anonymous tech woman

Yet another woman in technology blog. I'm actually a developer who uses a variety of Java and database technologies on a variety of platforms.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What does Computer Literate Mean?

I was reading a /. discussion about what it means to be computer literate. Wikipedia has an entry for this and part of it states:
"In common discourse, however, "computer literate" often connotes little more than the ability to use several very specific applications (usually Microsoft Word, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Microsoft Outlook) for certain very well-defined simple tasks, largely by rote. (This is analogous to a child claiming that they "can read" because they have rote-memorized several small children's books. Real problems can arise when such a "computer literate" person encounters a new program for the first time, and large degrees of "hand-holding" will likely be required.)"

I have 4 examples of "computer functionality" versus "computer literacy"

  • My nephew needed some presentation software to do a school project, so I gave him a copy of Ability Office because it was very cheap. He stated "No that he needed Powerpoint" so his mother forked out quite a lot of money for it. Talking to him I found out that he needed the software because his Technology teacher clearly didn't understand that Powerpoint was one form of presentation software and any other software that produced the same result should be used. The Technology Teacher who was in charge of ensuring young minds learnt computer literacy instead taught their students to be "computer functional". My nephew who later that year won a national competition with a group of school friends' is "computer literate". How do I know? On talking to him and seeing him using the competition software with his friends' he explained that the teacher had given them the software but had not shown them how to install or use it, instead they just followed the installation instructions and guessed what to do.

  • I sent a zip file to two friends' both of whom spend very little time on the computer. They both stated they didn't know how to undo the file and install the software that was in it. I therefore wrote an email of instructions and sent it to them both. Only one of them could follow my instructions and get it installed, while the other one phoned me up in distress. In the end I had to install the distressed friend's software myself. What surprised me was at school the distressed friend was thought to be the cleverest due to her grades, yet she had difficulty following step by step instructions. I have also discovered this friend needs lots of hand holding when it comes to using new software and doesn't know that each type of software comes with more than one program. The friend two who installed the software doesn't. Speaking to friend two, she explained that she knew that she wasn't worried if things went wrong because she knew she had other people to talk to and as long as she could navigate her way round the system so people could help her by the phone their was nothing to worry about.
  • I helped out in a school with a class of children a good few years ago. The children had to work out what they wanted to write on an aging BBC computer. One of the children decided to copy a story they wrote down, I attempted to point out to the child that they should write a different story but the child insisted. Anyway the teacher praised the child for using their "initiative" which I thought was highly amusing. Talking to some friends' in teaching I discovered that it was common for many primary teachers at the time to handwrite out documents and then copy the finish document into a word processor. This obviously shows the teachers were "computer functional."

  • I worked with some guys who used Internet Explorer 6. I installed Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 on my work PC. When the guys came over to my computer they looked completely confused as the Internet Explorer was different and couldn't understand how to use it. They showed this by opening and closing the program twice and looking confused before I pointed out that it was Internet Explorer 7. Even then they still couldn't work out how to type in a URL until I did it. Many commentators on the /. discussion stated that everyone who worked in a programming or hardware development level in IT was computer literature, and a minority disagreed. My example shows that even IT developers can be "computer functional"


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