On the assessment of digital literacy

The design of tests such as the “Information and Communications Technology literacy assessment” – a subject developed by Tom Zeller Jr in the NYT article dated 17-01-05 Measuring literacy in a world gone digital  – rests on normative assumptions about what is a proficient use of the Internet. The selection of tasks and their measures are a direct reflection of these assumptions. Some tasks assess what can be considered skill-level abilities: create a spreadsheet; create an e-mail and manage an inbox; manipulate tables and charts; search and gather material on a topic. Others deal with higher-level cognitive tasks such as organise, interpret and verify information from heterogeneous sources.

In an earlier time, information came, really, from only one place: the University Library. Now it is all part of a giant continuum, and often the student is the sole arbiter of what is good information, what is bad information and what all the shades are in between (Lorie Roth, Assistant vice chancellor of academic programs for the California State University).

The dominant underlying usage model seems to be that of an Internet user who’s a receiver/recipient of information confronted with the problem of selecting and evaluating the formidable volume of very diverse information accessible today. A radically different approach to ICT Literacy would follow from an alternative reference usage model where the user is a sender of information as much as a receiver; a producer as much as a recipient. This alternative approach would have two main implications. It would set active involvement in the Information Society as one of the criteria; and would require quite different basic tasks at both the skill- and cognitive-levels, tasks more focused on publication, participation and sharing, and less on individual information processing activities.

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