traci's lists of ten

Traci's 14th List of Ten:
Ten Technological Literacy Activities

Posted to ACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk, and TEACH on 11/16/98.

Web pages, email addresses, online chats -- computer technology seems omnipresent. Whether you're skimming pages of a newspaper, surfing the many channels on the television dial, or listening to a radio, you're going to be inundated with Internet addresses. They've become such a part of everyday vocabulary that one young man I know began saying "dot-com" when he was eighteen-months old. He runs around saying things like "mama-dot-com" and "kitty-dot-com" (though he has no idea what the words means and believes that computers would be very intriguing play toys if we'd only let him get close enough).

How will such kids grow up? Will they take computer technology for granted? Will they see where computers are -- and more importantly, where they aren't? How many of the students in our classrooms remember the grocery store cashier having to punch in every digit of every price by hand? Do they take it as an everyday occurrence when they call to place an order and the operator can determine who they are in an instant by entering a detail or two in the computer? Do they have any idea how people registered for classes BEFORE computers moved on campus?

As students growing up in a world where computer technology seems to be everywhere, do they notice the stores, businesses, and homes where there are NO computers? And how do they think about these places where computer technology either is inaccessible or harder to find? What labels do they apply to the corner store where the cashier still writes out a receipt by hand?

This week's List of Ten provides the first installment focusing on questions that we can ask students to consider as critical thinkers interacting with computer technology. Most of the assignments ask students to look at the ways that computer technology is presented in the world around them, so access to computers in the classroom is not necessary for students to work on these assignments. Note that the first three assignments are connected, all dealing with the naming conventions associated with computer technology.

Another ten assignments on this topic will be posted in the next week or so.

  1. Naming and Web/Email Addresses. A lot of money goes into the names that businesses splash across advertisements, commercials, billboards, and product packages. Companies and organizations want an unmistakable Internet presence (take a look at the work Hormel has done to squash various "Spam" pages for one example). They want the public to look at the addresses and think of the company and its products.
           Take a newspaper or magazine and collect every email address and web page address that is included -- check the advertisements and the text of the articles, and keep track of where you find the addresses. Once you've gathered all the addresses, write a paper that analyzes the naming conventions that the addresses (or more properly, the companies that chose those names) have used. What is the domain (see below)? Does the company use specific names in the address beyond the domain? In your paper, create a system of classification that outlines the ways that companies name their Internet resources, or write a paper that describes the features that seem important in naming Internet resources (a sort-of how-to guide for someone setting up a site).
          *** A domain is the part of a web page address that comes first -- after the http:// and before any additional slashes or words. In the address,, the domain is "" In an email address, the domain is the part that comes after the @ sign. In the email address, the domain is
          You might discuss the Internet naming conventions that govern certain parts of domain addresses. Be sure students understand the differences between .com, .edu, .mil, .gov as well as country and state designations.

  2. Naming and Software. Consider the naming conventions that apply to software. Consider the thought that went into names like Windows, Microsoft Word, Excel, PC Anywhere, PartitionMagic, and PhotoShop. What difference would it make if Windows had been named Doors? What suffixes and prefixes are used frequently? Are there words that are never used in titles (words that would make sense for the products)? What do the companies that named this software hope that the potential customer will think about these products? Does the kind of name that is used relate to the things that the product does? For instance, do you notice that word processing software uses one kind of typical naming convention while graphics software uses another? In your paper, create a system of classification for software product names or choose a specific category of software and explore the kinds of names that are used (and those that aren't used) for the products.

  3. Naming and Hardware. Consider the names that companies choose for computers, monitors, and printers -- names such as iMac, OptiPlex, CyberTron, Zip Drive, and so forth. Or consider the names of the parts that compose a piece of hardware -- for example, motherboards, daughterboards, SCSI drives, IDE, USB and Pentium chips. Why these names? Why the abbreviations? Are there prefixes and suffixes that are used repeatedly? What are the companies going for? Are they trying to sound cutting edge? Are they being purposefully unclear -- or do they perhaps imagine that the general public won't need to worry about what jargon like SCSI means? In your paper, create a system of classification for hardware or choose a specific category of hardware (hard drives, for instance) and explore the kinds of names that are used (and those that aren't used) for the products.

