TED Talks

August 14, 2014

Have you — like me — watched the various TED talk videos for your own continuing education, both professionally and for other purposes? If so, please share what you have found to be especially interesting for yourself, and possibly for your students. To get the ball rolling, here are four TED talks I have found especially useful and inspiring:

  • At a TED X Boston talk in June, 2012, Noah Wilson-Rich, the President of the Best Bees Company, did a presentation on the successful beehives that are found on the tops of Boston buildings, including the convention center in South Boston. Through this talk I learned that honeybees are thriving in cities in the U.S. and throughout the world while, as you may be aware, honeybees are vanishing in rural areas because of a widespread phenomenon called Beehive Colony Collapse disorder,  “a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear.”  They are not just dying, but disappearing. What do you think the explanation might be? I wondered if  there are pesticides that are used on farms that are not used on building tops in cities? http://video.ted.com/talk/podcast/2012X/None/NoahWilsonRich_2012X-480p.mp4
  • Recently I watched a two-year old TED talk by a Stanford University professor and inventor named Manu Prakash. He talked about his invention called the Foldscope, a rugged, so-called “origami microscope” designed especially for poor countries.  It has 2000 times magnification; it can be assembled in under ten minutes and, once commercially manufactured, it may cost under a dollar.  When I saw this, I searched the web for other information about it and it led me to the Foldscope web site and Prakash’s contact information. I emailed him to find out if adult education science teachers in the U.S. could participate in the beta test because most do not have access to microscopes. As a result we now have a few U.S. adult education teachers who have applied and at least one that I know who is part of this beta test..  http://www.ted.com/talks/manu_prakash_a_50_cent_microscope_that_folds_like_origami   and http://foldscope.com
  • Colleague, Daphne Greenberg, Director of the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy at Georgia State University, did a TedX talk on adult literacy in Atlanta earlier this year that I — and other colleagues — have found useful in advocating for adult literacy. You will find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGad2PKUhbE
  • Bill Strickland is a community educator and activist in Pittsburgh, PA. In his February 2002 TED Talk he describes how the arts saved him when he was in high school, and how the arts are integral to the success of the community job training center he helped to create in Philadelphia and that has influenced job training centers in other cities such as L.A. https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_strickland_makes_change_with_a_slide_show

What are your favorite TED talks? What do you recommend to your colleagues and friends? Tell us about them in your reply to this blog article.

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What will U.S. adult basic education look like in the future? Ten technology trends that may be transforming it.

July 6, 2014

What technology trends will continue, and perhaps transform adult basic education in the future? Here are ten that could — and perhaps already are beginning to — transform adult basic education (which also includes English language learning for immigrants, adult secondary education and transition to higher education) :

1. Blended Learning. Within the next five years most adult basic education programs will have web-based instruction that supplements what students do in class. For an example of this, read about what the San Mateo Adult School is doing, http://www.smdailyjournal.com/articles/lnews/2014-07-04/adult-school-in-san-mateo-goes-digital-web-videos-of-classes-help-students-boost-their-studies/1776425126069.html  and look at their online video clips http://smaceclasssclips.weebly.com/. These videos are actual classroom lessons also made available to their students online.

Blended learning will enable students who have access to the Internet to: put in more time on task, review a lesson that they found difficult to understand when it was presented the first time in class, and to make up a missed class. It may enable students to progress more quickly. It will also enable teachers who wish to, to provide a range of ways to teach the same topic. Online lessons can include video files, audio files, simulations/games that can be accessed from mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets, texts, screen captured multimedia presentations and more.

2. Flipped Learning. In flipped learning a teacher develops or finds suitable “homework,” most often instructional videos, that students are assigned to watch before class. A flipped class is no longer a teacher presenting to a large group but a teacher, peer tutor, volunteer tutor or aide working with students who need one-on-one or small group help. In an ideal flipped classroom the teacher has a management information system and knows before the class who has watched the instructional video lesson, and whether they are ready to be assigned more difficult lessons, if or that they need a little or a lot more help. S/he then organizes the class to provide that help. It may be technology’s best answer to the competency-based Mastery Learning model Benjamin Bloom proposed several decades ago, but that teachers have found difficult to achieve in their classrooms.  Flipped Learning, of course, is one type of blended learning. For more information about flipped learning, and to join the adult basic education and ESL group there, go to the Flipped Learning Ning at http://flippedclassroom.org/ http://flippedclassroom.org/group/adult-basic-education-and-adult-esl-or-esol-flippi

3. Pure Distance Learning. This is online learning with little or no face-to-face interaction. It has been around for many years in adult education, beginning before digital technology with well designed correspondence courses that were successful for example in rural areas of new York State. With the help of Project Ideal, a national consortium of many of the states that offer adult distance learning, and with leadership from states such as California, pure distance learning is already a reality in adult basic education and I think it will continue and grow.

4. Mobile Learning (mlearning). Adult basic education teachers who regularly survey their students to learn if they have access to the Internet through computer, and/or smart phone, and/or electronic tablet, are finding that smart phone access is a fast-growing phenomenon, especially among immigrants, but also among other adult learners, including a big growth trend among African American students. Students’ smart phones are not always used for learning, but savvy teachers have designed BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) learning models, and are finding useful language learning and other adult basic education apps. This will continue to grow, but a major impediment in many adult basic education programs and adult schools is the lack of resources to purchase broadband wireless that can be accessed in all the classrooms. For examples of mobile learning with adults, tale a look at Susan Gaer’s web site http://susangaer.com/studentprojects/ Also,  note the rapid growth in mobile learning apps for adults, for example those that can be found on “Scoop.it”. As the founder and moderator of the Mlearning Wiggio Group, I would be happy to extend an invitation to those who are interested in joining this online group. (Email me at djrosen123@gmail.com )

5. Online Curricula Aligned with College and Career Ready (CCR) Standards. A major change in U.S. adult basic education is that for the first time all states are — to one degree or another — using a set of common curriculum standards. The College and Career Readiness Standards, an adult education version of the Common Core State Standards, is now in place, and in many states programs are now expected to create curricula aligned to these standards. One logical outcome could be the development of (voluntary) state and national adult education curricula that if well-developed and can be shown to produce good learning outcomes might be widely used. We’ll see.

