Computer literacy

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This is not even a rough draft as of Dec 2011. A few questions:

  • In what respect is "computer literacy" part of "digital literacy" ?
  • What computer literacy skills do learners and teachers need to learn/teach better ?
  • What computer literacy skills do all (most) people need ?
  • What computer literacy skills do people in in ICT-intensive jobs need ?
  • What computer literacy skills do people have today, in particular the younger generation.
  • What is needed for both creative and efficient e-learning. Is there an e-learning literacy ?


Wikipedia, retrieved nov. 2011, defines computer literacy 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. 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.

“Computer literacy is an understanding of the concepts, terminology and operations that relate to general computer use. It is the essential knowledge needed to function independently with a computer. This functionality includes being able to solve and avoid problems, adapt to new situations, keep information organized and communicate effectively with other computer literate people.” (Computer Literacy USA, retrieved 19:22, 5 December 2011 (CET).

Computer literacy (being able to use computers and the Internet) can be understood of being different from informatics literacy (understand computer science principles and programming concepts). Digital literacy is an associated concept, i.e. somewhat represents a union of computer literacy with information literacy

See also:

Computer literacy definitions

Sometimes, computer literacy is understood in a very broad sense (including digital, information, social networking literacies), but we will try to discuss and summarize more narrow definitions here:

Beyer's technology ladder

Definitions of what computer literacy should be probably vary quite a lot. However, most definitions seem to distinguish between some kind of very basic literacy and some kind of "functional" literacy, i.e. being able to use ICT efficiently in a given domain.

Beyers and Koorbanally(2009) define a double ICT/technological ladder:

The Technological ladder (Beyers, 2008)
Level School and business focus Technology in society
4 ICT enabled innovator Technology enabled innovator
3 ICT practitioner Technology practitioner
2 ICT user (applications) Technology user
1 Basic ICT literacy Technology literacy

In this ladder, digital divide only concerns level 1, i.e. skills that most kids somewhat do acquire in most western countries and that are not enough in order to be operational in an ICT rich profession or field of study. “Once basic literacy has been achieved, users need to be exposed to a variety of packages in order to become competent users. Beyond that is the mastery of the tools where ICT constitutes the main part of their future professions. The ultimate goal is the utilization of the power of ICTs to conceptualize and realize their creative talents in the form of innovations (and ultimately patents).” (Beyers and Koorbanally, 2009: 3).

CL-USA definition

The CL-USA definition (a private organization), retrieved 19:22, 5 December 2011 (CET), emphasizes that computer literacy implies both being able to do and knowing. The standards are not open to the public, but we can cite an example that illustrates the difference between doing and knowing.

4)Using the Internet (and Other Networks): What we must be able to DO:

  • Send/receive e-mail and attachments
  • Browse the web
  • Upload and download files
  • Deal with security issues

What we must KNOW:

  • How networks are configured (in a general sense)
  • What an IP address is
  • What a URL is
  • What a server and client are
  • How information is routed through a network

The difference made by this organization between doing and knowing is interesting. However it is a bit misleading. Doing above refers to procedural surface knowledge and knowing to more conceptual knowledge. However, knowing the latter for real also means being able to do (e.g. configure a network, create a link with an URL, install a server, etc.)

Detailed lists of ICT skills

Basic technical ICT skills

Basic hardware
  • Turn on and off (properly)
  • Insert external memory devices (CD-Rom, USB, SD cards, etc.) Be able to find conntectors if missing (e.g. on iPad things).
  • Turn on/off WiFi
  • Plugin in Ethernet cable and electricity.
  • Difference between volatile (RAM) and non-volatile (disk) memory
  • Add/remove a card or a harddrive
The System
  • Be able to distinguish special characters like | or / or \ or # and be able to find them on the keyboard (on European keyboards, in particular Macs, this not obvious)
  • Be able to display file extensions (Windows)
  • Create new file associations (Windows/Mac)
  • Organize files in folders
  • Manipulate files: move, delete, change permissions
  • Backups
  • Updating (including setting preferences for automatic/manual updates)
  • Install software on a PC or a mobile device
  • Web page contents, web formats like PDF or Flash, and downloads.
  • Executable files
  • Viruses
  • Understand firewalls and how to enable/disable
  • Manage passwords in a reasonable way
Interaction with common GUI's
  • Shortcuts: E.g. CTRL-X, CTRL-C, CTRL-V, CTRL-A, CTRL-S on Windows
  • Arrow keys and DEL vs. Backspace
  • The Mac menu bar
  • Finding the start button on Windows
  • Context menus (and other not the left mouse operations). E.g. control-click on the Mac.
  • Minimization, maximization, etc.
Common applications
  • File and Edit menus, in particular be able to open and save a file to a precise location
  • Finding preferences/options
  • Finding the big "start" button on MS applications
  • Be able to find the help and find information in the help (including web pages if necessary)
Networking and Internet
  • Understand the difference between Internet and the Web
  • Bluetooth (how to connect to devices)
  • Using network drives
  • File transfert with (S)FTP and equivalent Internet / web-based solutions
  • Understand basic browser controls (forward/back, search box, URI box) and be able to set preferences (where to save files, menu bars, ...)
  • Find/use all the tools of a standard portal (configure home page, define settings for receiving messages, post messages, edit contents, use the built-in instant messager, etc.)
  • Use search engines efficiently. Know when to use specialized search engines.
  • Be able to quickly evaluate some information
  • Know specialized search engines, databases and repositories in your field of interest.
  • Create and manage digital presence
  • Bitmap vs. vector formats
  • Compressed bitmap formats like JPG, PNG, GIF
  • Email messages (when not to use attachments, quoting)
  • Mangage privacy
  • Stop touching the LCD of your teacher

