Friday, July 17, 2009

Yes, There's a Need

Take a good look at this chart. What do you see? A normal distribution with a negative skew? A test that's too hard? A need for improvement?

This chart depicts the performance of high school students attempting to apply investigative techniques to Web pages. Not too good, is it? The average score is 52% That means the vast majority of students in this sample (n = over 350) really struggle with the ability to find and evaluate online information to determine its credibility. The average for middle school students is 45%. Very few are at 80%--what we would consider mastery. (By the way, these are gifted students. The top 1-2%.)

If information fluency was a typical school subject, the majority of students would fail. Fortunately for them, this is not a typical school subject; it is neither widely addressed nor seldom practiced.

The result above is sampled from a new assessment we developed at 21cif. The results aren't surprising. These are the same results we've been getting for years. The computer-savvy generation consistently under-performs when asked to locate and evaluate information found on the Internet. They have real difficulty finding authors, publishers, dates of publication, salient facts and claims and references of information on web pages and blogs. Of course if they can't find those things, they have an even harder time evaluating their credibility.

After a few hours of targeted training in investigative techniques, students improve by 10% on average. With more practice, their gains would be even greater. By the way, adults tend to score 10-15% points higher than high school students. Not because they are better with computers; they take the time to read critically. They have better vocabulary skills. Despite all the new age bells and whistles, search mastery still comes down to careful reading and thinking.

The need for information fluency is why we're in this business. Research merely informs what training is needed. Having an opportunity to train students is the challenge of this business. If we continue to say there are more important things to study, we will continue to see the results above. A generation that cannot research proficiently online will lack the ability to use information resources wisely and profit from them.

Preachy, I admit, but what else can one say about the state of information fluency in schools today? It needs work.

If you would like to learn more about the assessment, I'll share more about it over the next few blogs.

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