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Selasa, 3 Februari 2009

Information and Communications Technology Literacy – Getting serious


Abstract:
The growing use of information and communications technologies in commerce and industry is once again encouraging debate and questioning of the development of students’ skills and knowledge in this domain. Whereas in the past, the debate has centred on school education, questions about ICT literacy are now being raised in the context of post-compulsory education. Post-compulsory education sits ahead of employment and ICT literacy in the population and workforce is seen as an important component of a nation’s competitiveness and advancement. This paper explores the concept ICT literacy in the light of new technologies and suggests factors that are currently seen to limit and impede its attainment.

Introduction
In the early days of computers in schools, a common rationale for the investment in hardware and software was the notion of computer awareness. This concept was premised on the view that schools had a responsibility to introduce students to this emerging technology and to prepare them for the fact that one day computers might have a role to play in their daily living. As time went on, and the impact of computers in society grew, the notion of computer awareness evolved to computer literacy, not only knowing about computers but being able to use them. Throughout the 1980s the relevant literature abounds with descriptions and comment on both the rationale for such programs and evaluations of their success (eg. McCormick, 1992). In the past ten years, computer technologies have diffused into many aspects of everyday life and in recent years this diffusion has been accelerated and exaggerated by the convergence of computer and communication technologies. The place of computer technologies in schools has evolved from objects of study or specialist applications to tools for teaching, learning and administration. Computer literacy disappeared from main gaze and focus of attention as the stand alone computer lost its novelty. But today, the concept is regaining attention as the new technologies once again gain novelty and public attention through the next phase of their development. This renewed interest appears to be fuelled by Internet and communication technologies, which are causing yet another revolution their use and growing influence of life and society. The renewed interest in computer literacy appears to be driven not only by those in education and industry but also by governments looking to maintain or to upgrade their world competitiveness through leadership in an activity set to dominate the trade and corporate world in the new millennium. Whether it is the place of schools to expose students to computers and information technology (IT) for vocational purposes, or simply for personal needs, remains a much argued point. It is clear that many in government perceive the development of IT skills in
schools as an economic and vocational imperative. This view is not shared by all and we are frequently reminded that the role of education is:
“Not so much to closely align to the ephemeral demands of industry but to equip students with the more fundamental, expansive skills of being able to critique and reflect on the changes taking place in their society” (Watkins, 1986, p. 85)

The concept of computer literacy appears now to have moved beyond schools to the post-compulsory education institutions that prepare graduates for employment. The purpose of this paper is to explore this renewed interest in computer literacy and to establish the growing implications for the post-compulsory education sector.

Defining Computer Literacy
There have been many studies over the past two decades into both the concept and attainment of computer literacy. These have focussed on many different aspects of the perception of computer literacy. Much effort has been put into defining set of skills, which adequately describe a computer literate person. Other efforts have focussed on devising assessment tools to measure levels of these skills, a difficult task in such a multi-faceted and complex area. Further studies have compared computer literacy levels and attitudes towards computers with different groups of people, based on gender, ethnicity or socio-economic factors. Through the 1980s, computer literacy tended to be considered a grab-bag of different skills and attributes. A widely accepted definition of computer literacy is that of Simonson, Maurer, Montag-Torardi & Whitaker (1987)
who define computer literacy as:
“An understanding of computer characteristics, capabilities and applications, as well as an ability to implement this knowledge in the skilful and productive use of computer applications suitable to the individual roles in society. (p. 232)”
In this definition, the knowledge and skills of a computer literate person were divided into four components comprising computer attitudes, computer applications, computer systems and computer programming. While this is now a dated definition and classification, it has been used and modified in subsequent studies (e.g. Smith & Necessary , 1996) and the concepts broadened to be independent of a given time frame. The essential elements of this form of definition still hold currency today.

