01 September 2009

Technology Literacy

I was recently ruminating about the constriction of internet filters on teaching and learning in most classrooms. I wonder how this thinly-veiled censorship will impact students' ability to perform on the upcoming Technology Literacy NAEP. To be sure, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is neither high-stakes (i.e. not tied to graduation or a school's/district's Adequate Yearly Progress) nor a part of most classrooms; however, it is one-way to get a comparative snapshot of learning across the 50 states.

An article in the last edition of Education Week by Sean Cavanagh (reg. req'd.) revealed that the first draft of the standards for the national assessment of technology literacy has been made available. The draft represents a "framework for the national assessment of technological literacy, the first to gauge students’ understanding of and skill in using a range of tools."

The computer-based National Assessment of Educational Progress in technological literacy, scheduled to be administered to a representative sample of the nation’s 4th, 8th, and 12th graders for the first time in 2012, will evaluate students’ understanding of technology tools and their design, the ways they can be used to gather information and communicate ideas, and their impact on society...

When it is made final, the framework will guide the design of the assessment. The draft defines technological literacy as the “general understanding of technology coupled with a capability to use, manage, and assess the technologies that are most relevant in one’s life, such as the information and communication technologies that are particularly salient in the world today.”

The committee embraced a broad definition of technology that ranges from automobiles to computers, including many of the tools that are used in daily life.

Students may be tested on their knowledge of the kinds of tools that are available and how they are used, along with their ability to apply technological concepts to solve problems. They may be given tasks that demonstrate their ability to use various technology platforms to communicate information or collect and analyze data, evaluate information, and suggest a technology solution to a given problem.

While the assessment is meant to gauge a broad range of skills that are considered essential to technological literacy, the test design may be limited in its ability to measure some areas, the draft states, such as the habits of mind and critical-thinking skills that are considered essential to a deeper understanding and use of technology.

“This is an important development, I can say that without reservations because technological literacy is such a critical element of being a successful 21st - century citizen,” said Valerie Greenhill, the director of strategic initiatives for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a Tucson, Ariz.-based advocacy group. “The progression being made in the technology community away from the notion of just technology competence, such as how to use a computer, to … developing that literacy with the use of technology in daily life and in core academic subjects as well is incredibly important. To the extent that the NAEP is developing a framework that guides the development of these competencies is a welcome move.”

A number of states have implemented tests of technology or information literacy, and most have adopted the national K-12 standards in the field produced by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) committee that has been devising the framework has reviewed state technology standards, studies on assessing technology skills, and the guidelines and recommendations of ISTE and other organizations.

“We want students to understand that technology is not just computers,” said Senta Raizen, the director of the National Center for Improving Science Education, who co-chaired the framework committee. The center is based at WestEd, a research organization in San Francisco.

The goal, Ms. Raizen said at a meeting earlier this month where the draft was unveiled, is to understand “the human design world, where do things come from, where does our technology come from.”

She and others involved in the project say the material represented in the framework could be covered in science class, but also in subjects across the curriculum, such as mathematics, history, social studies, and language arts.

“We’ve seen movement for reading across the curriculum, writing across the curriculum,” Mr. Friedman said. “Well, technology across the curriculum makes as much sense as those do.”

Indeed. I have only given the draft a cursory review, but things look to be on the right track. I worry about the ability to assess many of the targets outside of the classroom---however, that does not make for poor targets. The ideas are general enough that they truly could be embedded with nearly any curriculum. And, most importantly (to me), they include the concept that technology is not just stuff. On the flipside, do teachers need another set of standards to think about? (No.) Will schools embrace technology standards? (Unlikely at the current time, given the focus on literacy/math and placement of filters.) But perhaps these are good "ammo" for those trying to beat down the filters and/or justify cell phones in their classrooms or any other of the myriad battles being fought betwixt those in the trenches and policy-makers outside. It's a start.

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