If someone asked me whether I considered myself to be computer literate, I would say, “of course.” After all, I feel competent using computers and other technology. I know basic hardware and software terminology. I can troubleshoot pretty well and can do most of the things I want to do with computers by either figuring them out on my own, using the help features provided with a program, or searching for answers on the Web.
I know that I don’t know everything, however. For example, I don’t comprehend or write computer code (yet). I would probably hesitate to open the back of my laptop to put new memory into it (for now). And although I am gaining familiarity with productivity software and Web 2.0 applications, I still have more to learn.
So, what exactly does it mean for someone to be “computer literate?” Shelly, Gunter and Gunter (2012) define computer literacy as having “. . . a current knowledge and understanding of computers and all their uses (p.4.)” The authors also provide in their book extensive information regarding what teachers should know about computers and technology integration.
I agree with the definition provided by Shelly, Gunter and Gunter, but I’d like to add to it. I think computer literacy also has to do with a person’s attitude when it comes to working with computers and technology. People who are truly computer literate, in my opinion, approach technology differently from those who are not computer literate.
Computer literacy is having knowledge and the right attitude
To me, a person who is computer literate doesn’t “freak out,” or throw up his hands if something on the computer doesn’t work the way he wanted or expected it to work – or if the program suddenly freezes or shuts down. He understands that sometimes this happens when working with computers and he troubleshoots the issue, using what he knows about computers to try to resolve the problem. (This doesn’t mean he wouldn’t sometimes like to throw his computer out the window.) 😉
I would also add, after reading Kim Cofino’s blog post, Making the Implicit Explicit, that a computer literate person is aware of the transferability of skills when it comes to using computers. She is able to use her experiential knowledge to quickly and almost intuitively figure out how to use new programs and technology. Cofino addresses this flexible type of thinking by explaining that there are, “. . .things that are common from program to program as well as on multiple operating systems. They’re not specific tasks that you only use once in a while, they’re things we do every day, and those that are comfortable with these skills often find learning new technology tools a lot easier than those that are not.”
Cofino argues that teachers should make these skills and understandings explicit for their students, so the they can become more aware of the skills and transfer their knowledge from one application to another.
Educators need true computer literacy
Cofino expresses her concern about teachers who, themselves, are not computer literate, however, by asking: “ . . . who’s going to be having this discussion with [the students] if their teachers aren’t comfortable with these implicit skills either?”
Developing computer literacy skills, as well as having the right attitude when working with computers, is necessary for all teachers because teachers are role models for students. Being able to work confidently and competently with computers or technology in the classroom adds to a teacher’s credibility with his or her students. If a teacher exhibits befuddlement or frustration around computers, or surrenders all responsibility for operating the computers to the students, he or she is not sending students the right message.
When working with technology, there are always going to be problems. Teachers who can address computer issues with measured confidence have the opportunity to model problem solving, persistence, and creative thinking for their students. They also help their students learn the basics of troubleshooting and trying to figure things out using flexible thinking and logic. This is great practice for students in using Twenty First Century thinking skills!
I believe true computer literacy (knowledge and attitude) can be achieved by everyone. The more teachers, students, parents, administrators understand about using computers, as well as how to approach working with computers, the more confident and comfortable they will feel responding situations that are new or challenging. Cofino refers to this “technology mindset” in response to a comment on her post.
As teachers we must continue to develop our computer literacy, and for those of us who feel comfortable using technology, we must help our colleagues who may not share the same level of knowledge or comfort and “make the implicit explicit” to them, too.
In her post Cofino started a basic list of implicit skills that computer literate or computer savvy users know, and she invites readers to add to the list. Justin James also provides a good check list for all of us in his blog post 10 Things You Have to Know to Be Computer Literate. It is worth checking this list, as well as Cofino’s post to learn what we need to know as teachers.
Combining this knowledge with the right attitude will help us act as role models of true computer literacy for our students, parents, coworkers and others.
Cofino, Kim (2009, December 10). Making the Implicit Explicit. [Web Log post] Retrieved from http://kimcofino.com/blog/2009/12/10/making-the-implicit-explicit/ October 9, 2013.
Shelly, G., Gunter, G. & Gunter, R. (2012) Teachers discovering computers: Integrating technology in a connected world (7th ed.) Boston: Course Technology, Cengage Learning.