Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Teaching Tools for the Trashcan, Pt. 1

Periodically, I'm going to walk down memory lane on this blog. Last time, I talked about my first job in adult ed because I think those origins-stories say a lot about our field (won't you add your story?).  Similarly, I think the kinds of technology tools adult ed winds up with are indicative of some of our biggest challenges.  And, in both cases, we learn from those experiences by turning the page and putting them behind us.

In this entry I want to focus on the less than inspiring technology tools that I've encountered in the field, so we can talk about why we need to demand better. I asked on Twitter, "what doesn't work?"  We're always hearing the saying "using what works," but you don't often hear about technology as part of "what works" in adult ed, so let's be clear about the improvements we need to see to really get results from integrating technology in adult ed (link takes you to an awesome David Rosen blog post about that). 

Specifically, I’d like to talk about the techniques and tactics used in adult ed's computer-based instruction (CBI) options.  CBI is going to play a major role for anyone preparing for the 2014 GED test.  There’s no way around it with a more rigorous computer-based test. And there's no way that the old tools are going to get the job done for this new challenge. 

So, let’s look back over some of the FIRST GENERATION technology tools we’ve tried with our learners, and let’s talk about what worked and what didn’t. What our learners really need and which instructional tools we need to leave behind.

  • Text-heavy websites and lessons: The content may be high quality, researched and thoughtful and righteous and may not get read by your target audience.  It may be riveting stuff for a voracious reader, but that's not who adult ed typically serves. For online learning, especially at a distance, we lose learners like sand through a sieve when our instructional resources are full of paragraphs of text. And, often the text isn't even appropriate for the reading levels we're working with.  When they aren't engaged, learners scan the screen for buttons, scrolling through text, trying to move forward to the end - or they're shifting their attention to something else all together (Facebook, shopping, job-hunt?).

How would you improve this lesson?

  • This isn't to say that there isn't an appropriate application for requiring a learner to read long passages online. There are plenty.  Language arts passages - both fiction and work/life oriented, practice editing essays, definitions of vocabulary words, and obviously practice tests - if they're going to have to demonstrate the skill in a test center then give them a chance to do so in on practice test.  But, if the experience around the reading assignment is going to facilitate learning, and reading the passage is required, then technology has got to provide additional options and come at the material from another angle besides 'here read these pages.' If a learner can get around reading and speed through, he will. If they can get a little help, like narration, or back and forth dialog about the passage during the reading, then they will take their time with the material. Look at technology interventions that break up reading like speed bumps. They help learners pace themselves and take in the educational experience all around them. 

Are your students going to learn square roots from this?

From Forbes recent Myths of Online Learning:
Those institutions with restricted budgets may use formats that are little more than text-heavy electronic correspondence courses.  However, on the other end of the spectrum are courses that rival a Hollywood production in their use of color, graphics, animation and simulations.
The idea that learners need to practice reading if they're going to get good at it does more for the teacher than the learner. Education doesn't need to be drudgery. Tough love is one thing, but we can't absolve ourselves of the teaching role.  Meeting the learner where they're at is a big part of an adult educator's job. Technology tools should help by making the same accommodations for adult learners.  They don't need to be Hollywood productions, but it's time the potential of instructional technology was experienced by ABE/GED learners.

What should be the next teaching tool relegated to the trashcan? I've got a list, but your suggestions are welcome. 

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