Standards and Techniques for Assessing Digital Literacy are Emerging
Digital literacy is like any other core curricular subject. It is no longer an option, just as reading and math are not. Students must be digitally competent if they are to be successful in school and in their professional and personal lives as adults. Indeed, many of the best jobs for years to come will involve digital expertise.
Educators have spent years developing reading and math curricula and crafting, as well, all sorts of assessment tools for these subjects. State departments of education have developed state-wide competency testing in core subjects; national testing services have spent years developing and refining assessments. Computer literacy, however, because of its newness, has not been an area in which standards and assessments have been articulated, codified, and developed.
Assessment tools cannot be universally developed until standards are, because it is those standards that will drive the assessments. To date, individual school districts and some national organizations have developed standards for digital literacy, and they tend to fall into three large categories:
- Application of Technology: Basic understanding of how to use digital tools (e.g., Microsoft Office, computer-assisted instructional software, Internet servers/browsers, and platforms for searching and communicating) in order to research, organize information, evaluate, and communicate.
- Proficiency with devices – PC’s, tablets, printers, media players, etc.
- Demonstrate and be able to apply the concepts of ethical/legal issues of using information technology
While there are also standards for computer science (e.g., programming), these do not make up the core curriculum to which organizations believe all students must be exposed in the classroom.
The International Society for Technology in Education has developed more specific standards in five categories which should give educators a skeleton as they address the issue of crafting their own standards. These categories are as follows:
- Innovation and Creativity
- Communication and Collaboration
- Research and Information Gathering, Analysis and Evaluation
- “Digital citizenship”
- Technology Operations
And while this organization is an amazing resource for educators, institutions, and K-12 school districts, there are no assessment tools for educators to use.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has a standing committee and task force on education and it too has developed standards of digital literacy and provide reports on what state legislatures are doing all over the country with respect to digital literacy. Again, however, there are no discussions of student assessment tools.
Finding Assessment Tools for Digital Literacy
In a few words – good luck. Until students get into high school and college, that is. By this point there are two major standardized assessments of digital literacy:
- ETS: Educational Testing Service has a lengthy history of test development, and it is generally regarded as an organization that standardizes and norms its assessments. Its iSkills Assessment is outcome-based and features scenarios in which students demonstrate their skills of research, application, synthesis and evaluation in a digital environment. This is a one-hour long test and may be administered at any time so long as it is proctored.
- Project Sails: This assessment package has been developed for IT instructors/professors at the university level and is built around eight skill sets. Administration of the test is flexible with windows during the fall and spring semesters. Scoring and reporting is conducted by the organization.
There are organizations that are developing digital assessments for K-12 students, such as the Center for Digital Education, however these assessments have not yet been normed.
Reliance on Ed Tech Professionals
Developers of digital learning coursework have built-in assessments, and these are currently the best evaluation tools for student mastery. If middle school children need to learn Microsoft Office, for example, then there is software, physical and in the cloud, to teach them. And there are formative assessments all along the way to report student mastery.
If students want to learn basic coding, there is Khan Academy, and assessments are a part of each course.
Teachers Need to Use Assessments No Matter Where They Come From
In the world of digital literacy, instructors still have a very critical role to play, even though they may not develop those assessments themselves. They need to use the built-in tools that come with the curricular programs and use them wisely.
Pre-Assessments: All digital literacy programs have a built-in pre-test. All teachers are familiar with these. They will show exactly what a student already knows, and this information is valuable. If a student demonstrates an amount of mastery of the curriculum, then that student moves forward. If digital literacy programs are delivered digitally, then this moving forward is automatic, saving a great deal of time for the teacher.
Formative Assessments: These are also built in and it will be the teacher’s job to monitor those assessments to ensure that students are on track with mastery and to provide coaching for those who are struggling. The great thing about digital formative assessment tools is that they provide immediate feedback – no waiting for a test to be graded. Teachers who complain about time constraints should love these tools – with immediate and specific feedback, both teacher and student know exactly which elements of instruction must be repeated and the focus can be individualized and only on those elements.
Self-Assessment: When students work individually within a digital literacy curriculum, they will receive formative assessment, but they will also be encouraged to reflect on why they did not master certain elements. This type of self-reflection promotes a great life skill.
Benchmark Assessment: Every curriculum has benchmarks. Mastering multiplication facts is a benchmark in an elementary math curriculum; mastering diphthongs is a benchmark in reading. Digital learning curricula has benchmarks as well. And good digital literacy programs will assess at those benchmark points. These will pull together the content from the formative assessments and push the student to synthesize – another important life skill. Benchmark assessments will show gaps and take students back to fill in those gaps through re-teaching, just as a teacher would do in a traditional classroom environment.
Summative Assessment: Consider the summative assessment the same as a final examination. Students will be asked to apply what they have learned by being presented with problems or scenarios. In a traditional learning environment, summative assessments are developed and administered by the teacher, and students wait (and wait) for the results. Summative assessments that are provided digitally can provide an immediate turnaround time, students know their mastery level right away, and teachers have the scores without taking tests home and grading them.
It may be difficult for some teachers to give up developing their own assessment tools. They have an “ownership” of their classrooms and they want to “own” how their students learn and how they are assessed. When they teach digital literacy, there may be a feeling that some of the “control” has been lost. For these teachers a paradigm shift must occur. The shift from “teaching” to “coaching” is a big one, and that is what happens in the “world” of digital literacy. Students must learn by doing, and that “doing” must occur independently or perhaps with a single partner, not the teacher. As the teacher receives information about student progress, s/he must then become an individual coach. It’s a new role for some, but a role that will be required.