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Computer Skills

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Learning and Teaching Information Technology--Computer Skills in Context. ERIC Digest.
There is clear and widespread agreement among the public and educators that all students need to be proficient computer users or "computer literate." However, while districts are spending a great deal of money on technology, there seems to be only a vague notion of what computer literacy really means. Can the student who operates a computer well enough to play a game, send e-mail or surf the Web be considered computer literate? Will a student who uses computers in school only for running tutorials or an integrated learning system have the skills necessary to survive in our society? Will the ability to do basic word processing be sufficient for students entering the workplace or post-secondary education?

Clearly not. In too many schools, teachers and students still use computers only as the equivalent of expensive flash cards, electronic worksheets, or as little more than a typewriter. The productivity side of computer use in the general content area curriculum is neglected or grossly underdeveloped (Moursund, 1995).

Recent publications by educational associations are advocating for a more meaningful use of technology in schools (ISTE, 2000). Educational technologists are clearly describing what students should know and be able to do with technology. They are advocating integrating computer skills into the content areas, proclaiming that computer skills should not be taught in isolation and that separate "computer classes" do not really help students learn to apply computer skills in meaningful ways. There is increasing recognition that the end result of computer literacy is not knowing how to operate computers, but to use technology as a tool for organization, communication, research, and problem solving. This is an important shift in approach and emphasis.

Moving from teaching isolated technology skills to an integrated approach is an important step that takes a great deal of planning and effort. Fortunately, we have a model for doing so. Over the past 25 years, library media professionals have worked hard to move from teaching isolated "library skills" to teaching integrated "information skills." They found that information skills can be integrated effectively when the skills (1) directly relate to the content area curriculum and to classroom assignments, and (2) are tied together in a logical and systematic information process model.

Schools seeking to move from isolated information technology skills instruction will also need to focus on both of these requirements. Successful integrated information skills programs are designed around collaborative projects jointly planned and taught by teachers and library media professionals. Information technology skills instruction can and should be imbedded in such a curriculum. Library media specialists, computer teachers, and classroom teachers need to work together to develop units and lessons that will include both technology skills, information skills, and content-area curriculum outcomes.

A meaningful, unified information technology literacy curriculum must be more than a "laundry list" of isolated skills, such as knowing the parts of the computer, writing drafts and final products with a word processor, and searching for information using the World Wide Web.

While these specific skills are important for students to learn, the "laundry list" approach does not provide an adequate model for students to transfer and apply skills from situation to situation. These curricula address the "how" of computer use, but rarely the "when" or "why." Students may learn isolated skills and tools, but they would still lack an understanding of how those various skills fit together to solve problems and complete tasks. Students need to be able to use computers and other technologies flexibly, creatively and purposefully. All learners should be able to recognize what they need to accomplish, determine whether a computer will help them to do so, and then be able to use the computer as part of the process of accomplishing their task. Individual computer skills take on a new meaning when they are integrated within this type of information problem-solving process, and students develop true "information technology literacy" because they have genuinely applied various information technology skills as part of the learning process.

The curriculum outlined on pages 2-3 of this ERIC Digest, "Technology Skills for Information Problem Solving," demonstrates how technology literacy skills can fit within an information literacy skills context (American Association of School Librarians, 1998). The baseline information literacy context is the Big6 process (see sidebar and Eisenberg & Berkowitz, 1988, 1992, 1999, 2000). The various technology skills are adapted from the International Society for Technology in Education's National Educational Technology Standards for Students (2000) and the Mankato Schools Information Literacy Curriculum Guideline. Students might reasonably be expected to authentically demonstrate these basic computer skills before graduation.

Some technology literacy competencies that may be relevant in some situations include: (1) knowing the basic operation, terminology, and maintenance of equipment, (2) knowing how to use computer-assisted instructional programs, (3) having knowledge of the impact of technology on careers, society, and culture (as a direct instructional objective), and (4) computer programming.

Defining and describing technology skills is only a first step in assuring all our children become proficient information and technology users. A teacher-supported scope and sequence of skills, well designed projects, and effective assessments are also critical. Equally essential is collaboration among classroom teachers, teacher librarians, and technology teachers in order to present students with a unified and integrated approach to ensure that all children master the skills they will need to thrive in an information rich future (Eisenberg & Lowe, 1999).…...

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