Computers Essay Research Paper Computer LiteracyBody of

Computers Essay, Research Paper

Computer Literacy:

Body of Knowledge or Myth

Table of Contents

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Historical Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Case Study Bubba College . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

Regional Survey and Review of Current Textbooks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7

Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12

Materials Used . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

Other References and Sources of Material on the subject . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

Appendix A. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16

Appendix B. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20


Agnst College is in the process of creating and implementing a revised computer literacy course called CIS110: Computer Literacy. A debate of what computer literacy is led to this report. In this report we hope to reexamine the issues of computer literacy and, in some small way, define a body of knowledge which may offer an educational framework for educators as we approach the new millennium. Is computer literacy still following the cycle of hardware, software, data, procedures, and people, or has it morphed into a new definition? Does computer literacy include the understanding and knowledge of the five components, or has it been reduced in scope? What is today s definition of computer literacy anyway?

Computer Literacy Historical Background

The modern computer industry has enjoyed a relatively short but distinctly dynamic history. The history of the electronic computer had its beginnings with the invention of the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) between the years 1943 to 1946 by Dr. John W. Mauchley and J. Presper Eckert Jr. The ENIAC was a monstrosity of wires, cables, blinking lights, capacitors, and diodes that took up enormous space to do less than today s notebook computers. We certainly have come a long way in a very short fifty years.

We recognize that computing has evolved into a computer based information system (CBIS) that is made up of the five components of hardware, software, data, procedures, and people. The evolution and development of computing has roughly followed the same sequencing of these components. We also believe that the associated literacy of computers has followed this same order. In other words, computer literacy encompassed knowing and understanding all five components. Literacy is defined as having the knowledge and understanding of a particular subject.

The early focus of computers was the development of hardware that could do something with some acceptable level of MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures). Due to the high failure rate of the over 18,000 vacuum tubes from the heat they emitted, it seemed that computing was reduced to a race between completing a calculation and replacing the blown tubes. The computer won most of the contests since the MTBF was a mere seven minutes. Subsequently, computers replaced the tabulating equipment which predated them only when the invention of solid state technology (transistor, integrated circuit, and finally microchip) replaced the vacuum tube and mechanical switch which characterized the first generation ENIAC and MARK I.

The improving hardware was made useful primarily to business by focusing on software that gave us progressively more effective programming languages. In the decades beginning in the mid 1950 s we saw the introduction of FORTRAN, COBOL, BASIC, PASCAL and over 200 different programming languages to meet the needs of business, government and education through computer implementation and use. During the late 1950s as the number of computer literate people began to increase, a common joke was last year I couldn t spell programmer, now I are one . Thus, computer literacy began and continued into the 1980 s to be associated with the ability to program a computer to do something useful or at the very least entertaining (remember the pong game?). This was further supported with the absence of a focus on the history of the development and use of information technology and the social and ethical issues which began to surround the industry as a whole.

The emphasis on data as a major corporate resource and a significant necessary asset for all levels of government began as improvements in computer software and data communications allowed the sharing and mining of a variety of far reaching databases.

Storing data separate and independent of the programs that would have access to it became the center of attention in computer development. Combined with improved data communications capabilities, an entirely revolutionary marketing and information reporting capability was created.

Footnote to history: much of the computer-based data was converted from systems that had been based on the punched card (invented in 1880 by Herman Hollerith to tabulate the 1890 census) that held only 80 characters. We conserved data space in the data capture of the 1940 s to 1960 s by only capturing the last two digits of the year and programming in the nineteen as needed for a four digit year representation. Hence the creation of the Y2K problem of today.

Until the 1970s computer literacy, as well as the emphasis on procedures and people, had been, by the nature of the industry, limited. Mainframe, Super, and Mini Computers used by businesses, government, and schools were programmed and operated by computer experts who accepted input from users and returned to them the output produced by computer processing in the form of reports and access to updated data. It took Dr. Ted Huff who worked for the Intel Corporation to truly revolutionize the information systems industry. His invention and development of an effective microchip based microprocessor allowed for the development of a much smaller computer: the personal computer.

