Lifelong Computer Skills

2 and 1/2

Jakob Nielson, usability guru, has posted a new Alertbox called Life-Long Computer Skills. This article summarizes what he considers to be the essential computer skills which will still be relevant when today’s elementary students join the workforce.

Here’s his list of lifelong skills:

  • Search Strategies
  • Information Credibility
  • Information Overload
  • Writing for Online Readers
  • Computerized Presentation Skills
  • Workspace Ergonomics
  • Debugging
  • User Testing and other Basic Usability Guidelines

Most of these I agree with. Search skills are not going to go away, even though the tools may get easier. Understanding how to evaluate information and filter what isn’t relevant is also definitely important. By credible, I think he probably means closer to published sources rather than blogs or Wikipedia, and I disagree with that philosophy. However, his specific examples deal with helping kids recognize ads and paid search results, and those are valuble skills. Information overload may not actually be quite a big a problem for younger students as it is for adults, as more children are accustomed to the fast paced multichannel flow of information. Knowing how to manage the overload and filter appropriately go hand in hand. Many people at the Online Connectivism Conference discussed how to help students learn how to build effective networks and how to filter and verify information.

“Writing for online readers” is something that I think we definitely need to help teachers learn as well as students. I feel fortunate that my job gives me the opportunity to do just that. My current major project is a course to teach K-12 teachers how to use blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other technologies. This is a very relevant quote:

Thus, we should teach students how to write hypertext and not how just to write printed documents.

With “Computerized Presentation Skills,” I don’t think he goes far enough. I think multimedia literacy should be part of the education, including audio, video, and animation. I also find it odd that he uses Microsoft Excel training as an example of what not to do in his introduction, but PowerPoint training as a necessary skill. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach these software applications; I think it’s important that we teach word processing and spreadsheets and slideshow programs. Every one of these programs that you learn makes it easier to learn the next one. I don’t think it’s a waste for students to learn Microsoft Excel formatting in Office 2003 even though Office 2007 will be very different. In seventh grade, I took a course that covered AppleWorks with the word processor, spreadsheet, and flat database. Those skills have been tremendously useful to me because they helped me understand the differences in the applications and their uses. That was fundamental for me, and I think there is still validity in teaching students these kinds of programs (although OpenOffice or any of the free web apps would be fine too). I don’t think that’s all we should teach, but it can be part of the skills.

Ergonomics and debugging are fine; I think usability is on his list just because it’s his pet subject and not because it really belongs with the rest of the subjects.

The big thing I don’t see here is how to connect, interact, or work with people online. I would add “Connect, Converse, and Collaborate” to his list. I suppose it’s not that surprising from a man who doesn’t have a blog or an RSS feed on his site, but I think the interactions will be increasingly important.

What would you add to the list of lifelong computer skills that we need to teach students–and teachers?

Image citation
2 & 1/2 and already a computer junky! from machado17‘s photostream.

3 thoughts on “Lifelong Computer Skills

  1. How about “evaluate”? Our children and their instructors need to be able to evaluate the credibility of a piece of information since anyone from anywhere can upload content to the Internet. And this is a lifelong skill.

    As the Internet evolves, it may become more and more difficult to differentiate between truth and fiction. We need to be able to give our children and their instuctors skills in figuring out what they can trust or not.

  2. I think evaluate goes with the “Information Credibility.” I think Nielson is a little narrow in his description by talking just about advertising; I think evaluating “Information Credibility” should encompass a lot more than that. I think teaching students (and teachers) how to verify and fact check should be part of that too.

    Wikipedia can be a great resource, but we should use it in combination with other sources. That’s the case for print sources too though; we shouldn’t rely on just one source of information. Relying on print sources without thinking or checking is what has led to the creeping fox terrier clone. Textbooks, newspapers, and cable news can be full of errors too, so this isn’t a new thing. A skeptical view of all information is probably the lifelong skill we should be teaching.

  3. Pingback: Healthy Skepticism towards Sources « Experiencing E-Learning

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