Digital literacy

Teaching life-long computer skills in our schools offers further benefit in that it gives students insights that they’re unlikely to pick up on their own. In contrast, as software gets steadily easier to use, anyone will be able to figure out how to draw a pie chart. People will learn how to use features on their own, when they need them—and thus have the motivation to hunt for them. It’s the conceptual things that get endlessly deferred without the impetus of formal education.

From Jakob Nielsen’s view about what young people should learn in School about computers.

Predictably, Nielsen lists search skills and the elements of usability design to his list (and I think he is right). I’d add producing edited sound and video, and being able to produce screens that make sense. I’d also bring back some kind of programming linked to Maths lessons. I learned a lot about Maths once I had access to computer algebra systems at university – I also learned a lot about chaotic dynamics by writing short programs to investigate attractors and iterated systems. A computer can be a ‘mathescope’, like a microscopefor biology or a telescope for astronomy.

The spreadsheet is the most accessible environment for ‘programming’ like tasks (including Nielsen’s concept of ‘debugging’) so watch out for a few investigations….

There needs to be some instruction about networked interactions; security, identity (lots of opportunities for ethics and civics tie-ins there as the legal framework in the UK is a bit odd) and self-presentation through personal Web sites. Forums and wikis could be used as ways of exploring community building – wikis don’t enforce conformity by restricting what you can do, instead you have to negotiate and discuss ground rules and stick to them. Conventions rather than enforced behaviours.

For my adult students, a pressing need is simply how to learn using online systems; VLEs or other resources. Skills in evaluation of the quality of information on the World Wild Web are essential, and so it the self-knowledge to select information that is useful (right level, right topic, some test of learning). That means a transparent discussion of learning theory – or bits of it that are useful at the right time.

Related links (mostly from Dick Sblog)

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