Discovering Computers 2010: Living in a Digital World, Complete

December 3, 2009

The US House of Representatives has just inaugurated the National Computer Science Education Week. With 405 votes for and none against the resolution, computer science must be hitting the mainstream.

Computer science is no longer controversial; it has changed everything and continues to change itself. With such rapid evolution, students often know far more about cutting-edge developments than their professors.

Students demand a university experience that is relevant, using Twitter, blogs, instant messaging, Wikipedia, podcasts, Skype, Facebook... On the other hand, many professors see the internet as an unreliable source of information, if not of outright plagiarism, yet they use email daily not knowing about phishing and spoofing.

Into this cauldron drops a massive book, Discovering Computers 2010: Living in a Digital World, Complete. And it means complete, covering almost everything from cleaning PC fans to Web 2.0, via games, viruses, connecting to the internet, to the health risks of using computers. You'll get backache, go blind and your fingers will stop working. How are you going to avoid that?

Despite the density of material, the book is lively and filled with illustrations and vignettes about essential general knowledge, including backgrounds on companies and leading figures, from Steve Jobs to Richard Stallman. However, other than a mention of Tim Berners-Lee, this "international" edition seems very weak on Europe and the rest of the world; indeed, the occasional culturally myopic stuff about the US grates.

The book has a substantial website: curiously, it has no online index, although it adds features such as forums, quizzes and games that students will find appealing. We don't yet have a good word to mean being illiterate about computers, but if we did, this book would be the cure - along with serving as an accidental introduction to US hegemony in the field.

Who is it for? Clearly for teenagers who have to pass exams on IT, but it should be for anybody in education, especially lecturers and teachers who want to understand what students expect of IT.

Presentation: Well illustrated, with structured reviews and quizzes. Too heavy for everyday use: one wonders why the website hasn't been used to reduce the number of trees needed for the paper book.

Would you recommend it? Yes! I was surprised that so much useful stuff can be written engagingly about computers. Almost everybody could benefit from revision, perhaps especially those who entered the field more than a year ago and who otherwise risk disappointing students with their ignorance.

Discovering Computers 2010: Living in a Digital World, Complete

Authors: Gary B. Shelly and Misty E. Vermaat

Edition: International student edition

Publisher: Cengage Learning

Pages: 904

Price: £47.99

ISBN: 9780495806813

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