The concept of universal computer literacy required the development of the first personal computer by two college students in California who named their company after a summer job picking apples in Oregon where they earned $1500 with which they built that first computer. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer Corporation in 1976. Because of the highly graphic nature of the new Apples, (due to the Graphic User Interface or GUI), the new computers became the standard in the world of PCs. Apples started to become more commonplace within the educational environment and learning how to use the computer became a cornerstone of computer literacy.

Despite Apple s success in the educational world, it would take Bill Gates and Microsoft to open the world of business to computers in the 1980s. When IBM asked Bill Gates and Microsoft to develop an operating system for the PC, a new computer literacy standard was about to be created. As PCs became more common, new programs provided the tools to create documents and manipulate data. Microsoft lead this new development by helping to create personal productivity tools (PPT) that were packaged into suites of programs that linked document creation to graphics which incorporated spreadsheets, which provided the opportunity to include them all into presentations. Adding Internet access, browsers, and their total interconnectivity, you have today s PPTs. The availability of truly affordable personal computing power, coupled with the expanded data communications capability offered by technological advances, has changed forever our interaction with the five components of computer literacy.

Case History Bubba College

The use of computer literacy within a curriculum during the last 15 years is reflected by the changes and adjustments made at Bubba College. The college focuses primarily on the study of business but does show the progression of the content and delivery of material generally accepted as computer literacy. This review will identify the changes between the early 1980 s and the present based upon recent personal communications with Bubba faculty, personal knowledge and participation of that evolution by co-author Dr. .

Technology support on campus in the early 1980 s consisted of primarily minicomputers networked to dumb terminals and shared printing capability. Learning the fundamentals of computer information systems was a required three credit hour course. The course included the concepts of technology including the areas of data representation and the historical development of computer hardware and software technology as well as a focus on the ethics and social implications of computers and their use. The hands-on portion of the course (approximately 1/3 of the contact time) included learning to design, write, and debug programs written in the BASIC Programming language. At that time, most educators accepted this course as an appropriate introduction to computers and their use. The Data Processing Management Association (DPMA) had included this as the first course in a Computer Information System (CIS) Curriculum. The programming module included in the course was later updated to include use of the fourth generation language SQL to program an Oracle Database Management System.

The rapid expansion and availability of affordable computers and software in the area of personal productivity tools (word processing, spreadsheet, and database programs) changed forever the nature of computers and the education and training in their use by an ever-increasing number of individuals. The adaptation at Bubba College was to add a series of three five-week hands-on training classes. The software of choice at that time was WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, and dBase. A faculty member gave this training and attendance was optional to the students. The requirement was that each student successfully completes a timed proficiency test in the three software products by his or her third semester. This training did not carry college credits.

The growth in the complexity, sophistication, and availability of PPTs resulted in continued development of the curriculum at the school. With the introduction of the Windows based products by Microsoft and the expanded availability and use of the Internet, more educational time and focus were required in the area of PPTs and their use. The result is that the three-hour course in fundamentals of computer information systems continues using high-level Microsoft Access projects to teach the fundamentals of database use and programming. Three one credit hour courses are now used to individually teach the principles and use of the three types of PPTs: word-processing, spreadsheet, and database as well as Internet research skills. This series of courses currently uses the Microsoft Office Suite of productivity tools.

The chronological development described for Bubba College reflects, in a significant way, the increasing demands placed on our educators and students to incorporate computer literacy and skills into our curriculum. The benefits to the students and the educational institution are many and varied. First, is the increased productivity available in the daily acquisition of information and knowledge through research, communication, and collaboration over the Internet. Second, is the use of word-processing software in the preparation of higher quality written reports and communications. The understanding of mathematical representation and processing through spreadsheet software and data storage and retrieval through database use offers the opportunity for the use of technology across the curriculum.

The development and use of technology by the students requires the continuing adaptation and use of technology by the faculty who educates those students. This has been an on-going process at Bubba College for the last 15+ years.

Regional Course Survey

And Review of Current Textbooks

A mixture of sixty colleges and universities within the states of New Mexico, California, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming were selected as a beginning point for the research. The selection of the sixty schools was accomplished in a most scientific manner: the catalogs held by the Dean of the College at Agnst College became the sample pool. Of these sixty, every fifth organization was randomly selected by casting a die to determine a starting place. The master listing of all catalogs were not in any particular order, alphabetical or otherwise. The pool of catalogs represented schools within a six hundred-mile range of central Mississippi.

