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Today’s students should be able to retrieve and critically evaluate information from digital media; to organize, interpret, and apply the information; and to compose an effective presentation that responds to a clearly articulated research problem and communicates to a particular audience. These skills have been of special concern to the honors community, as evidenced by the 2009 JNCHC Forum on “Honors in the Digital Age.” Development of these twenty-first-century competencies, called information and communication technology (ICT) literacy, is the object of a curriculum enhancement project underway in the honors program, jointly with general education, at Louisiana Tech University. Recently, in the project’s initial phase, an assessment of student performance was conducted using the Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) iSkills test. This article reports results which respond to the following questions: How ICT-literate are the university’s freshmen? Do first-year honors students demonstrate greater proficiency in these skills than non-honors freshmen? How do Louisiana Tech’s honors freshmen compare to those at other four-year colleges?
The Louisiana Tech University Honors Program has grown significantly in the last few years. The program currently counts between 460 and 480 students in its program, with a little more than half of those students majoring in science and engineering. Students are admitted to the program as freshmen if they meet one of two criteria: a 26 composite ACT score or a ranking in the top 10% of their graduating class. Our program is reworking its curriculum to place greater emphasis on undergraduate research, that is, to focus on the process of generating knowledge and to develop students’ college-level competencies in original inquiry, evidentiary analysis, critical use of information, and purposeful communication in writing or public presentation. The program is promoting information and communication technology literacy because the abilities to marshal and interpret sources in the digital environment of the twenty-first century are indispensable to undergraduate research, expected by institutions of higher learning, desired by employers, and required by accrediting agencies.
Funded by a Traditional Enhancement Program grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents Support Fund, principal investigator Brian Etheridge, Director of the Louisiana Tech Honors Program and Chair of the University’s General Education Requirements Committee, assisted by coprincipal investigator Boris Teske, College of Liberal Arts Liaison Librarian, administered the ETS iSkills test to a total of 97 freshmen and 73 juniors during fall quarter 2009. The object was to pilot a nationally renowned, standardized performance assessment to inform curriculum enhancement: to establish a baseline for cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis through repeated and multiple authentic assessments, such as the evaluation of portfolios; to identify practices proven to be effective; and to adapt and apply them to general education using the honors program as a “laboratory” or test bed for curricular innovation.