THE IMPACT ON THE ADULT EDUCATOR
Presentation by Roger Hiemstra to member of Aontas, the National Association of Adult Education in Ireland, St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, June 8, 1990 (There is a second paper later in this file on a suggested future for adult education when all the current technological changes are considered)
[Note: Several transparencies were used to supplement this presentation - they are not included in this version]
Four years ago I was a somewhat technologically inept and naive professor and continuing education administrator other than for use of a fairly simplistic word processing package run on an old Apple II system. However, since then I have had to become involved with numerous technological and information management innovations and now see what I am becoming as a professional who makes massive use of electronic networking as a mandatory future for most continuing educators. Today, I plan to share some of my insights with you related to the changes I have experienced, to encourage you to move toward some of them yourself if you have not done so already, and to dialogue with you about what this all means for adult educators of the future.
Electronic Networking by adult educators received a big boost if not actual beginning as a part of the Kellogg Project at Syracuse University initiated in 1986. This multi-million dollar activity, funded in part by the Kellogg Foundation (Battle Creek, Michigan) and in part by the university, has been designed to create a system of adult education knowledge dissemination through advanced computer technology. The project has been built around a tremendous resource that we have at Syracuse University, the largest collection of adult education material in the English language anywhere in the world. We have archival records of many leading adult education organizations and professionals in the United States, records from two international literacy organizations, thousands of photographs, many audio tapes and films, and thousands of photographic slides. Two of your colleagues, Father Liam Carey and Dr. Tom Inglis, have visited Syracuse University and used some of these resources.
When I moved to Syracuse University in 1980 and began to grasp the significance of these resources, I quickly recognized the need to find ways of sharing them with adult educators throughout the world. Thus, I began seeking some outside support and finally convinced the Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, (from the Kellogg cereals people) in 1986 to provide nearly 4 million dollars for a five year effort.
The project has two primary goals: One has to do with leadership in adult education literature and history. I have some handouts that I will leave with you today that describe some of the many activities related to this goal, such as a documentation strategy we are developing for the adult education field, an adult education thesaurus under development, history of adult education research conferences we have held on our campus, and the visiting scholar program under which Tom Inglis did his research. The second has to do with leadership in information exchange, from which has sprung most of the electronic networking about which I will mostly talk today.
One feature of this information exchange effort centers on the electronic transmission of information. An optical scanning storage and retrieval system, what we call KLARS--the Kellogg Library Archival Retrieval System, makes up the heart of our computer mediated information sharing network. It actually has broken ground in several ways. To begin with optical scanning, primarily developed only within the 1980's, had not been used previously with archival materials because of the particular problems archived papers present, such as non-standard sizes, handwritten material, aging and fragile documents, etc. So we have had to develop a system that accommodates such variations. In addition, storage was potentially a problem because of the immensity of our collection so we have gone to what is called the jukebox system. Currently we are exploring ways to hook our system into SUN workstations, SUNS are becoming more the standard optical scanning system in the U.S., with the promise of our system becoming accessible from remote sites. We may obtain some additional help from the Kellogg Foundation for this and currently have three other proposals under development to seek support from other sources.
Another feature that developed almost coincidently but that has become very important to us, and I think for the entire adult education field in North America as well as throughout the world eventually, is a local area network that ties several personal computers together electronically. The local area network, or LAN, has changed the way faculty, professional staff, and clerical staff work. We probably carry out 90% of our communication via the LAN, and the nice thing about this is that you can easily connect into it from home or while you are on the road so work patterns have certainly been changed. Add to it our current accelerating use of the fax machine and the use of vision-phones that will take place within the next 5 to 10 years and you will see that in one decade a tremendous change took place among the way adult educators work. We believe we are leading the way that adult educators like you will work in the near future.
A computer-mediated electronic network (referred to as AEDNET--Adult Education Network) is another part. AEDNET features electronic messaging, electronic conferencing, electronic forums, and an electronic journal entitled, "New Horizons in Adult Education." This has turned out to be much more successful than any of us ever dreamed of. The electronic journal was developed by and is still run by graduate students at Syracuse University, although many other students from throughout North America serve on the editorial board. The journal has published some very interesting articles as well as providing a new means for the professional development of those students working with it. Some of AEDNET's electronic forums have been most intriguing. The system runs over BITNET, so if you have an electronic gateway to BITNET you can participate.
