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News from the National Academies
Date: April 8, 1999
Contacts: Bob Ludwig, Media Relations Associate
Kristen Nye, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>


EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE BEFORE 5 P.M. EDT THURSDAY, APRIL 8


Publication Announcement

New Report Proposes Framework
To Encourage Fluency With Information Technology


The explosive growth of information technology is having a profound impact on our lives. Whether accountants or assembly-line workers, people are using technology such as computers, the Internet, and electronic commerce in different ways and with varying levels of skill and understanding. Moreover, many people feel uneasy in sorting out which technologies to use, and uncertain about how they can be used effectively.

Because new technologies appear on the market regularly, people need the proper knowledge and intellectual resources to learn and adapt to the latest advancements. A new report from a committee of the National Research Council proposes a framework to help people become more fluent with information technology. This involves going beyond traditional computer literacy -- usually defined as the ability to use a few computer applications like a spreadsheet program or a word processor.

Fluency requires a deeper understanding of how computers work and mastery of technology for information processing, communication, and problem solving. People who are more adept with information technology will be more comfortable using it and better able to enjoy the benefits of the information age.

Developing fluency is a life-long learning process, the report says. It requires that people continually build on their knowledge of information technology to apply it more effectively in their lives. Fluency also is characterized by different levels of sophistication in a person's understanding and use of technology.

Although fluency is achievable for most people regardless of grade level or experience, the report's framework for developing it focuses on college students, because institutions of higher learning have the most experience creating courses about computers and related information systems. Colleges also serve a large constituency with a broad range of interests and specializations to which information technology can be applied.

Successfully teaching how to use information technology effectively will require serious rethinking of the entire college curriculum, the report says. Rather than having individual instructors review course content or approach, academic departments should examine how students will obtain the necessary capabilities by the time they graduate.

Another key element of promoting fluency at the college level, the report says, is to ensure universal access to various forms of information technology. For example, individuals could be allowed continued use of an institution's information technology to update skills after they have graduated.

There are three essential and interrelated components for using information technology effectively. These provide a framework for educators to build a curriculum that enables students to become fluent in information technology:

> Intellectual capabilities -- the application and interpretation of computer concepts and skills used in problem solving. Examples include the ability to define and clarify a problem and know when it is solved; to understand the advantages and disadvantages of apparent solutions to problems; to cope with unexpected consequences, as when a computer system does not work as intended; and to detect and correct faults, as when a computer shuts down unexpectedly.

> Concepts -- the fundamental ideas and processes that support information technology, such as an algorithm; how information is represented digitally; and the limitations of information technology. Understanding basic concepts is important, the report says, because technology changes rapidly and can render skills obsolete. A basic understanding also helps in quickly upgrading skills and exploiting new opportunities offered by technology.

> Skills -- abilities that are associated with particular hardware and software systems. Skills requirements will change as technology advances, but currently they include using word processors, e-mail, the Internet, and other appropriate information technology tools effectively. An individual fluent in information technology will always be acquiring new skills and adapting to a changing environment.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, non-profit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Read the full text of Being Fluent with Information Technology for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).



NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications
Computer Science and Telecommunications Board

Committee on Information Technology Literacy
        Lawrence Snyder (chair)
        Professor of Computer Science and Engineering
        University of Washington
        Seattle

        Alfred V. Aho(*)
        Associate Research Vice President
        Communications Science Research Division
        Bell Laboratories
        Lucent Technologies
        Holmdel, N.J.

        Marcia C. Linn
        Professor of Education, and
        Director, Instructional Technology Program
        Graduate School of Education
        University of California
        Berkeley

        Arnold H. Packer
        Senior Fellow
        Institute for Policy Studies
        Johns Hopkins University
        Baltimore

        Allen B. Tucker Jr.
        Professor of Computer Science
        Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
        Bowdoin College
        Brunswick, Maine

        Jeffrey D. Ullman(*)
        Stanford W. Ascherman Professor of Engineering
        Department of Computer Science
        Stanford University
        Stanford, Calif.

        Andries van Dam(*)
        Thomas J. Watson Jr. University Professor of Technology and Education, and
        Professor of Computer Science
        Department of Computer Science
        Brown University
        Providence, R.I.

        RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

        Herbert S. Lin
        Study Director

        _________________________________________
        (*) Member, National Academy of Engineering