Information Technology Literacy (ITL)
While there are several definitions of Information Technology Literacy (ITL) within different organizations, the common thread is being able to apply knowledge from one program to another, from one machine to another, and from one situation to another. Having the basic skills of word processing and Internet searching is not enough to make a person competitive in the American workforce. Furthermore, just as reading and writing are fundamental components of a literate society, so is the ability to apply various technology-based constructs. The responsibility of ITL instruction falls with the public school system. A student graduating from high school needs to be competitive in a technology-based workforce.
Keywords Authentic Assessment; Computer Literacy; Information and Communication Technology (ICT); Information Literacy (IL); Information Technology (IT); Information Technology Literacy (ITL); Outcomes-based Education; Task Knowledge; Technology Fluency; Technology Integration
Even in the poorest of American school districts, students have computers. Whether using a learning system for accommodation purposes or using a program to enhance mathematics skills, students are being exposed to computer technology as early as kindergarten and are in control of that technology by the time they graduate from high school. Being in control, however, can mean different things depending on the person. To some students, it means having the skills required to conduct word processing tasks or to create a PowerPoint presentation. To others it means being able to manipulate different search engines in order to apply essential information to a research document. In either case, with years' of exposure to computers—both at school and at home—students graduating from American high schools should be ready to face the world.
Not so, says Andrea Foster (2006). She cites a recent study by the Educational Testing Service that implies, "College students and high-school students preparing to enter college are sorely lacking in the skills needed to retrieve, analyze, and communicate information that is available online" (2006, par. 1). To be certain of what Foster is discussing, distinctions need to be made between commonly used terms describing the ability to use technology.
Computer Literacy, Information Literacy
Having computer literacy means that a person has enough understanding of computer applications (including their limitations) to use them correctly. A person with computer literacy can complete information-based tasks using a keyboard, software, and hardware correctly. The student creating a PowerPoint presentation is considered computer literate, for example. A person is said to have information literacy when he or she can determine which resources are needed and can access them easily. For example, a person with information literacy can distinguish which applications and resources are best for use in different situations, like knowing that a scholarly journal is a better resource than a magazine when writing a master's thesis.
Information technology literacy (ITL), on the other hand, maintains that a person is capable of utilizing a variety of technologies, like digital electronics, data storage components, and advanced computer applications: writing HTML, for instance. The IT literate person understands how technology changes from day to day and from year to year and how those changes can be applied to various tasks.
Foster (2006) may be right, as many people are computer literate and never move beyond the need for using basic computer applications. However, universities and employers are changing their requirements to include the utilization of computer functions beyond that considered basic computer literacy. Without advanced technological experience, some students will not be accepted into the colleges of their choice and will not be hired for positions in which they would be otherwise qualified. As a result of this shift in expectations, many higher education institutions are making technology one of the courses of study for all of their students.
For example, the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh requires that all of its students complete a one-credit introductory technology course. Students choose one of two courses to fulfill this requirement: Introduction to Information Management and Introduction to Information and Technology Literacy. While both courses offer practice with accessing and evaluating websites, the first focuses more on the basics of computer literacy, like email and web browser functions. In addition to basic skills, the second course requires students to understand and utilize effective search and research strategies with the expectation that those strategies will be applied in the most efficient manner. The second course also offers the potential for students to gain information technology literacy.
Applying the Knowledge
Being able to apply what is known is the key to the difference with these definitions. A person can be computer literate without knowing how to figure out a new program. A person who is IT literate, however, can learn a new program based on what she already knows about computer applications. This difference can be compared to the difference between knowing how to calculate a multiplication problem versus not having that knowledge but being able to utilize a calculator. Without a calculator, the latter person can't do the same work as the former. Without computer literacy, a person cannot have information technology literacy. However, one does not need ITL to have basic computer literacy, which most people possess. But what most people possess, the world is now saying, is not enough to be a competitive employee. SUNY Plattsburgh is making progress toward combating this problem, but until all American high schools make the same progress, students graduating from secondary institutions may not be able to find jobs at the entry level.