6. Computer-based Assessment. The GED® 2014 exam is already offered primarily on computers, and all the high school equivalency tests are moving in this direction. I also expect that we will see more formative assessments being made available online.

7. Digital literacy assessment and instruction. This trend has been growing for several years, and some of today’s examples include:

8. Online Professional Development. With the advent of national curriculum standards, and a raised bar for high school equivalency and college readiness assessment as a result, the current level of online and blended adult basic education professional development will undoubtedly grow. For examples of where this is offered now, see http://wiki.literacytent.org/index.php/AlePDOnline , and for “a video window on other adult basic education teachers’ classrooms”  take a look at the authentic classroom videos in the Media Library of Teaching Skills http://mlots.org .

9. Intelligent Tutoring In adult literacy education is new. One example, the Autotutor Intelligent tutoring program developed at the University of Memphis and being used by the National Center for the Study of Adult Literacy, has a fascinating “trialogue” feature that, in addition to an interactive automated tutor who responds to the the learner, provides an interactive online adult learner. This is the closest thing I have seen to an automated (granted, small group) classroom, and can be quite engaging.

10. Online Simulations/games Examples of adult English language learning simulations include Xenos http://www.xenos-isle.com/ and Skylab Learning http://skylablearning.com/ . Several years ago a free online adult work-oriented reading, writing and numeracy simulation was developed called The Office. It will be found at http://www.lexiconsys.com/theOffice.html

Perhaps you see other adult basic education technology trends, or have comments about the trends that I see. If so, please send your comments.

 

Assessing Digital Literacy and Problem solving in Technology-Rich Environments

November 14, 2013

A recently released U.S. report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Survey of Adult Skills, also known as the PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) assessment, has Problem solving in Technology-Rich environments (PS-TRE) as one of its three assessment areas.  PS-TRE is defined as  using digital technology, communication tools, and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others, and perform practical tasks.” Although the U.S. assessment is a survey of a small, scientifically-selected sample of adults, not specifically of adult learners, it does call our attention to the need for formative and summative assessments of digital literacy and problem solving skills in technology-rich environments that are taught in adult literacy programs.  In this article, I will list some of the relevant technology-related questions and, a few of the pertinent formative and summative assessments for adult digital literacy and problem solving skills, and will provide some basic information on the PIAAC PS-TRE assessment.

Several Good Adult Digital Literacy Skills Questions

(These could easily be turned into learning objectives.)

  • Can the learner describe basic features of computers and the Internet such as “how to use command names, drop-down menus, naming protocols for files and folders, and links in a web page?” (from the PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills)
  • Can the learner demonstrate the needed level of keyboarding (typing) skills? E.g. 40-60 wpm.?
  • Can the learner demonstrate good skills to find specific needed information online?
  • Can s/he describe what to look for in judging the accuracy, quality and appropriateness of the information found?
  • Is the learner fearless, or at least reasonably comfortable, in attempting to solve technology-related problems?
  • When given a task to solve in a digital environment, can the learner analyze the task requirements, identify goals for the task, identify the tools and other resources available, develop a plan to solve it, and successfully monitor the progress to solution of the problem?
  • Can the learner effectively and efficiently use digital tools such as menus, search tools, sort tools, and word processing tools, in accomplishing the task or solving the problem?
  • Does the learner “create and communicate” using digital technology? For example does s/he create or add to web sites or blogs, join and contribute to threaded discussions or “listservs,” add to wikis, comment on online news articles, and/or help to create a class online newsletter?
  • When faced with computer or Internet hardware or software tool technical problems (e.g. in word processing, spreadsheets, databases, file management, statistical packages, graphics, web browsers, or email,) can the learner suggest strategies that might lead to a solution?

Four Adult Learner-oriented Digital Literacy Assessments

  • Northstar  http://digitalliteracyassessment.org is a free, online digital literacy assessment designed for adult learners by a state-level partnership of adult education, workforce development and libraries in Minnesota. It assesses basic skills needed to perform tasks on computers and online through six self-guided online modules, measuring Basic Computer Use, Internet, Windows Operating System, Mac OS, Email, and Word Processing (MSWord). Northstar could be used for formative or summative assessment. A passing score of 80% is needed to demonstrate competency on a module. The learner may take the assessment as many times as needed, and in between can learn skills needed through a variety of ways. One way, for states where this is available, is through a Learner Web digital literacy Learning Plan. (For more information on Learner Web, go to http://learnerweb.org. There is a high degree of congruence between the Learner Web digital literacy learning plan instruction and this assessment. Other free digital literacy learning resources, ranging from mouse and keyboard skills and writing letters and words while learning basic word processing skills, to spreadsheet, database and Internet problem-solving skills will be found on The Literacy List at http://home.comcast.net/~djrosen/newsome/litlist/complit.html
  • A Teacher-made Computer Skills Assessment  Several years ago teacher, technology field specialist, and adult curriculum writer, Kenneth Tamarkin, wrote an article for Adventures in Assessment, a Massachusetts SABES publication in which he included an adult-focused computer skills assessment. You will find it at http://www.sabes.org/resources/adventures/vol10/10tamarkin.htm
  • Self-assessing One’s Online Learning skills  Many colleges and universities offer free, online assessments for students to determine if e-learning or online learning is right for them. To find these, search for “Is eLearning Right for You?” (Be sure to put the whole phrase in quotes.)  For example, Carroll Community College offers a free self-assessment for those who want to assess their readiness for online learning. It will be found at http://www.carrollcc.edu/courses/online/assessment/skills_assessment.asp
  • PIAAC Digital Literacy (PS-TRE) Assessment  According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics Website, http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/cba.asp, the PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills assesses an “Information communication technology (ICT) core: A set of easy, basic computer tasks to assess basic functional computer skills necessary to take the main assessment on the computer” and includes 14 problem solving in technology-rich environmentsitems based on the PIAAC problem solving framework (See below for more information about this framework.) The PIAAC Assessments, including the PS-TRE assessment, will be made available online in January, 2014. Education & Skills Online, an online assessment tool, will enable individuals and organizations to assess key literacy, numeracy and PS-TRE competencies in real time, on demand. You will find more information about this at http://www.oecd.org/site/piaac/ENG_Brochure%20Education%20and%20Skills%20Online%20SAS_Oct%2013.pdf Retrieved 11.11.13.

