Monday, January 12, 2015

Summary of Connected Teaching and Personalized Learning: Implications of the NETP for Adult Ed

I read Connected Teaching and Personalized Learning: Implications of the National Education Technology Plan for Adult Education by the American Institutes for Research, and this post includes some of the important points and messages I took away from the text.

I also point out areas for professional growth and improvement within the noncredit ESL department, based on results of instructor self-assessments on technology for our WIA / EL Civics grant. All such comments are to be considered non-judgmental, and I am considered within the group, so the intention is for reflection on further growth and development in the area of integrating technology in teaching ESL – along with ideas for implementing such professional growth. Also, the comments only refer to identified areas of growth; there were several areas of technology integration in which our department's teachers scored very high.

 The gist of this report and its recommendations is that technology use in adult education can benefit learners through its potential for individualization, differentiation, and personalization.

The article describes a program in NYC, and goes on to assert, using the program as a model, that “[t]hese principles are especially relevant for students in adult education programs, who have a particularly wide range of backgrounds and may have a wide variety of learning preferences. In this kind of program, students are likely to be more engaged in their learning because they can move at their own pace and not be distracted by their classmates' pace.”

Other key words and phrases in the article are the following: relevancy, engagement, motivation, skills attainment for career/employment preparation.

 The report suggests that a wide variety of teaching and learning methods can be employed to engage students in their learning and support the development of 21st Century skills. Examples include the following approaches:

·       Active learning and Problem-based learning:

I completely agree with this concept for ESL. We need to go beyond teaching grammar rules to having students use language and communicate to solve problems.

As the report details, this approach includes “curricula or modules of curricula that incorporate assignments and learning activities for which students are content creators, creating digital content and contributing it to the Internet environment, and providing detailed information on the resources required... These kinds of activities give students some control over their learning and can incorporate subject-based learning with the development of technology skills…Students are empowered in their learning when they can choose learning materials that have a particular resonance for their stage of development, their preferred modality, and a subject that either interests them or is important for their work or family life.”

Examples include: using technologies to produce materials that are important to their work and family lives—posting videos and photos, creating blogs, contributing to wikis, or participating in a Facebook group; building a class website that includes information about the community in which they live; podcasts that describe their own successful learning strategies for future students.

·       Games and simulations

I am unsure about what exists for ESL in this arena. I have heard about some international EFL teachers and other foreign language instructors using Second Life, but it’s a bit off-putting to me because so much investment would be put into teaching the technical skills, I’m afraid some students would ask “when are we going to learn English?” I do like the idea of games, and I occasionally link some grammar or parts of speech games that are online for supplemental practice and/or I use them in the onground class for purposes of formative assessment or review.

According to the report, the competitive nature may motive students, as would incentives such as a badge (including virtual rewards); an added benefit may be an increase in the time student spend on “mundane tasks,” such as rules review or drills.

·       Massive open online courses (MOOCs)

As part of my participation in MiraCosta’s Program for Online Teaching (POT) this past fall, I searched for MOOCs for ESL but mostly came up with Web sites rather than actual online courses. My hunch is that several fee-based online courses for ESL exist, such as those I reviewed which are compiled online at Resources for Teaching ESL Online, but there do not appear to be a lot of ESL MOOCS, free or otherwise, as far as I can tell.

According to the report, developing a MOOC entails preparing short video lectures on a particular subject. In the adult education context, synchronous teacher-facilitated group sessions supplement the video lectures via in-person group sessions (for practice, problem solving, and homework) or online. The adult education audience has two options: a totally online option that requires students to participate in online groups that include peers and a mentor; and a blended option that also has students attend in-person sessions where they meet with peers and a teacher to complete homework, practice exercises, and take exams. At present, the percentage of students who complete a MOOC-delivered course is very low. A big benefit for adult learners is that “[b]ecause MOOCs do not have to follow a standard semester schedule, they can be a variety of lengths and reoffered many times. MOOC sessions tend to be much shorter than the typical 1-hour college lecture.”

·       Mobile technologies

As the report mentions, and as I blogged in my summary of the LINCS course I took, there is a proliferation of personal ownership of mobile technologies (cell phones, in particular). Again, here’s that info:

In a 2013 study on Cell Phone Activities, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that – among a sample of 2,252 American adults age 18 and older - 91% owned a cell phone. Among those who owned a cell phone, 56% owned a smartphone, with the rise of smartphones contributing to the increase in overall cell phone usage.

