Author Archives: alice

About alice

I am a fictional character, and an administrative convenience. Even so, I have absolute power over this site. Play nice.

Digital ‘junk drawers’

During my search for a definition of digital literacy, I had to review a lot of websites, save the links, and get back to them as needed. This a common challenge in this era of knowledge exponential expansion. On the last post, I referred to the challenge searching effectively, and I posted some tips here. If you are a successful searcher, you will need to organize the information so you can get back to it quickly and easily. As I collected my links for digital literacy, I wrestled with how to bookmark them, because my usual practice of just throwing a bookmark up wasn’t going to do the job.

This was my way of saving bookmarks.

If I was looking for something readily visible (like the orange screwdriver in the junk drawer), it was easy to review my bookmarks (junk drawer) and find the one I need. 11-reuse-keys

But what if all my bookmarks look ‘roughly’ the same?

Now that I am collecting lots of links to relevant sites, I need a way to collect and find the link(s) again. This launched me into the world of saving and organizing bookmarks.


Now my bookmarks look like this!

I have posted the how-to specifics on my Alt-Enter blog, but my experience has shown me the importance of being able to organize our digital ‘junk drawers’.  Not everyone is undertaking large research project, but people are planning big trips, getting information medical procedures, searching for housing. All of these life situations require extensive research on the Internet, and once the work is completed, the searcher does not want to have to replicate it. Clearly, digital literacy includes digital organization!


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Have or Have Not? Problem Solving in a Technology Rich Environment

Digital literacy is a vague term, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I knew I would need a more robust definition upon which to build. After a lot of searching the web (and learning some new search skills along the way), I found just what I was looking for: the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). This assessment program is run by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and has been adopted globally as a way to measure Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem Solving in a Technology Rich Environment. The PIAAC is a very robust and thoroughly documented framework that will readily support a meaningful program to improve adults’ digital literacy skills. (If you want to know more about the PIAAC, click here.)

Problem solving in a technology rich environment (PS-TRE)–what does it really mean? Per the OECD, PS-TRE is  using digital technology, communication tools and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others and perform practical tasks. The first PIAAC survey measures adults’ abilities to solve problems for personal, work and civic purposes by setting up appropriate goals and plans, and accessing and making use of information through computers and computer networks. (Source: OECD Skills Assessment Paper, pg. 49)
Every time you check your smart phone you are using digital technology, communication tools, and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others and perform practical tasks. Ditto when you use Google (or another search engine)  to find a new car mechanic, or when you use Quicken to balance your check book, or Orbitz to book a trip. Because the definition does apply so well to so many day-to-day activities, I chose it to be my working definition of Digital Literacy.

So how does the US score on the PS-TRE? Not well. Our best scores are in the high Level 2, which is considered low skill.  And it gets worse as we get older. As you might expect, people who are 24 or under score the highest. But, by the time we reach 55, our score has gone down by 20 points!


PS-TRE Adult Scores 2012

Our economy is very good at identifying these skill sets and compensating for them. That means that if you are a high skilled individual (you score between 400 and 500 on the PS-TRE), you are highly compensated and don’t need to worry about unemployment–in other words, you are a ‘have’.  This graph helps explain the increasing income gap between our ‘haves’ and our ‘have nots’, and I haven’t shown the scores broken down by race/ethnicity and/or education! Of course, the income gap is a very complex question, and this skills gap is but one small piece of it. However, the skills gap is something we can address at the grass roots level. As the OECD says “skills are everyone’s business”. This digital literacy initiative is designed to measure and improve these skills in one community  and this metalogue is a written ‘documentary’ of that effort.


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Searching for definitions

I have a conception of what digital literacy means, but I realized very quickly that I need to research other definitions, aggregate them in one place, and then craft or steal one (with all due credit of course!). I already have the skills to start this process: go to a search engine and enter relevant search terms. Doing so, I noticed that I really don’t know how to constrain ‘hits’ to only the most current ones. I need to research how to refine my searches so I am only getting the information that is current. I also don’t know if there is a difference between search engines in terms of effectiveness and relevance for the search in question.
Understanding how to create an effective search in order to get valid results is a skill that we think we have, but as browsers evolve, and the amount of online material exponentially increases, we have to learn how to winnow the results in the least time possible. Browsers prioritize our search results using algorithms created for (primarily) commercial purposes. We need to minimize the impact of these algorithms by using tailored searches that eliminate ‘false positives’, to the extent possible. Our need to continually improve our searching skills speaks directly to the need for adults to continually, actively, improve our technical skills.
During my search process, I found a lot of ‘white papers’ that discuss digital literacy. By far the best source I have found so far is the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This organization has developed a comprehensive survey of adult (16 to 64) literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technology rich environment. I will be quoting extensively from their materials, and will always include a link so you can read the material yourself. It is well worth the time. Here is the link to their skills assessment briefing: OECD Skills Assessment Paper. In my next post, I will introduce the OECD skills measurement tool, as I will be using it to categorize tasks that I am performing throughout this project. Hence the use of the term ‘meta’ in my blog title–I am going to write about the skills I am using (or need to improve) while I research the need and importance of these skills in daily living.


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