Digital Global Literacy White Paper/Bylined Article

David Saedi, President and Chief Executive Officer, Certiport
(December 4, 2003)

A new initiative – based on the international co-operation and investment of hundreds of subject matter experts in various fields– is about to offer the world a truly global, portable, and validated definition of digital literacy.

Digital literacy is a means for ascertaining the competency of an individual to function in the workplace. It will become increasingly necessary to be digitally literate to function in a digital economy.

Certiport has played a lead role in the development of desktop application standards and professional competence certifications, and is now using this experience to help drive work towards a general ICT (Information and Communications Technology) literacy definition. This definition is based on the best practices and requirements of education, test development, and industry, and is based in part on the Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC³), which is now used in over 60 countries.

IC³ is the first global Internet and computing literacy measurement standard. Other assessment programs have broad geographic reach and market penetration, but the absence of psychometrically validated development and delivery processes fail to qualify them as true measurement standards.

What’s more, other assessment programs rely on disparate implementation methodologies which produce inconsistent results across industry markets and countries. It therefore becomes impossible for those assessments to uniformly qualify the markets they serve as digitally literate. IC³, on the other hand, is the world’s only true digital literacy standard - the product of a rigorous and psychometrically validated review and development process combined with a uniform implementation and data management system.

A great deal of expertise has assembled as international educational and workplace training standard practitioners join together to create the foundation and context for a global digital literacy standard.

IC³ provides a common entry-level qualification that individuals around the world can aspire to possess, in a step to foster true equal opportunities for those cultures and economies eager to be part of the information revolution.

IC³ provides a common entry-level qualification that individuals around the world can aspire to possess, in a step to foster true equal opportunities for those cultures and economies eager to be part of the information revolution.

IC³ provides a common entry-level qualification that individuals around the world can aspire to possess, in a step to foster true equal opportunities for those cultures and economies eager to be part of the information revolution.

But before we can evolve to the new standard, it’s important to recognize to what extent IC³ can regard itself as an objective standard. The answer lies in understanding the very thorough process that has resulted in the creation and maintenance of the IC³ global digital literacy standards.

Complex and rigorous evaluation processes have uniquely positioned IC³ as a set of measurable, global digital literacy standards. IC³ was first launched in February 2002. To start with, a comprehensive review and research project was conducted to scope and structure computing and Internet skills and standards domains.

Standards domains were then established and associated objectives were presented to over 200 subject matter experts (SMEs) worldwide. Psychometricians and exam development experts analyze SME input in order to develop and evolve basic Internet and computing competency standards consistent with the evolving and collective market expectations of computer literacy across educational, government, workforce development and corporate sectors.

Overseeing and providing input into this process is the standards review board, which is one of the primary roles played by the Global Digital Literacy Council. This process is dynamic and ensures that IC³ standards continually evolve to reflect market expectations.

This first iteration of IC³ has now been supplemented by an extensive review by the Council, completing a two-year development cycle. The next set of IC³ materials is set for release after a final review in June/July 2004. The process clearly combines the necessary rigour and completeness, as well as international scope and applicability, for any future international global digital literacy standard.

Translating the IC³ process to any emerging global digital literacy standard is just beginning. But what’s already clear is that the same disciplines and quality procedures already demonstrated in IC³ will be useful to any new standard. Because technology moves so fast, only a system such as IC³ that includes continuous assessment and review can help to produce relevant materials. It is important that the process of developing and implementing standards be a continuous one, as both the technology, and the functions it facilitates, are constantly changing.

Another important element is the emphasis on quality. A wide variety of stakeholders are involved in getting feedback, both on the standards and the membership of the review board.

A standard’s strength and market influence is the product of consensus support from key stakeholders. Organizations representing educational, government, workforce development and corporate sectors must play a guiding role in the development of standards serving those markets. By having the Global Digital Literacy Council review and ratify IC³ standards, they provide both essential expertise and market representation.

Feedback from the individuals who led the IC³ process and who have committed to help start the digital literacy process agree that this is the only approach that makes a global digital literacy standard achievable.

"Certiport has gone to great lengths to include people from all facets of life to have input," points out one IC³ process member. "It has identified the subject matter experts in order to have a broad amount of feedback."

"By inviting a group of individuals whose backgrounds and interests are diverse, there is an excellent distribution of opinions and positions within the world of information and computer technology, both from a hardware and software position. And we have a wide representation of educational perspectives also—from the public school, secondary, and post-secondary levels," says another.

"Testing is not just someone sitting down and writing a bunch of questions," points out another process leader. "If you are going to measure a standard, then the measurement tool must have a proven capability to measure what you say it measures. Otherwise you’re saying someone has not met the standard – and thus may fail a course or be denied job opportunities - based on nothing but guesswork as to whether we’re measuring the right things.

"This means that they cannot be the product of one community, and the validation process is essential for generating the confidence that the standards are a product of independent consultation and consensus," notes one training organization representative.

"IC³ is unique in that we are working to drive a consensus as to what constitutes ICT literacy - whether you are sitting in front of a computer in New York, Athens, Johannesburg or Tokyo. And by bringing together the people who have created these various standards and working together to create an IC³ curriculum we hope we are distilling the best thinking and best practices for ICT literacy worldwide into a standard which incorporates both education and professional level assessment as a goal," notes one volunteer for the new Global Digital Literacy Council.

"The IC³ initiative provides a foundation for an eventual set of globally recognized and accepted standards," adds a US speaker. "The carefully structured process being employed by Certiport gives considerable credibility to this effort. Inclusion of additional IT, employer and academic thought leaders in the process will help ensure momentum, and the visibility necessary to attract others".

"Certiport has taken the lead on expending the necessary resources to make this standard valid and rigorous and, because of that, will be the source for many others to refer to," is the conclusion of yet another.

The message is clear: validation matters. In context of exam development, validation refers to the extent to which an exam measures what it purports to measure. Validation is the essential ingredient in any standards development process, and serves to qualify the integrity of the standards in question. Standards that map to anything other than those which bridge the gap between academic preparation and market demand are suspect, and will ultimately under serve the market they are designed to support.

Only a process like that behind IC³ can meet the challenges of the marketplace, be they national governments and international standards bodies, educators at all levels, workforce skills and training stakeholders, and anyone (as consumer, parent, employer or employee) interested in becoming truly equipped for the international lingua franca of the 21st century – digital literacy.