Over a decade ago, the state director of adult education in Massachusetts, Bob Bickerton, said that computer skills were as important as reading, writing and numeracy, and that all adult basic education programs should make them available for students. I wasn’t sure about this then, but I am now; he was right. I would describe it a little differently now, as the technology has changed, but the basic idea is the same. Every ESOL/ESL, basic literacy, ABE, ASE and transition to higher education program needs to offer students digital literacy opportunities. These include the skills, knowledge and experience that lead to students’ comfort and competence in using computers, cell phones, and tablets (e.g. iPad), but also include Internet skills such as being able to efficiently find information, judge the quality of the information found, complete online forms such as job applications, applications for online purchasing and banking, and driver license and car registration renewals. Some of these tasks now can only be done online; others are less expensive if done online. Students also need to know how to protect themselves from identity theft, phishing, and other scams; and they need to know how to do online and blended learning, increasingly needed for post-secondary education and for work.
In many adult education classes today, collectively the students know more about using technology than their teacher. The best solution is for teachers who do not feel comfortable is to wade in with their students, admit that while they are experts in teaching English they may not be experts in digital literacy, learn along with and from their students. This is a very different teaching paradigm, one that takes getting used to (a “we are all in this together” model instead of a “sage on the stage” or even a “guide by the side” model), but there are ESOL/ESL teachers that have mastered it. If you want to see some examples of classroom teachers doing this, go to these two OTAN (Sacramento County California Office of Education) web sites:
1) OTAN Video Gallery http://www.otan.us/browse/dsp/dsp_videotechintegration.cfm Registration (free) and log-in are required.
2) Captured Wisdom videos http://www.otan.us/browse/dsp/dsp_CapturedWisdom.cfm These videos are now on the OTAN web site. To see them, register (free), then sign in to OTAN to get to them. From the OTAN home page the path would be Ed Technology & Media > Video Gallery > Technology Integration Videos.
The Sacramento County Office of Education (and the Project IDEAL Support Center at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research) are responsible for the U.S. Department of Education initially-funded USA Learns ESL web site http://usalearns.org . It’s a good example of how English language learners can supplement their classroom learning at home or improve their English on their own. This kind of online ESL learning will also help them feel comfortable and competent if asked to do online learning at work.