By David J. Rosen

Helping Learners Problem Solve Using Technology-Rich Environments, the 80-minute webinar made available by World Education on 5/21/2015, was supported by the U.S. Department of Education’s OCTAE-sponsored LINCS service. The webinar is archived online. Designed primarily for technology coordinators, computer teachers and lab assistants, it is also relevant for teachers and professional developers who integrate technology in instruction.

PRESENTERS

  • Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, OCTAE, U.S. Department of Education;
  • Steve Quann, Education Technologist LINCS Region I at World Education;
  • Theodora Higginson and Daniel Noyes, Co-Directors, Tech Goes Home program in Boston;
  • Kenneth Tamarkin, Massachusetts-based author and computer teacher
The webinar has two parts. The first focused on a not-for-profit program that partners with the Boston Public Schools, Tech Goes Home, in which parents and children, or adult learners, gain digital literacy and problem solving skills, have access to subsidies in the purchase of a new computer, and get discounts in broadband Internet access. The program co-directors describe how Tech Goes Home helps participants get new cost-subsidized computers, and introduces them to the national Everyone On program and Mobile Beacon to provide them with low-cost access to technology. This part also includes challenges and strategies for teaching adults, including how to motivate and teach learners who have widely ranging ages (from three to 93!), needs, and skill levels. The most important strategies, they suggest, include: patience, helping learners to set their goals for the program, peer learning, individualized lessons, small assignments and project-based learning. Theo and Dan give examples of these. The second part of the webinar focuses on project-based learning and the differences between skill-based and project-based learning. I’ll describe this in detail below.

I enjoyed the presentation of Tech Goes Home, a project that I have been familiar with for some time. I was interested to learn that the program has expanded to support early childhood development, people with special needs, English language learners, micro-business entrepreneurs, and veterans. I was also interested in Dan Noyes’ thoughts about how to help adults who don’t think the Internet is important in their lives to see that it is, that it opens opportunities for them for:

  • Connecting to family and friends, including those in their countries of origin, and reducing isolation, for example of homebound seniors;
  • Finding and preparing for employment;
  • Economic empowerment and financial management using technology;
  • Access to online, face-to-face or blended education for adults, including public library resources; and
  • Civic engagement, for example, how social media can increasing voting and community participation. 

Technology Goes Home

This picture, from a webinar slide, shows what Tech Goes Home does!

Steps for Project Based Learning: Introduction, Task, Process, Resources, Evaluation

Part two of the webinar focused on project-based learning vs. skills-based learning. Steve Quann offered helpful slides and examples that summarize the important differences. He described what he referred to as the 4C’s of project-based learning: collaboration, critical thinking, creation and communication, and he suggested steps for project-based learning (from a Bernie Dodge paradigm, originally based on Webquests.)

Kenny Tamarkin says he focuses on the learners, and empowering them through using technology to meet their own needs. He says he often has a great range of learners, some of whom are terrified of using technology or ashamed that that they cannot use it. He asks learners directly: Why are you here? What do you want to do or accomplish? He gives specific examples of their answers, and how learning projects can emerge from students’ needs.

Kenny has developed a six-level student self-assessment rubric that he says he has found extremely reliable and useful in determining students’ levels of technology use. He uses the results to design the learning to meet individual students’ needs. He asks learners to pick the number that best describes their experience, or approach to using technology. Here’s a link to his Computer Assessment Rubric.

Kenny describes the differences between skills-based and project-based learning using this slide and by providing examples of the differences.

Project Based vs Skills Based Learning

Kenny says that although he knows what he wants to do with students, in designing the projects he blends their emerging needs with his goals for their learning. He and his students problem-solve together, for example they research the capabilities of a digital tool such as a spreadsheet, and the extent to which it can meet students’ articulated goals and project needs. According to Kenny, in using a project-based approach, skills are taught on as-needed basis, integrated with the tasks of the project. He refers to this as a “Project Runway” approach, where learners are given a challenge, tools are recommended, there is a supportive learning environment and opportunities are built in for creative thinking. He gives examples of what students have done.

Kenny crystalizes the difference between skills-based and project-based learning with an example from teaching carpentry. A carpentry instructor doesn’t say, “Today we’re going to learn how to use a hammer, next week a screwdriver.” S/he says “Today we’re going to build a table, and we’ll learn how to use the needed tools in the process.”

Questions I asked (which were answered in the webinar) included:

  1. Does Tech Goes Home recommend refurbished computers from computer recycling centers?
  2. Who are the Tech Goes Home trainers? Are any of them former program participants?
  3. Do we still have a digital divide and, if so, what is it? (Dan said he has heard this recently referred to as the “app gap”.)
  4. Is one of the aspects of the digital divide now using technology for personal or work-related digital learning? 

Lots of resources are mentioned. I have included the links to them below.

LINCS

Tech Goes Home

Tech Tips for Teachers

More Links

For me, the most interesting parts of the webinar are:

  • The California in-progress survey of adult ed students’ access to and use of technology (described at the end of the webinar, last link in the list above)
  • Dan Noyes’ description of the unevenness of participants’ skills as a “technology tunnel vision” phenomenon
  • Steve Quann’s introduction of project-based learning and related teaching strategies
  • Kenny Tamarkin’s description and examples of a project-based learning approach to help adult learners acquire digital literacy and problem solving skills for their everyday lives, and
  • Several of the presenters’ responses to my question of whether a digital divide still exists and, if so, how they would describe it. 

Look for an upcoming discussion about the webinar in the LINCS Technology and Learning Community of Practice (CoP). To join this, or other LINCS CoPs, go to https://community.lincs.ed.gov. 


David J. Rosen is the President of Newsome Associates in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. He is the editor of the COABE journal Web Scan column, a long-time active contributor to the LINCS Technology and Learning community of practice, and the author of the Adult Literacy Education blog davidjrosen.wordpress.com. He can be reached at djrosen@newsomeassociates.com

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