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The Case for Computer Literacy

September 29, 2008

It wasn’t so long ago that computer literacy was a relatively specialized asset, beyond the reach of most people. But these days, says Carlos Linares, it’s an entry requirement for virtually every field of endeavor, from accounting to zoology. No one can afford to be without it.

“Just as early societies transitioned from being speech-based to writing-based, ours has gone from being paper-based to computer-based,” says Linares, an associate professor in BMCC’s Computer Information Systems Department. “Today, anyone who intends to join the workforce – regardless of his or her chosen field – needs to be qualified in the use of computers.”

Mastering the basics
That is the guiding principle behind CIS100, the introductory computer skills course that Linares teaches. Its purpose, he says, “is to train students to be able to perform whatever functions a company might need, whether it’s creating a spreadsheet, doing financial projections, word processing or creating presentations.” For most students, just mastering the basics will be sufficient; others will go on to advanced training in the industry-specific computer skills that come into play in the graphic arts, video production, business accounting and other fields.

Whatever path they take, students will need to regularly refresh their skills as the state of the art advances. “When I first came to BMCC in 1986, computer technology was mainframe-based,” Linares says. “But over the years, the focus has shifted repeatedly – first from mainframes to minicomputers, then to networks, and now to the Internet.” Thus, one of his biggest challenges “is to stay current myself with the technology, so that I can make my instruction worthwhile and up-to-date for the students.”

Are libraries obsolete?
Even as he advocates for universal computer literacy, Linares acknowledges a possible downside. “A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly is titled, ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’” he says. “There’s no denying that the library is becoming less and less vital as an academic resource because it’s so much easier and faster to extract information from databases.” The problem is that database research typically doesn’t result in real learning, he feels – “at least not the kind that takes place when you’re physically handling books and documents and reading the same information over and over. You can retrieve information more quickly from databases, but you don’t necessarily retain it.”

Nonetheless, he says, “there is a positive side to being able to access information instantaneously, rather than spend hours digging for it in card catalogues and bookshelves.” In any event, basic computer skills “are the basis for any productive function you can think of,” Linares says. “They are the pencils, pens and papers of our society.”

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