Students’ technical know-how and distance ed preferences

Two relatively recent news items discuss college students’ technical know-how (actually, the report is more limited – more on that in a bit) and students’ and employers’ preferences for distance education.

First, ETS recently released preliminary findings from their new Information and Communication Technology Literacy Assessment. The results aren’t surprising for anyone who has followed information literacy trends: students fall short of information literacy expectations. Before I discuss the meat of the findings and implications, a few notes about how these results were presented. First, InsideHigherEd’s title for the article (“Are College Students Techno Idiots?“) discussing these findings is not only wrong but also unnecessarily inflammatory. “Technical know-how” is unrelated to “information literacy” and I expect those who claim to specialize in higher education issues to know the difference. I also understand that it’s their job to attract attention and readers but insulting our students is the wrong way to go about it. Second, while ETS did issue a press-release-like statement about their preliminary findings, their “additional info” document (the first link in this paragraph) is a pdf of a PowerPoint presentation. While I appreciate those that place their presentations online I hope this is just that – a presentation they conducted and are now sharing with us – rather than the “real” document. Others have discussed the inappropriate use of Powerpoint far better than I can so I’m going to move on.

There are at least two novel reasons I am interested in college students’ information literacy. First,I see strong and obvious connections between college students’ information literacy skills and their technical skills and knowledge (an ill-defined phrase if I ever saw one). There is also a strong connection between how many perceive college students’ information literacy and their tech skills and knowledge. In both cases, many seem to assume that because students know how to use the tools (Google, Word, Powerpoint, etc.) they know when to use them and appropriate uses for them. In my experience, many students’ knowledge of these tools is very superficial (and college students aren’t unique in this). Second, the growth of the information literacy movement and how its proponents have succeeded in moving this topic into the limelight can teach us all lessons about how to effectively advocate for something. What was once merely the concern of a few academic librarians is now a national issue. I don’t know all of the history behind this movement and the lessons it can teach us but what I do know fascinates me.

Second, Eduventures has released the results of a survey that claims to demonstrate that “more employers prefer online training to traditional classroom learning when it comes to college and university certificate programs for their workers.” I would post a link to the survey results but according to this Chronicle article it’s only available to subscribers (as is the Chronicle article – irony?). It’s impossible to comment on this survey or its results without more information. I understand the dilemma researchers face when figuring out how best to release their research results as it’s always a balance between access, resources, and ensuring the integrity of the research and those involved. Unfortunately, when research gets released via press release or news article and that’s the only way I can access it, I have to file it away in the “that’s interesting but unverifiable and thus unusable” pile. The claims made in the Chronicle article are very interesting but unfortunately without further details, particularly their methodology, they’re all irrelevant.

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