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A New Framework for Information Technology Fluency

John Makulowich

By John Makulowich

In a unique and seminal report prepared by the National Research Council last year, this statement appeared in the preface: "... there is little understanding of how to relate a seemingly strong and steady flow of new technology to the slower and more diffuse processes of assimilating new technology into the economy."

That report , "Funding a Revolution: Government Support for Computing Research," addressed a host of issues, including the role of federal funding in advancing computing technology since the end of World War II.

While it highlighted a number of IT innovations, such as the World Wide Web and virtual reality, it did not cover — and did not intend to — the ability of the general populace to use different computing technologies.

In a new NRC report, "Being Fluent with Information Technology," issued last week (www.nap.edu) and likely to become a best seller among corporate training and development and human resource departments and the academic community, that gap is at least studied, if not filled. And the authors come up with some critical distinctions likely to frame the debate and discussion about what individuals should know to adapt and compete in the Information Society.

For example, the authors, led by the committee chair, Lawrence Snyder, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington, adopted the term "fluency," rather than literacy, to address the question of what a citizen needs to know and understand about information technology. This leads to the notion of FITness, or fluency with information technology.

In the report, citing the briefing of professor Yasmin Kafai, an expert in psychological studies in education from the University of California at Los Angeles, fluency is described as "the ability to reformulate knowledge, to express oneself creatively and appropriately, and to produce and generate information (rather than simply to comprehend it)."

Fittingly then, the purpose of the report is "to lay an intellectual framework for fluency with information technology that is useful for others in developing discipline-specific and/or grade-appropriate efforts to promote FITness."

The authors point out IT fluency requires three kinds of knowledge: contemporary skills, for example, use of word processing software; foundational concepts, such as the basic principles underlying IT- like networks; and intellectual capabilities, or the ability to apply IT in complex situations.

Like many others in the IT industry, I have become more intrigued with what counts, practically, as understanding computing technology and how to go about communicating and using that understanding. This report goes a long way in offering an aerial view of the landscape and even describes in detail such important terrain features as "Imperatives for Universities in Adopting Information Technology for Instructional Purposes."

By design, the authors restricted their research to the undergraduate level. The next step is to prepare a report to address the issues involved in using and understanding information technology at the elementary, middle and high school levels.



To contact John Makulowich, send e-mail to john@journalist.com; his Web address is www.cais.com/makulow/

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