Viewpoint: Why ICT Literacy Assessment Is Needed Now

By Dr. Ilene F. Rockman
The California State University, Office of the Chancellor

Today's college students are adept at downloading music, using instant messaging to chat with friends, sending e-mail, and surfing the web-but do they know how to effectively find, evaluate, and use information appropriately?

Anecdotal information from faculty and librarians say "no"-that students just accept what they find on the Internet as credible, authoritative, and reliable-and that they can download and use information however they please.

That's one of the reasons why several colleges and universities are interested in assessing students' information and communication technology (ICT) skills-to see just how information and tech savvy students really are.

The California State University (23 campuses) and several other two and four-year higher education institutions have partnered with Educational Testing Service (ETS);www.ets.org to develop the ICT Literacy Assessment, a new performance-based, web-based, interactive tool designed to measure students' cognitive skills within a digital environment. Tasks reflect real-world scenarios, which engage students in demonstrating their knowledge, skills and abilities to define, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, create and communicate information.

Tasks cover such topics as:

  1. comparing and summarizing information from the open web to content found in subscription databases, and then drawing conclusions from the summary
  2. downloading and installing a simulated video player
  3. synthesizing information from instant messages into a word processing document and
  4. creating a graph that supports a particular point of view. These tasks simulate work that students have performed (or will perform) in the classroom or in the workplace.

Student feedback has been positive. They indicate that they have never taken a test like this before. They found the test to be challenging, that it required both thinking and technical skills, enjoyed the real-world storylines, and felt that the tasks reflected activities they had encountered at school, work or home.

So, why is the test important to institutions of higher education? It requires students to demonstrate their skills through critical reading, thinking and reflection (unlike multiple choice tests); helps institutions plan curriculum to address ICT literacy gaps; provides evidence for accreditation purposes; verifies ICT literacy skills that students need to enter the workforce or in graduate school; and has the potential to certify that graduates have the cognitive and technical skills needed by employers in this globally connected, multicultural world.

The California State University views ICT literacy as a foundational skill, similar to math and writing. Students entering any of the university campuses would do well to have these skills to be academically successful. That is the message that faculty have told us in Academic Literacy: A Statement of Competencies Expected of Students Entering California's Public Colleges and Universities (2000), produced by the inter-segmental committee of the Academic Senates of the California Community Colleges, the California State University, and the University of California

Faculty notes that students' success has as much to do with their ability to find information as to recall it. In addition, while entering students are familiar with some technology, few are able to demonstrate the crucial ability to critically evaluate sources of information.

So, ICT literacy assessment is important because we know that

  • Students are entering colleges and universities lacking basic research and information competence skills (including critical thinking and problem solving)
  • Technology is transforming teaching and learning at the same time that we are seeing a proliferation of information formats and choices
  • Assessment studies indicate that there is an over reliance on the web as an information source by students
  • Faculty want to see an improvement in the quality of student work, an increase in the effectiveness of student research, and students taking more responsibility for their own learning
  • Students want to complete assignments with less difficulty and more satisfaction
  • Employers want to hire graduates who are competent, willing to take responsibility, and able to produce new ideas and directions for the future

The ICT Literacy Assessment (www.ets.org/ictliteracy) can help. It is the right test-at the right time-for higher education.

Dr. Ilene Rockman was the Manager of the Information Competence Initiative for the Office of the Chancellor of the California State University system until she passed away on Nov. 26 after a long fight with cancer. Ilene served on the Charter Client Committee that worked with ETS to develop and implement its ICT Literacy Assessment.

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