A New SAT For The Digital Age
by Josh Hirschland
Spectator Staff Writer
January 27, 2005
A new exam from the creators of the SAT, GRE, and AP is replacing reading analogies with prompts to surf the net.
The New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service, the world’s largest private educational testing organization, has introduced the Information and Communications Technology literacy assessment. The new test, planned for general use in 2006, may serve as a measure of success for job applicants, as the SAT does for college applicants. If the ICT proves effective after being administered to 10,000 undergraduates at more than 20 universities nationwide on March 31, it could join an ever-growing list of standardized tests that students take over the course of their educational careers.
In a PowerPoint presentation by David Williamson, a research scientist for ETS, and Gordon Smith, director of systemwide libraries at Colorado State University, ICT literacy is defined as the “ability to use digital technology, communication tools, and/or networks to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, create, and communicate information ethically and legally in order to function in a knowledge society.”
The web-based test looks to assess both technical literacy, which covers mastery of applications, such as word processing and database software, and information literacy, which covers accessing, evaluating, and applying information.
The two-hour assessment test consists of three sections. In one, “Display and Interpret Data,” test takers have to form a visual representation from a given set of statistics; the “Advanced Search” section has student use a ProQuest-like search engine to find articles pertaining to a specific subject; the third, “Comparing Information,” has test takers summarize, evaluate, and use information from sources, such as e-mails, Web sites, and advertisements.
The perceived need to test ICT literacy stems from the difficulty many students have in differentiating between accurate and misleading information in the ever-growing volumes of data on the Internet. According to the presentation, “ICT is changing the very nature and value of knowledge and information, [and] impacts the way we live.”
Over the past two months, the Internet search engine Google has attempted to address this problem. In November, it launched Google Scholar, a service that uses its meta-crawling technology to browse academic texts. A month later, the company announced that it would digitally scan tens of millions of volumes from libraries at institutions including Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford.
Columbia offers several programs to help students improve their computer research abilities. The University’s library system offers tutorials on widely used applications, including PowerPoint and Photoshop, in addition to training sessions designed to familiarize students with Columbia’s LibraryWeb and improve their use of search engines. Student can also schedule one-on-one sessions with library faculty.
Assistant Director of AcIS Walter Bourne explained that “AcIS’ most important role in digital literacy is providing the digital environment in which students, faculty, and staff can apply and continue to develop new digital skills.”
To this end, AcIS provides students and faculty with computer help desks, communication tools, such as CourseWorks, and advice for staying safe online. AcIS also offers workshops on subjects including Web design, publishing, and finding resources online.
“Technology and learning about it used to be almost entirely dependent on technical groups like AcIS and its predecessors,” Bourne said. “But technology is so prevalent, diverse, and accessible now that this is no longer the case.”
Anice Mills, a reference librarian at Columbia, said, “I can only imagine that [ICT skills] will be more important in the future.” But when asked about the efficiency of the new ETS assessment, Mills replied that “the jury’s still out on whether one can test or one should test these skills.”
Kyle Carraro, CC ’05, felt that ICT literacy is very important at Columbia. He said that “going here, now more than three years ago, you have to use your computer to communicate,” noting that Columbia’s primary means of communication with students is now e-mail.
Administrators in AcIS, the Columbia library system, and the Public Affairs department did not return questions about whether they had considered administering the test at Columbia.
The number of tests that students face is expected to grow with President Bush’s announcement two weeks ago that he plans to increase accountability testing. With No Child Left Behind in place and the federal government requiring schools to increase testing of students’ abilities, Eduventures, a Boston-based research firm, estimated that pre-collegiate testing is a $2 billion industry. More students are taking both the ACTs and SATs to improve their chances at getting into highly selective institutions like Columbia.
Last year, the non-profit ETS brought in $825 million, administering 25 million tests in 180 nations. The company has been in the news recently for their updated SAT, which will be administered for the first time on March 12 of this year