The New Literacy

I think I’m getting a handle on why I started this blog, and it’s called the “New Literacy”. Some bloggers have already hit on it – Jon Udell sums it up perfectly here:

“Fluency with digital tools and techniques shouldn’t be a badge of membership in a separate tribe. In conversations with Jeannette Wing and Joan Peckham I’ve explored the idea that what they and others call computational thinking is a form of literacy that needs to become a fourth ‘R’ along with Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.”

I think I can operationalize this a bit – as I see it, weaving together data from multiple sources, APIs and algorithms into interactive interfaces, as well as applying statistical and scientific thinking should be basic skills, like cooking a plate of spaghetti. I foresee these skills crossing over from the domain of the geeks to almost everyone, or rather everyone who is willing to learn them. Udell further suggests that such skills should be taught to students at an early age (an idea also blogged about here):

“In my own recent writing and speaking, I’ve suggested that feed syndication and lightweight service composition are aspects of computational thinking that we ought to formulate as basic principles and teach in middle school or even grade school.”

Given the volume of data and information around us, and the emergence of the web as a ubiquitous computational platform, not being able to do these things could put an individual at a significant academic and professional disadvantage. It’s not about being an expert in any particular area of computation or technology, but being able to deploy technology in everyday professional and personal settings to get things done better and faster. I don’t know who this trend will affect, but I see it affecting younger folks the most. I can also see younger workers bringing these skills into workplace settings where older workers simply don’t possess them – resulting in friction or misunderstandings.

Could I be overreaching here? Possibly. Many professions have human interaction as a significant component, and many require working with concepts and knowledge that are unstructured and not easily computable. But I do think this topic is something we should think about – and I will try to explore the “curriculum” of this New Literacy in future posts in this blog.


This article from two years ago sums up these ideas perfectly – I should have included it in my main post.


2 responses to “The New Literacy

  1. The potential to revamp the way businesses and the government collect, store, manage , and share data has both positive and negative implications. Probably more of the former than the latter.

    • Absolutely. I think one of the biggest benefit of such a transformation will be pushing the ability to make sense of big data further down to individuals.

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