WHAT!? Computer Literacy should be MORE than learning to use your iPad?

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

Programming vs. “Technology” April 9, 2012, 8:00 am By Robert Talbert

Dumbing Down : Stager-to-Go. Friday, April 6, 2012 By Gary Stager

When Luerhmann coined the term, “computer literacy,” he intended it to mean computer programming the intellectual pursuit of agency over the computer and a means for solving problems.

Don’t believe me? Read this 1980 paper transcribed from a 1972 talk.

Things sped downhill when we removed “computing” from our lexicon and replaced it with “technology” (like a Pez dispenser or Thermos). We quickly degraded that meaningless term, technology, further by modifying it with IT and ICT. Once computing was officially erased from the education of young people, teachers could focus on keyboarding, chatting, looking stuff up, labeling the parts of the computer and making PowerPoint presentations about topics you don’t care about for an audience you will never meet. […]

What kids do get to do with computers tends to be trivial and inservice of the educational status quo. Gone are the days when educational computing conference programs were home to the most progressive thinkers and revolutionary ideas in education. Teachers were considered thought leaders and scholars who were required to write peer-reviewed papers in order to present at such events. Today one merely has to promise 75 quick and easy things to do in 37 minutes with the hottest product being peddled to schools. Another popular topic is incessantly about how your colleagues won’t or can’t use the latest fad.

I hadn’t thought about this this way before. I used to teach a “Computer Literacy” course. I first taught it in 1982 and taught it quite regularly until about 2000. We used to do several weeks on programming. My department, like so many others, ultimately removed that part. Part of the reason was that non-majors hated it and couldn’t see why it was useful. I suspect another part of the reason is that “IT guys” consider themselves the Elite and really don’t like it when someone else knows what they know.

The first ‘excuse’ could have been addressed by letting the students work on more interesting problems. This is a perpetual problem in CS – many of them just don’t understand what might be interesting to someone who isn’t an Über-geek. For that matter, many of them don’t understand what might be interesting to their own students either (hence the decline in student numbers).

That same problem could also have been addressed by explaining why learning to program can be useful even if you will never need to write a program.

These days, everyone should know how to program. Everyone. But ESPECIALLY the teachers.


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