NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2006
CNET Offers Free Online Technology Courses
By Ira Wilsker,
APCUG Director; Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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Recently, in the Examiner, I wrote about free online classes on Microsoft Office components offered by none other than Microsoft itself (office.microsoft.com/en-us/training). That was but one of many free online computer related training offerings. From the positive response to my column on Microsoft training, I am currently researching other free online computer and technology related training resources, and have come across a winner.

The popular online resource CNET is now offering a wide variety of free online technology courses on a variety of computer and other technology related topics. There is a full list of online offerings at classes.cnet.com/all-courses. As I type this, 41 classes are available. Topics are varied, and include, “Build Your Dream PC”, “Build Your Own Game PC”, “Combating Spam and Spyware”, “Create a Budget in Excel”, “Customize and Update your iPod”, “Digital Photo Basics”, “HDTV 101”, “PC Troubleshooting”, “Hybrid Car Buying 101”, “Save VHS Movies to DVD”, “Speed Up your Windows PC”, “Upgrading your Notebook (Laptop)”, “Wireless Basics”, Wireless Security”, and dozens of other technology topics. Many of the courses offer a printable certificate of completion upon successful conclusion of the courses. It should be noted that while all of the courses are free, it does require an online registration process that is available at no charge.

Sampling several of the topics demonstrated the content available. Since wireless networking is the rage, and with almost all new laptop computers now including integral wireless connectivity, I sampled “Wireless Basics” (wireless-basics.workshops.help.com). In the words of CNET, “This course teaches you the essentials of wireless technology, plus you’ll learn how to distribute broadband Internet access among multiple notebook or desktop systems, and take the necessary steps to keep your network protected.” The six lessons on basic wireless are Getting Started with Wireless, Installing the Router, Installing the Wireless Adapter, Configuring Your System, Securing Your Wi-Fi Network, and Sharing Files and Printers on Your Wi-Fi Network. While live participation is not required, the class has a live component scheduled over a two week period on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This course appears to repeat periodically.

Digital cameras are approaching universal, with the use of film cameras rapidly declining. Millions of us have digital cameras, and typically do no more than the simple point-and-shoot function, despite the fact that almost all digital cameras are feature rich. In the online course Digital Photo Basics (digital-photo-basics.workshops.help.com), the student can learn the fine points of digital photography. Information provided in the class will help the user select a digital camera with the desired features, determine what resolution (megapixels) are appropriate, select and use image editing software, photo composition, and proper methods to edit photos for emailing and posting.

A visit to any electronics store will prove the popularity and mass distribution of the new HDTV television sets. While many are experienced in the use of HDTV, to many others it is still a strange new medium. By enrolling in HDTV 101 (hdtv-basics.workshops.help.com), we can learn the fine points of HDTV and improve our viewing pleasure. Personally, I find some of the HDTV terminology and acronyms confusing; for people like me, this course may be most helpful, as the first topic covered in HDTV 101 is a review of the basic terms. Once the terms are mastered, then the online student can learn about the image quality of HDTV and how to make the proper connections. For those of us who do not yet own an HDTV, selecting one might be a daunting task; the lesson on “Size and Features” will provide us with the applicable information to make an informed decision. HDTV programming, which is now becoming more common on local TV as well as on satellite and cable, is covered in a lesson. Many users of HDTV use their new TV as the core of a sophisticated home theater, a lesson covered in the course. For a novice or experienced HDTV user, or someone considering making the substantial purchase of a new unit, the information in this course may prove very helpful.

Periodically I get emails from readers of this column asking me how to convert a collection of now obsolescent and deteriorating VHS video tapes to the more stable DVD media. In the course “Save Video Home Movies to DVD”, (vhs-dvd-movies.workshops.help.com), the participant will learn how to connect a VCR to an analog-to-video converter (a hardware device that coverts the VHS analog format to the DVD digital format), and then connect the device to a PC. Once the video is converted, both the audio and video may need to be edited, which is covered. The final step is burning the edited video to a DVD disc, which completes the course.

I was intrigued by the course “Hybrid Car Buying 101”, (hybrid-car-guide.workshops.help.com) which is under construction as I type this. The syllabus for this course indicates that it explains the technology of hybrid cars, and will provide a buyers’ guide to help the user decide if a hybrid is appropriate.

These are but a few of the dozens of courses available on CNET. With the 41 courses currently listed, and the inevitably of additional courses in the future, CNET classes may be a valuable and worthwhile activity for those who wish to master the technology that we are using widely in our daily lives.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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