The Community and Adult Education


The Community as a Setting for Adult Education

Knowing your community, the different ways in which a community is conceptualized, and the dynamics of change acting constantly on the American community are crucial to maintaining viability as an educator or even as an effective citizen. In addition, the community is the natural setting for most adult and continuing education programs (see Chapter 4). Thus, the purpose of this section is to facilitate an understanding of the concept of community and its relationship to people so that future problem solving through education may be made more effective.

Understanding Community

The obvious question in an attempt to understand the concept of community is simply what is a community? Unfortunately, a simple answer is impossible to give because the term has been defined in numerous ways, is conceptualized in so many different ways by residents of communities, and is constantly changing in meaning because communities themselves continuously evolve.

The term "community" is derived from the Latin communis, meaning fellowship or common relations and feelings, a term similar in scope to the association most people make now to a local town or neighborhood. For purposes of this chapter, the term community refers to a geographical unit of people organized in such a manner that the fulfillment of normal, daily living needs is met. For many people such needs are fulfilled in the neighborhood or small town setting. However, some people would say that their natural home base was a large urban center and this would be their community setting.

Regardless of the actual setting or size of a community, most individuals have two different kinds of pulls on them that affect their relationship to others. One kind of pull is vertical in nature. By that it is meant that a person might live in Buffalo, New York, but have affiliatory relationships to organizations, associations, and individuals outside the community (belonging to a professional educational organization, for example, at the national level) that tend to draw allegiances, time of residence, and resources away from where they live.

The second kind of pull or relationship is horizontal in nature, or within the community. In other words, most people are affiliated with many people, groups, and organizations in the same community where they live. Take the Buffalo, New York, example again: The same person mentioned before will probably belong to a local educational association, have friends and relatives, and associate with various kinds of groups all located within a few miles of the actual place of residence. It is the horizontal direction of relationships that is most crucial in creating a personal sense of community.

The dynamic state of modern society, due to advancing technology and constant social change, is continuously imposing new strains on daily living. One may hold a personal value judgment on whether constant change is good or bad, but the vertical pulls are becoming increasingly more apparent as we are urged to become a world society. Thus, one premise underlying this chapter, and indeed, every chapter, is that adult education as a vital force in lifelong learning can be a means of strengthening the horizontal relationships of a people within their own communities and thereby facilitate a heightened sense of community.

There is evidence that a renewed sense of community is being developed in many parts of the United States. For example, the newspapers frequently report that people are rallying around various community issues such as forced busing, declining school enrollments, or community improvement projects. The 9/11 attacks certainly stimulated considerable heightened community involvement and awareness across the country. Any such issues will be judged bad by some and good by others, but the community or neighborhood is often the setting for such activity. Additional evidence can be found in what has been dubbed by some as the "back-to-earth" movement. Whether it is a rebellion against bigness, "save our trees" sleep ins (in the trees), or simply a desire to be more self-sufficient, growing numbers of individuals are turning their thoughts to rural or smaller settings as an ideal community base.

Another aspect of the local community as a setting for adult education is the fact that the relationship of community to education for adults is fairly direct. People are primarily the product of a community in which they were born and/or raised. Some peole receive vocational retraining, for example, as the local job conditions demand it. Many college graduates return to their local communities, even if after living elsewhere for several years. In addition, educational access often gained through local channels of communication. Thus, adult education programs and activities are carried out in local schools or community colleges, through local agencies or organizations, in the training rooms of local companies, and by using forms of media with which the person is acquainted.

Finally, the local community is a logical setting for adult and continuing education that is aimed at helping people fulfill citizenship roles and solve their own unique community problems. More discussion on involving people in community activities is contained in the remainder of the chapter.

The Community Education Movement

The community education movement is an important one for American education. It has the potential of bringing about considerable change to traditional K-12 programs and has already changed significantly many communities in the United States and other countries. Perhaps even more important is the potential that community education has in involving adults with educational activities.