More on the PIAAC Assessment

The PIAAC Problem Solving Framework

Specifically, it assesses the cognitive processes of problem solving–goal setting, planning, selecting, evaluating, organizing, and communicating results. The environment in which PS-TRE assesses these processes is meant to reflect the reality that digital technology has revolutionized access to information and communication capabilities over the past decades. In particular, the internet has immensely increased instantaneous access to large amounts of information and has expanded capabilities of instant voice, text, and graphics communication across the globe. In order to effectively operate in this environment, it is necessary to have (a) knowledge of how the environment is structured (e.g., an understanding of the basics of the environment, including how to use command names, drop-down menus, naming protocols for files and folders, and links in a web page), and (b) the ability to interact effectively with digital information. Such interaction involves understanding electronic texts, images, graphics and numerical data, as well as locating, evaluating, and critically judging the validity, accuracy, and appropriateness of the accessed information. These skills constitute the core aspects of the PIAAC PS-TRE assessment.

PS-TRE items present tasks of varying difficulty to be performed in simulated software applications using commands and functions commonly found in the technology environments of email, web pages, and spreadsheets. These tasks range from purchasing particular goods or services online and finding interactive health information to managing personal information and business finances.

PIAAC recognizes the diversity of digital technologies and the fact that they are evolving at a rapid pace, but due to implementation constraints the first round of PIAAC will be limited to using computers and computer networks. The PS-TRE assessment will only be computer-administered. Retrieved 11.11.13 from http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/problem-solving.asp

PIAAC Sample PS-TRE Items

Exhibit B-6. Examples of problem solving in technology-rich environments items

Items that exemplify the pertinent features of the proficiency levels in the domain of problem solving in technology-rich environments are described below.

Level 3: Meeting Rooms (Item ID: U02)

Difficulty score: 346

This task involves managing requests to reserve a meeting room on a particular date using a reservation system. Upon discovering that one of the reservation requests cannot be accommodated, the test-taker has to send an email message declining the request. Successfully completing the task involves taking into account multiple constraints (e.g., the number of rooms available and existing reservations). Impasses exist, as the initial constraints generate a conflict (one of the demands for a room reservation cannot be satisfied). The impasse has to be resolved by initiating a new sub-goal, i.e., issuing a standard message to decline one of the requests. Two applications are present in the environment: an email interface with a number of emails stored in an inbox containing the room reservation requests, and a web-based reservation tool that allows the user to assign rooms to meetings at certain times. The item requires the test-taker to use information from a novel web application and several email messages, establish and apply criteria to solve a scheduling problem where an impasse must be resolved, and communicate the outcome. The task involves multiple applications, a large number of steps, a  built-in impasse, and the discovery and use of ad hoc commands in a novel environment. The test-taker has to establish a plan and monitor its implementation in order to minimize the number of conflicts. In addition, the test-taker has to transfer information from one application (email) to another (the room-reservation tool).

Level 2: Club Membership (Item ID: U19b)

Difficulty score: 296

This task involves responding to a request for information by locating information in a spreadsheet and emailing the requested information to the person who asked for it. The

test-taker is presented with a word-processor page containing a request to identify members of a bike club who meet two conditions, and a spreadsheet containing 200 entries in which the relevant information can be found. The required information has to be extracted by using a sort function. The item requires the test-taker to organize large

amounts of information in a multiple-column spreadsheet using multiple explicit criteria and locate and mark relevant entries. The task requires switching between two different applications and involves multiple steps and operators. It also requires some amount of monitoring. Making use of the available tools greatly facilitates identifying the relevant entries.

Level 1: Party Invitations (Item ID: U01A)

Difficulty score: 286

This task involves sorting emails into pre-existing folders. An email interface is presented with five emails in an inbox. These emails are responses to a party invitation. The test-taker is asked to place the response emails into a pre-existing folder to keep track of who can and cannot attend a party. The item requires the test-taker to categorize a small number of messages in an email application in existing folders according to a single criterion. The task is performed in a single and familiar environment and the goal is explicitly stated in operational terms. Solving the problem requires a relatively small number of steps and the use of a restricted range of operators and does not demand a significant amount of monitoring across a large number of actions.

(From Appendix, Page B12 of Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments Among U.S. Adults: Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies 2012 First Look. Retrieved 11.11.13 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014008.pdf )

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Misinformation, Agnotology, and Remedies through Media Literacy

October 7, 2013

 

 

Agnotology is the study of culturally induced ignorance. Agnotology refocuses questions about “how we know” to include questions about what we do not know, and why not.
Londa Schiebinger, in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 1 Sep. 2005.

 Historians of science have tended to focus on the processes by which scientific knowledge gets accepted. In recent decades, some scholars have come to see that processes that impede or prevent acceptance of scientific findings are also important. Such processes include the very human desire to ignore unpleasant facts, media neglect of topics, corporate or government secrecy, and misrepresentation for a commercial or political end. They often generate controversy, much of it ill-informed. Examples include the health implications of tobacco and of genetically modified plants, the safety of nuclear power, the environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and the existence or extent of man-made climate change.”[i]

 

What responsibility do adult education teachers, and other educators, have in helping students deal with media misinformation and culturally induced ignorance? 

