Computer literacy

Computer literacy

Computer literacy is defined as the knowledge and ability to use computers and related technology efficiently, with a range of skills covering levels from elementary use to programming and advanced problem solving.[1] 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. 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.


Computer skills

Computer skills refer to the ability to use the software and hardware of a computer. Being "computer functional" is usually what is meant by one with computer skills; computer literacy is only really evident in advanced computer skills.

They include:

Basic computer skills

  • Knowing how to switch on the computer
  • Being able to use a mouse to interact with elements on the screen
  • Being able to use the computer keyboard
  • Being able to shut down the computer properly after use

Intermediate skills

Advanced skills include

  • Programming
  • Use of a computer for scientific research
  • Fixing software conflicts
  • Repairing computer hardware

Social implications

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 1930s, the word computer referred to a person who could count, calculate, compute. The year of 2010, a mere 50 years later from its first personal/common business use, we see the term "computer literacy" change deeply in meaning. We have on one hand the exponential speed that technology has grown and is growing and on the other hand we have the practical use of the personal computer in our everyday life. Computers are not just the boxes that took up large amounts of space with an even bigger monitor. Now we have hand devices and cell phones to assist us, in most post-1995 model year cars, at least 10 processors can be found controlling major components of our vehicles.

Taking most common points into consideration from former forms of literacy topics, the subject requires a formal breakdown of the core components. To evaluate or maintain a consistently gradual rise in practical application and social productivity from any technology we have to understand how computers benefit humanity as a whole. Starting from the local sense.

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 knowledge economy. 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 developed countries. 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. There seems to be an inversely proportional relationship between computer literacy and compositional literacy among first world computer users. 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.

It is frequently assumed that as computers and Internet access are common-place in the first world, everyone in those countries must have equal and ready access to this technology, and to skills in how to effectively use it. There is, however, a significant digital divide in even the most technologically advanced and enabled countries, with digital haves and have-nots.

The Digital Inclusion Forum[2], a consortium set up through joint participation from the Wireless Internet Institute[3], IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Ohio’s One Community[4], is just one organization developed to address this. Their organizational mission in this is to provide a “comprehensive resource center to inform, educate and share best practices among state and local government leaders, industry and institutional stakeholders on identifying and implementing sustainable market solutions to bridge the digital divide in North America.”

A variety of private sector nonprofits and foundations also contribute to this, in addressing the needs of underserved communities. Per scholas, for example runs programs offering free and low cost computers to children and their families in underserved communities in the South Bronx, New York and in Miami, Florida.

Computer education

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 make abstractions 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.

Computer Fluency

Computer fluency goes beyond computer literacy and has been argued to be an important goal of not only a computer education but a liberal arts education. The term probably originated in an important 1999 work, Being Fluent with Information Technology by the Committee on Information Technology Literacy of the U.S. National Research Council. In it the authors noted that computer curricula at educational institutions largely focused on software-bound skills, e.g., "which button to click" in a given piece of software to do a given task. Because the authors felt that such a computer literacy curriculum, which focused on skills, was insufficient for the demands of future knowledge workers, they argued that the ideal curriculum would equip students with computer fluency, which they defined as a "robust understanding of what is needed to use information technology effectively across a range of applications" (14). In addition to possessing the essential skills of software usage, computer-fluent individuals can apply information technology in novel situations, as well as understand the consequences of doing so. The authors observe, "These capabilities transcend particular software and hardware applications" (17). Equally essential to computer fluency is the mastering of fundamental computer concepts, such as the difference between absolute and relative cell references in an electronic spreadsheet program. The Linux computer operating system, UberStudent, asserts that one of its main goals for its users is their achievement of computer fluency.

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
  • 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
  • social implications/aspects of computing
  • 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
  • interactivity
  • 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 fair use laws constitute a mammoth part of computer literacies.[citation needed]

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.

Knowledge of fair use then becomes a crucial part of computer literacy,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]


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. An example of a futuristic Natural Language Interface can be found throughout the Star Trek series, where characters simply tell the computer what they want using ordinary English.

See also


  1. ^ Computerized Manufacturing Automation: Employment, Education and the Workplace, Washington, US Congress of Technology Assessment, OTA CIT-235 April 1984, page 234
  2. ^ [ "The Digital Inclusion Forum"]. Retrieved February 2011. 
  3. ^ [ "The Wireless Internet Institute"]. Retrieved February 2011. 
  4. ^ [ "One Community"]. Retrieved February 2011. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • computer literacy — computer literate /keuhm pyooh teuhr lit euhr it/, adj. familiarity with computers and how they work, esp. a nontechnical understanding of microcomputers and of the role computers play in modern society. [1975 80] * * * computer literacy noun • • …   Useful english dictionary

  • computer literacy — UK US noun [U] ► IT, HR the ability to use computers effectively: »Computer literacy is now a requirement for most jobs in office based workplaces …   Financial and business terms

  • Computer-Literacy — Computer Literacy,   englische Bezeichnung für Computerbildung …   Universal-Lexikon

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  • computer literacy — computer literate /keuhm pyooh teuhr lit euhr it/, adj. familiarity with computers and how they work, esp. a nontechnical understanding of microcomputers and of the role computers play in modern society. [1975 80] * * * …   Universalium

  • computer literacy — noun the ability to operate a personal computer and its associated software and hardware, and to understand most of the underlying concepts (but not necessarily the electronics, or a programming language) See Also: computer literate …   Wiktionary

  • computer literacy — /kəmpjutə ˈlɪtərəsi/ (say kuhmpyoohtuh lituhruhsee) noun the ability to use a computer with confidence and skill and to see ways in which computers can be used profitably to achieve a goal. –computer literate, adjective …   Australian-English dictionary

  • computer literacy — comput′er lit′eracy n. cmp familiarity with computers and how they work • Etymology: 1970–75 comput′er lit′erate, adj …   From formal English to slang

  • Computer Literacy Bookshops — was a local chain of bookstores selling primarily technical oriented books in Northern California. It was founded in 1983 in Sunnyvale, California, where its concentration in technical books fit well with its Silicon Valley customer base.… …   Wikipedia

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