Tech Report CS-94-21

Computer Literacy for Undergraduates: A Document-Engineering Framework

Peter Wegner

June 1994


Brown's computer literacy course for undergraduates with no previous experience of computing aims to elevate the collection of practical techniques associated with word processing, spreadsheets, and hypertext into a systematic discipline of document engineering. It starts with a Macpaint competition whose prizewinners in 1994 were publicly exhibited. It includes Hypercard assignments on "how computers execute programs" and on "can machines think?", and a network treasure hunt that requires students to correspond by e-mail, retrieve an ftp file, and report on their favorite newsgroups. The one-month final project requires design and implementation of a substantial document in Hypercard, Mosaic, or Excel, with a high-level design at the end of the first week and a detailed design at the end of the second week that is worth 20% of the project grade. The 1994 projects included a Startrek adventure game, the archeoology of Mesopotamia, multimedia guides to Ghana, Prague, and New York, the Bible with illustrations (Leonardo's last supper), and music lessons with audio examples and composition facilities (we used it to compose three blind mice). We examine the structure of the course and suggest that such courses are not only more practical than but as conceptually challenging as first courses on programming.

(complete text in pdf or gzipped postscript)