 

English language students frequently bring to their teachers deceptive letters or emails they have received that appear to be government or legal requests for information or compliance. The students may have been able to read these, but often do not understand that they are attempts to sell something or get private information from them for illegitimate purposes. The letters or email messsages are intended to deceive. Learning how to recognize these practices and avoid being deceived is part of what is often known as “media literacy.”

 

In a broader social context, adult learners, their teachers — all of us — are bombarded in the media with an overwhelming amount of advertising, sometimes of products whose use is unhealthy, such as high-calorie fast food, other processed foods, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

 

Not long ago low-income adults and others were told in the media that, with special mortgages, they could afford to buy a house or condominium, when the truth was that while they might have been able to get one, with their income they could not afford to keep it.

 

We are told that natural gas is environmentally preferable to oil and coal heating when, with “fracking” techniques of mining natural gas, this may not be true.

 

We were told for many years that human-made climate change was imagined. Now, scientists from nearly two hundred countries have affirmed it is real and caused by humans.

 

And we are (mis)led to believe that there are “free” services on the Internet.

 

What can adult educators do to help students understand these, at best misleading, often deliberately deceptive practices?

 

For many years, one adult literacy publication has taken on literacy and social change, helping adult learners to read critically.  It has made it easier for teachers to help students improve their critical reading skills. The current issue of The Change Agent, published by the New England Literacy Resource Center at World Education, focuses on Technology, and its lead article, by Romenigue dos Santos, an adult English language learner, takes on culturally induced ignorance in Internet technology.

 

In his article, “You Are the Product!” [ii] dos Santos begins  “Google knows more about you than your own mother does….Google knows most of our likes and interests, and they sell this information to the highest bidder. What do we get in exchange? We get lots of great applications, developed by them, for free. So the question is: is it worth it?”

 

The Change Agent technology issue is not entirely critical of technology. It offers a balanced approach, including an article about a great free adult learning web site for teachers and learners by Lora Myers, “Education on the Go at TV411.org,”   “Using Technology to Solve Problems,” by Steve Quann, “Dragon Naturally Speaking” by Bernice Sicely, and “Technology in the Care of Others,” by Eva Ramos. Other articles, such as a review by Cynthia Peters of Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy,” Akira Kamiya’s “Internet for All. Really?” and Sterlin Reaves’ “It Hurt. I was Furious. Deceived through Social Media” help teachers and learners to read critically, and perhaps to cut through the fog of internet malpractice and technology agnotology.

You can subscribe to The Change Agent individually or in bulk online and on paper. For more information: http://www.nelrc.org/changeagent/subscribe.htm

 

 


[i]  From: World Wide Words is written, edited and published in the UK by Michael Quinion. ISSN 1470-1448. Copyediting and advice are provided by Julane Marx in the US and Robert Waterhouse in the UK. The linked website is http://www.worldwidewords.org

 

[ii]  I have been a fan of The Change Agent for many years. I am an article contributor, and on the Editorial Board for the Technology issue.

Is the Adult Education and Literacy System in the U.S. prepared to Unlock the Door to Economic Opportunity?

June 2, 2013

What would happen if by January 2015 or 2016 the new, higher-bar adult secondary education tests (the GED®, TASC™ and HiSET™ high school equivalency exams that will be available in January, 2014) show that very few test-takers can pass at the College and Career-ready level that each of these assessment makers plans to include? What if the Adult Education and Literacy System in the United States is found inadequate to prepare adults for college level studies, and in some cases, for training and work?

Wait, some may say, we don’t know that yet. Maybe we are resilient and resourceful enough to make the adaptations to prepare students for tests that have these new standards. Maybe teachers will rise to the challenge and learn the math – and how to teach it – that these new CCR standards require. Maybe teachers will be able to help their students learn how, on a timed test, to quickly read text and write or type a persuasive argument about it. Maybe adult education programs will figure out how to provide 40 WPM minimum keyboarding skills for students who want or need to take the test on a computer. Maybe they will figure out, given the same number of hours per week of instruction, how to include social studies and science background content that the tests will require. Maybe they will, somehow.

But what if they can’t? What if the system and its programs and schools don’t have this capacity? What if adult education programs don’t have qualified math, science and social studies teachers and don’t have the resources to hire them? What if adult secondary education (ASE) teachers, rarely full-time, often with other, competing part-time or full-time jobs, don’t have unpaid time to take the training to get up to speed to teach the needed math, science or social studies? What if programs don’t currently offer a typing/keyboarding class or, if they do, if they don’t have enough computers so every ASE student could use them to practice keyboarding to meet a 40 WPM standard?

What if programs did have new resources – more money – to make these changes, would their students be able to make more hours per week available to learn the new content, to learn critical thinking, reading, and writing skills — in English – to successfully prepare for the harder exam in the same amount of time, roughly a few months to one year?

I am concerned that programs, and possibly learners cannot do this, at least not with only minor changes. To meet the new standards, major reform of adult basic education is needed, reform that results in:

  • More hours of instruction per week, and by qualified instructors;
  • More technology for almost every adult education program, hardware and software that at least matches the level available to local public schools. That means more desktop and laptop computers in classrooms as well as labs, a multimedia projector and/or whiteboard in every classroom, possibly loaner laptops or electronic tablets for students, and training for teachers in how to use the technology well.
  •  ASE students understanding that the HSE door now will have two locks, one called High School Equivalency and a new one called College and Career Readiness (CCR), and that for most people the door only opens to education and economic opportunity, i.e. increases in lifetime earnings, when the CCR lock is opened.
  • Most students understanding that quick-fix high school equivalency preparation ends in December, 2013, and that most students who take a 2014 HSE exam will need more than a few weeks or months to prepare to pass the new higher standards, if that is their goal. They may need more hours of class per week, perhaps as many as 10-15 hours, and/or more independent instruction and practice using a computer and the Internet – at home, a library, school, or work.
  • Students who need it, doing a typing/keyboarding course to get their skills to at least 40 WPM.

