Technology Today is the new name for the TechKnowledge column that appears in Bulletin Today. This column is devoted to issues related to technology at the University of St. Thomas. It is a joint effort of Computing and Communication Services, Instructional Support Services and the university libraries. Please send your comments to tech_column@stthomas.edu .

By Dan Gjelten, O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library

Five years ago, the UST faculty approved a computer competency requirement for the curriculum that requires first-year students to demonstrate their skills in four areas: basic microcomputer operations, word processing, electronic mail, and the use of “library electronic information systems.” The goal of this requirement was to ensure that all students shared a level of competency in the use of basic educational tools while at the University of St. Thomas. The library conducts classes in the use of electronic resources, while the Learning Center staff helps students with the other components of the program. In the last five years, thousands of students attended workshops and received individual training that allowed them to complete the requirement.

Much has changed in the last five years, as well. The implications of technological change have become clearer to us, both in the educational environment and in our lives in general. The cost of computers has fallen, at the same time that personal computing power has greatly increased. Computer industry estimates indicate that approximately 80 million Americans now access the Internet on a regular basis. Electronic mail, which was not long ago considered an interesting novelty, has become an essential element of daily communication for many Americans. The Internet and the World Wide Web have revolutionized the distribution of information and have, according to some, created an entirely new economic model for our society.

In light of these dramatic shifts in the technological environment, it might be time to consider a different approach to the issue of computer competency, one that might be described more accurately as “information literacy.” Rather than a focus on “tool competency,” perhaps we should be providing guidance and instruction in the following areas:

Resource literacy: understanding the forms, formats, and ways to access information. (All of these are expanding on a daily basis.) What am I searching — books, articles, newspapers, magazines, Web sites? Am I using an index or a full-text database? Am I searching every word in the articles or just the titles and subject headings? Are there subject headings for this information? Am I searching a locally mounted CD-ROM or am I connecting to a remote database? How current is the data and how often is it updated?

Critical literacy: the ability to evaluate critically the strengths and weaknesses of various information sources. What is the authority of the data that I am looking at? Who produced it and what are their credentials? Do the content providers have an agenda or is this objective information?

Emerging technology literacy: the ability to adapt to and understand innovations in technology. When should I adopt a new technology? What do I need to know about standards or competing technologies? How do I invest wisely and prudently in technology?

Research literacy: the ability to understand and use the appropriate tools for today’s researcher and scholar. When should I use bibliographic data and when should I be looking for quantitative data? How do I find data that I can manipulate and how do I use it effectively? Is there software available that I should know about as I plan my research?

Additional areas of “literacy” might include an awareness of the way publishing has changed in the Internet world and the ways that our notions of community have been altered in this environment. (These ideas have been discussed more fully in “Information technology as a liberal art: enlightenment proposals for a new curriculum” by Jeremy J. Shapiro and Shelley K. Hughes in Educom Review, March/April 1996.)

The University of Washington’s Office of Educational Assessment recently reported on the importance of 17 educational outcomes, as ranked by graduates one, five and 10 years after graduation. They found that there was “remarkable agreement” among these alumni on what outcomes were most important. Ranked second among 17 outcomes was “locating information needed to help make decisions or solve problems.” Ranked fifth on the list was “working effectively with modern technology, especially computers.” (See complete results at http://www.washington.edu/oea/9811.htm) These findings suggest that the teaching of information literacy, in all of its aspects, should be a very important part of UST’s curriculum.

Having the skills required to be a successful student at St. Thomas is important. The real educational goal of the university, however, as our mission states, is to “develop morally responsible individuals who combine career competency with cultural awareness and intellectual curiosity.” Accomplishing this goal today involves instruction not only in the use of the tools of learning, but in developing a more profound understanding of all the implications of those technologies, and will result in graduates who are fully aware and involved citizens in a technological culture.

Correction

A previous article (Top Five Questions at the CCS Help Desk) stated that in order to add an Internet address to a distribution list in full Outlook, you first must set up a nickname for that person in your Personal Address Book. In fact, you can add Internet addresses to distribution lists directly. From the Edit New Personal Distribution List Members dialog box, type the full Internet e-mail address (e.g., username@company.com) in the right-hand box under Personal Distribution List. Separate each address with semicolons, and click OK when you’re done.