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Technology Literacy and Assessment: A Generation Yes Whitepaper
Author: Sylvia Martinez, Generation YES | September 14th, 2010

By Sylvia Martinez
President of Generation Yes

genyeslogoIn our most recent Generation YES Whitepaper, we discuss what is central to technology literacy, theories of Constructionism, project-based learning, and the issue of assessment. In the following article I will share some concepts from this whitepaper, but please be sure to read the whitepaper in its entirety for more detailed information.

Why do we care about technology literacy? One reason in the United States is federal policy. Section 2402(b)(2)(A) of Title II, Part D the ESEA (titled Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT)) states that one of the goals of EETT is “[t]o assist every student in crossing the digital divide by ensuring that every student is technologically literate by the time the student finishes the eighth grade, regardless of the student's race, ethnicity, gender, family income, geographic location, or disability.”

Although there is some debate over what the term “technology literacy” means, 49 of the 50 states in the U.S. have technology literacy goals and standards. Across nearly all definitions of technological literacy, there is agreement that the construct is multidimensional and that action or “doing” is one central dimension of technological literacy. Accepting this definition, if “doing” is central to technological literacy, then leading schoolchildren towards greater levels of technological literacy requires a commitment to a theory of learning where “doing” is also central. One application of this idea is project-based learning (PBL). In PBL, the project is the curriculum and testing is not separate from learning. Additionally, since “doing” is central to technological literacy, i.e. where decision-making and capabilities are important parts of a multi-factored definition of technological literacy, traditional assessments will not work.

Constructionism: A theory of learning for technology literacy

Constructionism is a theory of learning that holds that “[c]hildren don’t get ideas; they make ideas. Moreover, constructionism suggests that learners are particularly likely to make new ideas when they are actively engaged in making some type of external artifact...which they can reflect upon and share with others” (Kafai & Resnick, 1996, p. 1). Thus, if schools are to seriously pursue the goal of students’ technological literacy, and if “doing” (i.e. having a hands-on capability and capacity to interact with technological artifacts) is central to technology and technological literacy, there is little doubt that constructionism is the best theory of learning to guide those endeavors.

Where constructionism is the theory of learning, one application of that theory is project-based learning (PBL). In a review of the research on project-based learning, Thomas offers five criteria that together define PBL:

1. PBL projects are central, not peripheral to the curriculum
2. PBL projects are focused on questions or problems that “drive” students to encounter (and struggle with) the central concepts and principles of a discipline or an ill- defined problem.
3. Projects involve students in a constructive investigation on the part of students.
4. Projects are student-driven to some significant degree
5. Projects are realistic, not school-like

Assessment and project-based learning

One of the common features of the varying definitions of PBL is authentic assessment. Although authentic assessment is often criticized as being subjective, “fuzzy” or not rigorous, we believe this does not have to be case, and in fact, authentic assessment based on project work is the only true way to measure technology literacy.

Authentic assessments differ from traditional assessments, which “typically tend to audit performance and uncover what students do not know, rather than what they do know” (McDonald, 2008, p. 17). In addition, traditional assessments are snapshots of what students can (and cannot) recall at the time of the test and tend to disrupt learning. However, where "doing" is central to students gaining technological literacy, traditional assessments will not work; technological literacy must be assessed in ways that are more authentic:

In the whitepaper, we explore six principles guiding the development of authentic assessments of technological literacy:
1. Assessments should be designed with a clear purpose in mind.
2. Assessment developers should take into account research findings related to how children and adults learn, including how they learn about technology.
3. The content of an assessment should be based on rigorously developed learning standards.
4. Assessments should provide information about all three dimensions of technological literacy— knowledge, capabilities, and critical thinking and decision making.
5. Assessments should not reflect gender, culture, or socioeconomic bias.
6. Assessments should be accessible to people with mental or physical disabilities.

Project-based learning and technology literacy: The Generation YES approach

The TechYES technology literacy certification program, developed and implemented by Generation YES using research-based practices, is designed to provide educators a way to allow students to participate in authentic, project-based learning activities that reflect essential technological literacies. The program was initially designed by a number of protégés of the father of constructionism, Seymour Papert, including Dennis Harper, Gary Stager, and David Thornburg. Intended for use with middle school students, TechYES may be implemented through integration into core content course work, as a supplement to the curriculum of a technology course, or as an after-school club activity.

Please read the full whitepaper for more thoughts on technology literacy, authentic assessment, research and other resources.

Sylvia Martinez, President of Generation Yes, is a veteran of interactive entertainment and educational software industries. She has been a featured speaker at national education technology conferences in areas ranging from the use of the Internet in schools, Web 2.0 technologies, student leadership, project-based and inquiry-based learning with technology and gender issues in science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) education. You can follow Sylvia on Twitter: smartinez

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