Many of these changes require more than small adjustments, and most require significant new resources.  The test-makers have rightly aligned what they plan to test to what the Common Core State Standards think high school graduates – and college and career ready students – need to know.  ASE programs want their students to be prepared for these test changes. Now it is time for state legislatures and Congress to learn what the changes imply, how the adult education and literacy system nationally and in states needs to be improved to address these new standards, and what that will cost.

Teaching Good Writing with Twitter and Text messaging, and Good Video-making with Smart Phone Videos

May 1, 2013

What do Twitter, text messaging, and videos that are designed for mobile phones have in common? They are all considered by most teachers to be time-wasters and learning distractions; however, these social media technologies also have the potential to improve how students present themselves and communicate in writing or in moving images.

Some see constraints such as the number of characters that can be used in a tweet or the size of a tiny video screen as pointless limitations; however, they may also be seen as beneficial artistic constraints. The poet Robert Frost, for example, believed constraints were needed for good poetry. In an address at Massachusetts’ Milton Academy, in 1935 he complained about poetry with limits, said that, “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.” Another example of useful artistic writing constraints is Haiku, a wonderful form of poetry usually limited to lines of 7, 5, 7, and 7 words.

In the visual arts, there are a great many examples of small works of fine sculpture, drawing, painting, and jewelry, some that require a magnifier to appreciate. We should not dismiss Twitter, and text messaging because there are constraints on the number of characters or words, but instead we should use those limits to help students construct clear, concise writing.

I recently read a discussion about using tweets to reach potential employers. Good job counselors tell their clients that posting or emailing resumes and job applications, even in response to an ad, is usually a waste of time. The key, they say, is developing a relationship, letting a potential employer know who you are, what you can do, and how you can help her or his organization or company. This is good advice but often it’s not easy to follow. How do you find, reach and intrigue a potential employer?

Suppose you find the employer’s hashtag. You have 140 characters to get his or her attention, an interesting and challenging writing problem. You have to provide both a way for the employer to learn more about you (by responding to your tweet, email address, web page link, or phone number) and a compelling reason to do so. You need to research the employer, speak the employer’s language, choose words that will get the employer’s attention. You also need to represent yourself well; so using “U R” for “you are” may cut down on characters, but will not impress most employers. This is a writing problem that might intrigue some students.

I know adult learners who are entrepreneurs. They sell things they have made themselves, or purchased at a discount. They sell these goods in their communities online, or both. As entrepreneurs they have to reach and communicate with potential customers. A high interest writing problem for them is how to intrigue a customer with a tweet or a short text message. They have to boil down their pitch to a few, well-chosen words. This, too, is a problem that can engage some learners in the art of good writing, regardless of what form of writing they choose.

I recently read an article on using video for non-profit marketing with mobile devices. http://www.nten.org/articles/2013/video-and-mobile-devices It addresses another constraint problem, not for writing, but for visual media; that is, how to communicate effectively to people who are looking at your video on the small screen of a handheld device. The author, Michael Hoffman, writes, “Because mobiles have a small screen and often more limited download speed and bandwidth restrictions, you are well advised to deliver a more focused and simplified experience in your mobile content.” Hoffman advises, for example, that because the screen size of a smart phone is small, “video ideal for a phone will often use more medium and close shots so the details are visible on the small screen” and because smart phone users are often listening to the video in a public place and often without a headset, “having a video that works even if you don’t catch every single word is more likely to impact the smart phone viewer (and is a good idea in general because we live in a world of constant distraction.”
Hoffman continues, “When several New York-area Planned Parenthood Federations wanted to reach youth at risk they knew that both video and texting were key to that audience. We worked with them to develop a program that used short online video stories to encourage text-based opt-in from the youth.

The videos ended a short story before the dénouement and in order to find out what happened, you had to text in.
WhatshouldLisaDo

Youth Video + Texting Campaign – Planned Parenthood of New York

In this case, engaging video was key to the execution of a mobile strategy.”

Many adult learners, especially younger students, have smart phones, often not only with built-in still camera but also video-making capacity. With simple-to-use editing software, students could create a video, edit it to under a minute, and engage their viewers in a problem or issue about which they are personally concerned: getting hired, promoting important health practices, getting community members to register and vote on vital neighborhood issues, driving potential customers to their web sites, recruiting students to their literacy program, or getting out an “elevator pitch” on why adult literacy programs need more (not less) funding in hard economic times.

Project-based learning that requires clear, concise and engaging communicating is a highly motivating way to help learners improve their aural, written and visual communication skills.

Sorry, too busy to have a conversation

April 14, 2013

This is the 40th anniversary of the cell phone (“On April 3, 1973, a Motorola inventor named Martin Cooper made the first-ever call on a handheld cellular phone.” http://cognoscenti.wbur.org/2013/04/09/cell-phones-ethan-gilsdorf?utm_source=cc&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nwsltr-13-04-12 )

In a 2011 TED talk, MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, reflecting on how our society uses cell phone technology, observed that “reclaiming conversation, that’s the next frontier.” By that she meant old-fashioned face-to-face conversation, without the sometimes never-ending distractions and interruptions of handhelds. In this TED talk, http://cognoscenti.wbur.org/2013/04/09/cell-phones-ethan-gilsdorf?utm_source=cc&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nwsltr-13-04-12, and in her book, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other,” Turkle explores how profoundly handheld technology has changed our culture, and she argues that we need to make better choices about how we use this technology. We can turn off our cell phones, we can tweet less often, we can visit Facebook once a week instead of once an hour. And instead, we can have real conversations with family, friends and colleagues.

