Assessing Digital Literacy Skills: Learn One Approach to Creating Online Assessment Tools

Kit Hadley

Below, guest blogger and Saint Paul Public Library Director Kit Hadley offers insight into ways that libraries can navigate the digital literacy environment by describing the work of the Northstar Digital Literacy Project. Hadley’s article is part of the ALA Digital Literacy Task Force’s continuing efforts to highlight library leadership in the digital literacy sphere.

On November 14, 2012, the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy and its Digital Literacy Task Force will host Creating a Culture of Learning: How Librarians Keep up with Digital Media and Technology, a national conversation about the role of libraries in supporting and deepening digital literacy skills development for students, the general public and colleagues in other professions (RSVP now). Librarians can submit blog posts about their digital literacy programs by sending an email to

At the height of the recession, the Saint Paul Public Library and the Saint Paul Community Literacy Consortium initiated a project to help teach basic digital literacy skills and offer a certificate to help in job search. Our target audience was people lacking minimal computer literacy skills. We were working with people everyday without the computer skills necessary to apply for jobs on-line, engage in e-commerce and e-government, find library resources, participate in adult basic education and career readiness programs, or take basic courses at community colleges.

Now, a collaboration of organizations has launched the Northstar Digital Literacy Project, which offers free on-line assessments of basic digital literacy skills in six modules: basic computer use, world wide web, Windows 7, Mac OS X, using e-mail, and Microsoft Word, at

Each assessment module tests mastery of a standard set of 16-20 basic skills. Practitioners with experience teaching basic digital literacy developed the standards for each module. Libraries and community organizations piloted each module. The assessments, written at approximately a fourth grade level, include audio instructions.

The on-line assessments are freely available on the Internet and, once completed, a report is generated that indicates which skills were mastered and which still need work. In Minnesota organizations may become sponsoring sites, which allows them to offer a certificate of mastery and gives them access to data on how their learners perform. Certificates are awarded only in proctored settings.

The certificates are now offered at 39 sites by 31 organizations in 8 Minnesota cities. Organizations are using the assessments and certification process in a variety of ways: as pre- or —post-tests for classes, as a means of integrating digital literacy into Adult Basic Education, and as a way to test the effectiveness of computer classes.

The Northstar Digital Literacy Project is not a curriculum project. However organizations, including the Saint Paul Public Library, have developed curricula to teach the Northstar Digital Literacy Project standards. Curricula may be found at

The Project has helped create consistency, improve quality, and strengthen the network among community-based organizations in the Twin Cities offering basic computer training. Classes offered by participating organizations now teach to the same standards, which helps learners who often seek training at more than one organization.

The Project was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Otto Bremer Foundation.

About Marijke Visser

As associate director and senior policy advocate, Marijke leads and coordinates all of ALA’s work on E-rate. In addition, Marijke supports the Program on Networks focusing on broadband adoption issues for diverse populations. Marijke also serves as Program Director for OITP’s emerging portfolio on children, youth, and technology.


  1. Happy to learn how its done in St. Paul….and to try to fit it into a full day in my K5 school library.

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