Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Knowledge of measures of data quantity and transmission rate are part of IT literacy

A recent FCC survey found that only 20% of home Internet users know their download speed.

I would argue that being conversant with units of measure for data transmission speed and being generally familiar with the speeds needed for various applications are required for IT literacy.

We know that automobile speed is measured in miles per hour or some other unit of distance/time, and we are familiar with residential and highway speed limits, the top speeds of our cars, etc. Similarly, we know that fuel economy is measured in miles per gallon, kilometers per liter, etc. and we know typical values for economy cars, luxury cars, etc.

An understanding of fuel economy and auto speed is necessary if one is to be a rational consumer or to follow political discussion of energy policy.

One cannot evaluate ISP offerings or have an informed opinion on IT policy without understanding the units of measure for data transmission speed.

We all have a feeling for units of measure for distance -- feet, inches, miles, etc. -- but that is not the case for quantities of data -- bits, bytes, megabits, etc.

Going further, data is augmented with a coding scheme to produce information, and some knowledge of coding schemes, for example of ASCII for text, is needed to make data measures concrete and to impart an idea of the transmission speeds (and storage) required for various applications.

Should all of this be part of the IT literacy curriculum?

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