Computer basics: designing a learning activity

Art volunteers at Free Geek Twin Cities (fgtc). Their mission is to recycle or reuse unwanted computers and to help reduce the digital divide.

By volunteering at fgtc, participants can learn various digital literacies, and after 24 hours of service, they get a $40 credit toward computer components.

Art’s task is to design a learning activity that will not only provide participants their own computer for a minimal cost, but if their computer stops working, they may be able to fix it.


Learners have paid $50 in advance (some might might use their $40 credit) and are told they will take apart a desktop computer, learn what each part does, then put the computer back together again. They get to keep the computer system.


The earning activity is in the “Build Room” at Free Geek Twin Cities in MPLS, MN. USA on a Saturday morning at 10 am.


There will be at least one facilitator present who is a volunteer and might not have teaching experience. Learners have varied skills and handicaps (challenges). Challenges we’ve seen include the blind, quadriplegic, immature 10 yr old, autism spectrum/Asperger’s syndrome, drug addicted felons/thief, having allergic reaction to mold, language barriers/non-English speaking, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and a Muslim female reluctant to interact with males.


This courses goal is that learners will understand their computer well enough to use it, even to fix it when it does not seem to work.


The learning environment, a computer, monitor, mouse, keyboard, screwdrivers, example parts (CPUs, RAM, etc.), a working computer with internet access, a facilitator, other learners, and a learning activity instruction booklet (also available via a website).


  • connect a mouse, keyboard, and monitor to a desktop computer
  • connect the computer to a power source and turn it on
  • disassemble the computer into its component parts and put it back together again
  • be able to name the parts of the computer and what they do
  • be able to install an operating system (OS: Linux Xubuntu) from an install CD
  • be able to update, personalize, customise, and add extras to their OS


The participant will have their own computer for a minimal cost. The learner will be more self confident in using their desktop computer and if it doesn’t work, may be able to fix it.

Challenge Scenarios already seen at FGTC


Female immigrant from East Africa is Muslim and is reluctant to socialize with male strangers. English is her second language and is a barrier to understanding.

Chemically dependant males sentenced to a half-way house come in to earn a free computer but cannot resist stealing laptops when given the opportunity.

Ten year olds come in after school and wants to earn a free computer but emotionally immaturity results in adult volunteers not wanting to babysit (discipline)


English is often a second language and is a barrier to understanding.


A dozen students with Autism Spectrum disorders come in to learn job skills

Individules with Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) wish to earn computers and learn job skills.


Individule is sentenced to serve and wishes to work 120 hrs as an alternative to 6 months in prison. She does not give the required hours but edits our tracking data base and prints out a copy for proof of compliance for her hearing.

Seven ex-prisoners are given early release to a half-way house. A grant proposal offers to pay them $8/hr for 50 hrs if we can provide supervised work for them.


Three of our volunteers have been in wheelchairs and one was a quadriplegic, only able to talk and to point with a baton held in his mouth.

One woman volunteer is legally blind


Learner has an allergic reaction to mold in room

Learners are too cold or too hot

Learner can’t stand the choice of music being played

Too much noise from environment is distracting

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