Phone calls were placed to the department that taught the equivalent of a CIS basic level course with a course number at or below 200. Syllabi were requested from twelve schools with nine submitting the requested syllabi.

A review was conducted concerning the course objectives for each syllabus received. Appendix A details the course descriptions and/or objectives of each syllabus received. This information is consolidated in Table 1, reflecting the majority of objectives dealing with Office 97 applications, using the Internet, and fundamental computer concepts covering hardware and software terminology. Few objectives included DOS, networks, and management of information systems. Only one course restricted itself with one PPT: MS Works 3.0. (The authors wish to note that the colleges and universities responding to our requests may be in the process of updating their current syllabus.)

Table 1.

CIS Course Objectives

Internet Use Office 97 Applications Computer Concepts: H/W and S/W Windows95 Op Sys Programming Languages Intro to DOS Networks MS Works MIS Mgmt and Terminology Ethics in IS

xxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xx x x x x x xx

A text review (Table 2) for the courses reflected the choice of texts centered on PPT books. With the preponderance of PPT orientation, it is no wonder that Office 97 (by various authors) was the text of choice within the application framework of the courses. The single course without a text dealt strictly with Internet usage and was the only course with a CIS moniker.

Table 2.

CIS Course Texts

Text Title (Abbreviated) Times Chosen

Microsoft Office 97 Intro or Professional 5

Principles of Information Systems 1

MS Works 3.0 for Windows 1

Using Information Technology, Brief Version 1

No Text Chosen 1

In addition to reviewing the syllabi and text selections for the courses, seven texts were chosen that reflect the most up-to-date information on computers and technology. Publishers of computer texts recommended these texts for the development and implementation of a CIS110 level computer course. A topical review (Appendix B) was completed on each of the texts. Topics had to be discussed at length (a chapter or five or more pages dedicated to the topic) within the text to be listed.

A review was then completed comparing what topics were covered in the recommended texts and the course objectives of the basic computer courses submitted. Table 3 reflects this review by placing percentages of coverage per topic by the reviewed texts and the coverage of topics included in the course objectives. In this review, the course description or objectives had to match the text coverage topic virtually word-for-word. It is also understood that any of the courses could provide coverage of textbook topics, but unless it was specifically stated, the possibility was discounted. (For example, one course mentioned societal issues of computer usage, which could be interpreted to include privacy issues, which is a topic covered by 57 percent of the texts. In our review, societal issues did not equate to privacy issues.)

Table 3.

Topic Coverage Comparison

Text Topic Text Coverage Course Objective CoverageConcepts 100% 33%Data Manipulation 100% 0%Hardware 100% 56%Internet 100% 44%Networking 100% 11%Systems 100% 11%Software 100% 56%PPT 86% 78%Careers 71% 0%Privacy 57% 0%History 43% 0%Ethics 29% 22%Programming Languages 0% 11%DOS 0% 11%IS 0% 11%

Relatively high course coverage percentages (above 30%) did parallel high text coverage (85% and above) in several topics: PPTs, hardware, software, Internet, and concepts. Areas receiving 100 percent coverage in texts but poor coverage by the courses (less than 30%) included systems, data manipulation, and networking. Textual topics with a coverage of between 50-80 percent and were not covered by the courses included careers, and privacy. Poorly covered textual topics, less than 50 percent, were also poorly covered by the courses, including history, ethics, languages, DOS, and information systems (IS).

From a purely academic point of view, this review, albeit small, could lead one to believe that computer literacy is being redirected towards skills in using the computer to accomplish activities and away from the focus of understanding how the computer works.


Our research reflects a movement away from a more traditional teaching viewpoint of computer literacy and toward a curriculum, which includes much more hands-on training in the use of personal productivity tools, and the Internet. This shift is reflected in the textbook topics as shown in Appendix B. Virtually all of the seven reviewed texts included the topics of hardware, software, systems, data manipulation, networking and Internet. Only 2 of the 7 included a section on ethics, 3 of the 7 included sections on privacy, concepts, and history and 4 of the 7 included topics on careers in computers. These texts are intended to be used with supporting material for hands-on training in a variety of personal productivity tools in the area of word-processing, spreadsheet, and database management.

