Assessing ICT Proficiencies, Facilitating Campus Dialogue at New York City University

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[This article was pulished in the June 2008 issue of the digitalLEARNING Magazine (]

Learning expectations in the 21st Century are evolving. In addition to traditional subject content in disciplines taught in higher education, students are increasingly expected to demonstrate mastery of information and communications technology.

Teresa L. McManus

Professor & Chief Librarian
Library and Learning Resource Center, Bronx Community College

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Learning expectations in the 21st Century are evolving. In addition to traditional subject content in disciplines taught in higher education, students are increasingly expected to demonstrate mastery of information and communications technology.

Colleges and universities are expensive.  Everyone, from government officials, to taxpayers, parents, students and employers expects evidence that the expense is worth the investment.  Beyond that, the reasons why we should care intensely about ensuring that higher education sufficiently values learning outcomes that are inclusive of proficiency in evaluating and using information and in using information and communications technology effectively are abundant.

The stakes are high. Advancing knowledge is vital to improving the quality of life in so many ways. We can easily think of examples in all the disciplines, medicine, public health, energy and environmental, social, sciences, humanities. The fate of our lives and those of generations to come is impacted by the extent to which we can maximize the return on investment in improving knowledge of how to better meet basic human needs and empower individuals to realize their creative potentials in contributing to cultural legacies and enriching lives.

In the United States of America, we have recent further evidence of the critical need to care about developing information, communication and technology (ICT) proficiencies. Our constitution grants rights to free speech, and is built upon a tradition of suspiciousness towards government and powerful authorities. Intellectual freedom and the rights of citizens to have access to information are cornerstones of USA politics and history. It can hardly be otherwise, since how could a society possibly attempt to make sound decisions as a democracy if it lacks information vital to choosing options? In the 21st Century, information networks and technology have multiplied the complexities of accessing, evaluating, effectively using and communicating information. We have witnessed the expansion of secrecy and propaganda, fully documented in news articles in mainstream publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other well known journals and newspapers. In this context, the USA today represents a case study in how vital it is for higher education to value ICT related proficiencies.

So there are many reasons to care about ICT related learning outcomes. How can colleges and universities discover the extent to which they are successful in developing them? There are many assessment tools and measures, and more can be developed in-house or in collaboration with partners. There are advantages to various methods and approaches: I recommend considering a multi-faceted approach.

For example, consider my current research at the Bronx Community College (BCC) of the City University of New York (CUNY). I serve as Chief Librarian and Professor there, and have been interested in assessing students’ ICT proficiencies as we continue campus dialogues on the best ways to ensure learning outcomes meet high expectations. In addition to campus surveys of students inquiring about their own assessment of their competencies, learning assessments related to class requirements and coursework, assessment tools such as iskills developed by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and higher education partners can provide valuable evidence. I like approaches to assessing these proficiencies that are not multiple choice, or ranking on rating scales by the student or professor in part because these measures require the student to demonstrate evidence of ability to complete challenging real-world scenarios. The iskills assessment tool costs money per student to use, however, in my estimation valuable information can  be obtained without testing the entire student population, and the quality of the report data is well worth the expense. And, let’s acknowledge, it isn’t really cost free to develop assessment measures in-house, as considerable time is invested.

Currently, my research involves librarians from eleven colleges at the City University of New York, and is funded as a Collaborative Research Incentive Grant involving use of iskills to gather data assessing 2,246 students’ information, communications and technical (ICT) proficiencies. The students being assessed have a similar profile in that they have completed 45 to 60 credits and are CPE eligible. The aim is to learn more about student proficiencies, and to draw conclusions about how CUNY might be able to better support students acquiring ICT proficiencies.

The assessment tool involves sitting at a computer for 75 minutes and demonstrating abilities related to defining information needs, accessing it, effectively managing it, integrating it in meaningful ways, showing evidence of ability to evaluate its quality, authority, currency, and accuracy, potential bias, as well to create and present and communicate it. You can learn more about these proficiencies, how they are defined, and tasks that are completed to show evidence of achieving desired learning outcomes by going to the ETS web site,, and following the links under higher education.

At BCC and CUNY, as at higher education institutions around the world, we are looking closely at the learning outcomes we need to expect, and assessment measures that can give us accurate and useful data on the extent to which we are succeeding in achieving them. It is a dynamic and evolving process, and I expect the data from this research to contribute to the ongoing dialogue as we seek to improve and show evidence of accountability and return on investment to all of the stakeholders in our higher education enterprises. The assessment research will help us ensure that we are effective in teaching, learning and research activities that are at the center of daily life in higher education.

Teresa L. McManus is a Professor & Chief Librarian at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Her research is currently focused on assessment of information and communications technology fluency; best practices for improving support for student development of proficiencies; assessing scholarship and professional development across disciplines; rising expectations in higher education; the connection between use of libraries and academic achievement; and in improving communication between librarians and administrators to advance understanding of library issues in higher education

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