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

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.

Copies of Being Fluent with Information Technology are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at www.nap.edu or by calling 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

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(*) Member, National Academy of Engineering