Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Ticking GED Timebomb

I used one of those pre-fab widgets to create a countdown to the new GED test over on the sidebar (I know it doesn't quite fit right). Maybe I'm just so anxious that I have to spread that feeling to everyone else, but this new test is the elephant in the room for so many adult educators. We've been though so much with the old test. It's gonna be hard to say goodbye to those five tests (that were really just one big reading and critical thinking test). So, we need to talk about it, plan for it, workshop it, unpack it, and generally reorient our whole system of ABE/GED instruction because of it. That last bit is more than I want to talk about in this post, but let's see where the conversation goes (that means, I really want you to comment. But first please click play on this blog's soundtrack).

Recently, I was thinking about the nifty feature on a student's GED Academy "homeroom"  where they set their GED testing goal on a calendar, and it starts a countdown.  It serves as a gentle reminder. It helps them organize their short-term goals and prompts them to look for benchmarking opportunities. And, it adds a little pressure to do the work to be prepared when the time comes.  How does our system of adult education measure up in that regard? Are we making preparations for computer-based testing? What does that look like where you are?  How about the  digital literacy to actually be successful using computer-based instruction? (talking both learners AND teachers here) Where does distance education fit in? Still just for the select few, or will blended learning be the new managed enrollment? Aren't you going to miss those obligatory five-paragraph essays? (I'm not) And most urgent of all, how are we going to accelerate our learners' progress to pass the 2002 series GED test in the meantime?  We've got to do it in a way that simultaneously prepares our system for the 2014 test.

Readers, I look forward to your contributions and to responding with more of my own ideas.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Down with Waiting Lists and Summer Break

Schooooool's out. For. Summer!  Schooooooool's out. For. Ever! 

That first line is the refrain in adult education this time of year (the latter sentence, unfortunately, may be our learners' response).  Many adult ed programs operate on the K12 schedule, closing up shop for the summer.  It's not uncommon to turn clients away. Our programs are small and underfunded, often we're basically guests in a school building owned by more robust educational institutions.  When our classes are full, we put people on waiting lists or tell them to come back at a later date. Our primary tool is the classroom, and when that tool is all locked up til fall, our learners are out of luck.  Have you noticed this?  Got a solution to share?

He's no Alice Cooper, but this little guy runs straight into the woods when you cut him loose.

It's time that we addressed the summer down-time and at-capacity classes as an opportunity to promote self-directed learning. The learners who step up will really set themselves apart, and the same goes for the teachers. Back when I answered the GED Helpline for the state of Virginia, I gave out telephone numbers for adult ed programs that I knew were closed.  How frustrating, especially considering that Virginia is hardly the only state where this is the case.  To try and salvage those missed opportunities, I spread the word to learners about the GED Connection TV show and various free study sites.  And in more recent years, I paired eLearn Virginia's online mentors with summer studiers and those seeking opportunities to study online.  

That run into the woods ended up with a personal escort for the second half.

What is preventing adult ed from providing services during the summer and winter breaks?

Closed facilities: If the public school building is locked for the break, have the learners study at home. If that's not an option, help them make arrangements to use community computer labs (libraries, etc), relatives' houses, etc.  Removing barriers to participation is the goal here, and our learners' motivation often goes up when they see us making efforts to accommodate them. 

Staff on break: An online mentor or facilitator of online learning can oversee dozens of learners' work in just a 5-10 hours per week. So, keep a part-time teacher on the payroll for supporting online learners.  Email and telephone is sufficient follow-up and support for many learners if their learning platform and study skills are a good match.  If the issue is a desire for control over the learning process, then try adjusting to a new relationship with your learners. The summer and winter breaks and the period of time learners spend on waiting lists, all of these are opportunities to approach adult education from another angle. Experiment. Put the ball in the learner's court and see what comes back to you. As seen in the picture above, the result may be deeper engagement, increased affinity, and a great bonding experience.

Need proctored assessments: Even though most online learning platforms begin with prescriptive pretests, online learners still need to come in for an assessment in order to be reportable.  That's no excuse for denying services. Don't let the process stop anyone from making progress.  Although I'm for letting learners start ahead of assessment (I think the TABE needs to be administered within the first 6 hours - freeze their account then until they come in, if you like), there are tons of non-reportable activities that you can give learners during an interim period. How about contributing some here with a comment?  Or, how about just working with them as non-NRS-reportable learners and identifying short and long-term goals that you can count: GED, CRC, NEDP, obtain employment. Serve enough people that way and you'll make a bigger impact in the community, elevate your organization's profile, and have more proof of effective services for your grant proposals.