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Assessing and Teaching Problem Solving Skills in a Technology-rich Environment

Hello Integrating Technology Colleagues,

You may be aware of the Problem Solving in Technology Rich Environments (PSTRE) test of the international OECD PIAAC assessment. You may also be aware of the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) standards. Both have raised the bar for assessing, teaching and using technology -- computers, portable digital devices, and the Internet. You may also be aware that the PIAAC PSTRE assessment is available to adult basic skills programs for a fee, and you may be aware of the Northstar Digital Literacy assessment. These digital literacy assessments for adults, and the many good online resources for teaching adults basic and more advanced digital literacy skills have been very helpful to our field; however, they do not fully address the new standards of problem solving using technology that are so important for success in post-secondary education, addressing individual and family needs, and for jobs and careers that can provide family-sustaining salaries and wages.

How can adult basic skills teachers and tutors, including those whose focus might be technology skills, assess and teach the skills these new standards require?

One resource is a 2018 "Blueprint for Designing Digital Problem Solving Tasks," part of a Portland State University PDX Scholar Digital Problem Solving Toolkit Advancing Digital Equity in Public Libraries:Assessing Library Patrons' Problem Solving in Technology Rich Environments. by Jill Castek, Portland State University,; Cindy Gibbon, Multnomah County Library,; Gloria Jacobs, Portland State University,; Tyler Frank, Pima Community College; Amy Honisett, Multnomah County Library, and others.

Designed for library digital literacy programs, some of the six assessment tasks in the blueprint could easily be adapted for adult basic skills programs. For example:

Task 5​: Go to the MedlinePlus database and find the symptoms of Zika virus​.

● Setting goals, monitoring progress

● Why should I use a database to search for health information?

● Can I only search databases through the library’s website?

● Planning, self-organizing

● How do I navigate to the Medline Plus database? Is there more than one way?

● Do I need to search for the Medline Plus database in order to search within it?

● How do I know that I’ve found the Medline Plus database?

● How can I use the menu structure or search bar to get to the information I need from MedlinePlus?

● Acquiring and evaluating information

● Once I’ve located the MedlinePlus database, where do I find the search box or how do I navigate the content to locate what I’m looking for?

● Once I’ve located the Medline Plus database, what key words do I use to get the information I need?

● How do I know the symptoms I found are reliable/accurate? Should I search another source to be sure?

● Using information

● Did I find an article that tells about the Zika virus?

● Did I find symptoms of Zika virus within the article located?

Task 6​: Think back to the last week. Is there a time when you needed help answering a question or learning something new? Is there something you’re curious about or something you’ve always wondered about? Is there something you’ve always wanted to know how to do?

1. What was the question or what did you want to learn?

2. How could you use the library website to answer that question?

3. Do you need to find more information or learn a new skill?

4. Find an answer to your question or locate a library resource that could help you answer yourquestion to learn what you want to learn.

● Setting goals and monitoring progress

● Can I come up with a question or an interest?

● How do I formulate the information need and/or question?

● How do I narrow my focus, or revise my direction in order to find out about my topic, meet my information needs and/or answer my question?

● Planning, self-organizing

● How do I use the structure of the library’s website to begin my investigation?

● How can I use the menu structure or search bar to get to the information I need?

● Do I know what key words to use to conduct my search?

● Do I need a book (if so what kind)? Do I need an article (if so what kind)?

● Do I need to locate a library program or class (if so what and where is the program or class)?

● Acquiring and evaluating information

● Does the resource I found help me answer my question or fit my information need?

● What additional/related information do I need to find to help me understand?

● Do I know whether my question has been answered or the information need has been met?

● Is the information I found reliable/trustworthy? Should I search another source to be sure?

● Using information

● Do I have enough resources?

● Does the search lead to more questions or information seeking?

● What is my plan to use the information?


Using and adapting these blueprint tasks could enable many adult basic skills teachers and tutors to design their own assessments. If you use these tasks, adapt them, or create your own problem solving assessments (for a technology rich environment) please share them with us in the LINCS Integrating Technology group.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group




David J. Rosen's picture


This article, PROMISING LIBRARY PRACTICES: ASSESSING AND INSTRUCTING DIGITAL PROBLEM SOLVING  by some of the same authors may also be of interest.


The purpose of this article is to introduce a practical framework and tools that can be used or adapted to assess the digital problem-solving abilities of library users. The framework and tools were developed from a three-year research study conducted as a university and public library partnership. The library field is in need of a valid and reliable digital problem-solving assessment, which reflects the idea that the digital world is constantly changing as the networks, interfaces, and tools evolve. Such an assessment would promote digital problem solvers who are fluid and flexible to navigate an ever-changing digital landscape. A structured digital problem-solving assessment can be used by librarians and other library staff to customize supports for underserved adult learners specifically, and to enhance learning experiences with digital tools in libraries for the wider public more generally.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group