, and will cause unexpected results.

Touch Typing

More Mouse Skills

Click & Drag: Move, Multi-Select

Interface elements that can be moved (usually those that can be double-clicked) are moved by placing the cursor over the element, depressing the left mouse button, then moving the mouse while continuing to hold the mouse button; the button is released when the cursor is in the desired destination (click & drag).

Often, multiple elements can be selected at one time by clicking and dragging an area around the elements.

Right-Click: Context Menu

In any particular location and time (context) certain operations are available. All, or a common subset, of these operations are generally available on the context menu, which can be accessed by clicking on the right mouse button.

Scroll Wheel

If the mouse has a scroll wheel, it can be used to move the contents of the active window up and down (scroll), if the contents are longer than can be displayed in the window.



More Indicator Lights

Network activity light

The network activity light indicates that the computer is communicating with the network; information is transmitting to or from the computer.


Software Updates

UPS/Surge Protection


Students will learn window managements basics, and some common utility programs. Students should be able to:

File Management

File Organization / Folders


USB/Flash Disk


Utility Programs

Start Menu, or Unix Equivalent




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