The history of community education is quite long in the United States. The Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, for example, has been in existence since the 1930s. Richard Poston involved people in solving community problems in the 1930s and 1940s in Montana. The Ogdens worked with small communities in Virginia during the 1940s. A community education project using combined mass media was operated by the San Bernardino Valley College in California during the 1950s. The Biddles helped to develop local community initiative in the Appalachians during the 1950s and early 1960s. The University of Nebraska's Teachers College received financial assistance from the Carnegie Foundation to develop some model community education programs in several Nebraska communities during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The last third of the 20th Century say many "planned" communities being developed across America.

Perhaps the largest single contributor to the current community education interest has been the Flint, Michigan, community school program. Facilitated by financial grants from the Mott Foundation, the Flint Public Schools began in 1935 to utilize more fully school facilities and resources of the community for educating both adults and youth. Adult and extended youth education programs, the use of the school as a community center, the involvement of neighborhood residents in planning and implementing programs, and the use of trained community and adult education specialists in local schools are normal features of the community school.

Currently, most community education programs or efforts have three basic components:

  1. Lifelong Learning -- This involves implementing the principle that learning continues throughout life, providing formal and informal learning opportunities, and offering intergenerational programs and services for all community members.
  2. Community Involvement -- This includes promoting a sense of civic responsibility, providing leadership opportunities for community members, and encouraging democratic procedures in local decision making.
  3. Efficient Use of Resources -- This supports using the school's and the community's physical, financial, and human resources to address the community's needs.

To learn more about the Community Education movement, visit the National Center for Community Education (NCCE) web site ( and the National Community Education Association (NCEA) web site (

Several states have legislation that provides financial support to local communities for purposes of initiating and operating community education programs. In addition, federal legislation has been enacted that provides monies to states for local school districts. For example, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Program has been reauthorized as Title IV, Part B of the No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed into law on January 8, 2002, by President Bush. For more information this effort see this web site:

The Mott Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, has also been instrumental in supporting the training of professional educators so that they may gain knowledge and experience in community education. Nearly 400 Mott Fellows, as they were called, were trained through the Mott Inter-University Clinical Preparation Program for Community Education during the 1950s-1970s. The author was one of these Fellows. Many of these individuals are today in positions of leadership in community and adult education throughout the United States. Currently the Foundation is helping support a big national effort, called Pathways out of Poverty, to continue their efforts to enhance communities through education and training. See this web site for more information:

The community education movement has received important contributions from a variety of institutions, agencies, and community centers in addition to those of the public schools and the cooperating universities. Perhaps one of the most important of these institutions has been the community and junior college. Almost every citizen in the United States has access to a community college campus or at least some community college outreach programs. Through their community service programs, the colleges provide various kinds of adult education programs, coordinate community education programs, and generally attempt to meet the educational needs of citizens not already met through other college or public school programs. Communities with active Recreation Departments and Vocational Training Institutes receive similar opportunities.

Community Development and Adult Education

Adult educators have been involved with the notion of using educational processes in the development of communities for some time. Community development can be defined as the educational facilitation of an interaction between a community and its residents for purposes of an improvement of both. Thus, dealing with change in any community, the solution of crucial community problems, and the corresponding development of leadership are results of the community development process that go beyond what typically is a part of community education.

Like the community education movement, community development activities have been ongoing in various forms for many years in the United States. The Cooperative Extension Service at the county level, social welfare programs, community councils, urban planning organizations, and the various types of community organizations involved in supporting local self-help or voluntary agencies all have had, as working goals, involving the local citizen in the solution of local problems.

The involvement of the community resident in a solution of problems is a crucial aspect within the adult educator's view of the community development process. The following steps or phases of activity summarize the common elements of a self-help process:

  1. Analysis of the problem situation--by either concerned citizens or a change agent.
  2. The setting of goals, objectives, and priorities aimed at a solution of the problem or problems.
  3. An assessment of the commitment to proceed.
  4. Planning and organizing the activities necessary to meet the established goals.
  5. Carrying out the planned activities.
  6. Evaluating the activities in light of the goals and the initial problem assessment.