According to a report by the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS), a division of the Department of Labor,
It is now becoming widely recognized that the United States must choose between two futures. We can become increasingly divided into rich and poor, a nation of second-rate products and services; or, we can continue to be a highly productive and thriving economic force. To remain the latter we must restructure our schools and workplaces and greatly increase the skills of much of our current and future workforce-especially those of our frontline, non-college educated workers (as cited in Kane, Berryman, Goslin & Meltzer, 1990, p. 2–3).
The fact that this report was published over two decades ago is very telling of the predictive nature of the research. The Department of Labor notes the necessity of American schools to create citizens who are confident and competitive in a developed world of technology. In addition, citing the employment sector, the report acknowledges that
One of the most profound implications of computers in the workplace is that they replace learning based on visual observation with learning acquired primarily through symbols, whether verbal or mathematical (Zuboff, 1988; Scribner, 1988). For example, in textiles, semiliterate operators used to be able to move into technician jobs because they literally could see how textile machines functioned. Today, many machines have microprocessors and other electronic components that are not observable. To understand, diagnose, and fix the new machines, technicians now have to be able to represent their structures and processes symbolically in their heads by decoding complicated manuals, diagrams, and updates provided by the manufacturers (Bailey, 1988). Literacy requirements have accordingly increased (as cited in Kane, et al, 1990, p. 4).
It is not enough to be like most students who have the ability to write papers, create impressive presentations, or search the Web. Being marketable almost twenty-five years ago was viewed by the Department of Labor as having the skills necessary to manipulate technology to a more sophisticated end. To meet that end, high schools need to ensure that they're graduating qualified workers.
The School Library
While many students find it convenient to conduct research at home, that convenience may not equate to effectiveness or efficiency. Indeed, there truly is no better way to research a topic than at the school library. In addition to state of the art computers and software, libraries also have state of the art employees: librarians. School librarians are now required to have advanced degrees (generally in library information science) and ITL at its core definition. In fact, the people working in libraries are not necessarily identified as librarians anymore. Many have names like Library Media Specialists. Nonetheless, they all have the same credentials: they are trained in a variety of search techniques, can manipulate various technologies, and know the most up-to-date resources for finding information.
While many (high school) students feel they can research a topic independently, doing so can cause frustration and take time away from identifying useful sources on which to focus. The assistance of a librarian can reduce aggravation as well as the time-consuming task of ineffective searching. In addition, librarians can bring students (rather than the search topic) to the forefront of learning by letting them explore various search methods in their presence. With a librarian available to suggest alternatives, students will feel more confident if trouble occurs. And, once they are shown (and practice) how to maneuver from one method of searching to another, that confidence turns into true independence.
The library itself is often centrally located in primary and secondary schools. It generally has some requirement of attendance depending on school policy. Hannah Baker, a kindergartner at Momot Elementary School, goes to the library at least once a week for a scheduled class. For that class period, Hannah and her classmates are read to and then allowed to roam in search of a book to borrow for the next week. There is a computer lab attached to the library at Hannah's school, and, in addition to having computer time in her classroom each day, Hannah's after school program also schedules at least three lab sessions per week. Hannah has learned that the library is a place to read and that there are shelves of books for her to explore. She has also learned that computers are a regular part of her school day. At this point in her life, Hannah prefers books and would not be considered computer literate by any means. Like many students, however, the importance of books in her life and competency with computers will likely change before she leaves primary school (Personal communication, November 24, 2007).
A five-year-old named Giles at another school is much more astute with technology than Hannah. When Giles and his family take vacations, the child is the one who programs the television DVR to record the family's favorite shows—four of them on three different channels. By age ten, Giles was assisting his school's new teachers with information technology (IT) problems (Ashley & Attwood, 1999). As with second language learning, children are more adept with the computer skills that are often lost on adults, even though most children are not as technologically savvy as Giles. Because of this seemingly inherent ability, it makes sense to utilize computers in the elementary classroom. "Pre-programmed software that could be loaded ready to run was the first major revolution in primary computing," according to Ashley & Attwood (1999, p. 163).
Something to note here is that when considering the lives of children, it is probable that exposure to technology (video games, tablets, computer applications, even the ATM) has surpassed...
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