The Evolution to ICT Literacy
The rapid developments in communications technologies which have occurred over the past ten years has seen a broadening in the range of skills that are considered to be imperative to the constantly evolving notion of computer literacy. We now see a spectrum of differing expressions and terms which relate to computer literacy.
For example, information technology literacy, Net literacy, digital literacy or on-line literacy (eg. Gilster, 1997). Overwhelmingly however more recent references in the literature still often use computer literacy as an appropriate keyword for reference listings. Definitions of computer literacy have varied in their breadth over time and with the rapid changes in technology are evolving accordingly. Where once “basic” computer literacy was narrowly defined and could be used to easily differentiate students that were deficient. Such students could be directed to specific “context free” courses to build their computer literacy. Over the past decade, the notion of “basic” is too obscure when considering the myriad of potential contextually driven applications of computers in contemporary society. Increasingly there appear to be diverse cohorts of students, each with different bundles of computer skills, knowledge and attitudes. Students could be considered literate in one setting but illiterate in another. For example, many school leavers have the ability to confidently browse and use the WWW but may have little or no file management or word processing skills. Similarly, there are a large number of mature aged students who have had no prior computer experience. The move toward the broader term of information and communication technology (ICT) literacy has at its roots the need to involve the acquiring and advantageous use of information through the use of technology. Use of a range of communication tools such as the Internet, e-mail and the World Wide Web (WWW) for the location of information and dissemination are now considered to be components of ICT literacy and yet not necessarily that of computer literacy. In addition, many of the skills, which had previously been associated with those that an individual would need to have acquired in order to be considered computer literate, are now commonly seen to be components of the more encompassing term of ICT literacy. Many authors describe the place of computer literacy as a component of a more encompassing list of ICT skills (eg. Eisenburg & Johnson, 1996; Shapiro & Hughes, 1996; Bruce; 1998).

Generic Skills
The notion of computer literacy is tending to be considered a component of a larger set of key skills that have been identified as important outcomes of schooling outside the domain of traditional curriculum areas. These generic skills include such elements as reading and writing literacy, communication skills, numeracy, critical thinking and people skills (eg. Gibbs et al., 1994; Harvard, Hughes & Clark, 1998). An emerging trend is the perception that ICT literacy forms part of a generic skill set, with implications for teaching and learning in the schools, as well as for life-long learning and just-in-time learning. The American Library Association, for example, recognizes the need for ICT skills in the form of information literacy skills as necessary for America’s continuing success in the information age. The ALA (1999) discusses the future role of the teacher moving from textbook lecturer, to coach and that an effective information literacy (IL) curriculum moves away from learning traditional library location skills taught in isolation to one of learning IL skills which have been embedded in the curriculum. The desired outcomes are for people who are prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand.

The role of ICT skills as being fundamental to general work place literacy is reiterated by Mikulecky and Kirkley (1998) and Tomei (1999). The implications of this for post-secondary education are that there appears to be a significant shift to providing a range of generic skills that allow the learner to prepare for a life where learning is an ongoing process. The need for appropriate and sustainable ICT skills is implicit in these types of recommendations.

Operationalising ICT Literacy
The net result of the incorporation of ICT literacy into the realm of generic skills has seen a move away from its definition as a discrete series of a skills and attitude and knowledge components to a more competency-based description. ICT literacy is increasingly being seen as a capacity for purposeful and effective use of ICT technologies in one’s own setting and this creates different needs for different people. In the context of schooling and education, it is now recognised that ICT literacy describes a range of personal competencies that are in many cases distinct from ICT components specific to the needs of individual subject disciplines and domains. It is interesting to note that there is now a perception of ICT literacy specific to being a successful student and across all sectors of education, discrete and appropriate ICT skills are being suggested. For example, Collis (1999) argues that post-compulsory students today need, at a minimum, skills and competency in the use of appropriate presentation systems such as word processors, electronic display systems. Students need to be able to use e-mail to send and receive communications and need to be able to use Web browsers to access and retrieve information from this source. When one deconstructs exactly what levels of computer skills and use underpin these forms of competency, this level of specification necessarily includes an array of associated skills including competence, confidence and efficiency in the use of hardware, software and operating systems associated with personal computers, networked computers and the Internet.
Yet another component of the ICT literacy issue which is gaining prominence among teachers and educators is the impact of these technologies on the basic forms of reading and writing literacy. There are a number of writers who have demonstrated that computers and the Internet are changing the ways in which many people communicate through the written word (eg. Warschauer, 1999; Orlikowski & Yates, 1994). The Internet in particular is changing the way many people write and the screen-based technologies are impacting on the way many people read. Researchers are arguing that given the rapid uptake of ICT technologies, these changes will soon need to be recognised in the way literacy is taught and developed in schools and universities (eg. Bruce and Candy, 1994).