The activities described above will not fit exactly all the problem-solving efforts in a community development situation, nor will they always be carried out in the same sequence or to the extent shown. However, they do describe a procedure whereby community residents can be involved in a variety of learning activities in order to solve problems. The role adult educators play in such endeavors is examined in the next section.

Adult Education's Role in the Community

Educators and trainers of adults can and usually do play an important role in the community setting. Whether it is from an institutional or agency base or as a private individual, the skills possessed by adult educators and trainers can be used in many important ways. For example, facilitating a teaching and learning environment for adults and involving the adult in learning activities are crucial to a community in this era of rapid change. In addition, the increasing interest in lifelong learning because of the change and other factors described in Chapter 1 will create even new demands on the adult educator.

One important role for the adult educator at the community level is understanding people and their problems. Thus, the assessment of needs through community surveys or studies, through advisory councils, by personal observation, by discussions with community leaders, and through a multitude of other techniques is a necessary element in the development of adult and continuing education programs or the facilitation of a community development project.

Many needs-assessment activities are based on a concept discussed throughout this chapter, that of involving people in priority setting and problem solving. When recognized problems become a basis for program development, community support and the ultimate success of any resulting efforts are more likely occurrences. The adult educator also has a responsibility to establish a teaching and learning climate that will maximize the learning and involvement that takes place. Such a process includes facilitating the needs-assessment activities described above, making available various resources for learning, utilizing a person's community experiences as a basis for learning, and providing facilitating expertise as it is necessary. Additional discussion on the teaching and learning theory that has evolved in the adult and continuing education field is contained in Chapter 7.

A tremendous need exists in most communities throughout the United States for the various agencies and organizations sponsoring educational programs to cooperate. This is required to prevent overlap, that needless competition can be minimized, and the use of resources can be maximized. Thus, the adult educator or trainer has an important role to play in coordinating such activities as the use of expensive educational buildings, in determining what audiences can be served best by each agency, by ascertaining the educational and training areas of highest priority, and by making information on educational opportunities available to community residents. In addition, a coordinated effort in a community implies that problem-solving efforts will be undertaken by residents representing various walks of life. It also means that educational decisions and many times other kinds of decisions are made by a representative body of individuals and that such information is disseminated throughout the community.

Unfortunately, the coordinating role has not been fulfilled very successfully by adult educators or anyone else in most communities. The horizontal relationships described earlier in this chapter are frequently weak or not established. For example, governmental bodies establish laws or priorities that affect educational institutions but educators, or affected parents, are seldom consulted. A community college may offer several of the same adult education courses offered by a recreation department or YWCA and all the courses experience low enrollments. Trainers in local companies may provide the same kind of workforce development efforts as the local Vocational Training institution. Educators at the K-12 level may develop a new curricular approach to incorporating career education opportunities into the regular offerings without consulting parents or business and industry representatives.

There are several exemplary coordination efforts that have been tried or are being tried by adult educators in various communities. Some communities have established a community council of representatives from various adult education agencies which meets regularly for purposes of sharing programming ideas, establishing common calendars, and finding new ways of working together.

In Tallahassee, Florida, the Telephone Counseling and Referral Service (TCRS) helps individuals and communities by bringing people and services together through programs which include telephone counseling, crisis intervention, information, referral, and training services for people of all ages (see their web site: The Adult Education Office of the State Department of Education in Idaho provides coordination to support collaborative planning across various organizations in those circumstance where services to students would be enhanced by doing so (see for more information).

Another need in many communities, especially smaller ones, is for some central place where various community and educational activities can take place. Adult and community educators have been able to establish the community school as such a site in many communities. Some communities have established the YMCA or YWCA, a church, or some other facility as a central gathering spot. A role remaining for adult and community educators is the development of such sites in many additional communities.