The problem with a curriculum that sacrifices concepts and ideas for specific product training is the lack of preparation for change and education in the basic principles and concepts that will carry forward through the life of many software products. To add the Internet to a course of study and remove the major issues of privacy and ethics would seem to be short sighted at best and a contradiction at worst. To decrease the focus on the history of information systems, as Y2K becomes a billion-dollar problem for government and business users of information systems, appears to be potentially a step backwards.

This report has succeeded, we hope, in identifying the nature of computer literacy and how it has changed over time. The major problem appears to be an increasing demand on educators to add more and more to what our students need to know without the time and resources to do so. Computer literacy cannot increase from a three to a six to a nine credit hour course as more and more topics and needs are identified over time. It appears that as we approach the new millennium we do need to include the personal productivity tools and the Internet to equip our students for both school and their life after graduation. If we can balance in-class contact hours (including hands-on use of computers) with outside class use of available technology resources we can hopefully fulfill the student needs. This would appear to be possible with a three credit hour course which includes approximately one half hands-on time.

It would seem that computer literacy is only a myth if educators allow the demand for personal productivity tool training to take all the available time and allow no time for principles and concepts in information technology.


The trend over the last few years appears to reflect the increased coupling of PPT (Personal Productivity Tools) including word-processing, spreadsheet analysis, database design with the use of the Internet for communications and research. This continuing trend has altered in a very significant way the education of college students in the area of information technology. The traditional information systems technology was primarily the effective centralized use of computers to provide solutions to a variety of business and informational needs. Computer literacy included some significant focus on the history of computer technology as well as the impact of computers on society and the ethical use of computers and the information that they make available. The concepts of computer hardware, software, data, and data communications were also included along with how data was represented and stored by a digital computer. Computer development was defined as a series of generations identified by specific hardware and software innovations. If there were a body of knowledge, which traditionally represented computer literacy, the above topics augmented with some introduction to the design and writing of computer programs would have been included.

With the introduction and widespread use of personal computers along with the associated software productivity tools, the applied definition of computer literacy has changed. Based upon the review of the course objectives and descriptions, the focus is on the ability to operate the devices and run the software with a minimum knowledge of principles and concepts despite what literacy is provided by the texts. This trend began and has continued for a variety of reasons including the following:

1.) the marketing efforts of the producers of the hardware and software products such as personal computers and Windows 95, 98, and now 2000 along with the Office suite of tools supported;

2.) the general impression among students and others that knowledge and skill in the use of the tools is the same as computer literacy;

3.) it is easier and more fun for the student to be trained in the use of the software tools than it is to learn the principles and concepts associated with information systems technology and,

4.) it is easier to train students in the use of software tools than to educate them in the concepts and principles of information systems.

Computer literacy is changing and will continue to change as the computer and its applications change. What was once a clearly stated cyclic process of learning computer operations, has been turned upside down. The cycle does not start with hardware, but with people and their ability to accomplish a task. The ability to use programs to produce a product (reports, new programs, graphics, research, etc.) seems to be far more important that who invented COBOL, or who designed the first microchip processor. Being computer literate is synonymous with being able to do something. The why portion seems to be forgotten.

Materials Used

Beekman, G. (1999). Computer confluence: exploring tomorrow s technology. (3rd ed). New York: Addison Wesley.

Hutchinson, S.E. & Sawyer, S.C. (1998). Computers, communications, and information: a user s introduction. (Rev. ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.

Long, L., & Long, N. (1999). Computers: brief edition. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

O Leary, T.J., & O Leary, L.I. (1999). Computing essentials 1999 2000. Boston: McGraw Hill.

Parsons, J.J., & Oja, D. (1998). Computer Concepts. (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Course Technology.

Parsons, J.J., Oja, D., & Low, S. (1999). Computers, technology, and society. (2nd ed). Cambridge: Course Technology.

Williams, B.K., Sawyer, S.C., & Hutchinson, S.E. (1999). Using information technology: a practical introduction to computers and communications (3rd ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.


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