By Teachers, For Teachers
On my blog, Ask a Tech Teacher, I run a column called Dear Otto, where I answer teacher questions about how to integrate technology in the classroom. Of late, the most common question is, "How do I assess student digital literacy?" with a close cousin, "I am the tech integration specialist. How do I assess faculty digital literacy so I can teach them what they don't know?"
Happily, both can be accomplished the same way. But before I tell you how, let's step back and talk about the meaning of "digital literacy."
The definition of digital literacy is pretty much what you'd expect: "The ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills" -- from the American Library Association.
In the past, I discussed the eight skills required for students to be considered digitally literate. Today, I want to focus on the need to assess digital literacy and what technology in the classroom tools are available to do this.
This is a good question -- why should you assess digital literacy? Teaching students how to use the digital tools required for their education journey is not the same as the tools that will prepare them for college and career. Here are the five most common reasons schools feel the need to assess student and faculty digital literacy:
The growing reliance of schools on web-based testing has forced many schools to confront the lack of digital literacy in their students and staff. The absence of the basic tech skills required to respond to questions in online testing impacts severely the students’ ability to share evidence of their core knowledge. As a result, when you assess digital literacy required for online tests, you focus on basic word processing skills (keyboarding, toolbars, and that sort) and the rudimentary understanding of internet tools (activating videos, dialogue boxes, and things like that). Many assessment tools will fulfill that need without getting deeper into more complex tech knowledge (such as problem solving, hardware, and infrastructure).
Using technology in the education journey requires a much broader pallet of skills than what is required for online testing. Students will want to be facile with not just keyboarding and word processing but search and research, video and audio tools, communication tools (such as would be needed to collaborate and meet online), project completion tools (such as slideshows and online posters), and share tools to collaborate on projects. These will include tools like YouTube, podcasts, forums, discussion boards, Twitter and Google Hangouts (for those old enough), Google Slides and Google Draw, and a comic creator like Pixton.
This is a more complex level of tech knowledge. Its import goes well beyond the current education journey into skills often considered life skills. It includes the tools under "To use tech in classes" but also those that students reasonably will need for college or career tasks they haven't yet faced. These could be writing resumes, preparing an online curriculum vitae, connecting digital device to local LANs and WiFis, and managing the security of their personal device and information.
The popularity of online classes is growing exponentially. This includes taking online college-level classes and enriching learning through webinars. But it goes beyond that. Many students now are attending completely online colleges (such as are currently available in many master’s programs) that allow them to balance work-life demands with education endeavors. If this is the goal, it will include the ability to manage audio and video on digital devices (set up and troubleshoot), submit homework and classwork online, communicate with the teacher and classmates online, and stay on top of grades.
If students or faculty don't understand tech tools, they must rely on someone else to tell them which tool is best for a given circumstance. Why pick a word processing tool over a presentation tool? Why require a summative written report rather than one delivered via video or audio? This could be integrated into the goal of preparing for college and career.
By now, you can see how goals have a significant impact on the approach you select to become digitally literate. The four tools below are varied in their depth, time demands, cost, and impact on your life. Before you look at them, determine the following about your needs:
Do you want a tool that's diagnostic, actionable, a simple checklist, or a template for the creation of your own tool?
Do you want to not only assesses knowledge, but also determine the student (or faculty) ability to solve tech problems, think critically, and maybe even code?
Do you want an assessment that determines shortfalls and then provides a roadmap on how to get from here to there or a one-and-done report?
Are you going to measure classfuls of students, note their current skill levels, and then what can be done to help? Or is this more for individual knowledge?
Many assessment tools provide this option, but the simplest and most basic reports probably won't.
These four options for assessing digital literacy range from fast and simple to far-ranging and comprehensive.
Every school I work with tells me there is a growing gap between the tech knowledge of their most talented and most-needy teachers. This severely affects the way the school makes the best use of their investment in Chromebooks, iPads, and technology in general. To use technology as the transformative educational tool it is requires an understanding of the tech knowledge of both teachers and students. Pick one of these four tools and start today.
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over 100 ed-tech resources, including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in ed-tech, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on ed-tech topics, contributor to NEA Today and TeachHUB, and author of two tech thrillers. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.