Information Obesity: The web site

Resources for chapter 6: computer and information literacy

6.1 The Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the "Dartmouth" model [pages 82-85]

Image: the Sinclair ZX Spectrum

The film I mention in the text can be viewed at You Tube: it's about 9 minutes long.

The Wikipedia page on the Spectrum is as good an introduction as you would expect. For information on some of its contemporaries/competitors see also the pages on the BBC Micro and the Commodore 64. All these pages have links to other resources like emulators, fan sites and so on.

PDFs of the advertisements for these and similar machines in the Times are linked to here:

The survey mentioned on p. 84 which might collect data about people's use of these machines at the time and subsequently, is still under construction.

Actually I do not mention on the pages of Information Obesity that BASIC, the computer language used by the Spectrum and which you can see being written on the film, was developed at Dartmouth College in the 1970s and was thus the foundation of the "Dartmouth Model" that Nevison describes. See this story from the Dartmouth website. There are pages available about its history, e.g. Wikipedia, BBC Basic.

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6.2 The ECDL [page 86]

If you have read Information Obesity you might guess that I am not the ECDL's biggest fan. And you know - you're right. So I could easily be accused of bias here, or of asserting some kind of pedagogical power to tell you what to think, rather than allowing you to make up your own minds about things. Let me then supply some resources which might help you make your own mind up.

As said on the home page of the ECDL foundation:

The ECDL Foundation is the global governing body of the world's leading end-user computer skills certification programme, the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), which is known as the International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) outside Europe. The ECDL Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping to raise the general level of computer skills in society and providing access for all to the Information Society.
Logo: ECDL, European Computer Driving License

These are laudable aims and the ECDL (known as the ICDL outside Europe, the International... etc.) has succeeded very well in becoming the accepted international standard qualification in computing proficiency. It has helped millions of people worldwide get jobs, and keep jobs. As it says itself:

[the] ECDL is designed specifically for those who wish to gain a benchmark qualification in computing to enable them to develop their IT skills and enhance their career prospects.

There is no wishy-washy "liberal arts" stuff here. It is a career-oriented qualification, and the reasons people take it are generally instrumental, viz, they want a better job. Which is fair enough.

There are various different levels of ECDL available, but the standard qualification is broken down into 7 modules. Students can take them in any order they wish within a period of 3 years. After successfully completing all modules, an ECDL certificate is awarded to the successful candidate.

The modules covered include

  • Module 1: Concepts of Information Technology
  • Module 2: Using the Computer and Managing Files
  • Module 3: Word Processing
  • Module 4: Spreadsheets
  • Module 5: Databases
  • Module 6: Presentation (PowerPoint)
  • Module 7: Information and Communication (email and the Internet).

I include here a link to a full ECDL syllabus. Although (for reasons which will become obvious) there is no need to go through this in detail, have a quick look at it, to get some kind of feel for the way these things are put together, and the skills they cover. You might also like to have a look at some of the sample ECDL materials available from one particular commercial training company. Any of these will, similarly, help you put together a picture of the general tone and objectives of ECDL training.

For more information, visit:

THINK: Is the ECDL a qualification that would help you advance in your career? Do you think form follows function - that it is a reasonable way of acquiring and measuring certain basic competencies with ICT? If you are an employer - would someone with these competencies meet your recruitment needs? What other ICT-based competencies would they require to complement what the ECDL (according to its own claims) offers?

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6.3 The UK National Curriculum and other resources for the teaching of ICT. [pages 89-91]

I promised links to various UK examination board sites, so here they are: OCR; AQA; Edexcel; and WJEC. Look also at the National Curriculum in Action site. In each case I have linked to one of the company's ICT schemes: there may be others available on each site.

THINK: Have a look at one or more of the schemes of work that you can find here: or (and this may be more productive for some of you), track down similar declarations from your own countries and consider them. What sort of knowledge or experience is being rewarded by these syllabi and/or examination schemes? What, on the other hand, would not be rewarded - but still might be a valuable complement to the rewarded elements? What will these qualifications prepare someone to do in the future? How could the learning developed through such schemes be built on in the future?

There are dozens of other teaching resources available online, of course: I suggest here only a selected few that I have consulted on occasion:

All these (except the first) have been drawn from pages 42-67 of Jonassen et al's Learning to Solve Problems with Technology which is recommended reading here. There are many more than this within these pages, and elsewhere online.

Notes are available for Garnett's paper on '6 ICT literacies'. See also this report on digital inclusion.

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6.4 Information Literacy [pages 95-98]

First, some general links. As throughout this site, I am being selective:

The website martinlutherking.org is an example of the value of information literacy. You might like to have a look at this site - be warned that you will likely find it offensive, although you might also like to reflect on the subtle ways in which it puts across its racist message. You could also reflect on what elements of the site give it credibility? (Do so, if you like, with reference to the discussion of credibility in chapter 5 of the IO book.)

Reflect also on what will, most likely, be the first response of (say) a teenager asked to write a term paper on Dr. King. It is fair to say their first move, at least, their first online move, will almost certainly be to type "Martin Luther King" into Google. The following results come up:

Image of the Google results for a search on 'Martin Luther King'. The site being discussed here - martinlutherking.org - is in 7th place.

martinlutherking.org is not in first place, but it is on the first page, and - particularly when one is pressed for time and/or just feeling like completing some work to get a grade, rather than to really explore a subject - many learners are unlikely to go beyond this first page. In this case, why should they? The sites are all clearly relevant. The URLs tell us that. And that is one answer to the question of what makes these sites credible. We are told that such things as domain names are one way in which we can filter information: and Google itself serves as an information filter, as we accept its ranking of pages as some kind of indicator of their quality. (Most people are at least vaguely aware that the higher a page is ranked on Google, the more pages link into that page - although there remain sponsored links on Google which can alter this ranking.) All in all then it is likely that many people will end up reading martinlutherking.org on the basis of a Google search.

But these information filtering strategies are exactly what is being exploited by the creators of this site. It is also worth reflecting on the fact that a domain name like martinlutherking.org has cost a considerable sum of money - one, indeed, that has to be periodically repaid. Whomever is responsible for this site thinks that an investment worth making.

This example therefore suggests that information literacy - being able to critically assess the information one retrieves from the abundance on the internet (and in other media) - involves more than just applying "stepwise" searching strategies. If these become routines - rules, in the activity theory sense (see chapter 3) - they can be exploited in order to sell us things, disseminate deliberate misinformation, and do all the other things that more critical forms of IL are intended to shield us from. IL must also encompass a wider understanding of the political, social and economic context from which information has emerged, and also the filtering strategies which are in use both via the technology and in our existing cognitive architecture (in other words, the way we think - see chapters 7 - 9). It requires reflection on found information, and this can only take place if we have both the time to do it, and the ability to. In other words, it requires a certain amount of intellectual resources which are specific to the context and the learner. IL cannot therefore be reduced to a standardised series of steps without self-contradiction.

For further discussion and examples, as well as the IO book itself, see the ITALICS papers and other resources linked to in this section.

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