Back in 2001, I was answering the statewide GED Helpline in Virginia helping loads of people find their local adult education programs (that phone continued to ring on my desk for over a decade). I could have seen the job as a simple switch-board operator gig, but I didn't. My position at the state's professional development organization, and physically my spot in front of a web-connected computer all day long, exposed me to a wealth of information about online GED resources, helpful TV shows on PBS, and periodic initiatives with incentives built-in. I wanted to put these tools in people's hands and find ways to help people who were far way from right where I was sitting.Eventually, this work grew into the statewide distance learning program that became eLearnVA.com, a vital program that expanded the possibilities of those who couldn't attend class. But it wasn't only a government program, because it started as a personal mission that required a unique vantage point: A centralized provider trying to fill in the gaps in services.
So I made it my job to expand many simple referrals into quick counseling sessions, and often guided tours of websites with a follow-up hard-copy mailing of my recommendations. By showing a prospective student a range of options, I could observe their reactions and look for their ah-ha moments where a light-bulb went off that might spark their academic progress. Those moments were the bright spots of every workday. If I didn't look for it, and didn't see the potential, then they'd just be directed to sit in a classroom, when that might not be what they wanted, or stand in another line, get on another waiting list, and remain dependent on a process that might not meet their needs. (try to see this as strengthening the learner's network of support, rather than undermining the traditional classroom arrangement at local programs - really, it's a balancing act)
Where are the gaps in services in your adult education landscape? Do you need to update your own skills to model good practice and lead by example in an increasingly digital world. There are resources to help you. Your vantage point is crucial to developing your unique insight and hopefully inspiration. Lasting change and solid implementation doesn't rely on managers and administrators handing down policy and procedures. The initiative to take up new tools and creative solutions is personal as any teacher's instructional approach. Although it often seems like we educators are hemmed in by a demoralizing maze of institutional barriers, there are some things that we control. And we can use what authority we have over those areas to further our goals, fill gaps... grow.
And it starts with each of us... with YOU.
Commenters: Please post your favorite sources for inspiration, professional development, and cutting edge ideas in the area of educational technology. Here's one I look at pretty often.