Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Information Literacy

The link in the title above takes you to a Chronicle of Higher Education article about information literacy at the undergraduate level. Much of the article is not news to librarians, since we have a very good idea how poor most folks are at evaluating and choosing scholarly resources in the flood of online options. But, did you know there are tests for information literacy?

Since colleges and accrediting agencies say college graduates must be information literate, a slew of standardized tests now purport to measure students' skills in this area.

Among the most well known is the ICT Literacy Assessment, which was developed and is administered by the Educational Testing Service, a nonprofit group based in Princeton, N.J. "ICT" stands for "information and communication technology." The 75-minute test, offered at two levels, measures students' ability in seven areas, including organizing, evaluating, and communicating with electronic data.

ETS gave an early version of the test in 2006 to 5,338 college students and 1,012 high-school students across the country — including 924 from six Cal State campuses — and concluded that many students were unprepared for college-level work. Forty-eight percent of test takers could not identify the objectivity of a Web site, the testing group said.

Ms. Roth, an advocate for information literacy at Cal State, says a majority of the system's 23 campuses are giving the test to freshmen. The university system, along with a several other colleges, helped ETS design the test. She anticipates that campuses will use the examination to track the progress of its students, perhaps testing juniors who took the test as freshmen.

She praises the test, saying it presents students with the same type of problems they would encounter in college and in the work force, and does so without resorting to multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions. "After 10 years of work here in Cal State, we were never able to develop something as sophisticated and as engaging," she said.

Several colleges have developed their own tests to measure students' information-literacy skills. At Cal State's Sacramento campus a librarian has created a multiple-choice online examination that all students in the university's general-education program take. Students who fail to score at least 80 percent are required to take a six-part tutorial. Then they take a similar test that measures their understanding of concepts as wide-ranging as Boolean searching, plagiarism, and the reliability of Web information.

Kent State University has led the development of another popular test, the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills. About 80 colleges have given the 35-minute, multiple-choice test to their students, whose answers have helped to refine it. It costs colleges about $3 per student to offer the test, while the ETS test costs $25.

Most librarians said they viewed the tests as only one measure of students' information-literacy proficiency. Some anticipated that colleges would move away from standardized tests in favor of interpretive measures of students' skills, like research papers, multimedia projects, and electronic portfolios.

"We're thinking our students will not be taking objective tests. They will be producing products, artifacts, videos, shows, pieces of art," said Charles Dziuban, director of the research initiative for teaching effectiveness at the University of Central Florida. The institution is about 18 months into a five-year, $4-million information-literacy program that it hopes will impress regional accreditation officials.

(the image of the poster for a production of George Orwell's 1984 just looks so much like the wired brain, I couldn't resist using it to illustrate!)

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