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Computer literacy is the knowledge and ability to use computers and technology efficiently. Computer literacy can also refer to the comfort level someone has with using computer programs and other applications that are associated with computers. Another valuable component of computer literacy is knowing how computers work and operate. As of 2005, having basic computer skills is a significant asset in the developed countries.
The precise definition of "computer literacy" can vary from group to group. Generally, literate (in the realm of books) connotes one who can read any arbitrary book in their native language[s], looking up new words as they are exposed to them. Likewise, an experienced computer professional may consider the ability to self-teach (i.e. to learn arbitrary new programs or tasks as they are encountered) to be central to computer literacy. 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.) Being "literate" and "functional" are generally taken to mean the same thing.
The pervasiveness of computers continues to grow at an outstanding rate. Computers always change; they become smaller, faster and more powerful. These changes have motivated the modern society to become comfortable with basic computer-related skills.
The level of computer literacy one must achieve to gain an advantage over others depends both on the society one is in and one's place in the social hierarchy. Prior to the development of the first computers in the 1950s, the word computer referred to a person who could count, calculate, compute. The fear of some educators today is that computer training in schools will serve only to train data-entry clerks of the next generation, low level workers of the so-called knowledge industries. On the other hand, some hope that enhanced computer literacy will enable a new generation of cultural producers to make meanings and circulate those in the public sphere. The wildfire of cultural production associated with sites such as Youtube seems to support this notion.
Different countries have different needs for computer literate people due to their society standards and level of technology. The world's digital divide is now an uneven one with knowledge nodes such as India disrupting old North/South dichotomies of knowledge and power.
Computer literacy in the first world
Computer literacy is considered to be a very important skill to possess while in the first world. Employers want their workers to have basic computer skills because their company becomes ever more dependent on computers. Many companies try to use computers to help run their company faster and cheaper.
Computers are just as common as pen and paper for writing, especially among youth. For many applications - especially communicating - computers are preferred over pen, paper, and typewriters because of their ability to duplicate and retain information and ease of editing.
As personal computers become common-place and they become more powerful, the concept of computer literacy is moving beyond basic functionality to more powerful applications under the heading of multimedia literacy.
Of course, arguments about computers being common-place in the first world assume that everyone in the first world has equal access to the latest forms of technology. However, there is a pronounced digital divide that separates both physical access to technology and the ability to use that technology effectively.
Where computers are widespread, they are also a part of education. Computers are used in schools for many applications such as writing papers or searching the Internet for information. Computer skills are also a subject being specifically taught in many schools, especially from adolescence onward - when the ability to abstract forms.
One problematic element of many (though not all) "computer literacy" or computer education programs is that they may resort too heavily on rote memorization. Students may be taught, for example, how to perform several common functions (e.g.: Open a file, Save a file, Quit the program) in very specific ways, using one specific version of one specific program. When a graduate of such a program encounters a competing program, or even a different version of the same program, they may be confused or even frightened by the differences from what they learned. This is one reason why major computer and software firms such as Apple Computer and Microsoft consider the educational market important: The often time-limited computer education provided in schools most often lends itself to rote memorization, creating a sort of vendor lock-in effect whereby graduates are afraid to switch to competing computer systems.
Graduates of computer education programs based around rote memorization may be heard asking things such as "just tell me where to click", and may need to rely upon paper notes for some computing tasks. (Example: A note on the monitor reading "Hit 'enter' after power up.") Many such users may need tremendous amounts of "hand-holding" even after years or decades of daily computer use. (This can be especially frustrating for experienced computer users, who are accustomed to figuring out computers largely on their own.) The primary factor preventing such functionally computer illiterate users from self-educating may simply be fear (of losing data through doing the "wrong thing") or lack of motivation; in any case, more technically oriented friends and relatives often find themselves pressed into service as "free tech support" for such users.
In addition to classes, there are many How-to books that cover various aspects of computer training, such as the popular 'For Dummies' series. There are also many websites that devote themselves to this task, such as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Internet. Such tutorials often aim at gradually boosting readers' confidence, while teaching them how to troubleshoot computers, fix security issues, set up networks, and use software.
Aspects of computer literacy
Aspects of computer literacy include:
- what is a computer
- what are its limitations
- what is a program (not necessarily how to program)
- what is an algorithm
- what is computable
- what a computer cannot do
- why computers cannot produce random numbers
- some seemingly simple problems are not
- concurrency and issues with shared data
- Reduce computer literacy needs with Desktop Search
- all computers have the same computing ability with differences in memory capacity and speed
- performance depends on more than CPU clock speed
- understanding the concept of stored data
- what are the real causes of "computer errors"
- the implications of incorrect (buggy) programs
- the implications of using a program incorrectly (garbage in, garbage out)
- issues rising from distributed computing
- computer security
- trojan horse (computing), computer virus, email spoofing, URL spoofing, phishing, etc ...
- what to do when a security certificate is questioned
- password creation (how to avoid bad ones)
- social implications/aspects of computing
- Netiquette (or at least E-mail Etiquette)
- identifying urban legends (and not forwarding them)
- critical assessment of internet sources
- criminal access to financial databases
- keyboarding, mousing (using input devices)
- plugging in and turning the computer on
- using/understanding user-interface elements (e.g., windows, menus, icons, buttons, etc.)
- Composing, editing and printing documents
- the ability to communicate with others using computers through electronic mail (email) or instant messaging services
- managing and editing pictures (from cell phones, digital cameras or even scans)
- Opening files and recognizing different file types
- Multimedia literacy, including, but not limited to:
- making movies
- making sound files
- creating web pages
A higher order of computer literacy involves a user being able to adapt and learn new procedures through various means while using a computer.
Copyright and Fair Use Laws
Copyright and fairuse laws constitute a mammoth part of computer literacies.
It might be considered that the understanding of copyright and fair use is part of computer literacy. That is, a web author might be deprived of agency by not having knowledge of basic copyright and basic fair use. In the US, in order for an item to be copyrighted, it has to be original and fixed. If that is true, then copyright protection is automatic. Therefore, much of the content on the web is copyright protected. Yet, we live in a re-mix culture where ripping, mixing, and burning is the norm. And so, this puts us in a position where the average person is cutting and pasting, and potentially copyright infringing on a regular basis.
Knowledge of fair use then becomes a crucial part of computer literacy, as to use under fair use is to use without copyright infringement. Fair use in the US is defined in section 107 of Title 17 of the copyright act. Four factors are relevant: basically, the purpose of the use, the amount used, the nature of the copyrighted work, and the impact of the use on the potential market of the copyright holder.
Therefore, in order to compose in digital networks, and in a fashion that is literate, one needs basic understanding of copyright and fair use.
The ever-growing processing power of modern computers is used to present the user with an interface that requires minimal computer skills to operate. Modern software often utilizes buttons, icons and elaborate pictographic interfaces to try to achieve a high level of usability. Most of the time people use computers, they do not realize that they are doing so. (Examples: ATMs, car navigation systems, mobile phones, microwave ovens...)
One of the major goals in computer engineering is the construction of a Natural Language Interface, possibly with speech recognition, body language recognition and automatic visualisation. This would eliminate the need for computer literacy in everyday work and life in areas where such machines are available.
- Computer anxiety
- Computer searching
- Computer training
- Digital literacy
- European Computer Driving Licence
- New literacies
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- TFI Specializes in Training and Certification for Basic Computer Literacy
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