Basic conceptual skills

  • Find information, e.g. can formulate search terms
  • Filter information
  • Sort information
  • Archive and retrieve
  • Summarize information
  • Be able to read a manual
  • Be able to explore side-bars and menu-bars on a web-site
  • Link information
  • Communicate
  • Collaborate
  • Share

Intermediate technical skills

Common applications
  • Be able to learn the basics of any not too difficult application within a week
  • Be able to pick up a the basics of a formal language like HTML, CSS, SVG within a week.
  • Be able to use code (e.g. JavaScript or Basic) when instructions are provided
  • Be able to install portalware using an installer
  • Be able to create a database with a GUI tool and define a user name and password
  • Understand some very basic programming principles: Instructions v.s. comments, functions and function calls, selectors, conditionals, loops, variables and assigment



Official initiatives
University pages
Online pieces (e.g. blog entries)
Computer literacy tutorials online
Guides to literacy teaching
Online discussion
Blog articles
  • Why Johnny can’t code, by David Brin, Salon, Sep 14, 2006. Quote: “Microsoft and Apple and all the big-time education-computerizing reformers of the MIT Media Lab are failing, miserably. For all of their high-flown education initiatives (like the “$100 laptop”), they seem bent on providing information consumption devices, not tools that teach creative thinking and technological mastery.”


  • BECTA, Web 2.0 technologies for learning at KS3 and KS4 - Project overview, Index page (5 reports)
  • Bennett, S., Maton, K., Kervin, L. (2008), "The ‘digital natives’ debate", British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol. 39 No.5, pp.775-86.
  • Beyers, RN, Koorbanally, NA (2009). Computer literacy: insufficient for digital age literacy learners, eSkills Summit 2010, Cape Town, 26-28 July 2010, pp 10,
  • Burnett, C., Dickinson, P., Myers, J., and Merchant, G. (2006), 'Digital connections: transforming literacy in the primary school.' Cambridge Journal of Education, 36(1) 11-29.
  • Carr, Nicholas (2008). "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" The Atlantic
  • Cole, M. (2009). Using Wiki technology to support student engagement: Lessons from the trenches. Computers & Education, 52 (1), 141-146.
  • Compeau, D. R., & Higgins, C. A. (1995). Computer Self-Efficacy: Development of a Measure and Initial Test. MIS Quarterly, 19(2), 189-211.
  • diSessa, A. (2001), Changing Minds: Computers, Learning, and Literacy. The MIT Press.
  • Duderstadt, J. 2004. Higher learning in the digital age: An update on a National Academies study. Paper presented at the 6th annual meeting of EDUCAUSE, Denver, CO, October. PDF, retrieved 19:22, 5 December 2011 (CET).
  • Edmunds, Rob; Thorpe, Mary and Conole, Grainne (2010). Student attitudes towards and use of ICT in course study, work and social activity: a technology acceptance model approach. British Journal of Educational Technology, Early View 27 Dec 2010. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01142.x
  • Fisher, M., Baird, D. (2009), "Pedagogical mashup: Gen Y, social media, and digital learning styles", in Hin, L., Subramaniam, R. (Eds),Handbook of Research on New Media Literacy at the K-12 Level, IGI Global, Hershey, PA.
  • Gui, M. & Argentin, G. (2011). Digital skills of internet natives: Different forms of digital literacy in a random sample of northern Italian high school students, New Media & Society. Volume 13 Issue 6
  • Hargittai, E. (2002). Second-level digital divide: Differences in people’s online skills. First Monday 7(4).
  • Kress, G (2003), Literacy in the new media age. London: Routledge.
  • Lanham, R. (1995), 'Digital literacy.' Scientific American, 273, 3 160-160
  • Lohnes, S., Kinzer, C. (2007), “Questioning assumptions about students' expectations for technology in college classrooms”, Innovate, Journal of Online Education, Vol. 3 No. 5. PDF, retrieved 19:22, 5 December 2011 (CET).
  • Oblinger, D., and J. Oblinger, eds. 2005. Educating the Net Generation. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE. PDF, retrieved 19:22, 5 December 2011 (CET).
  • Olson, D. (1986), 'Intelligence and literacy: the relationships between intelligence and the techniques of representation and communication.' In Sternberg, (Ed.), Practical intelligence. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Luehrmann, Arthur. "Computer Literacy--What Should It Be?" The Mathematics Teacher vol 74 no 9, Dec 1981.
  • Martin, A. (2008). Digital literacy and the ‘digital society’. Digital literacies: Concepts, policies and practices, 30, 151-176.
  • Prensky, Marc, 2001 "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.", On the Horizon 9:1-6. PDF part I reprint,
  • Rainie, L., M. Kalehoff, and D. Hess. 2002. College students and the Web: A Pew Internet data memo. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project. Abstract/HTML/PDF, retrieved 19:22, 5 December 2011 (CET).
  • Sutherland-Smith, W. (2002), 'Weaving the literacy web: changes in reading from page to screen.' The reading teacher, 55(7), 662-229.
  • Snyder, Ilana and Beavis, Catherine 2004, Doing literacy online : teaching, learning and playing in an electronic world Hampton Press, Cresskill, N.J.. Abstract only
  • Tyler, Keith D. (1998). The Problems in Computer Literacy Training: Are We Preparing Students for a Computer Intensive Future?. Writing for the Professions. HTML, retrieved 19:22, 5 December 2011 (CET).
  • Wecker, C. (2007). Computer literacy and inquiry learning: when geeks learn less, Journal of computer assisted learning, 23, 133-144, 2007.
  • Weller, Martin, The Digital Scholar - How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice, Bloomsbury.
  • Wolfe, Barbara B. "Achieving Computer Literacy." SIGUCCS Newsletter. Summer 1998. ACM. pp. 29-32.