Coding for all!

What is coding? If you’d like you may access this clear, brief explanation of it on YouTube, but for those who just want a definition in a nutshell, code is instructions you give a computer so that it will do what you want. Everything that has any level of computer in it has code of some kind or another: your watch, TV, car, etc.

If someone is attempting to learn how to code, it falls within the realm of our department. We need to be able to point them to helpful, valuable resources. One great resource for coding is code.org.

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Code.org is dedicated to helping anyone who wants to learn how to code for free. They focus on underrepresented populations, such as minorities, the poor and women, but they won’t turn anyone away.

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They also want to always offer their services for free. Even those who may want to use their service and/or materials for a formal class setting.

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From their home page, click the “Start Learning” link and you find yourself here:

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You are then to choose your learning level, then you move on to about what specifically you wish to learn. It’s intuitive and simple.

You may even search for in-person classes staged in your particular area, though I have to say no classes are listed in the Memphis area. Either available classes are not listing their classes on this site or there is a dearth of such classes available in this area.

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Ultimately this topic is much larger than one simple post. This is, however, a great introduction to an entire world of possibilities.

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Practical, Information Rich Resource for Local Gardeners

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The Tennessee Home Vegetable Gardener 2018 Calendar is a great resource for the local home gardener. It is a resource rich in practical information to assist anyone wanting to use methods specific to our particular area.

You can find the calendar here: https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W436.pdf, or you can go to the UT Extensions publication page and search “Tennessee Home Vegetable Garden” as I’ve done here:

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This search gives you the following screen, from which you select the encircled link:

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So, what’s in the calendar? Here’s a quick rundown:

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Aside from having the conventional calendar, each month also has an information page full of what tasks are best done in any given month. The top page of any month spread includes a to do list as shown above, while the bottom page has the conventional calendar with key dates marked:

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The back of the calendar includes several indices for more specific notes to record crop yield, weather patterns and crop issues such as pest and disease problems:

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This resource is free as a pdf to anyone who wants to access the link above. It could be useful simply printed out on regular copy paper, but may be more practical printed out on card stock, or placed in a binder to better last throughout a whole year of gardening.

Basic Computer Skills for Patrons

www.gcflearnfree.org is a free e-learning site full of many different tutorials of interest to those in our department. The one I will highlight today is about Basic Computer Skills.

According to their “About” page the parent site gcflearnfree.org is:

A program of Goodwill Community Foundation® and Goodwill Industries of Eastern NC Inc.® (GIENC®), all GCFLearnFree.org® educational content is designed and produced in the GCF Global Learning® building in downtown Raleigh, NC.

So they are a free site designed to present learning opportunities on many topics free to anyone who has an internet connection.

As we have many patrons on a daily basis claim helplessness when it comes to using a computer, this tool will come in handy as a way to help a patron self-help themselves. Here’s how it works.

First, the patron would need to log in to https://www.gcflearnfree.org/topics/computers/ to see the course offerings:

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You can see that there are four subheadings: Computer Basics, Basic Computer Skills, Mouse Tutorial and Typing Tutorial. Once you engage in the Computer Basics tutorial you will begin here:

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More relevant to us on the Third Floor of Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library is the Basic Computer Skills course:

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This course starts with the basic skill of how to turn a computer on, then moves up from there. Not every single component of the training is necessarily relevant to our department or library as a whole, but many of the issues frequently mentioned to us as Reference Desk Librarians are addressed in these trainings.

Many patrons will not have the time or the incentive to learn using this method, but for those willing to put in a bit of effort this is definitely a worthwhile resource to which we may direct them.

What’s a MOOC?!

A MOOC is a Massive Online Open Course. The basic idea is that various institutes of learning will allow people to essentially audit courses for free, or even to pay a fee to gain various types of credit, from certificates, which have limited use, to actual college credit. Details vary according to who is offering the course, but the learner is the one who decides if they wish to learn simply for curiosity and the love of learning (most common) or if they want to earn some sort of certificate or some other validation of the time spent learning (less common).

