Posts Tagged ‘technology’

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,”   “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:



[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


[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.

Integrating Technology into Adult Literacy Education

September 17, 2012

What does it mean, in 2012, to Integrate Technology into Adult Education?

In February 1998 I wrote on the National Institute for Literacy (now the U.S. Department of Education) LINCS Technology discussion list that I saw three major ways in which adult literacy education teachers were integrating technology:

1. Integrating computer-assisted instruction. A teacher looks at her curriculum, looks at what software s/he has or could buy, then tries to fit the software (usually computer-assisted instruction) into the curriculum objectives or topics or skills. The reasons for using software are: appeal of computers to some students, variety of instructional methods, especially useful where skill practice is needed, and in a few cases because the software is very well designed and is actually an admirable means of instruction.

2. Using computers as tools in a learning process. A teacher looks at how computers can be used as tools for accomplishing project-based learning. Students:

a) word process their writings,

b) publish online cookbooks or school or program newsletters,

c) carry out research using CD-ROM encyclopedias or the Internet,

d) learn science for example by dissecting frogs online, or by following actual scientific expeditions and posing questions to the scientists, or

e) practice writing skills with key-pals, using email.

Anyone Following me on Twitter already knows what I did this past summer.

3. Distance education. (Broadcast T.V., interactive T.V., videotapes, email courses, Web-based courses) joined with direct instruction, (with face-to-face, real-time instruction or as they say in chat rooms, IRL that is, in real life) Some times this is pure distance learning, sometimes blended with face-to-face instruction, and sometime supplementary to classroom learning, as homework or enrichment.

Fourteen years later these are still important ways that teacher integrate technology, but there are some new ways as well:

4. Blended learning. Increasingly, teachers and programs are trying to fit online learning what happens in their face-to-face classes and tutorials. This may mean more careful choice of a commercial online learning product or of individual (usually free) online learning materials, including videos, and linking them to existing curriculum or state content standards. One of the first comprehensive examples of this was Pima College Adult Education’s Splendid ESOL Web that indexes free learning resources with the Arizona ESOL content standards. Another model is the Learner Web, which has a wide range of online curricula (Learning Plans) that use primarily free, online learning resources. often built on top of an existing structure of face-to-face classes or tutorials.



5. New Digital hardware. In 1998 tech hardware meant computers and peripherals. Today it also includes netbooks, smart phones, electronic tablets, smart boards, and digital multimedia projectors. In 1998, if students wanted to access the web, their choices were a computer lab at their adult literacy education program, a public library, or possibly a community computing center. The hardware didn’t belong to them. Now the hardware is just as likely to a web-accessible computer at home, a smart phone and increasingly a tablet, hardware that is theirs. In some cases now, students who cannot afford these devices can borrow them from their local library, from their adult literacy education program, or buy them on time or at a considerable discount. Low-income families in many states can get Internet access, for as little as $10 a month. Will BYOD (bring your own device) be the next hardware technology phenomenon in adult literacy education?

6. Teaching Digital Facility. Increasingly high stakes tests are offered primarily or only on computer. Beginning in January 2014 the GED® high school equivalency exam will be available only on computer in an approved testing center. Digital facility (what some call digital literacy), i.e. competence and comfort in using computers and other web-accessible devices, is now essential for: job applications, almost all now online; searching for basic information such as health information; completing government forms; communicating with children’s teachers, communicating with family and friends who are far away; and for an ever-increasing number of other essential tasks.  Many teachers and administrators are concluding that fast and accurate keyboarding (typing) and basic word processing; efficient web site navigation; effective information searching and evaluating; email; retrieving, sending and managing attachments; and other digital facility skills need to be taught in adult literacy education programs along with other basic skills such as reading, writing, and math.

In our near future may be some other features that are becoming popular in higher education and K-12 education. These include:

7. Digital textbooks. Some Higher education institutions and K-12 schools have given up on (expensive) print textbooks. They provide Pads to all their students. Will adult literacy education move in that direction, too?

8. Live streaming classrooms. At least one workplace ESL program, English Under the Arches, sponsored by the McDonalds Corporation, is co-taught as online classes. Students, often in pairs, access their class from the computer in the back of their restaurant in the afternoon. This is an effective workplace ESL/ESOL model especially for learners who, because they often have two or more jobs, can only attend class online from work. Will it become more popular in the workplace? In the public sector?

Do you think these are fair characterizations of how we are using integrating technology in adult literacy education? Are there other ways this phrase is being used? Do you have good examples to add? If so, please comment.

The flipped Classroom/Khan Academy experiment with 5th and 7th graders in California

September 23, 2011

Standardized tests on the flipped classroom/Khan Academy experiment with 5th and 7th graders in Los Altos, California apparently show more students “proficient,” and a few “advanced,” compared with traditional numeracy/math instruction at the same levels. According to an article by Gareth Cook in the Boston Globe, students and teachers loved it. This year they will use Khan Academy (and presumably the “flipped classroom” model) in all fifth and sixth grade classes in Los Altos.

It doesn’t mean that this is a math panacea. So far, it’s just an experiment that apparently has some promising results with children. Will it have promising results with adults? Not unless there are adult education classes that try it, and where the results can be reasonably compared with other, comparable, adult math classrooms. Do you know of any adult literacy education teachers who are trying the “flipped classroom” model? Are you thinking about it? What are the considerations in doing so for the use of technology, and for teaching numeracy? Can it be done in adult basic education?

Although in Los Altos they use Khan Academy videos, I see no reason why the flipped classroom should be limited to Khan videos. If there are better instructional videos for adults, teachers could use those. Some of these video resources are listed under “Instructional Videos Useful for Adult Learners” on the Adult Literacy Education (ALE) Wiki at .
If you know of other numeracy/math videos that you think would be useful for adult learners, please add them to that page. (There are simple instructions for how to do this at the bottom of the wiki page.)

To read the Boston Globe article, go to .