Computer Literacy

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COMPUTER LITERACY: TODAY AND TOMORROW*
Mark Hoffman, Jonathan Blake
Department of Computer Science and Interactive Digital Design CL-AC1, Quinnipiac University
275 Mt. Carmel Avenue
Hamden, CT 06518
Mark.Hoffman@quinnipiac.edu; Jonathan.Blake@quinnipiac.edu
ABSTRACT
Computing and technology departments often offer service courses in Computer Literacythat provide the entire academic communitywiththe opportunityto develop skills in the use of computers. These courses have been around for many years, but all too often they have not been updated to reflect new skills and knowledge that students are now bringing with them. In this paper we chronicle the history of teaching Computer Literacy, and discuss its relationship with the broad topic of Information Literacy. We include the descriptionof a course on the Internet taught at Quinnipiac Universitythat serves as a model for an updated Technology Literacy course incorporating both Computer Literacy and Information Literacy.

INTRODUCTION
As technology educators, we are constantly amazed at the rapidly evolving knowledge base that our students arrive with. Gone are the days where we are forced to concentrate our efforts on basic computer technology. The number of computers in dormrooms across campus is rapidly approaching the number of students in those rooms, and will likely soon eclipse it! What then do we teach students in Computer Literacy courses? The traditional approach, covering the same litany of office applications might not provide our students with what they need. We are concerned that we are simply covering material that our students have already mastered.

Copyright © 2003 by the Consortium for Computing in Small Colleges. Permission to copy without fee all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for direct commercial advantage, the CCSC copyright notice and the title of the publication and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by permission of the Consortium for Computing in Small Colleges. To copy otherwise, or to republish, requires a fee and/or specific permission.

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With that in mind, we have attempted to ascertain student abilities in our technology literacycourse. Froma surveyof skills administered by the authors we know that in rank order students can connect to the World Wide Web (Web), send and receive e-mail, participate in synchronous chat, use a search engine, and create word processing documents. While there might be the occasional student who does not possess some of these basic computing skills, the vast majority does. This knowledge, however, is not based on an understanding of the underlying technology. Our students come to us as simple consumers. Students acquire their technology literacytwo ways: formally through school programs or in the workplace, and informally, whether at home, from friends or by themselves. Our survey shows that formally, students learn how to create and maintain presentation files as part of a course requirement, participate in a threaded discussion or possibly create and maintain Web pages. Informally, however, students use the technology to share what interests them. This represents a muchbroader, diverseset ofskills encompassingeverythingfromsynchronous chat with acquaintances around the globe to "sharing" all manner of media files. This leads us to wonder whether informal instruction is more effective. Clearly, students learn about the technology if they can relate it to their lives. We might further consider the balance between formal and informal acquisition of computer skills: as computing becomes more seamlessly integrated with how we live our lives, and thus mediating our interests, informal acquisition of skills may well become the primary mode for learning about technology. Online computer help sites at many universities[1-3] offerstudents the abilityto informally increase their knowledge about new...
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