Internet Based Resources for Home-, Work-,
and Community-Related Literacy Education
To anyone well acquainted with adult literacy education, it is no secret that Adult Basic Education (ABE), Adult Secondary Education (ASE), and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs serve arguably the most diverse set of learners of any educational tier in this country. There is a rule of thumb in education that the variation in achievement levels varies exponentially as we move up through each grade from K through 12. Following this heuristic, then, adult education programs are at the top of an inverted pyramid of diversity among learners.
While serving the most diverse set of learners of any segment of the educational system, adult literacy education programs are expected to do so with minimal resources compared to those available to K-12 education. To use Texas as an example, for fiscal year 1995-96, per student expenditures for adult literacy programs were about $85 per student compared to $5,416 per student for K-12 (Lyman, Payne, & Ashlock, 1997).
Obviously, adult literacy education programs have limited funds for curricular resources. This problem is only exacerbated by adult students' tremendous diversity in academic achievement, linguistic and cultural background, educational goals, and individual interests.
Increasing Program Capacity via Internet/Web Resources
How are programs already strapped for curricular resources to meet the array of literacy education needs and interests of their students? One solution resides in the fact that adult students' interests, though they vary widely, nevertheless fall into clusters of commonalities. Adults have abiding concerns relating to home, work, and community -- the theme of this newsletter issue. Building curriculum and instruction around these themes can unify adult education activities, especially if adult educators involve students in authentic learning experiences.
"Authentic learning experiences" are defined briefly here as instruction built around exploring and acting on problems, effects, causes, and solutions related to adults' life needs, and instruction offering built-in, recurring opportunities to use all obvious manifestations of literacy together, that is, reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Short and long term, individual and team learning projects meta-orchestrated by instructors alert to all the teachable moments to be found therein are some of the surest ways to accomplish authentic learning experiences in the classroom. Project FORWARD, designed and implemented by Barbara Baird of El Paso Community College provides many examples of student-centered learning projects which other programs might emulate.
A second solution to serving the vastly diverse learners is available through the Internet/World Wide Web (WWW or Web). Even the most modestly funded adult programs can increasingly provide for teacher and student access to the Internet/Web. Minimum requirements include a 486 processor-based computer or its Macintosh equivalent, color monitor, printer, and modem. This entire setup can now be obtained for as little as about $500.
Added to these hardware costs are the monthly or yearly fees for connecting to the Internet through a publicly funded (such as Tenet for Texas educators) or a commercial Internet service provider (ISP). Publicly funded providers run from no to low costs, for example, a few dollars a month. Commercial ISP costs run from as low as about $100 a year to about $20 per month for unlimited access time on the Internet/Web.
However, if the adult education program has access to the facilities of a larger host institution of which it may be a part, such as a community college or independent school district, the adult program may very well be able to use the computers and Internet/Web access already available within the host agency. Additionally, some programs, such as those of the Austin Learning Academy directed by Toni Williams, have obtained Internet/Web access through local Freenets which are no-cost, community-based Internet service providers. The point is that, increasingly, connectivity to the Internet/Web is an affordable option for adult education programs. Further, program capacity can be raised considerably when educators and the adults they teach effectively tap into Internet/Web based learning resources.
Internet/Web Sites Related to Home, Work, & Community
Rosen (1996, p. 16) has identified several ways that adult educators are incorporating on-line resources into literacy education classrooms including:
- improving reading and writing skills
- job searching
- self-education regarding work and for fun
- connectivity to the world outside local communities.
These uses of on-line learning directly or indirectly support the development of knowledge and skills which potentially transfer to and assist adults to use literacy more effectively in all three settings of home, work, and community. There are numerous sites devoted specifically to each of these topics and related subtopics.
One way to identify related sites would be to use one of the many search engines or on-line directories, such as Excite or Yahoo--the most popular, according to The Wall Street Journal (Swisher, 1997). Designed to scan the Internet/Web according to menus of topics and subject names supplied by the Internet user, a search engine such as Yahoo "links viewers to 735,000 places on the Web, sorted into 14 top-level subjects and 150 subcategories" (Swisher, 1997, p. 8). Any Internet viewer who can choose from Yahoo's menu of top level categories and then figure out subcategories related to the topics of home, work, and community is well on his or her way.
However, not all sites which seem appealing because of the topics to which they are linked live up to the promise. Virtually anyone can create an Internet site. Unfortunately, novices who don't believe this, can stumble upon problematic Web sites all too soon. For instance, many sites lack content, have links which fail to connect, or offer poor quality content, graphics, and the like. Novice users should be aware that the Internet is not filtered, except by special software designed for this purpose, for content that many may find objectionable, such as racist comments or graphic material of a sexual nature. Therefore, teachers need to develop fair and permissible use policies for adult learners in their classrooms before embarking on Internet/Web use.