The use of Internet and communication technologies in the delivery of both information and instruction for learners has seen in recent years a significant lifting of the perceived baseline level of ICT literacy deemed necessary for post-compulsory students. Trends suggest that this list of competencies will likely grow in the near future as ICT technologies continue to develop and have application to teaching and learning. The increasing use of computers in all aspects of life seems set to bring about even more changes to our perceptions of what actually constitutes ICT literacy. The research suggests that different disciplines within education are now recognising the impact of ICT on their core business and are creating strategies to deal with it, for example, linguists and language teachers and teachers of writing and reading literacy, information skills, and teachers of training(eg. Victorian University of Technology, 1998). With growing use of ICT in the workplace. demands for literacy have now heightened with growing emphasis on reading, comprehension and information literacy, and on the ability to gather information from multiple sources and to use the information meaningfully and critically. This is leading (in many low and middle-level jobs), to a more complex understanding of literacy that includes making critical judgements about the accuracy, current relevance, and unexpressed messages implicit in information (eg. Mikulecky & Kirkley, 1998).

The concept of ‘just in time learning’ is diminishing in many instances the need for the general resources employees must bring to an occupation. Technology can now manage many of the operations in a job by sending exactly the right information to exactly the right terminal at the right time (eg., Talbot, 1999; Flew, 1998; Tomei, 1999). The scenario appears to exist for future workers to go to a workplace without the specific skills to operate in that particular environment but with the technology skills and abilities to rapidly adapt to the potentially changing requirements of the job. The rapidly changing nature of the workplace can mean that given the appropriate information the worker has the skills needed to seek out information, as it required.

Achieving Computer Literacy
There are formal programs now in many countries to encourage and support the development of IT skills in schools. The results of these programs and activities ensure that many students entering post-compulsory education have some level of ICT literacy although all too often, students demonstrate largely varying levels of skills and knowledge. There is evidence that many post-compulsory institutions are moving positively to address the need for ICT literacy among students. Some require prospective students to undertake ICT literacy tests and to take bridging courses prior to commencing their studies. A survey by the American

Association of State
Colleges and Universities in 1995 reported that 22% of American State Colleges and Universities require computer literacy of their students (Davis, 1999). Many of these have initiated computer survey courses to redress the lack which was reported at this time. In addition a number of universities worldwide require that students purchase their own computers to use in their learning programs (eg. Davis, 1999). Increasingly students at all levels of education are gaining ICT skills at home as home ownership of PCs increases to almost saturation levels. In Australia, for example a recent survey of student Internet users in school, vocational education and universities, revealed that for 96% of them, the primary point of access for students was through a home computer. Sixty seven percent of those surveyed indicated that the educational institution was their secondary point of access (White, 1999). In Australia in 1999, 96% of the educational institutions had access to on-line services. Recent studies among school students have clearly indicated the strong influence of home use on skills development. The students with the highest levels of ICT literacy are frequently those with home access to computers and Internet technologies. Achieving ICT skills going forward into the next century is becoming increasingly complicated as education authorities move toward embedding a whole raft of ICT skills into the general curriculum. Models of different approaches are:
· to either include intensive courses in ICT at the commencement of enrolment or at periods throughout an individuals life · to present individual modules which occur at the precise time when the skills and tools are required by the learner to satisfy other learning objectives. Tomei (1999) describes these models with respect to adult learners who were reported to prefer the second model.

