Digital Skills award

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Digital Skills award using free, libre open source software.

In terms of learning computer skills,  many courses are based on non free, software such as that from Microsoft, and non privacy respecting social networks such as  Facebook and Twitter.  I have taken the Digital Skills award course content description (as found on the Learndirect website) and created this page to cover the same set of skills but using free software (in the FSF sense) and privacy respecting services.

This information may also be useful for anyone using free software as if you can satisfy the course curriculum then it should not matter what software you are using.

Quoted from the Learndirect site.,

— Block quote start —

This qualification is made up of four units – two mandatory and two optional. The two mandatory units are:

  • Computer basics: understand the desktop and how to create and print documents.

  • Online basics: get on line, search on line, make purchases, and send and receive emails.

    The five optional units are:

  • Social networking: understand personal profiles and groups, post messages and photos, and upload videos.

  • Digital photography: take photos, organise photo collections and carry out simple editing.

  • Digital music: manage and organise digital music collections and purchase music online.

  • Digital media: create CDs and DVDs using a computer, upload and share files and collaborate online.

  • Audio and video software: understand how to use a digital video camera, and edit and compile clips using movie editing software.

— Block quote end —


Computer basics: understand the desktop and how to create and print documents.

If you are using free software then you are probably using one of the many GNU / Linux distributions out there,  as there are too many to cover individually the basics of a desktop are the same.


Here we have a screen shot of the Linuxmint 18.2 XFCE desktop.

As with other systems the desktop has various icons,  a tool bar at the bottom (even thought you can change its location) to allow access to software,  and various tools etc that make up your system.   In the bottom left there is a button, that, when clicked produces a menu so you can load software.

The desktop by default provides a link to your home directory,  and if enabled a rubbish bin,  you can drag and drop unwanted files here for deletion when you right click and select empty wastebasket.

As with other systems, if you want to remove an external device you need to right click and eject the device.



Most GNU /. Linux systems such as Linux mint have a comprehensive office suite per-installed.  in this case it is a package called Libreoffice.  To load this click on the menu button in the corner,  and the menu will pop up,   all the different programs are in categories, so go to office and select Libreoffice-writer.

The software looks pretty much like other office suites,  the menu and button bars give access to various options and functions of the software.   In this case we just need to enter some text and print, so go ahead and type

This is my first document

You can then go ahead and print the document however before doing so lets save it.  Click the file menu and select Save_as.

Enter a file name in the top box and where it says “All Formats” this is a drop down, select this and choose Open document format odf” we want to use a file format that uses open standards.  Click save and you will be returned to your document window.

Now we can print so as before click File->Print

The print dialogue box will then appear.

Your printer should be set up as the default printer and be highlighted so as we are only printing something very basic,  then you should be able to click OK.  However lets not waste paper by printing a single line of text.

Feel free to go back and enter more text,  and use formatting tools such as centering, bold, italics etc to create a more comprehensive document.


Online basics: get online, search online, make purchases, and send and receive emails.

What we can now look at is getting on to the Internet.


There are several options to getting on line:-

  1. Mobile Internet
  2. Public wifi
  3. Libraries and or community centres
  4. Home Internet connection

You should consult help from your tutor who can explain the above and the risks of each,   for example public w-ifi may not be the best way to access Internet Banking,   The same would apply to computers in libraries or community centres,   unless you take precautions to protect your browsing history or data entered in to forms.


Linux mint does NOT come with Microsoft Internet Explorer or Edge browsers,  it does however come with Mozilla Firefox, which is Free software and created by the Mozilla Foundation.

Again click on the Button in the left hand corner and go to Internet and Select Firefox from the menu.

We have the Firefox browser with one important change the the usual search tools.  We are using duckduckgo, (ddg) which has the important feature of not tracking you,  so this search tool helps maintain privacy and helps control your digital footprint.  It is easy to set your default search engine,  and if ddg is not  default then you can easily set it as such.

Duckduckgo also has various options to set safe search etc.  If you click the 3 horizontal lines in the corner,  select other settings,  you get to the settings page ( ) .   This should not really be beyond the scope of the course,  if it is, then this can be seen as an additional essential skill.

To go back to the main search page should a case of clicking on the back arrow button in the browser.  There is a single search box in to which,  you can type what you want to look for.

If you are using a public computer,  consider switching to ddg before starting your search.



Buying goods online should be easy,  however you need to consider the following:-


You can access the government portal at  note the https. this indicates the website is a secure website.   From this website you can access a very wide range of services from applying for documents,  state benefits,   changing personal details etc.


If you have an account with your Internet service provider then this should be sufficient. You can usually login to a website to send / check e-mails or set up an e-mail client to do this.  If you need help please ask your tutor, you will need your login details (which your ISP will have provided) for this. Remember as part of this process you will probbably need to enter your user name &  password,  therefore DO NOT share this if with the Tutor or person helping you.

If you prefer, you can sign up with a different e-mail service.  As this article is trying to cover privacy then services such as Protonmail could be an option here as it is encrypted.  An alternative to this is to use software such as enigmail, ,which is an extension to Thunderbird that allows e-mails to be encrypted or signed digitally.  The process for this can be complex for beginners.  However help is available and the software is well documented.

You don’t need to encrypt all your e-mails,  however we use this feature at the tech jam if we need to send passwords to each other,  we can send an e-mail containing the password, encrypt the e-mail so only the intended  recipient can access that information.   Sending unencrypted passwords over e-mail is a very very bad idea and should not ever be advocated.  If a site sends you a password in plain text then you should perhaps stop using that website.