Colleges Need Computer Literacy Resources for Nontraditional Students

You take for granted your understanding of when to left-click and to right-click until you interact with someone who doesn’t know the difference. As I’ve tutored nontraditional students, many of whom come from low-income families, in writing, I’ve grown to realize how disadvantaged they are in college because they have less experience with computers than younger students do. Not all of these students have young family members to seek instruction from, and tutors are just one resource colleges should have for those who aren’t computer literate. Colleges should make handouts and tutorials on computer use easily accessible and encourage nontraditional students to ask for help as they learn how to use computers.

Provide Handouts and Tutorials

Handouts and tutorials are a good way for colleges and universities to provide computer literacy help without diverting faculty, librarians, tutors, and other support staff from their primary job duties. Handouts should use screenshots to show how to use the main features of MS Word, to use a mouse, and to browse the Internet. Just putting the handouts online won’t work for students who aren’t comfortable navigating websites, so have printouts available and marked with signs in places such as the library, tutoring center, and English department.

Colleges can also create online video tutorials to teach computer use and keyboarding. They must be easy to access, perhaps through a link e-mailed to new students after orientation or a link on the library’s homepage. The more students can learn before classes begin, the better, so make tutorials available weeks before the semester starts.

Encourage Students to Seek Help

Nontraditional students may feel stupid asking for help with computers, so be encouraging. Staff who interact with nontraditional students at the beginning of the semester should ask whether they’re comfortable using computers. If the answer is no, staff should direct them to tutors, librarians, and young family members and remind them that using computers will be expected in all their courses and probably in their career.

Faculty who teach composition should observe students to see whether they struggle with using a computer and then direct them to people or handouts that can help. They should be understanding of students’ learning curve and not deduct many points for formatting mistakes. After all, the content of writing is more important than its appearance, and a missing comma in a Works Cited page doesn’t constitute plagiarism.


It’s unfair to neglect nontraditional students by not ensuring their access to assistance with learning how to use computers. Handouts and supportive staff are the minimum resources colleges should provide. Colleges and universities shouldn’t assume all students have similar experiences with technology. Even young students differ in their levels of computer literacy.

Photo: Dennis Skley, Flickr Creative Commons


Darla Word

About Darla Word

I'm a writing tutor and editor from Michigan. My favorite subject to write about is writing because making better writers is my calling. I also enjoy reading, singing, swimming, and cardmaking.

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