Word for the wise

27 Mar 2003

To use a popular saying, ‘a little learning goes a long way’ and IT is certainly no exception. Having said that, it’s surprising the number of people who use a PC every day without ever receiving any training.

While it’s testament to the usability of today’s machines and software, there’s no doubt that plenty of features are left unexplored and even experienced users can benefit from training. For those who have yet to use a PC, training often can be essential. In a world that is increasingly PC literate, taking a course may be the best way of catching up.

In terms of beginners, IC3 (Internet and Computing Core Certification) is fast becoming one of the best-known courses on the market. Along with ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence), it’s a programme that aims to teach the fundamentals of PC use and get the user familiar with basic tasks and applications. IC3 is the brainchild of US company Certiport (www.certiport.com). Prodigy (www.prodigy.ie) is its master distributor in Ireland.

The course’s big selling point is that it doesn’t involve any paperwork when it comes to examinations. Students can take their examinations online and receive scores immediately. A secure, authenticated online interface is involved. Candidates can also view exam and certification results online at any time and grant access to employers or educators to verify candidate results.

Rather than simply write about a training course, we’ve decided to take a different tack and actually try the hands-on approach and do the course ourselves. I took an IC3 training course at the MoreSoft IT Institute on Dublin’s Leeson Street.

The IC3 course is split into three strands, each one requiring an exam. The first is computing fundamentals. It involves teaching the basics of PC use, such as identifying different types of computers, examining how computers work and looking at how individual computers fit into larger systems. Other issues examined include the function of computer hardware components and common problems associated with individual components and issues relating to computer performance and how it is affected by different components of the computer. This section also looks at how software works and how software and hardware work together to perform computing tasks. Use of an operating system is the final element and involves identifying what an operating system is and how it works and learning how to manipulate and control the Windows desktop, files and disks.

The second strand of the course is on key applications and mainly focuses on those two productivity staples, Word and Excel. Students are taught to perform common editing functions (such as cut, copy, paste and spell check) and formatting functions (fonts, margins, tabs). Basic word processing tasks are addressed, such as formatting text and documents, as well as being able to use automatic formatting tools and adding tables or graphics to a document. With regard to Excel, users are shown how to sort data and manipulate it using formulas and functions, as well as adding pictures and charts to a worksheet.

The third element of the course covers online computing. Students are taught to identify network fundamentals and the benefits and risks of network computing. Email and web browsing are, of course, the fundamentals of this element.

As for the course itself, I couldn’t fault the level of instruction provided. As a fairly experienced PC user I did wonder beforehand how much I was going to learn. My tutor, Chris Scott, said that he always tries to assess a student’s competence in the initial stages and try to work from there. Once he made sure I knew the basics, Scott then began to focus on areas where he thought I could benefit. Primarily this involved Word and Excel, two applications I’ve used a lot. The sophistication of these applications today is such that many users only take advantage of a fraction of the features on offer, and I was no exception. Over the course of my instruction I picked up a lot and I’m especially indebted to him for teaching me how to automatically remove manual line breaks from Word documents, something that had baffled me up to now.

Then it was on to the exams. The online interface took a little bit of getting used to, but within minutes I began to feel comfortable. It simulates real application environments and asks you to perform a certain number of set tasks. A time limit applies, enough to put a little thought into and complete all of the tasks. Thankfully, I passed.

MoreSoft IT Institute’s standard IC3 package costs €725. This covers 12 evenings of instruction and the exam fees. Corporate discounts are available to groups. It’s a perfect course for beginners, but needn’t just apply to them. In my reckoning, even users with a few years of experience may also benefit and have the certification to boot.

By Dick O’Brien