Monday, April 23, 2012

Q & A: The Computer Based 2014 GED Test

Today, the LINCs Assessment list is hosting a panel of GED Testing Service representatives as they field questions about the new test they've been describing with their Assessment Guide.  There's a lot of anxiety about the new test, and I'm hoping that both sides work things out with these sorts of public discussions. In the meantime, I also want to see adult education embrace innovation and meet the growing need for online learning.  So, I'm pulling a few of the questions out, as they come in, so we can debate the topics that are most relevant to computer-based instruction and distance education: 

I certainly understand, and endorse, the need for the computer based test, raising performance standards, and the need for transitioning, but my overriding concern is for the students who lack computer skills.  It seems that by mandating a computer only test based policy, we are placing a large segment of the GED and Adult Education student population at a distinct disadvantage as they prepare to take the test.  In my opinion, a computer version only option for taking the GED test is potentially unfair to this segment of the adult population.  Such a policy could potentially be labeled as discriminatory and could possibly face a legal challenge.(David in Mississippi) 

This is a common concern, so my response is not directed at David.  In fact, I'm glad he described the situation so clearly.  There is a sizable segment of the population that we serve in adult education that either isn't interested in using computers, or we just can't conceive of them becoming proficient enough to be successful as a computer-based tester.  However, I don't know if we can claim that requiring computer skills is unfair. The GED test certifies skills equivalent to those required to graduate from high school. To graduate from high school today, you need to use computers.  Trying to exempt our learners from these skills that are so foreign to them is akin to asking for a time-machine accommodation so they can go back in time to take the GED during the era when they left school.  And even then, they'd need to learn how to work the controls on the time machine (I'm hoping it's part Delorean). 

Okay, that's a cheap joke. But, I'm being silly, because I think that it's puzzling that educators point to learners "lacking skills" as a permanent barrier. And, of course, not every person who is held back by computer illiteracy is generations removed from being a digital native or a millennial, etc. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

COABE Attendees: Care to Share?

I love the COABE conference, and I always desperately need to debrief with my fellow attendees after returning back home.  Each year that I've gotten to attend as a GED Specialist from Virginia, I've left feeling inspired by the workshops, keynotes, and publisher offerings.  This year, I spent the entire conference on my feet in the vendor area at the Essential Education booth.  Although my favorite way to spend a workday is attending short sessions and professional development workshops, I had to miss out on that this year.  So, maybe you'd be willing to share your highlights with a comment. Of course, I've still got a few epiphanies to contribute, so I'll get to that right now. 

I've never really seen myself as a sales person, but I am positively evangelical about the potential of online tools to empower adult learners and to help adult education programs grow in new directions.  So, working the vendor area wasn't too much of a stretch for me.  Interacting with as many adult educators as I did this year was especially gratifying. There was lots of enthusiasm passed back and forth, and although I did hear about some unique circumstances and needs, for the most part, there are a few really big obstacles that are confronting adult educators.  Digital literacy. Workforce and career transitioning.  And budget cuts.  I'm looking forward to following up with my new contacts to chip away at those challenges.

From the vendor room vantage point, I was able to soak up a few things:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I Screen. You Screen. Why Screen?

Is computer literacy required to participate in online learning?  On first glance at the question, most would say yes, by definition, it is. In adult education, the common practice of screening potential online learners for their computer literacy would also indicate that it's a foregone conclusion.*  I screened wannabe elearners daily for years while managing Virginia's distance learning program and felt like I had the telephone intake process down to a science (though I often let people give it a go, even when I saw red flags).  And I still recommend some approaches to screening in the distance education implementation guide that I'm working on, but I'm feeling increasingly conflicted about it. 

COABE is in a couple days, and I'm giving a presentation about my company's new digital literacy course, Computer Essentials Online (due out in June).  It's a computer literacy curricula that's delivered on the web.  See where my conflict is coming from?  It makes perfect sense, in a way. Who better to teach you to use computers than a computer?  It's like when you were in high school: kissing your hand probably wasn't the best way to practice getting to first base. But, then there's that catch 22. You need the skill to learn the skill. Wrong. You need motivation and support, maybe an orientation period, and someone to check in on you and give feedback. Talking about online learning now, not kissing, by the way.  But we'll get back to those details

What's Good for the Goose
If we're going to screen people out of publicly provided learning opportunities, maybe we should screen teachers out of teaching opportunities too. (ouch! doesn't feel good, does it?) Computer illiteracy hasn't stopped many adult education instructors from holding teaching positions, so why should learners who see what they want on the internet (learning that's flexible in terms of time/place) be prevented from going and getting it through a reliable provider?  That teacher bit sounds like a low blow, but let's be real. If you want your job bad enough, you find a way to prove your worth and retain your position, despite your limitations. We've all got deficiencies of one kind or another.  Just as the computer illiterate teacher may not be maximizing their effectiveness, the new computer user studying online can function at least on a basic level and hopefully make gains.  And, if the online curricula has benefited from intuitive instructional design, maybe they'll be successful self-directed learners. So, the teaching tools are also a detail that can make a big difference.