I turn off technology, and I am encouraged that Sherry Turkle, and perhaps others who have heard her and read her books, are doing that too. I take technology-free vacations in Maine, and in the Caribbean, where I camp in a tent and remove digital technology from my life. I don’t talk on any phone unless there is an emergency, I don’t bring a computer or even an e-reader. I take books.  My wife and I hike, and climb, kayak, swim, build campfires at night, look at the stars, and endlessly talk. I try to do these “retreats” at least two times a year, for at least eight days each time. I almost always manage at least once a year. I come back feeling refreshed, with new insights and ideas.

I have a friend who takes technology-free vacations in the city. She turns off everything:  land line, cell phone, television, and radio. She walks or takes public transportation.  That’s harder than what I do, and I am not sure I could manage it, but she, too, feels cleansed, reinvigorated, and more aware of herself, her friends and family, of being alive.

Our interrupted and distracted culture, accelerated by mobile technology, is not a hopeless addiction, Turkle argues. We can easily do something about it. We can tame technology, turn it off. We can be fully present when our family, friends and colleagues are talking, not be “online.”

The high-volume of  interrupting phone calls, tweets, and emails, and our frequently-Facebook-checking culture, Turkle argues, is a substitute for authentic interaction.

Here’s an example. I subscribe to several  Communities of Practice (CoPs). These are online professional discussion groups where practitioners, researchers and others are supposed to engage in dialogue, learn from each other, add to our professional wisdom, explore new ideas, think together critically, provide a sounding board, offer insights, and perhaps at times inspire each other.  However, that doesn’t often happen. Mostly, these are announcement lists of other activities, resources, and events. Each of these online professional communities has hundreds of subscribers, so the critical mass needed for good discussion is not the problem. Most have subject matter experts, although they may lack discussion leaders, who often can be helpful in seeding and nurturing discussion.

When confronted with the lack of real discussion, and even shop talk, some CoP members reply in defense that they are just too busy. For a long time I thought this meant too busy working; people in the adult basic skills (literacy, basic education, secondary education, English language teaching) field, where most teachers have two or three part-time jobs to make ends meet, and where funding has been cut and those left employed have to do the work of those laid off, are busy.  But there’s something else going on, I think. The people in CoPs are not too busy to subscribe and to skim the posts, or at least the subject headers and digests of posts. They are just too busy to engage. Of course some people would (rightly) argue that there is benefit from getting information from CoPs, that some people may participate in some of the webinars, conferences, and online courses they learn about from these discussions. Still, CoPs themselves, are intended as a community, an opportunity for sharing professional wisdom, for discussion, a place to share ideas and have them critiqued. Those who “subscribe” but are not truly members of these communities, miss an opportunity for important and genuine conversation, for reflection and professional improvement.  Are they really too busy to engage in a conversation? Perhaps its because their lives are filled with what Turkle describes as the “illusion of connectedness.”

Is your own life filled with tweets, email, and short phone calls? Can you remember the last time when you had a “a good conversation”? Are your conversations distracted or interrupted by technology?  If so, try to take control:

• Turn off your cell phone during certain hours of the day.  Carry two cellphones, one that is always on, but only to be used for emergencies. Turn the other one off and only check it at the beginning and end of the day.

• If you subscribe to several professional development CoPs, cut down the number (perhaps to only one) but then actually engage with that one.

• Unsubscribe from all commercial email advertising – use the time you might spend looking at ads in real-time (face-to-face or online) talking with family, friends or colleagues. You’ll miss a bargain or two but gain something more valuable.

• Take technology-free vacations, perhaps short ones as well as longer ones. Use the time to become more aware of yourself, your family, your friends, your community, your environment, and  the world in which you live.

• Establish new ground rules such as no cell phones used

• During meals

• While walking  (There are other important reasons for this rule: hearing safety, in some environments, physical safety)

• During meetings, and

• When you are having a conversation

I would be interested in hearing other ways to tame our technology-domineering culture. Hope you will comment below.

Beyond Student Councils: Adult Learner Leadership

March 11, 2013

The national adult learner leadership organization, VALUE, http://valueusa.org has long said that the success of the adult literacy education field depends on adult learners. This doesn’t mean only that practitioner success is measured by adult learner gains in education progress. It also means that, as a marginalized field, the best hope for mainstream attention and increased public investment, especially in economic hard times, is a large number of well-organized adult learner leader advocates.

We know, from years of experience, that legislators on both sides of the aisle pay more attention to what adult learners say than practitioners, whose jobs they often rightly believe depend on public funding. What gets legislators’ attention is passionate and articulate adult learners, people from their Congressional or representative district, especially those who are politically active and who are registered to vote.

Student councils; student or graduate-led mentoring or learner support groups; student participation on program boards and advisory councils; student-produced projects, such as health literacy information and advocacy in their communities; and student-led public speaking events about adult literacy education are all important adult learner leadership activities, but they are not enough. Look at the devastation of adult education funding in New Jersey, New York, California, Arizona, and any number of states, not to mention states like Iowa and Colorado that have no state funding devoted to adult literacy education. This must be changed.

Recently the Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education (MCAE), an organization I am proud to be a member of, began to mobilize adult learner and practitioner advocates to ask candidates for the U.S. Senator position left vacant by long-time Senator John Kerry these four questions:

U.S. Senate Candidates – Adult Basic Education Questionnaire

1. Do you believe adult basic education is a right or a privilege? Should we have a social contract for adult basic education the way we do for K-12 education?

2. Currently our state has many residents who lack access to adult basic education services either because there is no program in their area, the programs in their area have long waiting lists or there are scheduling, transportation or child care barriers. What steps would you take to correct this lack of access?

3. Efforts are underway at the state and national level to raise the quality and standards of adult basic education programs and services to be comparable with that of the K-12 system, yet the ABE system receives only a small fraction of the funding that goes to the K-12 system. What would you do to increase the resources allocated to adult basic education in order to promote the development and professionalization of the field?

4. What do you believe should be the vision and purpose for the adult basic education system, in good economic times and bad?

