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It’s a brave new world during these days of quarantine, and for the technology-challenged among us, it can be daunting to keep up. If you’re willing to learn a few basics, there’s a world of free and low-cost workshops on the cyberweb that can help you exercise your brain and give you new skills.

(More than) the basics at Goodwill Community Foundation

The Goodwill Community Foundation and Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina originally created this series of tutorials and classes for the patrons of Goodwill’s rehabilitation and ready-to-work programs, but they are also free for general public use. It’s a Computers 101 group of tutorials covering things like the basics of Skype and quick design tips that can be helpful for those new to programs like Photoshop. The tutorials can help people who might be overwhelmed with having to use new-to-them software to make their newly remote working world work. There are tutorials available in several languages that are hard to find through other free resources, including Arabic and Dutch. The Chicago branch’s website includes local financial help information and was recently updated with a list of COVID-19 resource links. 

Who’s Zoomin’ whom?

Zoom is just one of the many video conferencing platforms that are free to use (whither WebEx?), but it’s quickly become a go-to for a lot of personal and professional meetings. As with almost every piece of machinery or software ever created, most people’s problems with and questions about using Zoom would be answered if they just read the support documents, which include how-to-get-started tutorials. What does this button do? How do I see all the people on this conference? Read the support documents! Zoom actually rewrote theirs in the last month to make an even easier “this is how we do this” explainer for all their new users. I also like to point people to Owl Labs’s website. They’re a Massachusetts-based company that makes remote-meeting hardware, and in March they created a great one-sheet how-to on Zoom for their blog. 

All right you MOOCs

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are classes created specifically with an unlimited number of students and participation across the web in mind. While the origins of MOOCs come from the open web movement (to keep source material open and available for anyone to use and redistribute in the original spirit of the Internet), many colleges and universities have adopted the model as a way to have the public interact with their creative material. Keep in mind that most of the universities offering these free versions of past courses will not offer you credit unless you’re currently enrolled as a tuition-paying student. Several classes that are perennially available are listed at the Open Culture website (an online resource for web learners), including a class in organizational leadership originally taught through Northwestern University, and audio versions of many of Leo Strauss’s University of Chicago lectures on philosophy. 

Plants, masks, and belly dancers

Some local nonprofits have also started creating online learning content. Most of these classes are available for a small fee that benefits the teachers and the organization. Plant Chicago in Back of the Yards is offering a few onetime workshops dedicated to gardening at home: Build an Earth Bucket (also known as a container garden) on Saturday, April 25, and Growing Microgreens at Home on Sunday, May 17. Edgewater’s art space 6018 North has made online space for the artists from its “In Flux: Chicago Artists and Immigration” exhibition that was supposed to be on view at the Chicago Cultural Center until May. Artist Aram Han Sifuentes will be conducting a mask-making workshop and work session via Zoom on Saturday, April 25. And the venerable Old Town School of Folk Music continues its well-loved music classes and dance workshops on the Web. Some unique upcoming classes include Introduction to Slide Guitar and Egyptian Belly Dancing.  v