I think that electronic networks are very important for adult educators of the future because they truly do open up the communication channels to people throughout the world. I have just finished work on two manuscripts, one due out by Jossey-Bass Publishers in August and another due out by Routledge in December or January. I co-authored these manuscripts, but both of my co-authors lived in others parts of the U.S. We did at least 90% of our text exchanges via electronic transmissions. It really speeded up the process and I think may have improved our efforts because of the built in advantages of word processing.
To sum up the communication portion of the project, the Kellogg Project has helped to promote communication within and across various disciplines, has promoted networking among adult educators literally throughout the world, and has enhanced access to our adult education collection. If we are successful in facilitating even remote electronic access to the optically scanned materials, I believe we will be the next evolutionary step beyond microfiche and CD-ROMs.
I also would like to describe another evolutionary component that grew out of our electronic networking efforts, but one we did not anticipate when we began this project. The initial Kellogg Project proposal had called for us to develop independent study ways beyond just the visiting scholar program to facilitate people obtaining graduate training at Syracuse University. As we began to think through ways of enhancing such independent study, we eventually turned again to electronic networking. We now have developed a proto-type distance education program to be delivered through on-line computer conferencing software, the newest version of the contemporary teleconferencing approaches. I have now taught one course via this technique and believe it has great promise in the future for the way we reach adult education students. We are seeking additional support to help develop more courses and to facilitate the ways of hooking into various electronic networking. We eventually hope to have entire degree programs available electronically. However, because several institutions now are using computer conferencing systems I wanted to share a little with you about this approach because it does tie so nicely to this theme of networking.
On-line computer conferencing is a technique that uses mainframe computers, personal computers and modems or computer terminals, a sophisticated electronic communication tool, study materials, and the guidance of an instructor to facilitate both group discussion and one-to-one communication. I believe there are a number of strengths in this delivery mode that make it worth your considering, such as the decreasing cost of personal computers, the ease of use of the communication software, the growing base of adults with computer skills. etc. With on-line conferencing, learners can participate in small or large group discussions, submit assignments, interact with other learners and with faculty, and exchange information via computer mediated electronic communication and faculty can do one-on-one mentoring with any learner as needed.
The medium facilitates participation around a learner's schedule, eliminates distance factors, provides for rapid responses from instructors and a large network of fellow students, and provides access to various resources as needed. For example, we have more than a dozen data bases now on-line at S.U., such as ERIC, dissertation abstracts, our own library catalogue, etc., that students can access at a distance.
Our course was facilitated via an on-line computer conferencing software program entitled "Participate" (Parti is the nickname used to refer to it) that resides on one of our university's mainframe computers. Learners currently access courses in three ways: (a) utilizing on-campus terminals, (b) connecting personal computers to the mainframe with modems, telecommunication software, and telephone lines, or (c) connecting personal computers via internet, a high speed fiber optic network that is joining an ever-increasing number of higher education institutions, governmental agencies, and various other organizations throughout North America--it is my understanding that eventually it will reach throughout the world.
The match up for adults interested in educational endeavors seems quite good in my view. The general design of courses taught via Parti include the normal sorts of activities, but you also must add tele-communication skills, skill in facilitating group discussion when learners are not face-to-face, and the development of new ways to receive and send learning materials.
Although still in its infancy as a distance education medium, I believe on-line computer conferencing shows promise for continuing education to reach a variety of both current and even new audiences, to provide education to learners in various locations, and even to provide learning opportunities to people who ordinarily would have difficulty participating in educational programs. The Syracuse University experience and other similar efforts underway elsewhere will help to evaluate the medium as a viable option for learners.
There are a variety of limitations related to distance education via this medium, such as costs, training users, training teachers, and how the education actually takes place that I can discuss later on if anyone is interested, but for the sake of bringing some closure to this discussion for now I will move to some summary remarks.
Finally, I believe that there are important new roles for educators that are emerging that I would like you to think about.
We hope that additional support by the university and by various other funding sources will help us continue to explore ways that electronic technological developments can enhance the adult education field.
Now I would like to engage you in some dialogue as we interact on some of the issues I have presented and others that come to your mind.
What I use in designing a course via Parti.
1. The development of an extensive course study guide. The guide provides some introductory information, a summary of the course activities, various supplemental resource materials, and descriptions of course components. For each component introductory information, relevant resources, learning activities, expected computer conferencing activities, learning requirements, and any necessary supplemental material are described. Textbook readings, supplemental reading and media materials that learners access, and descriptions of information that learners secure by themselves are normally included.
2. Training of learners to use the software. Various training options are made available to learners. These include such activities as face-to-face meetings with individual faculty for tutorials on using the software, an initial large group orientation to the course and software, a manual on using the software, and on-going electronic communication with faculty members.
