By MICHELLE LOCKE, Associated Press Writer
Students apply to college online, e-mail their papers to their
professors and, when they want to be cheeky, pass notes in class by
text-messaging. But that doesn't necessarily mean they have a high
"They're real comfortable instant-messaging, downloading MP3
files. They're less comfortable using technology in ways that require
real critical thinking," says Teresa Egan of the Educational Testing
Or as Lorie Roth, assistant vice chancellor of academic programs at
California State University puts it: "Every single one that comes
through the door thinks that if you just go to Google and get some
hits -- you've got material for your research paper right there."
That's why Cal State and a number of other colleges are working with
ETS to create a test to evaluate Internet intelligence, measuring
whether students can locate and verify reliable online information and
whether they know how to properly use and credit the material.
"This test measures a skill as important as having mathematics and
English skills when you come to the university," says Roth. "If you
don't come to the university with it, you need to know that you are
lacking some skills that educated people are expected to have."
A preliminary version of the new test, the Information and
Communication Technology Literacy Assessment, was given to 3,300 Cal
State students this spring to see how well it works, i.e. testing the
test. Individual scores aren't being tallied but campuses will be
getting aggregate reports.
Next year, the test is expected to be available for students to take
on a voluntary basis.
Cal State is the lead institution in a consortium which includes UCLA,
the University of Louisville, the California Community College System,
the University of North Alabama, the University of Texas System and
the University of Washington.
Some of the institutions involved are considering using the test on
incoming students to see if they need remedial classes, says Egan,
ETS' project manager for the Information and Communication Technology
Literacy Assessment. Other schools are thinking about giving the test
as a follow up to communications courses to gauge curricula
Robert Jimenez, a student at Cal State-Fullerton who took the
prototype test this spring, gives it a passing grade. "It was pretty
good in that it allowed us to go ahead and think through real-life
Sample questions include giving students a simulated page of Web
search results on a particular subject and asking students to pick the
legitimate sources. So, a question on bee sting remedies presents a
choice of sites ranging from ads to a forum for herb treatments to
(the correct answer) a listing from the National Institutes of Health,
identifiable by having "nih" in the URL (site address) along with the
".gov" suffix that connotes an official government listing.
High tech has been a fixture of higher ed for some years.
A 2002 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that
79 percent of college Internet users thought the Internet had a
positive impact on their academic experience.
More than 70 percent used the Internet more than the library and 56
percent said e-mail improved their relationships with professors.
Of course, some of those text-messaging students are still being
taught by professors whose idea of a personal data assistant is a
fresh pad of Post-Its.
"The problem with technology and education is how do you fit the new
technology into existing curriculum lesson plans. You can't add more
class time and it's much easier to just keep teaching the way you
were," says Steve Jones, a co-author on the Pew study and a
communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Jones folds lessons on Internet use into his classes. And he doesn't
mince words about students who try the "click, copy and paste"
approach to homework.
"I tell the students, 'Some of you are going to put off this paper
until the night before. You're going to go to Google, type in search
words and just look at the top five hits and use those. I'm going to
grade you on this. I'm going to look at these sources and so let's
talk about how to evaluate sources.'"
Which doesn't necessarily mean they all "suddenly become fabulous
information evaluators and seekers, but it gives them a little bit of
an idea that this isn't something that's apart from learning."
Jones also finds himself learning from students, who are trying out
new things like blogs and collaborating with other students online to
create new sources of information.
He thinks assessing students' Internet skills could be useful in
figuring out ways to help them do better research but cautions that
it's tough to test on something as changeable as the Internet.
Roth notes that the bulk of the assessment focuses on critical
thinking skills, being able to analyze the legitimacy of Web sites,
and knowing the difference between properly cited research and
plagiarism, things that "haven't changed very much since I enrolled in
college in 1969."
For today's students, working on the Net means not having the safety
net of references vetted by campus librarians.
But Roth isn't nostalgic.
"Anybody want to go back to the bad old days when you had manual
typewriters, and you had to get up and walk to the library to look up
something?" she says with a laugh. "I don't think so."
On the Net:
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.