A Summary of Programming is the New Literacy

In his 2008 Edutopia article, Programming is the New Literacy, author Marc Prensky discusses the current definition of literacy “the ability to carefully read and write a contemporary spoken language” and how that definition is evolving as technology increasingly influences our behavior in everyday life. “I believe the single skill that will, above all others, distinguish a literate person is programming literacy, the ability to make digital technology do whatever, within the possible one wants to do–to bend digital technology to one’s needs, purposes, and will, just as in the present we bend words and images” (Prensky, 2008).

Prensky compares today’s proficient programming “nerds” to the reading and writing “scribes” of the past.  Rather than continuing to be the arena of a select few, the future literate person will be defined by their fluency in programming.  We will not want to hire someone to write the code that will solve our challenges; we will need to learn to do it ourselves.

Nearly all of us program devices daily; cell phones, DVRs and GPS units require us to customize to fit our likes and needs.  This involves interacting with menus and choices.  Prensky envisions computer code manipulation being used to further customize our machines.  “Most of us have problems a computer or other digital machine could easily solve for us, if only we conceived them as programming problems” (Prensky, 2008).  As programming is becoming more user friendly, rather than giving up or hiring digital natives to solve problems people could “take matters into their own hands” by using what is already developed and available on the Internet and alter it to fit their needs.  The fact that many choices are free add to the appeal.

Prensky concludes that the current generation of teachers is woefully ill equipped to effectively teach programming skills to students and students will continue to teach themselves with or without educated adult guidance. Our current goal of teaching all students to read at a tenth grade level may not be as important as ensuring that students meet the adult world with flexible programming knowledge.

Reflecting on this article’s message, it occurs to me that as current teachers struggle with the attempt to revise traditional teaching practices to incorporate important technological advances, we must understand that we don’t need to know everything in order to be effective teachers.  As teachers and students work to prepare for the future, we should embrace the idea of sharing knowledge; teachers need students to share what they know and students need teachers to allow that contribution to the learning process.  If we all learn together hopefully we will eventually educate the next generation of digital native teachers to teach in a way that will flexibly evolve as technology does.

Prensky,M. (2008,January13). Programming is the New Literacy. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from Edutopia:  http://edutopia.org/literacy-computer-programming



1 Comment

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One response to “A Summary of Programming is the New Literacy

  1. Bonnie, It strikes me that the idea of computer programming is not what most of us do in the sense that Prensky is advocating here. Rushkoff, I think, elaborates on the importance of teaching children/adults to be able to see what we do online AS programmed. The interactions that we have are coded and shaped by the limitations of the others that have done the programming already. But unlike our ability to generally control the way that a tree is a tree and water evaporates into the air after it falls from the sky at a certain dewpoint and temperature combination, the online world is completely scripted and predicted by programmers. It could be otherwise. If we don’t teach children to write the script, do they see their tools for interaction as “givens” or “limits of nature?” I wonder how many K-12 programs offer/require this form of literacy? It strikes me as very small so far.

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