Canada needs its own digital literacy test

Everybody in the enterprise should know how to turn on their computer, but, beyond that, it’s going to get more and more difficult for IT managers to assess the level of digital “literacy” among the varied users they serve.

Consumer technologies are becoming more sophisticated and easier to use, which means some staff may be able to transfer the skills they develop managing a home server or online services to their day-to-day business tasks. Others, however, may not spend personal time on a PC.

Governments and educators know they have to provide a baseline set of expectations around technological proficiency that all children must meet in order to participate in the workforce.

Last month, the U.S. National ICT Literacy Policy Council recommended a set of national standards to serve as the basis for the Educational Testing Service (ETS) iSkills assessment. (If there is a similar effort underway in Canada, they’re keeping quiet about it.)

Besides gauging students’ use of e-mail and word processing software, the panel sees “literacy” as a measure of how well someone can use technology to assist with critical thinking and problem-solving — in other words, the same reasons companies invest in IT. The IT proficiencies it tests include:

? Define: Know how to articulate a need for and determine where to locate information; create a research topic to fit a particular information need; complete a concept map

? Access: Search and collect information from the Internet and databases; read and refine a search to locate resources

? Evaluate: Assess the relevancy, veracity and completeness of information for a specific purpose; select the best database to use; determine the sufficiency of information on a website for a particular need

? Manage: Develop and use a comprehensive organizational scheme; document relationships using an organizational chart; sort e-mails into appropriate folders

? Integrate: Synthesize, summarize, compare and draw conclusions from information from multiple sources; compare and contrast information from Web pages or a spreadsheet; synthesize information from instant messages into a word-processing document

? Create: Generate information by adapting and critically analyzing current data; create a graph that supports a point of view

? Communicate: Convey information persuasively to various audiences using the right medium; adapt presentation slides; revise an e-mail.

If future students in the U.S. can meet these criteria, they will probably succeed in the workforce. IT managers, however, can’t afford to wait for the next generation of workers. Let’s examine ways we can assess these proficiencies among those already in the enterprise, either through performance reviews or as new projects begin. The more consistent enterprise ICT literacy becomes, the more IT managers can rest assured everyone’s on the same page.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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