The authors of the report indicate that mobile devices can benefit students in fulfilling their need for a repetitive practice because they can have 24/7 access to audio, video, or game content on their cell phones.

I LOVE this idea in the article (especially since my initial sabbatical leave idea was to take the mobile apps class at MCC and create a mobile app for my students, which turned out to be too difficult for me, I think, because of the “math” stumbling block): Adult education programs can sponsor contests for students to develop apps that can be used in these programs. A contest encourages students to develop their technology skills; as they develop content for the app, they improve their own understanding of the subject of the app. Contests can be motivating for students, and the award could be no-cost or low-cost; however, the ability to include an award for creating an app on a résumé or a job or college application might be considered reward enough. Students can work on app development as a class assignment; support will most likely be needed and can be provided by high school students or college service learning participants interested in a community service project.

Technology Integration:

I especially appreciate how the report suggests that student use of technology be integrated with content, as I strive to do in my teaching:

If students can learn new technologies in a way that is integrated with the content they need to master, they will derive several benefits. In particular, technology skills have the potential to make individuals more desirable employees. Enhanced technology skills can enable students who are parents and adjusting to the norms of U.S. society both to seek helpful information on the Internet and supervise their children's responsible use of the Internet.

Managing the Technology-Enhanced Classroom: 

In our NCESL program, we need to share such technology-integration project assignments and ideas, as the results of our fall 2014 WIA/EL Civics Tech Plan survey of teachers’ technology skills and needs indicate that while teachers evaluated themselves at a 75% skill level in using multiple new technologies personally and at a 65% skill level at keeping up with new developments in technology and looking for ways to use new technologies in the classroom and evaluating the results, they rated only 55% in the area of Managing the Technology-Enhanced Classroom: assigning class projects which integrate a variety of technologies.

Digital literacy:

Students need to be guided to attain digital literacy, no matter the discipline. 

What is digital literacy exactly?

From the report: According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, digital literacy means being able to find, evaluate, and use information to achieve one's goals. By extension, a digitally literate adult learner would be able to create, post, and link content and contribute to community discussions. Importantly, digital literacy helps adult learners to achieve the Administration's goals—to close the achievement gap and increase college attendance and completion. Learning also takes place outside the classroom, and digitally literate adults are empowered to seek out information and learning opportunities for themselves (p. 5).

Unfortunately, it appears that a majority of instructors in our noncredit ESL department do not feel competent to teach digital literacy. According to the results of our fall 2014 WIA/EL Civics Tech Plan survey of teachers’ technology skills and needs, in the area of Social, Legal, and Health Issues, our teachers rated themselves in these areas as follows:

·       share strategies and techniques with learners to increase information literacy (65% skill level)

·       cover topics digital footprint and online reputation in instruction (40% skill level)

Personally, I have only recently begun to include discussions of these issues in my classes.  In Level 6/7, we read about Facebook, discuss dangers of online sharing, and students write a pro/con paragraph on social networking.  We delve deeper into digital literacy in VESL, however, with all kinds of discussions about applying for jobs online, scams, and so on. However, I don't have a lot of lesson plans or materials, so this is a plan for the summer... Obviously I -- and other teachers -- need to see that teaching digital literacy is not brain surgery! We need to include lessons in all levels of ESL. I plan to address teaching digital literacy in my Fall 2015 article of our department newsletter, The Communicator.

Online Teaching/Learning:

Benefits for learners (from the report): Adult learners benefit from a greater variety of rigorous but flexible alternatives, such as brief, short-term, self-paced, and hybrid or blended courses. One challenge is to strike the right balance of technology and human intervention in instruction, technical support, and course administration. It is important to combine the do-it-yourself approach that automates and customizes learning with access to personal academic and technical assistance. Retention, engagement, and academic success have been positively correlated with online presence and support; students value the availability of and (occasional) contact with instructors, experts, coaches, mentors, or course leaders (US Dept of Ed – Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning). The synchronous human touch still makes a difference, especially for learners new to online learning.

