What’s the Standard for Technical Literacy?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article yesterday and shared it to my Diigo account because I just know that I’ll have use for it in the future.

Kids can’t use computers… and this is why it should worry you

Now that technology is so ever present, it should make us all stop to think for just a bit. 

I’m the first to admit that there are more things going on inside this box than I could ever begin to comprehend.  One of my favourite confessions is that “the last time I understood how a computer worked was when it was running MS-DOS”.  I remember working my way through the manuals that came with my computer and trying out all of the commands to see if I could make the computer do what I wanted.  I was pleasantly surprised when I mostly could.  If I needed a piece of software to do something, I would actually write it for myself.  For academic reasons, I would write it in a couple of languages and often the program would appear in one of my computer science classes as a way to show students real-world problem solving.

I also remember when a friend of mine bought his first Macintosh.  In the arrogant DOS manner, I noted that “Macs were computers with training wheels that won’t come off”.  The Apple II computer was enjoyable enough to work with especially with CP/M but this thing?

But, enough of remembrances of the good old days.  It snowed more back then too.

Fast forward to today.

Like most people and, certainly the visitor in the story, I just expect things to work.  I do feel good that I do know how to attach to a network when needed (and know enough to look for or ask for the SSID and password).  Computers and portable devices are much better as well.  Even dog walking, it’s with a feeling of mastery that I’ll pass a restaurant where I’ve eaten or my daughter’s apartment and the phone picks up the signal like I never left.

I do now own a MacBook Pro and enjoy the training wheels.  My PC dual boots Windows 7 and Ubuntu 15.04.  Most of the time, I work in Ubuntu although the past couple of days I’ve done some Windows work to see if my Windows 10 upgrade request has been honoured.  I even tried the command to force the computer to upgrade although it did fail with one of those cryptic Microsoft codes that I’ve roughly translated to “your internet connection sucks”.  Could your standard kid do that?  Probably not – they’d search YouTube for a visual solution.

How do you make that work?  Simple – you just drop to the terminal and run a command as an administrator to force it to happen.  As I did it, and as I just typed that sentence, I wonder how many kids today could do that?  Now, I don’t compile my own kernel in Linux or anything that technical but I can most certainly open a terminal to get things done when Unity doesn’t provide an immediate apparent solution.  Or, on the Mac when running a virus scan and Sophos reports that there were issues, I can look at the logs to see what’s up.

Back to the article.  I love the quote attributed to Cory Doctorow.  It’s particularly relevant given the hackable Jeep that hit the news this week and the recall to update the software. 

Today’s computers are so complex – is it rational to expect that any single person could know any inside and out?  I know for a fact that I sure couldn’t.

Does today’s student sit down and code a solution to meet an immediate need?  Hardly.  With fast internet and easily accessible software stores, they just go looking for a appropriate “app for that”.  I do think that, if that’s the extent of their computer literacy, that they’ll be handcuffed at times like the examples in the article.

The solution, it seems to me, is to continue along the vein of so many discussions. 

Kids need to learn how to code.  And you know what?  Along the way, they’ll become better computer users.

They’re not going to write the next version of OpenOffice.  Actually, will any one person? 

Instead the takeaways about teamwork, collaboration, brainstorming, debugging, and much more make the effort worthwhile and most certainly increases their savvy around a keyboard or touch screen.  Coding develops the mindset that this inanimate object can be mastered, and mastered by ME.  There will always be the need to call the Help Desk or Support Shop.  Even in the article, the need to use the district’s proxy is an indication that many problems are manufactured beyond your control.  But shouldn’t you know where the problem lies so that you can efficiently describe it to that someone who can help?

Like the author, I’m fearful that we graduate students whose literacy skills are limited by the ability to tap here or there, watch a YouTube video, make a bird fly across the screen, create a Facebook update, or to get misinformation from an online discussion area. 

Shouldn’t they expect from the school system an education that includes a level of technical literacy that puts them in control of their devices?

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