Teaching Software

What makes computers useful is the programs they run. Computer software has evolved since the microcomputer became popular, in both the features of the programs and the simplified user interface. To be able to take advantage of the computer as a tool people need to learn a variety of programs.

Software can be classified into categories such as:

Program Type Use
Word processor Sophisticated Electronic typewriter
Spreadsheet Performing calculations and making graphs
Database Inventory systems and searching large data
Browser Search World Wide Web
Email Electronic messages
Presentations Build slide shows
Graphics Painting pictures, editing video
Application Custom purposes from accounting to specific purposes
Educational Information and management of materials
Utility Many – for example, anti-virus

Computers have evolved from number crunchers to word crunchers to information processors, to communication technology, and may indeed be able to actually think for themselves. How people use the software, at a variety of skill levels, to allow the technology tool help people learn and in their individual education?

Many people see a computer as a magic box that has a mind of its own. Most technology only knows how to say yes or no, albeit very quickly. In order for people to utilize technology effectively they need to take charge of the computer and tell the computer what to do. In the book, Program or be Programmed, Rushkoff (2010), points out that we need to drive the technology. That you don’t need to know how an engine works to drive a car is certainly shortsighted. We do need to know something about how the engine works or the car won’t be running for long. Similarly, we need to know how computers work and are programmed so we can tell them what to do.

Based on observation, and my own experience, I have found that I can get a handle on a new program if I am given instruction on the basics of what the program does and where various options are. I want to see the power of the program relative to my needs. With having an overview of the program then learning will occur and skills will develop largely as a function of trial and error to a certain degree of proficiency. To go further, in my experience, what the student / learner needs is to solve problems they have using the computer program. The best growth I have had in learning computer software is by taking on problems to solve with the software.

Many programs require knowledge of a particular subject matter. For example, if someone wanted to know how to use a computer aided drafting program, it would be advantageous to know something about drafting. Some programs are more intuitive, such as word processing and spreadsheets and other programs are more complicated.

In society today people are assumed to have knowledge of using the World Wide Web and email. These have become a standard way to access information and to communicate. For a majority of people this is an absolute minimum set of programs, most people need to know many more programs.

The evolution of software and user interfaces provides much more efficient and user friendly ways of accessing information. In the book Being Digital, Negroponte (1995), introduces the concept of the universal bit. The idea is that information could exist in a variety of analog and digital forms and then be converted to another form. In the converted form information may be more conveniently accessed and shared. Touch computing has become commonplace and supports handwriting analysis optical character recognition; speech to text and text to speech allows us to talk to the computer, have words converted to text, or have the computer talk to us. Keyboards have become a way to edit information as opposed to being the primary input technology. Analyzing images and video and interpreting information into data is evolving at a rapid pace in science and technology.

The hardware has shrunk in size making it more convenient to transport and use. Innovations such as Google Glass illustrates how research is looking at making computers work to fit how humans work as opposed to the initial development of technology where people had to be trained to learn how computers work. People and students need to learn more about maximizing the use of technology and the programs available today (Schank, 1997).

Rushkoff, D. (2010). Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. OR Books.

Negroponte N. (1995). Being Digital. Alfred A. Knopf Publisher.

Schank, R., (1997). Virtual Learning. A Revolutionary Approach to Building a Highly Skilled Workforce. McGraw-Hill.

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