3. Electronic communication. The course is built around electronic networking among learners and the instructor. A series of topics designed to elicit thought, reactions, and comments are posted within the course environment by an instructor. Learners can write messages, responses, or statements to the topics that can then be read by others, to members of a small group, to each other as private communication, or to the instructor. Larger course-related writings also can be transmitted to the instructor or other learners for evaluation and feedback. A typical course with have a student center topic for informal conversations, a bulletin board for the instructor's comments, several small group discussion topics, some large group topics, and supplemental read-only topics.
4. Various learning options. A course will use various learning options to stimulate learner participation and interaction. These options revolve around using computer conferencing for small group discussion of individual needs, debates, polling activities, dyadic learning partnership exchanges, one-on-one message exchanges, and small group coordination in developing learning activity materials for distribution to other class members or to the instructor. The system facilitates larger papers or statements being sent to and from personal computers so word processing capabilities can be utilized and permanent paper copies of any materials obtained.
5. Use of learning contracts. As with our learning efforts in formal settings, participants in the on-line conferencing courses use learning contracts so that individualized plans can be developed in conjunction with the instructor. After completing a form to assess individual needs, participants use computer conferencing to discuss and clarify needs via small group interactions. They complete a first draft of a contract that matches needs with available resources, ideas the instructor has presented in the study guide, and ideas they have for meeting their needs. Another advantage of the system is that learners then have an opportunity to receive electronic feedback from colleagues on their plans, thoughts, and activities, if desired, prior to interacting with the instructor about individual plans.
6. Varied evaluation opportunities. Because some learners participate in the on-line conferencing courses without ever coming to the campus, a variety of evaluation options are made available. Face-to-face or electronic conversations with the instructor, electronic communication with colleagues, telephone, mail, or fax exchanges, and the use of outside resource specialists if appropriate are the various possibilities. In addition, learners are asked to evaluate the instructor and the course via electronic, face-to-face, mail, or telephone communications.
Some Limitation Impacting on the Facilitator
There are a variety of limitation or potential limitation facing teachers interested in using on-line conferencing. I will enumerate several of them here for our consideration.
1. There is a lack of availability of or lack of access to computers, modems, etc. for many learners, based on such issues as finance, fear of technology, and geographical location.
2. There is a lack of technical skills for most first time users of the technology, such as difficulties in connecting, problems with the equipment, difficulties in up and down-loading, etc.
3. It is not yet clear to me how much can be taken in at any one time by learners staring at a monitor. This is akin to what Lynn Davie at OISE calls the "small window" problems, where only one to two screens worth of information may be the target in messages, comments, lesson parts, etc.
4. Management of all the information available to or coming to learners from the facilitator and other learners is troublesome. Such issues as how to find what you need or want, deciding where to store information, learning how to keep track of it, and remembering what is there need to be better understood.
5. The disjointed nature of message sending, replying, storing, etc. gets more and more complicated as the number of learners increases or as the number of interactions increases.
6. The type of language, tone, and conversation used can be an issue. For example, some people simply come across in a flip, sarcastic, or hurtful manner without even realizing it. In addition, the lack of easy non-verbal clueing devices inhibits a person's ability to communicate outside of the typed word.
7. The management of the actual learning process by the facilitator can be quite complex. This includes knowing when to send what kinds of messages, helping learners discover when to contact each other for individual or small group discussions, helping those learners who want to contact each other face-to-face if that is possible or those who want to set up help networks outside the course context, helping develop a pattern for logging in and responding on the conferencing network, etc.
8. Helping learners respond to others or to talk on the network themselves (some learners will be good in small group discussion, but not in general discussion; some learners will desire to be primarily passive readers of everything; etc.).
Following is a summary of several additional concerns I have that must be addressed by facilitators, instructional planners, and continuing education administrators.
* How can the desire for considerable personal contact
among learners or by learners for personal attention
from instructors be addressed in computer conferencing
* How can high degrees of motivation and persistency by
learners in computer conferencing settings be stimulated?
* How are high standards and high quality levels
maintained in computer conferencing settings?
* How can learners be helped in paying the costs associated
with learning via computer conferencing?
Finally, there are unresolved issues to be addressed.
1. Facilitators need a wide set of skills, such as learning to set the appropriate climate, modeling good communication skills, modeling good scholarship skills, using good design skills, and understanding the value of "extraneous" discussion. How do we acquire all of these.