Sites to Use in Getting Started
For those who would like to start by going directly to sites related to home, work, and community, what follows is a small sampling of the many wonderful sites to explore for their potential to develop adult learners' knowledge and skills related to home, work, and community. The Web address is provided for each, followed by a brief description of features appealing for their potential to promote learning relevant to the needs and interests of adult students. Keep in mind that Web sites on the Internet/Web can change locations or even disappear completely.
Blue Web'n Learning Sites Library
This is one of my favorite database sites because once you subscribe to it, you will automatically be sent a weekly listing of some of the best new sites offering learning activities. You can search for learning activities by content, audience, and type of activity through this site's search engine. This site is a great example of the wide array of education related content available on the Internet/Web.
This example of a learning community offers resources useful in home, work, and community settings. Resources focus on conflict mediation and dispute resolution, including family oriented mediation.
Contains valuable information and important considerations for ASE/GED students who intend to go on to college.
The main objective of this site is to assist women in using technology. Surveys continue to show lower rates of Internet/Web use by women, although the picture is changing.
Other sites to browse related to home, work, and community include the following locations:
Yahoo's Virtual Field Trips
As the name implies, you can take virtual field trips from Africa to Central America to Antarctica using a variety of virtual means of transportation.
The Democracy Network: A Citizen's Resource for Politics and Elections
This Web site is designed to help citizens learn about elections and politics.
The foregoing sampling of all-purpose (but primarily related to home, work, and community) Web sites is intended to provide a modest selection of entry points in exploring the teaching/learning potential of the Internet. As those who have surfed at length know, we can't even say that this is the tip of the iceberg. However, for those who are just getting ready to take off on the information superhighway, these sites alone will offer much to explore.
Internet/Web based learning represents a profusion of resources, as anyone who has surfed for any length of time knows. The term "embarrassment of riches" could have been invented to describe the Web. Therefore, it is imperative that teachers and students concentrate on developing "information literacy" as they explore, often as co-learners, the teaching and learning potential of the Internet/Web. Brevik (as cited by Lyman, in press) describes information literacy as consisting of the ability to:
- know when there is a need for information
- locate the needed information
- evaluate the information
- organize the information
- use the information effectively to address the problem or issue.
As this definition of information literacy implies, the need for critical thinking is intensified in the medium of the Internet/Web. Surfing the Net and hanging out on the Web can be fun, but to maximize learning about issues related to home, work, and community in ways that promote literacy development, we should all proceed with a deliberate approach. Nevertheless, the Internet offers tremendous relatively low-cost learning resources to increase programs' capacity to meet the varying literacy and education needs and interests of diverse participants.
Lyman, B. (in press). Internet-based learning: What's in it for the adult learner? French, D., Hale, C., Johnson, C., & Farr, G. (Eds.), Internet learning directions: Higher education and industry. Sterling, VA: Stylus Press.
Lyman, B., Payne, E. M., & Ashlock, S. (1997). State plan for technology use in adult education and literacy: Report of the Texas Education Agency Special Project: Adult Education and Literacy New Technologies. Austin: Texas Education Agency.
Lyman, B., Payne, E. M., & Ashlock, S. (1997). The technology train is moving: How can adult educators get on? Poster session presented at the annual meeting of College Academic Support Programs, South Padre Island, Texas.
Rosen, D. J. (1996). Learning to ride the wave of the future: How adult students and teachers are "surfing" the Internet. Adult Learning, 8 (1), 15-16.
Swisher, K. (1997, December 8). The gatekeeper. Rout, L. (Ed.), The Internet: A joint report with the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition. New York: Wall Street Journal. Available on-line: http://wsj.com.
About the Author
Barbara Lyman's educational background consists of the following: Ph.D., Louisiana State University, Reading Education & Psychology, 1988; C.A.S., Harvard University Graduate School of Education, The Teaching of Reading, 1972; M.A., Brandeis University, English/American Literature, 1971; B.A., Anna Maria College, English Literature. 1969.
Her current work experience includes: Southwest Texas State University, Associate Professor/Coordinator of SWT's Master's Program in Developmental and Adult Education, since1990, Department of Educational Administration & Psychological Services; and Associate Director of Human Resources, since 1997, Office of Human Resources and University Affairs.
She has over twenty years experience in higher, adult, and developmental education, including several years of working on professional development with Texas adult educators through TEA Special Projects such as The Adult Literacy and New Technologies Project which developed the State Plan for Technology Use in Adult Education and Literacy.
When she is not working, she enjoys trying to figure out which additional native Texas flora and fauna she can encourage to hang out in her yard, except of course for rattlesnakes, skunks, and feral hogs.