These are great questions. So great that New Hampshire’s Adult Education Director, Art Ellison, sent them out to adult basic education state directors and advocates across the country to consider using in their own state, and with U.S. Senators and Congress people. The greatest power to move legislators with these questions is in the hands of adult learner leaders. The challenge for practitioner- and other advocates is how best to help organize program graduates and students who are leaders, or who could become leaders, to meet with their elected officials, to ask them questions like these and to talk about the impact of adult literacy education on them, their families and communities.

For several years a collaboration of the Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education and an adult learner leadership group organized and led by students and graduates of adult literacy education programs, the Massachusetts Alliance for Adult Literacy, have offered adult learner leadership training. This is a volunteer activity, one that does not use public funding, and where students can choose to attend. They meet for training in the morning and then many choose to visit their state legislators’ offices in the afternoon. They are told that it is their own story, how they came to realize they needed adult literacy education services and how they and their family and community have benefited, that legislators want to hear. They are also given an adult literacy education fact sheet, and they have a clear idea of what the “ask” should be, because legislators usually want to know what they think should be done about the problem of long waiting lists for services. This is one activity, but there are others in a leadership training process.

Many adult learner leadership training models involve inviting learners to take leadership roles in their programs: participation in program decision-making, and telling their story and talking about the unmet need for adult literacy education services in community venues such as rotary club meetings, church or library forum, and other activities. One part of this process can be a large annual rally at their state legislature. We live in a democracy, and adult learners need to visit their “state house” or state legislature to appreciate that it belongs to the people of their state, including them, if they are citizens. Many students have said that visiting the state house, walking through its halls in large numbers, and talking with legislators is a profound education experience. One student, many years ago, put it this way on a trip home. He said, “In my country, if I had done what I did today, talk with my legislators, I might have been shot.”

There is a natural confluence of democracy education and helping adult learners understand how to advocate with their elected officials for what they believe is needed in their community or state.

Many states, all over the country, have been supporting adult learner leadership efforts like this for years. You’ll find this in Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Missouri, Georgia, Ohio, New Hampshire, and in many other states. However, this may be a new idea in other states, and in some states it happens in fits and starts. This needs to be a regular, year-in and year-out activity with many hundreds of adult learners and graduates. If adult learner leadership is of interest to you, email me, including information about what adult learner leadership activities you have now in your program or state, and I’ll send you a list of contacts of people who can help you organize or give you ideas on how to improve what you do.

David J. Rosen

djrosen123@gmail.com

 

Using Free Online Instructional Videos with Adult Learners

March 7, 2013

Recently I have done an adult education professional development presentation in Atlanta, New York City, and (a webinar) in New Jersey. I will be presenting it at the National COABE Conference in New Orleans in March, and twice in Massachusetts in April. The presentation topic is Students and Teachers Learning from Free Online Instructional Videos. In a couple of the presentations, not surprisingly, I have been asked for advice on how teachers could use these videos with their students. Here’s the short answer:

Where to find free online instructional videos appropriate for adult learners

You can find lots of good instructional videos on YouTube, http://youtube.com You may have to narrow your search using terms like “essay writing” “adding and subtracting decimals”  or “comma faults”.  A few years ago our problem was not being able to find many good videos on YouTube suitable for adult education; now the problem is that there are so many videos that it is hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.  If YouTube is blocked at your program or school, you can still preview the videos at home, and using software such as DVD VideoSoft  http://www.dvdvideosoft.com/  you can save it to a portable storage device that you connect to a computer lab LAN or show in class using a multimedia (LCD) projector. If you are looking for numeracy and math videos, I have done some of the review work for you. To download a free, 21-page list of adult basic education and adult secondary education numeracy and math video web sites, go to my drop box at:

https://dl.dropbox.com/u/6715575/ABE%20AND%20ASE_HSE_GED%20Math%20Videos%208.21.12.docx )

Always preview videos before showing or assigning them to students.

If possible, form a team of people who teach the same subject at the same level to review and share videos. This could be a group of teachers at your school or program. It could also be a group of teachers from several programs in your area or state. It could be an online team. You could use free online group software like Wiggio, Yahoo or Google groups, or for real-time video meetings for up to nine people, Google Hangouts, or Skype. Of course, someone needs to take the lead and invite others to join, moderate the meetings, and follow up.

Evaluating Videos

Create a simple, shared video evaluation form that the teachers would use, something like this:

  • Would you assign this to your students? If yes, continue. If no, stop.
  • What subject and level?
  • How many minutes long is the video?
  • What’s the video’s web address?
  • Is there an accompanying assessment? If so would you assign this, too?
  • Are there accompanying print materials that could be downloaded? If so, would you assign these?
  • Rate the video: E = Excellent, G= Good, O= okay

Develop a simple way to get video evaluation comments from learners for the videos you show or assign – a simple questionnaire such as this:

  • What did you like about the video?
  • What didn’t you like?
  • Did it help you learn? (yes/no)
  • If so, what was helpful?
  • Other comments:

Where your students may watch the videos

Videos can be shown in class, but students can also, or instead, watch them from a computer at home, work or a library, or from a smart phone. They could watch them before and/or after class, connected to the classwork, or as a supplement to classroom instruction. The Khan Academy “flipped classroom” model, where students watch a demonstration before class, and take a quiz whose results are instantly organized in a class data display for the teacher, enables the teacher to work directly with the students who have not passed the quiz, while assigning other videos to students who “got it” or asking them to be peer mentors to those who didn’t.

Teach your students how to watch online videos

If you assign videos for students to view outside class, on their own in a class, or in a computer lab, be sure that your students know how to access the videos, and also how to use the video controls:

  • Play
  • Pause
  • Stop
  • Rewind
  • Fast forward
  • Slider to move ahead or back
  • Enlarge the video to fill the screen
  • Turning on closed caption (CC)

Encourage students who don’t understand the content, or can’t do what it is demonstrating after watching once, to rewind and play it again (and again).

