In terms of instruction, especially at the beginning, I find it helpful to ask my students why I'm doing something at every step while demonstrating:
- I'm going to open the start menu, why am I going to do that?
- I'm going to click xyz program, why am I going to do that?
Sometimes that leads down a rabbit hole of explanation, but ultimately it serves several purposes:
- if nobody knows the answer as to why I'm doing it then I know it's something that requires more explanation
- if somebody knows the "wrong" information then it's a chance to correct it
- if somebody knows the correct answer it gets said out loud for all the other students to hear
This approach has really helped me to address problems that I wouldn't have otherwise discovered, as it forces me to slow down on a task that I could normally just fly through, and I get immediate feedback every step of the way.
I also like to use categorisation exercises. The students I work with are older, but with that group I find that many of my students do use desktop applications in their personal computer usage. I also find that 99% of the desktop applications they use are video games, but for a simple prompt like:
"What do you do on your computer?"
with hypothetical answers like:
- "Watch YouTube/Netflix"
- "Play League of Legends"
- "Play VALORANT"
Could be put into categories like:
||League of Legends
Now, not everything can be categorised 100% neatly, but this type of activity can help to provide a frame of reference built upon the things they already use/are familiar with. Then you can put any future Desktop Applications that you're going to use in class into the "Desktop Application" column. This can help to solidify why the desktop application is not online even if the understanding is limited to "because it's the same way I open X game".
In terms of prevention, it can be very helpful to determine the initial source of misunderstanding or misinformation.
People who interact with computers for a living often use (and talk about) computers differently than the "average" person. I have found many schools choose to move to a singular technology (because software is expensive). The potential exists that a lot of these students are learning how to interact with these programs from instructors who also don't understand the differences themselves.
For example, we moved from the desktop application versions of the Microsoft Suite (like Microsoft Word) to Microsoft Office 365 several years ago. However, many of the non-computer faculty are still telling students "Open up Microsoft Word" by which they currently mean:
- Open up a web browser
- Log into your Student Account
- Go to the Microsoft Office 365 Link
- Choose Word from the list of Virtual Applications
- Create a new document
Beyond this, many of these courses are entirely contained within a web browser (read: there is no reason to open any other desktop application to complete all of the work for the course). This sometimes results in faculty telling their students things along the lines of "You never need to open anything other than Chrome" (the web browser that is default on the student machines).
Our student work stations are configured to empty various folders on log out. So students need to have their work saved to their cloud storage not on the device itself. Because of this, many of my students are initially uncomfortable having files local to the machine (even temporarily) because they've been repeatedly taught that anything they save to the computer will be lost if it's not in cloud storage.
I say all of this, not to push the issue onto other departments/teachers, but rather that it is useful to know what misinformation the students have. It's good to know if there are students in the classroom who:
- believe they are going to get in trouble for exploring other parts of the computer than the web browser
- believe that opening the Office365 Word web application through their browser is what it means to open a desktop application
- believe that they should never save something to the computer itself for fear of losing it
If you can determine exactly why opening the web browser is the default action for your students you will have an easier time in correcting the behaviour. In my experience, for some students it has been as simple as saying, "I know this is different than most of your classes, but in here you're allowed to do x, y, and z. If you break it we'll figure out how to fix it."