Saturday, April 5, 2008

Computer literacy 2.0

First generation computer literacy courses began with the work of Kemeny and Kurtz at Dartmouth College. The computer literacy course generally consisted of a skill portion -- BASIC programming -- and a conceptual portion covering topics like hardware and software, encoding of numeric and text data, applications, and the history and social implications of computers.

These first generation classes were geared to time sharing systems. With the advent of the mass market personal computer, the computer literacy course was revised.

Second generation courses generally dropped the BASIC programming component, substituting skill training with a personal computer operating system and file system and productivity applications -- word processing and spreadsheets, and, to the extent time allowed, database management and making presentations. When we shifted from command line to graphical user interfaces and Microsoft became dominant, this became training with Windows, its file system and Microsoft Office applications. With the Internet we added email and perhaps USENET news and with the Web we added browsing and search.

The proliferation of skill topics has extended that portion of the course, putting pressure on the conceptual portion. It remains, but less time is devoted to it.

For example, on my campus there are two computer literacy courses, one offered by the Business School the other by Computer Science.

CIS 270 Information Systems and Technology Fundamentals.
Provides an introduction to information technology, systems concepts, and application software. Covers system components and relationships, cost/value and quality of information, and package software solutions. Includes basic skills related to operating systems, word processing, spreadsheet software, and the Internet.
CSC 101 Introduction to Computer Education.
A computer literacy course designed to familiarize the learner with a variety of computer tools and computer concepts with emphasis on utilizing packaged programs. This course provides an introduction to the use of computers, common software programs and peripherals. Students are instructed in the use of a word processor, drawing programs, spreadsheet, database, presentation tools, internet applications and statistical package in scientific applications.
Both of these courses have two textbooks, one for Office applications, the other for computer concepts. Today's student often has skills with Windows, word processing, and various Internet applications, and the Internet has clearly emerged as a platform for developing and delivering applications. Courses like these are no longer appropriate.

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