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Extension Technology and
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University of Missouri-Columbia   Extension Technology and Computer Services—ETCS

February 2002
 Vol. 19, No. 1

A Technology Newsletter for Extension Specialists



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Another FITness Program
By Bill McFarland

When I fly into Washington DC, I always like to land at the National airport, and take the Metro Yellow Line directly to the Smithsonian Station. I know how to get to where I want to go, I don’t have to ask for help, and I get there pretty efficiently, as long as whatever I wanted to do is located around the Smithsonian Station. The capability of following a set of learned instructions repeatedly, however, does not help me much when I am instructed to go to the L’Enfant Plaza, or Foggy Bottom stations, - they weren’t on the Yellow Line. Or what if the Metro wasn’t running, like early one Sunday morning? In other words, I hadn’t really mastered getting around Washington DC very well, especially if anything changed, or went wrong.

Sometimes I think navigating through the Information Technology (IT) maze may be like getting around Washington DC. I found a fascinating report on the Web that addresses the idea of IT mastery, as opposed to computer literacy. The report is at the National Academy Press, and is called Being Fluent with Information Technology.[1]

Here are some pertinent excerpts I would like to think on:

This requirement of a deeper understanding than is implied by the rudimentary term "computer literacy" motivated the committee to adopt "fluency" as a term connoting a higher level of competency. People fluent with information technology (FIT persons) are able to express themselves creatively, to reformulate knowledge, and to synthesize new information. Fluency with information technology (i.e., what this report calls FITness) entails a process of lifelong learning in which individuals continually apply what they know to adapt to change and acquire more knowledge to be more effective at applying information technology to their work and personal lives.

Fluency with information technology requires three kinds of knowledge: contemporary skills, foundational concepts, and intellectual capabilities. These three kinds of knowledge prepare a person in different ways for FITness.

This 199-page report describes contemporary skills as those we generally train on, such as what buttons to click to accomplish a specific task in Word. They were nice in labeling these contemporary as opposed to just temporary skills. The issue is that every year, almost, the software is going to be upgraded and what skills we have obtained may need to be revised, and additional skills are now called for. The prediction in the report is that the more FIT one is, the more likely it is that one can cope with, and even embrace with enthusiasm, the fast and ever changing IT environment, because one will have more foundational concepts and intellectual capabilities with which to work.

I worry about how we should provide opportunities for our faculty and staff to get more FIT. In a preceding article in this Inner Circuits, we are announcing a web-based training opportunity, which certainly has value. But it primarily applies to only one of the three knowledge areas of the FIT requirements.

I also worry about the FITness of our clientele, who are ever increasingly embracing IT at their work, school, and at home, either because they want to, or because they have to. In a report published this month: A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet,, by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), I see that more than half of all American households are on the Internet. Almost 60% of all households have a computer. The data summarized in this report is from Census data surveys from September 2001. The primary conclusion stated is:

The Internet has become a tool that is accessible to and adopted by Americans in communities across the nation.  Approximately two million more people become Internet users every month, and over half of the population is now online.  Those who have been the least traditional users –people of lower income levels, lower education levels, or the elderly – are among the fastest adopters of this new technology.  As a result, we are more and more becoming a nation online: a nation that can take advantage of the information resources provided by the Internet, as well as a nation developing the technical skills to compete in our global economy.

Here is one of the many charts from the report showing how Internet access has doubled just since 1998, in all four of our target audience areas, including Rural.

Data are also presented by state, and Missouri comes in at just under 50% of all households connected to the Internet. Will we play a role in the FITness of these people in our state? I would appreciate your ideas and your perspectives on these ideas from your viewpoint, and FITness achievements.

[1] National Research Council. Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications. Committee on Information Technology Literacy, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. Being Fluent with Information Technology. Publication. (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999)



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