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Colleges Plan Exam to Measure Students’ Internet Intelligence

From Associated Press

Students apply to college online, e-mail their papers to their professors and, when they want to be cheeky, pass notes in class by text-messaging.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a high Internet IQ.

“They’re real comfortable instant-messaging, downloading MP3 files. They’re less comfortable using technology in ways that require real critical thinking,” says Teresa Egan of the Educational Testing Service.

Or as Lorie Roth, assistant vice chancellor of academic programs at California State University, puts it: “Every single one that comes through the door thinks that if you just go to Google and get some hits -- you’ve got material for your research paper right there.”

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That’s why Cal State and a number of other colleges are working with the testing service to create a test to evaluate Web intelligence, measuring whether students can locate and verify reliable online information and whether they know how to properly use and credit the material.

“This test measures a skill as important as having mathematics and English skills when you come to the university,” Roth said. “If you don’t come to the university with it, you need to know that you are lacking some skills that educated people are expected to have.”

A preliminary version of the new test, the Information and Communication Technology Literacy Assessment, was given to 3,300 Cal State students this spring to see how well it worked, i.e., testing the test. Individual scores aren’t being tallied but campuses will be getting aggregate reports.

Next year, the test is expected to be available for students to take on a voluntary basis.

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Cal State is the lead institution in a consortium that includes UCLA, University of Louisville, the California community college system, University of North Alabama, the University of Texas system and University of Washington.

Some of the institutions involved are considering using the test on incoming students to see whether they need remedial classes, says Egan, ETS’ project manager for the assessment test. Other schools are thinking about giving the test as a follow up to communications courses to gauge curricula efficiency.

Robert Jimenez, a student at Cal State Fullerton who took the prototype test, gives it a passing grade. “It was pretty good in that it allowed us to go ahead and think through real-life problems.”

Sample questions include asking students to pick the legitimate sources from a simulated page of Web search results. For example, a question on bee sting remedies presents a choice of sites ranging from ads to a forum for herb treatments to (the correct answer) a listing from the National Institutes of Health.

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