The imminent failure of basic computer education

What is the point of learning how to click, where to click, without understanding why to click.

In my freshman year of college (circa 2000), I took “Introduction to Technological Systems”, which was a renamed “Introduction to Computers”. I enjoyed the class and quite liked the professor, eventually getting an A in the class, along with pretty much everyone else in the class. The introduction to technological systems went through a computer part by part, from CPU to databases to the internet, giving a broad overview of a little bit of everything.

While the number of students entering college are becoming more technologically savvy, the problem that professors are, or should, be running into is teaching students why to click instead of where or how.

Speaking in broad terms, students entering college have a firm grasp on technology. Can they point to the ISA card slot on a late 80’s motherboard? Probably not. Can they install iTunes 7.3 and sync their iPhone? Probably. The level of computer literacy is rising rapidly. Students are rapidly coming to high school and college never knowing what a computer-less household is like. And fewer remember a time when the internet required the computer to make very strange noises via its modem.

The imminent failure of basic computer education is this: By focusing on the mechanics of how a computer works, the human element of computer is lost. By this, the computer education received tells us that a computer works, but does not educate us in how to interact with it. What is the most efficient way to store files? How should one reply to email. What are the basics of security when it comes to the internet? Why, when sending a mass email, should one use the BCC: instead of the To: in addressing? Why does my computer run slowly when I have 7 applications open, each with 16 windows?

These skills, while not as concrete as the how the laser reads the data on a CD-ROM, are the ones that are not being taught, but can ultimately be the most useful. Efficient, courteous and savvy computer users don’t need to know the physical happening to get work done. While it may be helpful in diagnosing problems or troubleshooting, there are plenty of people willing to take the time and put in the effort in that arena, I happen to be one of them. For the average user, teach them that repetitive task can be shortened to key-commands, that click around the computer’s interface can be shorted by using a launcher, or that email “stationary” is not really all that cute and can sometime gunk up an email client would go miles.

Education encompasses teaching and learning specific skills, and also something less tangible but more profound: the imparting of knowledge, positive judgement and well-developed wisdom.

from Wikipedia

The rote memorization of how a computer physically functions is no longer relevant in today’s world. Computer education instead needs to focus on the imparting of knowledge and well-developed wisdom.