Most colleges have a requirement in place for the purpose of making sure that their graduates are computer literate. Schools often have pressure from the accrediting agencies as a motivating factor in the design of such a requirement. Administering computer requirements and defining computer literacy (or competency, fluency, etc) is at best problematic for the institution. I thought I might use this week’s blog posting to share my own experiences with computer requirements with you.
Here at Florida State University we have had a Computer Skills Competency requirement in effect for the past ten years. The requirement has seen its share of controversy over the years. The original requirement was designed by a committee made up of representatives from all of the academic departments at the university. There were significant differences between viewpoints on the subject. I recall several representatives arguing that their students should not be forced to learn about spreadsheets.
The resulting policy required students to know how to use email, the Web, Word processing software or a text editor, and some other application. Courses were submitted to the Undergraduate Policy committee for requirement approval. My computer literacy classes were approved as meeting the requirement as were other obvious courses such as computer intro courses designed for specific majors: music, education, nursing, engineering, etc. A few courses were surprisingly accepted as meeting the computer requirement such as a Biology Lab (?).
An exam that I designed was approved for allowing students to meet the requirement by examination without taking a class. Roughly 100 students passed the exam each semester over six years.
Recently our computer requirements have been dramatically revised. One aspect that has changed is that our accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), no longer wants students to be able to fulfill the computer requirement through examination. Last semester was the last semester I offered the exam. You can imagine the angry phone calls I get from soon-to-graduate students who were counting on taking the exam this semester.
The other change is that academic departments now have administrative power over the computer skills requirement for their own students. The requirement is supervised by the University, but administered by the departments. Here is the exact language from the “CRITERIA FOR COURSES SATISFYING THE COMPUTER COMPETENCY REQUIREMENT”:
Competence in the use of computers is exhibited in different ways in different disciplines. Requisite skills for a graduate of the School of Music are not the same as a graduate of the College of Engineering . But underlying each degree program is the need to demonstrate mastery of computer use in that discipline. In recognition of this skill diversity, a department or school is given the option of proposing a course to satisfy this requirement for its graduates.
To satisfy the Florida State University’s Computer Competency Requirement, a course must require the student to demonstrate:
1. competent use of a discipline-useful software package, and
2. the ability to perform simple transactions using the web/Internet.
Many departments have chosen one or more of my Computer Literacy class as the required course for their students. Still we are seeing many more courses being used to meet this requirement. The last count showed 21 courses approved as meeting the computer skills requirement. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any drop in enrollment for my traditional comp lit classes. I’m assuming that must be due to the variety of courses that I offer to meet a diverse range of needs (see http://lit.cs.fsu.edu).
The new approach to computer requirements at FSU further supports my belief that college computer literacy needs to focus on preparing students for their careers. That requires a lot more than just teaching Microsoft Office. Today’s curriculum should include a lot of discussion on the application of technologies in the business environment. From working with corporate networks, intranets, VPNs, to using a Blackberry or Trio, to decision support systems, MIS, and databases. We especially need to provide a global perspective, and an awareness of information security issues.