Readers' reactions

May 28, 1999

Last week in The THES... Jean Aitchison asked whether standards of English were falling among computer-literate students

Penny Garrod

Research Officer Electronic Information Systems Office The Library University of Plymouth

According to Jean Aitchison, "Most students are whizz kids on computers and, especially, the internet". Are they? As someone involved in full-time computer research, it is my experience that assumptions about levels of IT competence cannot be made.

The internet poses many challenges. You need to evaluate information; there is a wealth of search engines; "quick and dirty" searches often turn out to be long-winded and convoluted.

The truth is you do have to be able to read and write to use a computer. Spelling is crucial when entering key words to search the internet - garbage in, garbage out.

Do we dumb down and try to represent everything in simple visual forms? Should we not be raising up, and isn't IT literacy inextricably bound up with text-based literacy?

Sheila Webber

Department of inforamation science Strathclyde University

Jean Aitchison notes that "email has increased informality: messages typically begin with a casual 'Hi' or with no greeting at all".

Like many academics with content on the web I get unsolicited emails from students. These confirm that an ability to use email does not equate with using that tool effectively.

We should make students think about how they can tailor their communication to stimulate the desired response. If that means teaching appropriate punctuation, so be it.

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