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CTEP Members and Participants Test Out the New Northstar Assessments

July 8, 2018

By Jeremy Young, CTEP AmeriCorps member at Guadalupe Alternative Programs

The Northstar Digital Literacy Project features ten online assessments covering a range of digital literacy topics created to address a growing need among community organizations to assess computer skills of job seekers. Additionally, job seekers can earn certificates signifying their computer knowledge to employers. Northstar is used in more than 300 locations globally, including over 30 CTEP sites in the Twin Cities. 

In recent years, the Northstar assessments became increasingly difficult to support due to outdated technology. In late 2017, Northstar developers initiated a general redesign of the ten assessments. In addition to the needed technology updates, each assessment would feature a newer, more modern user interface and updated content. 

Throughout 2018, a group of CTEP AmeriCorps members assisted in the redesign of the Northstar Digital Literacy assessments.  Working with key Northstar staff, the CTEP members engaged in field testing with local community members. Students at CTEP sites using Northstar gave us input on what worked, and what didn’t, as the assessments began getting updated. This process generated valuable user feedback for the Northstar development team. 

As part of the development process, we conducted field testing with regular users of Northstar. This project aligned neatly with the CTEP members’ skills, who had backgrounds ranging from web development and userinterface/userexperience, to information literacy and research psychology. Throughout the project, the CTEP AmeriCorps members worked with Northstar coordinator Jen Vanek and contractor Evan Davis.

We began field testing began in early 2018 after Northstar developers completed the first updated assessment and sent it to the CTEP members for field testing. The CTEP members then recruited participants among the community members at their sites to give Northstar team feedback.

The field testing process varied by site, but generally the participant went through the new assessment and voiceed thoughts or reactions during the test, all while the CTEP member observed. Afterward, the CTEP asked for feedback on the assessment. Sometimes the CTEP members paired up, one member interviewing and the other recording feedback. 

The three main areas of focus were user experience, functionality, and content. We then recorded the feedback and passed on to Northstar, which made changes accordingly. This was the final step before the new assessment was released to the public. 

By August 2018, the end of their service term, the CTEP members will have field tested three Northstar assessments—Basic Computer, Internet Basics, and Microsoft Word—at three sites: Project for Pride in Living in Minneapolis, Guadalupe Alternative Programs in St. Paul, and Open Door Learning Center at Sumner Library. Participants include dozens of community members from varying backgrounds, including East African job seekers, Karen high schoolers, and fellow staff, and CTEP members from across the cohort. 

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Civic Engagement Project Title: Field Testing Northstar Digital Literacy Assessments
Project Members: Rachel Smith, Jeremy Young, Deqa Hassan, Corey Allred
Project Partner: Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment

Each year our 35 CTEP AmeriCorps members choose community action projects that make a contribution to bridging the digital divide. The CTEP civic engagement projects are often cited by CTEP AmeriCorps members, staff, supervisors, and community supporters as one of the most unique and energizing parts of the program. This is one of the 2018 civic engagement projects.