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January 6, 2003

Tech Watch

By John Fritz, Director, New Media Learning and Development

(Adapted from the Fall 2002 OIT Newsletter)

Last month, Science 100 Instructor Karin Readel gave a Brown Bag presentation on how and why she's been surveying more than 600 students about their incoming technology skills since Fall 2001. While she's found that students tend to overestimate their own technology skills, I was curious why technology fluency was so important to her.

"I recently read an article by a bio teacher who has groups do web pages," Readel wrote in an initial e-mail explaining her need for OIT support. "It was interesting to see how they split up the tasks and then how things were assessed."

In other words, technology was a means to an end. In this case, Readel wanted to try something new -- a virtual application of her belief in the pedagogical value of group learning -- and needed students who could function in that environment. But as we explored her needs further, it became apparent she was also trying to solve a resulting problem. 1

"When I've assigned group Web projects in the past, usually the job of producing them falls on the one person who has the skill and personal Web space in his or her account," says Readel, who has taught at UMBC for four years. "Apart from not being fair to that one person, I thought other students should learn these skills and how to work cooperatively in teams. They'll certainly need to do so in their jobs."

Readel is not the only one trying to assess students' technology fluency.Led by Matthias Gobbert, chair of the Faculty Senate Computer PolicyCommittee and assistant professor of mathematics, Readel, AssociateProfessor of History Kriste Lindenmeyer, Assistant Professor of SociologySheila Cotten and others have been working with OIT to develop a pilotInformation Technology Awareness Questionnaire (ITAQ) other faculty mightvoluntarily use in their classrooms. We're still working out logistics,but if you'd be interested in using the questionnaire or would like tooffer input on the draft version, send e-mail to

In addition, as I mentioned in this column last month, OIT has been developing a draft technology fluency "self-assessment" to help guide us on relevant technology training topics and delivery methods. More than 30 of UMBC's 90 departmental payroll preparers completed a pilot version that may be used more widely by faculty and staff looking to develop their own skills.

However it is eventually assessed at UMBC, defining technology fluency is the holy grail of any assessment effort. For example, is there one set of skills or conceptual understanding all students should attain, or are there differences among majors like computer science and dance? What should we require of incoming or graduating students?2 And how does the technology fluency of faculty and staff influence teaching, learning, business operations and the UMBC community? These are all tough questions the Provost's Office and IT Steering Committee have been attempting to address in UMBC's Interim Policy on Technology Fluency.

One reason I think technology fluency is hard to define and assess is because using technology effectively requires us to constantly reflect on how we do things now and how we might do them better -- in part because the technology itself changes so frequently. And how many of us wake up each morning yearning for a little "continuous improvement"? But even if technology only serves as a catalyst or lens for making us more aware of what we're trying to accomplish, I think that's being technologically fluent.

One quote I came across recently sums it up nicely: "If you never change how you do something, how do you ever expect to get different results."

1I first heard "solving problems and trying new things" used as a technology litmus test by Tom Cantu, an instructional designer formerly at Towson University and now with Eduprise.

2A few years ago, the state of Virginia got a lot of attention for its use of tekxam, an online certification the state thought would help graduates and employers better demonstrate and evaluate technology fluency. To test your own fluency, try the 10-question sample exam. It's challenging, but fun.

Posted by dwinds1 at January 6, 2003 12:00 AM