2. Facilitators need to learn very well to use what Andrew Feinberg calls "weaving" skills. This is keeping discussion on course, but not inhibiting the value of all discussion. It also includes being able to pick out the important "threads" of learner conversations and communicating them to everyone. In other words, what is the best "fit" for the facilitator in the teaching and learning process. How do we acquire these skills.
3. Facilitators need to be able to foster joint writing, discussion, and interaction among learners (easier said than done has been my experience).
4. Facilitators need to learn how to express their own and help learners express their socio-emotional feelings within the confines and constraints of computer conferencing.
5. Facilitators need to be able to promote a feeling of "equalness" among learners. In other words, how do you bridal those learners inclined to dominate the discussion, how do you stimulate the "non-speaker" to become involved, etc.?
6. Facilitators need to learn how to use learning partnerships, involve learners in study groups, and other involvement techniques. Linda Harasim of OISE, for example, has an interesting technique for involving learners in debates.
7. Facilitators need to think about how to promote critical thinking and reflecting time within the conferencing environment.
8. There also are several research implications or needs that pop to my mind. Several of these outlined in the suggested readings section of this paper.
Some Suggested Readings
Davie, L. (1989). Facilitation techniques for the on-line tutor. In R. Mason & A. Kaye (Eds.), Mindweave: Communication, computers, and distance education (pp. 74-85). Oxford, U.K.: Pergamon Press.
Feinberg, A. (1989). The written world. In R. Mason & A. Kaye (Eds.), Mindweave: Communication, computers, and distance education (pp. 22-39). Oxford, U.K.: Pergamon Press.
Florini, B. M. (1989). Computer conferencing: A technology for adult education (Technical Report No. 1). Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University, Kellogg Project.
Harasim, L. M. (1988). On-line group learning/teaching methods (Technical Paper #7). Toronto: The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Educational Evaluation Centre.
Harasim, L. (1989). On-line education: A new domain. In R. Mason & A. Kaye (Eds.), Mindweave: Communication, computers, and distance education (pp. 50-62). Oxford, U.K.: Pergamon Press.
Phillips, A. F., & Pease, P. S. (1987). Computer conferencing and education: Complementary or contradictory concept? The American Journal of Distance Education, 1(2), 44-52.
Presentation by Roger Hiemstra to past students of Adult and Community Education, Centre for Adult & Community Education, St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland, June 7, 1990/tt>
[Note: A series of transparencies were used during the presentation - they are not included in this version]
The past four years have been quite an educational experience for me. Although I had been using a personal computer for word processing since 1981, I was generally not very knowledgeable about electronic and computer technology. Certainly I had never thought about such technology in terms of its potential impact on adult and community education. However, I was fortunate in obtaining nearly 4 million dollars from the Kellogg Foundation (Battle Creek, Michigan--the Kellogg cereal people) and some additional support from Syracuse University to create a system of adult education knowledge dissemination through advanced computer technology. The project has been built around a tremendous resource that we have at Syracuse University, the largest collection of adult education material in the English language anywhere in the world. We have archival records of many leading adult education organizations and professionals in the United States, records from two international literacy organizations, thousands of photographs, many audio tapes and films, and thousands of photographic slides. Two of your colleagues, Father Liam Carey and Dr. Tom Inglis, have visited Syracuse University and used some of these resources.
My involvement with this project since 1986 and the corresponding contact with people in various disciplines have certainly helped me to enhance my own understanding of and involvement with technology. This experience also has enabled me to think a lot about the future. What I hope to do today is share some of my experiences and thoughts about the future. I hope, too, that we will have plenty of time to dialogue regarding your own thoughts, about some of the implications of what I have said for your own practice, and about other ideas that come to your mind as I talk.
I also would like to speculate with you for awhile on what all this technological change might mean for graduate study or for the training of professionals like yourself. Obviously, these ideas come from my own experiences primarily in the United States and may not fit your situation real well, but I hope that later in our dialogue we might discuss some of them plus others that come to your mind.
This last notion of individual teaching and learning approaches is very close to my heart because not only does it grow out of what I see happening at Syracuse University, but because it has been my main area of interest in terms of research and scholarship for the past 15 years. Thus, I would like to close with some of my thoughts about the future for the way we work with adults engaged in some form of learning. In essence, they are some of my recommendations for future self-directed or individualized learning activities I would like you to consider. We are using them in various ways with our graduate students and I believe they have been successful in helping most learners take increasing responsibility for their learning and educational development.
Now I would like to engage you in some dialogue as we interact on some of the issues I have presented and others that come to your mind.
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