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An introduction to data and information

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Ever wondered how a computer processes data into information? This free course, An introduction to data and information, will help you to understand the distinction between the two and examines how a computer-based society impacts on daily life. You will learn what computers can do with data to produce information and how computers can be used to work with data and search for it, control machines, and support commercial operations.

After studying this unit you should be able to:

  • identify some of the instances in daily life where a computer is, or is likely to be, involved;
  • given a simple scenario, list most of the obvious information or data required by the parties in that scenario, and give some examples of how the information or data might be used;
  • explain briefly what perceptual data is, and how it is turned into a form that can be used by a person for reasoning or by a computer for processing;
  • given a figure, identify whether it is a sign and, if so, what it symbolises;
  • describe, in simple terms, the difference between data and information;
  • give a simple explanation of why computers are important to people in terms of data and information;
  • describe what a parameter is and identify the parameters in a particular scenario;
  • explain in simple terms what a computer program is, and why one is necessary;
  • explain the role of the computer with respect to the data given to it;
  • make use of a search engine to find websites corresponding to a topic of your choice, using some of the advanced search features, and be able to state how many computers (at a minimum) are involved in using a search engine and which role each has;
  • understand what a gateway is and what advantages it offers a user in searching for a topic;
  • briefly explain how requirements (e.g. considering the environment in which a computer might be used) affect the presentation of information, giving a simple example;
  • list some of the problems raised by very large databases even when the basic unit of data is very simple;
  • explain briefly what advantages a computer system can offer a creative artist and what characteristic enables it to do so;
  • describe briefly the elements of a distributed system that are needed for selling on the web;
  • describe the role of computers in controlling mechanical devices;
  • explain the role of sensors and actuators in a computer-controlled application, given a brief description of that application;
  • identify some simple safety considerations in a computer-controlled application;
  • identify appropriate information displays in a given situation.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 20 hours
  • Updated Tuesday 10th December 2013
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under Computing and ICT
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2.1.2 Data and information

So far, I have used two words in connection with computers: data and information. Did you see any differences in the way the two terms have been used? Let me point out one.

Data refers to discrete items, such as the price of an item on the shelf of a supermarket, or the type of product listed on a sign over a supermarket aisle. The word ‘data’ is a plural Latin word but it is generally used as a singular word in English.

In contrast, information involves linking together two or more items of data to provide an item of knowledge. If someone suddenly said to you, ‘50p’, you'd be a bit puzzled. However, being told, ‘The price of a litre of milk is 50p’, would convey information. In other words, information can be thought of as the answer to a question such as: ‘What is the price of this product?’ So the words ‘50p’ said in connection with nothing would mean little, but stated in answer to the above question would convey information or knowledge.

It's true that the distinction I've made here between data and information may seem fuzzy. One person's data could be another's information (as you will see later in this unit). But for now, please work with the simple definitions given above.

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