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:
  • Kratos was in the booth next to ours. Who are they? What are they all about? From what I could gather, Kratos is a consulting firm working with OVAE to improve the field of adult education.  Their Policy to Performance initiative is wrapping up in Virginia with a new approach to the funding process of local and regional programs. Other states have gone through it as well. This is interesting stuff.  Anybody have any insights they'd like to share?  
  • Career Pathways is another Kratos initiative, in case you were wondering why that term has become so prevalent.  But what can an adult learner do to get on one of those pathways at a distance, from home, using computer-based instruction?  I'm researching how to integrate or identify skills from the various career clusters in the existing options of adult education curricula. But there are many pathways.  Which ones are the most popular and thus the highest priority for curriculum designers?
  • The GED Testing service is comprised of a bunch of really nice people, in case you had any doubts.  I had a great talk with C.T. Turner about the technology skills required for the new test.  Nicole Chestang remembered my presentation on the eLearnVa program at an annual Virginia GED Examiner meeting from over a year ago (at the time she said that everyone in the US should have access to the kind of online learning support that eLearnVA was providing). Interestingly, she was at that meeting in 2010 to describe an ambitious new direction for the Testing Service and I remember being excited about the ambitiousness and being skeptical about the ambitiousness.  Now we all know, she really was not kidding.   
  • Promotional swag from publishers and conferences makes me sad. As we packed up our display, I stuffed loads of discarded plastic advertisement props into the trash can.  Fodder for the landfill. Money that could be better directed into growing and improving adult education. Chocolate, on the other hand, may be featured at my booth next year.  And Tony Chachere's creole spice packets promoting COABE 2013 in New Orleans gets my endorsement, for sure. I guess I should confess the contradiction that I did make convenient gifts of those giveaways for my kids when I got home. (my youngest son is pictured here)  
This is Emerson Riley with his new GED megaphone 

I attended, Essential Education president, Michael Ormsby's presentation on the open-source online learning platform, "Leonrd" (still in development).  If you were at either of his talks, please speak up with your impressions.  I saw some people taking copious notes.  Personally, I thought it was an overwhelming avalanche of inspiring and thought provocative analysis about the way adults learn and how the field of adult ed needs to adapt to leverage technology to its best potential for our learners (but, as an employee, I WOULD say that, naturally).
Learning happens best when students are engaged, connected and invested in what they are learning. - Michael Ormsby
Really, it was just the sort of thing I look for in a national conference presentation. I tweeted a bunch of quotes from that session and some of the lively back and forth he had with David Rosen in his audience (all #COABE12 tweets linked here).  When the audience got involved toward the end, debating the utility of collaborative curricula and "teacher as curator," the ideas in the session really started to click and I think we all got a clearer picture.  We CAN move the participatory environment of the classroom onto the web, surround learners with options and tools, and provide personalized tutoring to keep them engaged and developing as self-directed learners. Ambitious stuff, really.  Ormsby invited the audience to help him develop Leonrd further.  If you're interested, email him at michael (at) passged.com.

My session on the need for digital literacy curricula and instructional tools went pretty well (except for the 30 minutes I spent unable to get my projector to work - left the lens cap on, ahem).  Yes, it was a product promoting presentation (VENDOR as it says in the conference program).  But, I did concentrate on describing the crossroads that adult education has arrived at in terms of digital literacy.  It occurred to me during my presentation that the large numbers of technophobic adult learners that we thought would be precluded from a GED certificate by the new computer based test may have hope through digital literacy lessons.  And by establishing a foundation of digital literacy, the field of adult education may find opportunities to break from its traditional mode of delivery of instruction, relevance in new-found education marketplaces, and establishing new traditions to define our profession.  A tall order for a computer literacy course, but the potential energy is building as we speak.

Now, why don't you share your conference highlights with a comment, so I can find out what I missed and we can get some discussion going.

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