Monday, May 14, 2012

College Ready Information Fluency

Over the past three months I've been working on Information Researcher, our newest self-paced course for middle school and high school students.

This package will be put to the test soon by 1,000 students enrolled in Northwestern University's Center for Talent Development summer programs. The goal is to strengthen these students' digital research skills, to improve their performance in demanding coursework; to achieve college readiness.

What is college readiness? Answers will vary from institution to institution. We've based our definition on the Digital Information Fluency Model, focusing on competencies that individuals need to "get it right" most of the time.  The "it" is online research and has multiple facets.

The course consists of three parts: a 5-item practice test, 14 tutorials and 10 certification test items. Each item is performance-based and involves live searching and/or evaluating involved in representative school assignments.

The practice test gives students an opportunity to test out of the course. A passing score is 80%, a level that most individuals who have mastered search strategies and techniques can attain. It's not easy. No one passes it without training.  The skills assessed are 1) learning how to use an unfamiliar search engine, 2) using backlinks to evaluate the authority of an unknown source, 3) tracking down the owner of an unknown Web site, 4) fact checking the accuracy of content and authority of a source, 5) determining the freshness of information that lacks a published date.

In addition to these, the tutorials involve students in the following tasks: 6) browsing links to home in on information, 7) using keywords effectively with a search engine, 8) truncating URLs to reveal hidden information, 9) triangulating information to fact check accuracy, 10) using advanced operators to retrieve information, 11) detecting bias, 12) tracking down missing information for reports and citations, 13) deep web searching, 14) finding Red Flags and 15) applying search strategies effectively in a variety of challenges. The posttest incorporates the same competencies.

The target average score for middle school students is 65%; 75% for high schoolers. Before training, average scores are ~40% for middle schoolers and ~50% for high schoolers. Repeated exposure to training leads to even greater improvement.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on what constitutes college readiness in terms of information fluency. And if you'd like to preview a bite-sized portion of the course and give some feedback before we put the course online, let me know by writing to

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