This ‘infusion’ approach differs from the more traditional approach of delivering a single intensive course at a less appropriate but probably at more convenient times, the ‘concentration’ approach. Whilst both approaches have benefits and disadvantages educational institutions at all levels may find that a hybrid of these two models may be desirable. Certainly there are often subject specific components of ICT which have to be dealt with in an ‘infusion context as they are required whereas more generic ICT skills outcomes can be achieved by the ‘concentration’ approach. But in the long run, most appropriate forms of skills development are those where the skills are practised and developed from relevant experience. Karsten & Roth (1998) report results from their study that suggest that it is the relevance rather than the quantity of computer experience that students bring to class that is the most predictive of performance. The results also suggested that although a wide variety of computer experiences enhance student perceptions of their computer competencies, only those experiences that develop or enhance the specific computer skills defined to comprise computer literacy in a particular context are likely to have an impact on computer-dependent course performance. There is a growing awareness in all circles of education of the need for context and relevance in the teaching and learning processes especially those associated with ICT literacy. For both adolescents and adults, the most likely path to success lies in integrating the new technologies into the activities of everyday learning.

Computer
simulations, tutorial programs, the Internet, and information-processing and electronic communication tools can be used to address these learning goals. These goals are
(a) learning to think critically while solving problems,
(b) becoming familiar with the use of technology tools for processing information,
(c) expanding the breadth of materials encountered by learners, and
(d) developing habits of mind suitable for lifelong learning (Tomei, 1999).

ICT In Post-Compulsory Education
For the majority of students post-compulsory education sits between schools and workplace. It is in this setting that many believe ICT literacy is most importantly dealt with. Studies have revealed differences in ICT literacy between minority groups and discipline areas (eg. Smith & Necessary, 1996). Institutions with active social justice views and policies are now stipulating benchmark levels of generic graduate skills for the workplace among which ICT literacy in its various forms can be found. In most studies where ICT literacy has been explored, an important indicator of students’ skills development has always been the extent to which students have been exposed to the new technologies in their courses and programs. And research in this field has always demonstrated that this is heavily influenced by the ICT literacy of the teaching staff (eg. Carr, 1998). Students who learn in technology-enriched learning environments develop practical experience in the use of ICT technologies as a matter of course (eg. Davis, 1999). This practice becomes problematic when it is common, students across education sectors to frequently demonstrate higher levels of ICT literacy than their teachers. Consequently, many writers now express the view that an efficient way to improve the ICT literacy levels of students and school leavers is to firstly address the ICT literacy levels of the teaching staff. It is clear that the ICT literacy levels of students is very much influenced by the level of ICT use in their educational programs and this in turn is influenced by the degree of confidence and competence of their teachers to appropriately integrate ICT applications within learning experiences. Across all sectors large differences exist in the use of IT in educational programs. The use of ICT technologies has long been seen (and proven) as a way to create enhanced learning outcomes in subject domains (Davis, 1999). Its capacity to provide important and useful generic skills for students’ working and private lives is yet another reason supporting ICT technology use as a teaching and learning tool. The use of the ICT technologies in teaching provides a means to create meaningful learning experiences which can develop a range of generic and transferable skills, among which are those associated with ICT literacy (eg. Oliver & McLoughlin, 1999).

Summary And Conclusions
A reading of the extant literature in relation to computer and ICT literacy reveals that this topic is still an important issue for many stakeholders in the education process but that its scope is often underestimated by policy makers and education and training providers. As a consequence of the burgeoning use of the Internet and Web, ICT technologies are becoming integral parts of all facets of life, from education to work. We are seeing governments and industry pushing for graduates to demonstrate appropriate skills and knowledge in this area to enable them to retain and push their competitive edge in commerce and trade. And we are seeing learning enhanced through applications of ICT technologies as information and learning tools. We are seeing new ways of learning and new ways of communicating through these technologies. Among all this, however, there are examples of vastly differing levels of ICT literacy among students and graduates. It is clear that ICT literacy is most effectively developed through relevant and contextual use of ICT technologies. Students with home computers regularly show higher levels of ICT literacies than their counterparts whose only access and use is through school and education. The key to improving ICT literacy levels would appear to be through an increased and targeted use of technologies in teaching and learning programs appropriately modelled by teachers. Impediments to this are the levels of available infrastructure and the capacity of teachers to make meaningful use of the technologies in their programs. There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that the rate determining step in moving along the path of ICT literacy is the general low levels of ICT usage in educational courses brought about by low levels of ICT literacy among teachers in general. The way ahead in all of this is clearly through the promotion of ICT literacy among teaching staff and by immersing students in technology rich and stimulating learning environments where information and computer literacy is both a learning enabler and a learning outcome.

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