the whole shebang

February 28, 2007

What computer skills should schools teach?

Filed under: accessibility,Education,Software — wholeshebang @ 10:49 am

Life-Long Computer Skills” is an excellent article and jumping-off point for what should be an in-depth public discussion in every community and in state and local governments.

The 8 skill-areas mentioned are excellent choices, though there are a few important omissions. To that list, I would add the following:

The Basics of Internet Security

Children must be taught the common types of malware and what types of software can protect them. They must know that a firewall is useless unless it is 2-way (can block both incoming and outgoing connections) and has port-stealthing. They must know that antivirus is useless unless it is an on-demand (always-on) scanner that runs in the background, waiting to recognize bad behavior by programs and automatically scanning all file downloads, email downloads, and webpages to prevent malware infections. They must know that all users who connect to the Internet must run a 2-way, port-stealthing firewall, an on-demand/always-on anti-virus scanner, a spyware blocker (unless included in the anti-virus product), a pop-up blocker (whether the browser has one built in or not, and besides some popups happen on a desktop thanks to malware, not just on the Internet from a website).

They must be taught not to give out identifying information about themselves to anyone online. Not just their name, address, and phone number, but also where they go to school, descriptions of themselves, their pet’s names, their families names, medical information, or any combination of information that, when combined, has the ability to identify them.

Children should be taught how social engineering is used to trick people into reading malicious email, clicking links to malicious websites, authorizing malicious file downloads, and giving out personal information. Children should be taught not to post their email address anywhere in plain text, and not to sign up for services that do so, or that allow others to email them with the default settings.

Children must be taught how to identify predatory behavior and report it to their parents and/or law enforcement, school officials, etc. Children should be taught to use only email clients (readers) and browsers that support content-filtering, spam-filtering, etc. Children should learn how to report spam to their ISP and to uce@ftc.gov. They should be taught not to save passwords, to always deselect “remember me” at websites that provide that option, to do “disk cleanup” (if using Windows), or similar task on a regular basis. They should know how to use things like MD5 to check downloaded files or files copied from a friend. They should know how to encrypt files, folders, and the entire filesystem.

The Basics of Operating Systems

Children should be taught that the operating system is seperate from the computer and is a matter of choice. They should know the core ways that operating systems differ from one another (filesystems, security settings, account administration, open-vs-closed-source, text-file-based configuration, installers, ability of user to change behaviors, encryption, run modes), what an operating system is and isn’t (BIOS, hardware, firmware, volatile vs. nonvolatile memory, types of storage), and general theory about how the operating system allows the user to communicate with hardware

Choosing and Installing an Operating System

Children should be taught how to evaluate the functionality, security, customizability, software availability, and suitability of various operating systems, the difference between out-of-the-box and OEM installs, how to research hardware compatibility and find needed drivers, how to research backwards-compatibility for currently-installed software, and how each operating system may protect or compromize their privacy, and how to search for updates and/or research security vulnerabilities.

Children should learn to install at least a few operating systems, with the pupose being to become familiar with various install approaches and methods. They should be able to install a dula-boot system. They should be able to do automated and semi-automated installs. They should know how to find, download, and check the integrity of ISO files and burn them to CD. They should be able to do installs via text menus. They should be able to do a command-line install, at least of an OS whose command-line install is fairly straight-forward. They should be able to install from a bootable CD and a non-bootable CD (or DVD).

Computer Adminstration and Maintenance

Children should know how to back up files, folders, and disks. They should know how to find and apply security patches. They should know how to “defrag” (if using Windows). They should know how to create different types of accounts and when to use them. They should know how to backup, restore, upgrade, or roll back their systems. They should know how to read help menus, how to read online help. They should know how to check their computer’s performance and check their security logs. They should know how to use text-based configuration files.

They should be taught the correct meanings of various computer- and Internet-related terminology, and how such terminology is misused. They should know how to find documentation and manuals where such material is not provided with the computer, operating system, or application software. They should know how to upgrade some basic hardware components, like memory, magnetic drives, and optical drives, and how to find the drivers for them. They should know how to find updated drivers and the best online sources for driver information (currently DriverGuide.com)

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