Consider using the (often free) assessments or supplementary print materials available for some of the videos

If the video has a quiz, encourage students to take it. For some vides, e.g. Khan Academy, USA Learns, TV 411 there are quizzes and/or accompanying downloadable print materials. Be sure you know what’s available and show students how they can access the materials.

Professional Development videos

If you are looking for adult education professional development videos, check the (free) Media Library of Teaching Skills, http://mlots.org and also YouTube. For some topics, for example,  essay writing, YouTube has lots of videos. You can check out several different approaches, and choose the one that you think is most effective.

Do you use online instructional videos with your students? If so, what’s your advice for other teachers who want to try this?

Noncognitive or Performance Character Skills in Adult and Transitional Education

February 1, 2013

 

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough is about an important set of skills that Tough, and a slew of researchers whose work he describes, believe that students need in addition to academic or cognitive skills. In no particular order, here’s a list of some of the main ones described in Tough’s book:

  • optimism — believing that you can achieve (able to simultaneously concentrate on your goal while simultaneously concentrating on how to overcome the obstacles in the way)
  • curiosity
  • zest – engaged and fully participating in learning
  • gratitude — the habit of verbally appreciating it when someone helps you
  • social intelligence — the “ability to recognize interpersonal dynamics and adapt quickly to different social situations)
  • self control
  • perseverance
  • diligence
  • grit — the ability to pursue a goal, stick to it, overcome obstacles in the path of meeting that goal
  • volition — not just motivation (i.e. “I really want to finish a college degree.”) but also the will to make it happen, to break the goal down into steps, and one by one and over time to overcome the obstacles to accomplish those steps. (Maybe this is the same as grit with optimism and perseverance.)

Tough describes “volition” based on the impressive research on performance character (not moral character but things like self-control and willpower) of Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania. Duckworth’s premise is that “[performance] character is at least as important as intellect” to help chronically low-performing but intelligent students. She is interested in issues like metacognitive strategies to teach people to maximize self-control. Duckworth separates out “motivation” (wanting something — even wanting it a lot, or more than anything) from “volition” (willpower, self control, and grit strategies). She says both motivation and volition are needed.

Duckworth has worked with schools, including KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools that serve very low-income children, to help them develop tools to evaluate performance character strengths like self-control, grit, social intelligence, zest, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. She has helped them use these assessments in the schools with students, their parents, and teachers who review them together, like a performance character report card.  She has also helped teachers who want to teach these performance character strengths. Tough writes, “But Angela Duckworth believes that thinking and talking about character isn’t enough, especially for adolescents. It’s one thing to know abstractly that you need to improve your grit or your zest or your self-control. It’s another thing to actually have the tools to do so. This is the flip side of the distinction Duckworth draws between motivation and volition, or willpower.” Tough continues, “Duckworth is now trying to help young people develop those volitional tools…”(Tough, page 92.)

I wonder if this kind of research also applies to adult learners. I think, for example, of workshops offered by the Canyon Ranch Institute and other health literacy organizations to help motivated low-income adults to learn and practice strategies to change their health-related (nutrition and exercise for example) behaviors. I think of many adult learners whom I know, some of whom I have taught, who have had to learn volitional skills to match their high degree of motivation to pass the GED test, make their dream a reality.

Here’s another set of noncognitive skills (Tough, p 161) that are needed to prepare for college. They come from Chicago researcher Melissa Roderick who works with the Consortium on Chicago Schools Research. She thinks thee following five “academic noncognitive skills” are critical:

  • Study skills
  • Work habits
  • Time management
  • Help-seeking behavior, and
  • Social/academic problem-solving skills

At least three of these: study skills, work habits and time-management, are common adult education transition program, work-readiness, or workplace “soft skills” that may be addressed in the adult literacy education field. Perhaps many adult education teachers also address social/academic problem-solving skills, depending on how that’s defined. I am intrigued, however, by “help-seeking behavior.” Do we need to pay more attention to that?

I have a colleague (let’s call him James) who was a top-performing GED student but who went on to college to find that he had neither the academic skills, nor knowledge of how a post-secondary environment functions, that he needed to succeed. He was highly motivated, and on his own he developed some successful volition skills/strategies that eventually enabled him to earn a B.A. with high honors. One key strategy he developed was how to use office hours.

Knowing How to Use Office Hours

Research at Portland State University several years ago had interesting findings on the perceptions of first-year, first-generation (i.e. first one in their family to attend college) students about how the university worked. From a survey researchers learned that nearly all the first generation students had heard of office hours and correctly understood them to mean when the instructor or professor was available to meet with students in her/his office. The researchers also learned, however, that almost no one had actually used office hours. To find out why not, they met with a sample of the respondents. There were many reasons given for not using office hours, but the main one….. before you read further, guess what it might be, then scroll down to the last paragraph to read what it was.

Back to James: he had developed a strategy. He immediately went to each of his instructors during their office hours. He told them that he was concerned that he didn’t understand the material, what was expected of him, or how to meet the expectations. He said he knew that he was failing and that he desperately wanted to succeed. He said he was prepared to work hard, but didn’t know how to do this effectively in a college environment.

It turned out that this was a brilliant strategy. Every instructor understood that he was an underprepared student who cared about success, and that he was motivated but needed help. Instead of suspecting that he was a slacker, they now understood that with some extra effort on their part and his, he believed he would be a serious student who could really benefit from what they had to teach.

And now, what the first generation college students thought about office hours……

The students didn’t go to instructors’ office hours, they said, because they didn’t think they were in trouble. This meant they didn’t think they had done anything wrong, as in high school when someone was “sent to the office” or when someone was in “academic trouble.” Their frame of experience, not surprisingly for first generation college students, was how their high school had worked. They had not explicitly been taught how a university works, and they didn’t understand how office hours might help them.

Teaching noncognitive help seeking skills like how to use office hours, or how to get other help from a teacher, would be useful for all adult learners, whether in adult basic, secondary, transitional or higher education.