Tech Tuesday: RTFM

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 

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Is it obvious that there is nothing sacred in geek culture?  In many (but not most) IT departments and technology companies you can shoot a Nerf gun or wear this t-shirt (or this one or this one) without fear of reprisal.  Of course, if you have ever watched Big Bang Theory, you have witnessed this sacrilegious culture.  While shows like this are clearly caricatures designed for television, there is no doubt that profanity is a part of standard geek culture.

The title for this post is RTFM.  This stands for “Read The Fine Manual”.  Actually, no it doesn’t.  You just got the G-rated version.

In the IT industry about 80% of users use only 20% of the features of their software.  I have never been able to find a source for this statistic and since 67% of statistics are made up, this one probably is too.  (In the last sentence, 100% of the statistics were made up.)  All jokes aside, you can learn a lot from the manual.

The concept of a manual is a little looser than it used to be.  You don’t get a physical manual when you buy something any more!  Here are few quick tips for where to find manuals and when to use them.

  • YouTube – You can watch someone do anything!  If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a video is worth 10,000.  You can watch someone hack a wireless password, set up a meeting in Outlook, learn how to use a Pivot Table in Excel and so much more.  Use YouTube or a similar video site to learn a specific skill or task.
  • Product Websites – Most large companies offer an online manual that can be accessed through the Help menu in the program or directly.  You might like the fact that Microsoft has a whole training suite for Office.  Google can teach you how to search.  It really doesn’t matter what software you are using, most have online manuals.  Use product websites for comprehensive training or very specific questions.
  • Forums – There are many places on the web where people share their problems and get solutions.  Use forums when you are having a problem.  You’re probably not the first person to have that problem.
  • In Software – There is usually a help button or menu in each piece of software.  Microsoft Office has a blue circle with a question mark in the right corner.  Some buttons, when you mouse over them, tell you that you can push F1 for more help.  It takes you to the help page for that specific button.  Use In Software manuals for specific questions.
  • Discipline Specific – I am a teacher in the Computer & Information Technologies department.  I have curated my own list of resources.  Over time, be sure to keep track of the resources that are helpful in your discipline.

My grandfather is a master of manuals.  He got a Nexus 10 for Christmas.  Next thing I knew he had printed out the 100 page manual and was hole punching it to put it in a three-ring binder.  He spent the next few days in his recliner learning how to use his tablet.  I learned more from him about the Android operating system in those three days than I learned in the previous 3 years as a user.  You may not have the time (or the paper!) for this, but a little bit of self-training goes a long way!  Next time you need to learn to use something new, try these steps.

  • Read what comes with the product. – There isn’t much these days, but it can be really useful!  Read the front matter of a textbook to learn what tools and resources are available to you.  Breeze through the manual for that new bread machine.  Mine has a chart in it to diagnose problems with your loaves.
  • Collect any other information that is available.  – If there is an addendum to the manual online, bookmark it or download for future use.
  • Find an expert.  – Follow a blog written by an expert.  Subscribe to a YouTube channel.  You get the idea.
  • Get a plan.  – Sometimes extensive self-training is required.  For example, if you want to learn to touch type, secure a resource, then talk to your boss.  I’ll put $10 on him/her letting you spend 20 minutes of your workday learning to touch type.  Schedule time in your day.  For real.  On your calendar.  Pretend it is a doctor’s appointment.  If it is important enough for you to learn something new, make it a priority.

RTFM.  I promise not to use that as a response when you ask me a question.

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3 comments on “Tech Tuesday: RTFM

  1. Brian says:

    The pithy and anecdotal flavor is superb. Two memories flashed to mind in particular from this multi-layered gem. One is from our tech, Jason Lee, a week ago when I told him I couldn’t get my font in the new email system to stop putting all my typing into italics. He fiddled with it a bit and then went Googling to find the answer. I loved it. Here was a master who didn’t mind the plebeian task of Googling. The other memory is from my wife buying a car and reading the manual in the evenings for days, even out loud to me: “Did you know that the car will…..?” I felt that kindred spirit with your grandfather and the Android.

  2. Kristen Lancaster says:

    Thanks Brian!

  3. Thanks, Kristen…your tips are the highlight of the week. We instructors often complain about students who fail to read the “manual” (syllabus) for our courses. That’s the topic of tomorrow’s post. Funny how these things work out without our planning.

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