Blended: The report advocates blended learning for adult education because of the flexibility it affords to learners in fitting education into their schedules, while cautioning that time beyond classroom time and Internet access may pose challenges.

Fully Online: Not yet optimum. The report cites finding from a study by researchers at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University (Xu & Jaggars, 2013) which “found that almost all groups of students did not do as well (in completion or grades earned) in fully online classes as in-person courses (blended learning was not included). Older students were less likely to complete online courses than in-person courses, but those who completed them achieved higher grades. This result may indicate that some subgroups of adult learners, for example, workers who have an immediate employment-related need to take the courses, find that the online environment suits their needs well.”

My commentary: Fortunately, adult ESL students are not fully ready for full online learning yet because it appears our teachers are not fully ready, either.  According to the results of our fall 2014 WIA/EL Civics Tech Plan survey of teachers’ technology skills and needs, in the area of Managing the Blended/Online Classroom and Distance Program, our teachers rated themselves in these areas as follows:

·       use basic features of LMSs (65% skill level) *Actually, this percentage surprised me, as I can count the number of NCESL instructors who currently use Blackboard on one hand

·       employ appropriate tools and strategies to create online community (40% skill level)

·       manage time effectively when preparing and running online/blended learning courses (55% skill level)
Actually, I feared having low persistence in VESL this past fall, when I taught it for the first time as a hybrid course, reducing F2F/on-ground class time by just 25%. I think it ended up being do-able, but because of schedule limitations, this class was the only option for some students in the class, so it wasn’t as if they had a choice between fully on-ground or hybrid.  In the end, my persistence was high (X%- fill in!) but I don’t think that would have been the case had the class been offered at a higher percentage online.
As indicated, the synchronous human touch still makes a difference, especially for learners new to online learning – and that’s why I’m eager to learn more about Blackboard Collaborate – get more practice using it and exploring how and when I would use it in a hybrid ESL class.


The report points out that testing in an online environment need not be limited to multiple choice exams, which in fact don’t always accurately reflect students’ attainment of course outcomes. Rather, the report suggests that with the technological tools

According to the results of our fall 2014 WIA/EL Civics Tech Plan survey of teachers’ technology skills and needs, in the area of Assessment, our teachers rated themselves at a 35% skill level at incorporating technology into performance-based assessment. I truly believe that we are underestimating our skills and not considering what we already do – simple things, as they may be -- such as having students produce paragraphs on word processing software and making slideshow presentations. Perhaps there is confusion about what “performance-based assessment” really is – it’s what all of our EL Civics assessments do: evaluate students’ ability to use language in real-life contexts by producing language.

Anyway, the report suggests some ways in which performance-based assessments can be conducted. One I have meant to try before and am anxious to implement is e-portfolios.  Another cool idea is assessing through performances or work samples, which can be digitally documented through video. The report says, “Given the variety of digital devices available to many adult learners, it is possible to record performances and capture work samples via video or still images to provide more pertinent information regarding the mastery of these otherwise difficult-to-measure skills.” These hard-to-measure skills in ESL would of course include some of the following: soft skills (in the case of team projects), vocal tone/ volume/ pronunciation, and body language/ nonverbal communication.

I do include video projects – more for students to practice communicating with one another and teamwork as well as fun – in my classes. These pieces – such as job interview role plays -- could be included in digital portfolios, too. I just need to find the best / most appropriate tool for student e-portfolios. There are other examples of technology-enhanced assessments for a “digital environment,” which remind me of the content in another text I am reading during my sabbatical (Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, summary coming soon), but these are not exactly relevant for ESL teaching, so I won’t include them here.

Two texts about e-portfolios are included in the references of the report, which I will look into, funds and time permitting:

Cambridge, D. (2008). Audience, integrity, and the living document: eFolio Minnesota and lifelong and lifewide learning with ePortfolios. Computers & Education, 51(3), 1227- 1246.
Cambridge, D. (2010). Eportfolios for lifelong learning and assessment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 Professional Development:
As the report states, “the NETP has two main goals associated with teaching: prepare and connect.” First, “a successful preparation program gives teachers opportunities to improve their pedagogical skills and learn about and practice using new technologies while helping them understand and practice a variety of technology-enabled pedagogies.”

