Computer Literacy vs Computer Science

Since my initial encounter with technology in education in the late 1990’s I have noted that the two terms, computer literacy, and computer science, are frequently confused, used interchangeably and possibly incorrectly. And rightfully so in-as-much as the guru technologists aren’t in agreement regarding definitions or categorization. So I’ve developed a few thoughts of my own to assist me in practice to distinguish the two.

Thought 1: Computer literacy is all about the competent and safe use of computing hardware and software.

Thought 2: Computer science is all about computational thinking leading to critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation.

Thought 3: It doesn’t matter because one, computer literacy, is intrinsically embedded in the other and computer science is to a great extent dependent on computer literacy.

Prior to 2007, the ISTE standards for students emphasized student computer use and safety. From a “technology integration” and teaching perspective, activation of the standards in curricula amounted to achieving the lower three levels of Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s ( SAMR model: substitution, augmentation, and modification. The 2007 standards move into the “redefinition” arena defined as, “Computer technology allows for new tasks that were previously inconceivable.” I am certain that the 2016 standards’ remake will go even further by emphasizing creating, making, inventing, developing–basically doing through technology.

The following is an excerpt from Jeff Weiner’s (LinkedIn CEO) email to his employees regarding the purchase of LinkedIn by Microsoft (

Remember that dystopian view of the future in which technology displaces millions of people from their jobs? It’s happening. In the last three weeks alone, Foxconn announced it will replace 60,000 factory workers with robots, a former CEO of McDonald’s said given rising wages, the same would happen throughout their franchises, Walmart announced plans to start testing drones in its warehouses, and Elon Musk predicted fully autonomous car technology would arrive within two years.

Whether it’s worker displacement, the skills gap, youth unemployment, or socio-economic stratification, the impact on society will be staggering. I’ve said it on multiple occasions and believe it even more so every day: creating economic opportunity will be the defining issue of our time. That’s why I’m here and why I can’t imagine doing any other job. Simply put, what we do matters, and matters more than ever.

Those few examples are “new tasks that were previously inconceivable.” Technology infusion into the curriculum at the earliest ages possible at a level well beyond use and safety is essential. We are no longer becoming a technological society,.we are one. This necessitates innovating, refocusing and restructuring the learning process across genders, across age and grade groupings, across subject areas, across organizational types, and across geographical areas. Learning must become open and project-based and if not in our educational institutions, then elsewhere.