Moving forward – digital literacy in corrections education programs

Today I presented at the Correctional Education Association conference for mid-western states. My Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment colleagues and I have been getting a number of requests from county jails in Minnesota about how our digital literacy standards align with what is required to pass the new computerized GED exam.  The good news is that if a learner can succeed with our assessments, he or she likely has the skills to take the GED.

The bad news is that the best way to learn how to use computers and the Internet is to use them, and many of these learning centers in jails and prisons do not allow access to the Internet.

The presentation was a starting point for me. I learned about the very real limitations placed on educators who work in prison classroom and technology labs. I also heard that they are looking for creative ways to prepare their learners for life after incarceration, and that means a life where much (beyond the GED) needs to be accomplished online.

Here’s a link to my slides.  Please post a note to me if you’d like to further discuss.

TESOL 2014 Presentation Materials

Here are my presentation materials from the TESOL International Convention in Spring 2014. I’d be happy to answer questions! Feel free to post a note to me below.

Online distance learning for adult ELLs: Promising instructional practice

Technology Integration in ESL Classrooms

CMS for Equity

I’ve been working to support both learners and teachers the field of adult basic education better use technology to support learning. My motivation for this work is what I recognize in the disparity in technology use and access between people educated, well-employed people and most ABE learners. We’re living in a tech-rich world where people with means and know-how leverage it to gain access to knowledge, support academic goals, gain employment, and efficiently handle life tasks. Most of our learners don’t use technology is this way, nor do a great number of their teachers.

The status quo further exacerbates inequity stemming from other places. To mitigate this reality, we need to transition our learners to more intuitive use of technology. That means first giving them access to well-developed quality and level-appropriate online learning. When accessed in a supportive environment, this sort of learning will help them develop skills needed to succeed academically, and perhaps begin to turn to online resources in other contexts.

If this is to happen, online learning needs to be very carefully constructed. Although it is possible for most any ABE student to learn online if given proper balance amongst skill, support, and the environment (Silver-Pacquilla and Reder, 2008), I think much more time and resources can be devoted to that learning if the environment is great.

Yang and Cornelius (2005) write that online instructors need to be instructional designers. The work, then, starts with use of a sound Content Management System (CMS), one with intuitively designed affordances provided to enable collaborative e-learning. Here’s a short list of what I’d want in a CMS:

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Flexible and easy to manipulate navigation and page management

Flexible permission and role assignment

Healthy support community and prompt fee-based tech support (if needed)

Generally easy to use:

  • Easily customizable
  • Site set up wizard
  • Drag-n-drop content
  • Image resizing
  • Wysiswyg editor
  • Only very limited coding required, if any at all.
  • Preview

Useful, built-in applications that support collaboration/interaction

  • Blog
  • Chat
  • Discussion
  • Document manager
  • Calendar
  • My page
  • Photo gallery
  • Quiz/test maker
  • Site search
  • Polls
  • Announcements

Without such affordances I can’t image developing an inviting collaborative learning environment. My ability to creatively use them will, of course, matter more. I need to make a space where learners are enticed to stay awhile and return soon – one with clear, well organized pages, minimal text, easy navigation, and the possibility of collaboration.  Tall order!

Silver-Pacquilla, H., & Reder, S. (2008). Investigating the language and literacy skills required for independent online learning. Washington DC.

Yang, Y., Development, W., & Cornelious, L. F. (2005). Preparing instructors for quality online instruction. Online Journal of Distance Learning AdministrationVIII(1), 1–15.