There are several websites that specialize in hooking people up with such courses, with just a few being coursera.org, udemy.com and edx.org. You can find out so much about these courses and how they work at various sites around the web, but Forbes posted a good summary recently about the future of MOOCs. Additionally, you may find the following illustration helpful in understanding how an MOOC works:

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Basically this illustration asks several questions pointing out that the concept remains in the evolutionary stages despite being a web presence for quite some time. So, when you go to various outlets to experience an MOOC you won’t necessarily find the same experience as any other site. Some learners find this exciting, some frustrating. The MOOC doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, so, let’s look at how one in particular works.

I signed up for a course on coursera.org:

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As I became a registered, free user I was given limited access to class materials: I can follow along, complete readings and assignments but cannot take tests or quizzes or receive any sort of grade. To gain these features I would need to pay a fee to participate officially in Berklee College of Music courses. The fact that I have that option demonstrates one of the advantages of an MOOC–choice.

So, here’s just one example of what I can get for free: a video lecture from the teacher:

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As I progress through the course I will share the progress and, when the course is complete, I will give my opinion on how helpful (or not) I felt the course was.

Navigating the Thrills and Spills of Insurance

With all of the recent natural disasters you may have taken stock of your own home and thought about what you might do to replace items you might lose in such a scenario. Here is a helpful link from the site United Policy Holders that helps explain how you might go about dealing with such issues.

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United Policy Holders is a non-profit [501 (c)(3)] dedicated to helping consumers successfully navigate various types of insurance to make sure each gets the best deal and fair shake when it comes time to both buying and using insurance. Think of them as a sort of Consumer Reports of insurance.

In fact, here is their mission statement posted on the home page:

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Just to the right of the mission statement is a short list of broad topic areas covered on the site:

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Today let’s focus on what can be done in the event you have to make a claim on your property due to some sort of disaster. They have a detailed, step by step tutorial on how to successfully make claims to replace much of, if not all of, your damaged property here:

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They even offer tools to help inventory your household items in advance to avoid having to complete the arduous task after a disaster has struck. There is even an app to assist in the process, if you get into that sort of thing:
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Another helpful feature I found was an example of an actual letter sent to an insurance company requesting an extension on the time allowed to complete a claim:

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This site offers a wealth of information from which anyone may benefit because nearly all of us have insurance of one type or another. This site aims to help us identify how to proactively take advantage of all our insurance carriers promise and to avoid being taken advantage of by what can be a bloated, dense bureaucracy.

Learning Express Library Can Help Patrons Who Cry “Computer Illiterate”

The Learning Express Library has proven helpful to many of our patrons seeking various testing materials for tests such as the HiSET or nursing areas like the HESI or NCLEX. However, did you know that Learning Express has so much more? One tutorial area that could help many of our computer challenged patrons is the Computer Skills Center :

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I selected the “Getting to Know Your Computer” link on the left (red circle) and “Computer Basics 2” on the right (blue rectangle):

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This brought me to a video tutorial:

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On the tutorial you are in total control: the video has a transcript that you can follow along with, download or even print:

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…and you can toggle between chapters as well:

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There are many other computer tutorials in Learning Express, ranging from basic topics detailed in this post, to more complex issues, such as the intricacies of learning how to navigate the internet, to even specific programs, such as Microsoft Word and Adobe products:

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For the willing patron these tutorials can lead to increased productivity and less frustration on the computer.

Sorting Fact From Obfuscation

In these unprecedented times in U.S. politics it can be difficult to discern the truth from the spin. The site http://www.factcheck.org/ has taken up the mission of helping anyone who desires to do so. Their mission page states:

“We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The APPC was established by publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg to create a community of scholars within the University of Pennsylvania that would address public policy issues at the local, state and federal levels.”

A quick perusal of articles prominent on the site the day I visited (4/28/17 for the curious) covered such topics as the insecticide chlorpyrifos, Trump’s spin on his first 100 days, Trump’s mischaracterization of President Obama’s purported role in forming the gang MS-13, White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s Hitler gaffe and the 2017 Webby award this site has won.

The site is easy to navigate and there are a few helpful ways to find specific information: you can peruse an archive by topic, search for a desired article or simply browse through the pages. There are additional links to similar and sister sites, ways to ask your own questions and links to other resources offered by the organization, such as ways to browse and view media appearances by their writers.