Reading14: Technological literacy in a digital world
It seems like everything these days is online, uses a device, has a companion app, etc. Computing is growing increasingly intertwined with every part of our lives. People are beginning to argue/lobby that everyone should be introduced to and learn about computing. Most of the arguments I’ve seen revolve around the growing ubiquity of programming – one of the articles likened the current state to how a long time ago writing was a skill only known to scribes, but it’s now the norm.
I honestly haven’t seen too many arguments against teaching everyone about computing – the one article we had to read that presented that view is my only exposure to that opinion. It seems to be taking issue with a part of the presentation, not the idea at the core of it; the article seems to argue that it’s somewhat dishonest to promise coding as a golden ticket for social mobility, that there are other things necessary to make a career out of it, and it’s not that simple. I suppose I don’t disagree.
Where I fall on the matter is that I think that we should definitely try more to expose everyone to what one of the articles calls “computational thinking”. I could easily see this kind of thing slotting in alongside the regular curriculum for students. Later on, it would be easier for those who have interest to take for actual programming courses to dive deeper.
Even if they don’t program, I think it would be useful for everyone to have exposure to these things. In a world becoming increasingly computerized and networked, it’s important for everyone to have a base understanding of what’s happening. People use smartphones, apps, websites, etc, without any idea of what’s happening to their personal information, data, and plans. In the current day, not knowing anything about computers and how the digital world operates opens you up to exploitation.
I’ve long thought that computer science is much more universal than everyone seems to believe. I have friends who throw up their hands at a problem that seems the least bit “techy”, and ask me (the resident “computer person”) to fix it. Exposing people to these “computational thinking” concepts early on can help show them the bridge between the things that CS students study and the real world, even if you’re not doing anything digital. Things like sorting large groups of items, or planning and optimizing logistics are closely tied with the more mathematical side of the things we study.
I think that everyone can learn to program (it’s not a mystical in-born art), but it’s a bit much to say that everyone should. I would, however, say that everyone should have some exposure to code, and some understanding of what’s happening beneath the hood when they use online services or social media. That is to say, things like knowledge that they don’t own their data, how their web traffic may be tracked, etc, as opposed to being able to name the layers of the OSI model. If the job of school is to prepare students for the world, we should recognize that at this point some of the preparation must concern the digital ecosystems we live in.