20 December 2011

Are Teenagers Computer Literate?

My niece could run the DVD player when she was three, watching Mary Poppins over and over. She was making phone calls at about the same age, knowing how to navigate her mom's cell phone and call who she wanted to. She could send texts as soon as she learned how to spell. Of course, she started using a computer before all of this.

I don't think my niece is atypical. I'm not familiar with the actual statistics, but I assume the majority of students have been using computers since a very young age.

But this does not make them computer literate.

I've made the mistake of assuming kids know how to use computers because they've grown up with them. Worse still, there are still many kids coming from houses with no computer, and they do not understand the language.

It's true, a lot of kids have figured out how to get pictures from their phones or their digital cameras onto their F-books. Some kids may have even created fancy designs on their word processor. But if you think about it, these are quite infantile forms of computer use. This is comparable to kicking in a crib to make the mobile spin. They've simply pressed enough buttons and figured out the right ones to get the desired outcome, like my niece with her mom's phone, without really knowing what they're doing.

Students need to know where their files are on the hard drive. They need to know the different kinds of memory found in a computer. They need to know how to type. They need to know what all those numbers mean when they're buying a new computer, and whether they need them. They need to know how to navigate the internet and find trusted sources. They simply need to become, and stay, computer literate.

Just like Math, English, and Science, this means having at least one class per year that deals with computers. I'm not a lawmaker, however, nor a curriculum developer for the district, but since I have a computer lab at my disposal, it's my responsibility to do whatever I can to help students become more computer literate. I'm working on worksheets and tests that teach specific and necessary skills and knowledge, but there's also the intangibles of computer literacy that probably come simply from effective guided practice. I'll leave it at that.

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