Prepare: When I got my MA in Teaching English as a Second Language in 1997, the Internet was still pretty new. There was no Web 2.0, and AOL was the browser and email provider. Of course, my teaching program did not mention technology at all as I recall, except that one of my professors was on a team developing the computerized version of the TOEFL exam.  I need to research, but I am uncertain whether many ESL certification programs require a technology course or component.  I had the opportunity to teach a portion of a “Special Topics” for the TESOL master’s program at USD a few years back and have kindly been invited back for class presentations since then, but I think that this may be the exception rather than the norm. On the other hand, technology is just so much a part of our everyday lives that perhaps it is taken for granted that teachers won’t know how to incorporate technology into their instruction – in a good way, that is!
Connect: This intro leads me to the fact that my technology learning has been self-taught, while my technology pedagogy training has been either trial and error or has been through professional development opportunities. As the report states, “The goal of connecting, as it relates to instruction, involves connecting to teaching materials and communities of practice. Strategies to help teachers locate peer-reviewed or highly recommended resources for adult education minimize the time needed to identify appropriate content and professionally evaluated resources.”

According to the results of our fall 2014 WIA/EL Civics Tech Plan survey of teachers’ technology skills and needs, our teachers in noncredit ESL at MCC do not rate themselves highly in the area of professional development. I have no doubt that this fact is due to their part-time status (all except three of us), which makes motivation and time two obstacles to seeking professional development.  The instructors scored an overall 65% skill level for participating regularly in professional development courses or workshops; a 45% skill level for using listservs, blogs, wikis, other Web-based resources for professional development; and a 30% skill level for having a PLN. A personal learning network is something I *thought* I didn’t have either, but during the POT certification (here’s my POT PIN blog post, which includes some of my PIN), I had a chance to reflect on my PIN, and I realized that I have a huge number of blogs and people I follow, though not as regularly as I like.  That’s why I included in my sabbatical leave request hours devoted to perusing my PIN. Similarly, I believe that the teachers, like me, didn’t fully understand what a PIN is even though they have one. Next year, I hope to share more resources such as those in my PIN with interested teachers in my department.

Conclusion and Future Plans:

The report ended as any journal article does: with a call for more research on technology’s impact on learning. The report suggests the following areas for further study: determining which types of students achieve the most in various environments (e.g., fully face-to-face, blended, and fully online) and what kinds of learning environments help students achieve in specific subject areas and levels.

Personally and as a tech / department / discipline mentor, I will further implement, apply, model, and advocate for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Teachers, whose key standards are the following (each of which have four performance standards outlined):

1.     Facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity

2.     Design and develop digital age learning experiences and assessments

3.     Model digital age work and learning

4.     Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility

5.     Engage in professional growth and leadership


Especially in relation to #5 -- Recently my colleague who is currently our WIA/EL Civics grant coordinator for our department and I, using the data from the instructor self-assessment discussed in this blog post, and incorporating (as required) the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Students, we formulated our annual tech plan for the coming year with three simple (and hopefully attainable) goals for students and teachers in our program:

1.     Students will be exposed to and use a variety of online tools such as discussion boards, voice tools, assessments, and gradebooks for learning, communication, collaboration, and tracking their own progress, thus becoming part of an online community and becoming better acquainted and more comfortable with online learning.

Professional development to be provided to instructors in our department:

A) Two full-time faculty will provide instructors access to their online hybrid courses. Instructors will observe online and face-to-face instruction and will be mentored on developing their own online courses.

B) Two face-to-face workshops will also be provided on Blackboard Assignments, Assessments, and Gradebook.

2.     Students will be able to create word-processed documents and brief slideshows on a variety of topics and will be able to use relevant features of a spreadsheet in order to complete class assignments.

Professional development to be provided to instructors in our department:

Two workshops will be offered on Microsoft Office 2013 updates (Word, PPT, Excel).

3.     Students will learn new technologies as they are integrated into class assignments for a variety of purposes such as information gathering, idea generation, creating original works individually or as part of team projects, communicating information, and solving problems.  

Professional development to be provided to instructors in our department:

Instructors will be mentored on creating and executing lesson plans which integrate technology and have an end product of student work which will be compiled and shared online.  Mentees will become mentors, and the mentorship program will grow in the coming year. 

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