  4. Take a close look at an advertisement for a software product or the cover of a software box. What is pictured? What is the relationship between the pictures in the advertisement or on the box and what the product actually does? Are there seemingly irrelevant things pictured? Are there relevant capabilities that aren't included in the advertisement or on the box cover? Why have certain things been included and others excluded? What does the manufacturer want potential customers to think about the product? How close is the information that is included in the advertisement or on the box to the realities of the product and what it can do?
           Write an analytical paper that explains how the advertisement or product cover works. What group of potential customers is the software company attempting to attract? What are these customers interested in based on the advertisement of box cover? What issues are important to them? What conclusions can you draw about the things that are NOT pictured? What groups of customers does the company seem to be missing?

  5. Consider references to computer technology in non-computer products -- how are businesses using the language of computer technology to attract customers? Think about television commercials featuring a new car's on-board computer. The commercials suggest that the computer can track even the most minor malfunction in a car, and in expensive cars, these computers are tied to satellites that can help a harried couple get to the hospital before their baby is born. Why are these companies focusing on the computer technology? Why draw potential customers' attention to the computer rather than to the cabin space, the anti-lock brakes, or the warranty?
           Find at least three advertisements that highlight computer technology as part of their appeal to potential customers. Remember you're looking for advertisements or commercials for non-computer products. Gather details on the things that the three advertisements have in common. How do they discuss computer technology? What details do they include? What features do they ignore as they focus on computer technology? Who do they show using the products? What kind of customers are they targeting? How do they imagine the discussion of computer technology will interest these potential customers? Write an analytical paper that explains your conclusions about the ways that the advertisers use information about computer technology in your three advertisements.

  6. Take a look at a television or print advertisement for an Internet Service Provider (or ISP). Frequently advertised ISPs include AOL, CompuServe, and AT&T WorldNet. What is shown in the advertisements? Who is shown using these Internet access tools? What are these computer users doing? What kinds of computer users are left out? What can you tell about the way that the company describes itself and portrays its customers? Write a paper that compares the Internet as the ISP defines it to what Internet users are really like.

    NOTE: You'll need to begin by doing some analysis of Internet users to compare to the ISP commercials.

  7. What one word best applies to computers and information technology at your school? What kind of machines and software are available? Where are computers found? Who can use them? Who actually uses them? When are they available? How are the computers used? Once you've captured a sense of the state of computer technology on your campus, write a paper that explains the one word that you've chosen and the reasons that you've chosen it. As you explain your word, be sure to include details on computers and information technology at your school that support your choice.
    NOTE: if your school has no computers, you can think about computers where you work or computers available for local access at the library or elsewhere.

  8. Take a look at commercials for computer products like the iMac and Gateway's Your:)Ware or software products like QuickBooks Pro. If you believe the commercials, what are the steps in using a computer? How do you go about getting online? writing out an invoice? paying your bills? sending an email message? Write a paper that compares the fairy-tale world of the commercials to the experiences that you or your friends and family have had with computers. Why are computers and software portrayed the way that they are in these commercials? Are the commercials believable?

  9. Assume that you work in the Research and Development division of a business that produces computers, software, or computer training programs. For this paper, pitch a new product or service to your manager that provides better access to a wider variety of people than its competitors. Your paper needs to describe the product or service and explain why it's needed. Describe the customers who will use the product. As you describe your product, pay attention to issues of equal access -- What makes your product or service available to as many people as possible? How does it provide better access than competitors in the market? Your paper will be a persuasive proposal. Include a section on the background and need, description of the product or service, its advantages and disadvantages, and conclusions or recommendations.

  10. Your school is trying to increase access to computers on campus. To gather ideas on ways that access can be improved, the school has invited students to submit proposals that explain things that the school can do to help more people get to computers or to help more people learn how to use computers in educational ways. Look around your campus at the computer technology now available. What kind of machines and software are available? Where are computers found? Who can use them? Who actually uses them? When are they available? How are the computers used — what do people use them for? In your paper, include the following information:
    • outline the need for the kind of access you're proposal focuses on
    • describe the things which are necessary to provide access (hardware? furniture? software? training classes? etc.)
    • explain why your proposal is the best alternative
    • recommend a timetable or course of action necessary to implement your proposal