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The term computer literacy is usually attributed to Arthur Luehrmann. At an April 1972 American Federation of Information Processing Societies (AFIPS) conference, Luehrmann gave a talk titled "Should the computer teach the student, or vice-versa." This talk was later published in Robert Taylor's 1980 book, The Computer in the School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee (Teachers College Press). The paper is available online.

As pointed out in Moursund (1983), the term computer literacy is used in the April 1972 document: Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences Committee on Computer Education "Recommendations Regarding Computers in High School Education," Quoting from April 1972 committee report:

We recommend the preparation of a junior high school course in "computer literacy" designed to provide students with enough information about the nature of a computer so they can understand the roles which computers play in our society.

The focus of the committee report was on computers in math education. Luehrmann provided a much broader point of view.

In his 1972 paper, Luehrmann used the term computing literacy rather than computer literacy. Evidently readers of his paper and other people people began using the term computer literacy rather than computing literacy. In 1981, the company he helped to found was named Computer Literacy Press.

Here is a quote from the 1972 paper. It provides Luehrmann's 1972 insights into what he means by computing literacy:

If the computer is so powerful a resource that it can be programmed to simulate the instructional process, shouldn’t we be teaching our students mastery of this powerful intellectual tool? Is it enough that a student be the subject of computer administered instruction—the enduser of a new technology? Or should his education also include learning to use the computer (1) to get information in the social sciences from a large database inquiry system, or (2) to simulate an ecological system, or (3) to solve problems by using algorithms, or (4) to acquire laboratory data and analyze it, or (5) to represent textual information for editing and analysis, or (6) to represent musical information for analysis, or (7) to create and process graphical information? These uses of computers in education cause students to become masters of computing, not merely its subjects.

Luehrman's more recent insights are available in a 2002 article, "Should the computer teach the student... — 30 years later." In this article, he laments that the world's educational systems have not made much progress in integrating computer literacy instruction throughput the everyday curriculum. Quoting from the 2002 article:

And how have things turned out? That's easy. Out of Taylor's trichotomy, [Tutor, Tool, Tutee] teaching tool use is just about the only impact that computers have had on schools. Walk into any middle or high school and ask to see the computers. Most will be found clustered in a computer lab, not in the classrooms. Go to the lab and ask a student what he or she is doing. The most likely answer is, "I'm working on a word processing (or spreadsheet, or database, or graphics) assignment for my computer applications class." They're learning computer tools, in short, even though they rarely use them outside the applications class.

Computer literacy is the knowledge and ability to use computers and technology efficiently. Computer literacy can also refer to the comfort level someone has with using computer programs and other applications that are associated with computers. Another valuable component of computer literacy is knowing how computers work and operate. As of 2005, having basic computer skills is a significant asset in the developed countries.

The precise definition of "computer literacy" can vary from group to group. Generally, literate (in the realm of books) connotes one who can read any arbitrary book in their native language[s], looking up new words as they are exposed to them. Likewise, an experienced computer professional may consider the ability to self-teach (i.e. to learn arbitrary new programs or tasks as they are encountered) to be central to computer literacy. In common discourse, however, "computer literate" often connotes little more than the ability to use several very specific applications (usually Microsoft Word, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Outlook) for certain very well-defined simple tasks, largely by rote. (This is analogous to a child claiming that they "can read" because they have rote-memorized several small children's books. Real problems can arise when such a "computer literate" person encounters a new program for the first time, and large degrees of "hand-holding" will likely be required.) Being "literate" and "functional" are generally taken to mean the same thing.


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