The linking of the home, school, and community is still another task with which adult educators need to deal. Involving residents in self-determination efforts, designing effective parent education programs, and keeping a close contact between educators and family members or community leaders are some of the means being employed to meet such a need. No doubt, more can be accomplished, but the growing awareness of education as a lifelong endeavor and the development of such programs as the community school will continue to strengthen the linking of people and their communities.

A final role to be highlighted here is the continuous need for the development of community leadership. For example, many activities of a human service nature in a community operate partially or fully through volunteer leaders. Another related need is for individuals willing and capable of undertaking political and civic responsibilities. Consequently, adult educators have a responsibility to train existing leaders and to find ways of continuously developing new community leaders.

Obviously there are various ongoing roles and tasks performed by adult educators that were not even mentioned here. The operation of adult education agency programs, the teaching of adult education classes, and the various human resource development or training jobs are very important to the vitality of almost every community. The successful fulfillment of such roles, all of those described above, and many more just beginning to evolve or not yet even thought of will be crucial as the notion of lifelong learning becomes a societal reality. In addition, the suggestion of an entirely new role for adult educators and community educators is the basis for the next section.

Activating the Educative Community

The idea of an educative community, or that community in which all available resources for learning are made available to its citizens, is not yet a reality in the United States. The idea of the educative community is similar to what has been labeled before as the "learning society" (Hutchins, 1968) or perhaps, even the ancient Greek society aim of utilizing the total society or culture to bring all citizens to their fullest development through education. Although the American society does not fully employ all resources for learning, the lifelong learning movement will necessitate we move in that direction.

The use of the total community for learning assumes that most people, organizations, and agencies have a potential and capacity for being a part of the educational process. Thus, in addition to the normal education of youth through a formal school setting, educators in the educative community will need to assume the responsibility of identifying potential resources for education and facilitating their utilization by people of all ages.

Through visualizing the multitude of resources as potential teachers or learning means, a whole new set of roles for educators and community citizens becomes possible: Teachers learn to supplement K-12 education with visits to community sites, parents can supplement their children's education through the use of various community resources; community parks or open areas become sites to study nature or ecology; church leaders provide education to people of all ages in the area of human relationships; and potential community leaders develop their skills of helping others by specific teaching endeavors in a school classroom. Examples of this nature are limited only by the imaginations or willingness of community residents and educational leaders.

Activation of the educative community will necessitate that educators, parents, and other citizens learn a great deal more about the communities in which they reside. More knowledge about a community and its potential resources for learning can be obtained by personal interviews, mail-out survey forms, the compilation of a directory of existing agencies and their services, and the formation of community task forces whose functions include determining educational resources and helping community residents become aware of such resources.

A brief description of two such activating projects are described here. One project centered around the inclusion of career education activities in the curriculum of an elementary school. A group of elementary teachers became familiar with the idea of an educative community and worked during a summer to identify a series of potential learning resources throughout the community. Individuals willing to make a presentation in the classroom about their careers were identified. Sites where individuals in various careers could be observed were identified for later visitation. Other career areas were depicted by teacher-made videotapes, through secured films or tape/slide sets, or through teacher-made audiovisual aids. In addition, some of the teachers made curricular guide booklets with suggestions on how to utilize the various resources in conjunction with regular subject areas.

During the following school year, various of the identified or developed resources were utilized in the elementary grades. Whether or not the educational process has improved or even if a greater knowledge of career opportunities was sustained has not been ascertained yet. However, one thing is clear from the experiences of these teachers, a variety of potential resources for learning existed in this one community.

The second project took place when a group of adult education graduate students identified various community agencies, groups, or individuals with a potential for the education of others who are not overtly engaged in providing for learning. After consultation with the organization or agency, the students helped to develop a plan whereby some learning service could be made available.

A variety of projects have been completed to date and many have become ongoing services. For example, several medically related professionals now include periodically some health education literature in their monthly statements. A major bank includes information on adult and continuing education opportunities in its monthly statements. A small farm community's grain elevator manager maintains an updated bulletin board display of articles, brochures, and other information related to crop management. The possibilities are limitless and the acceptance by the cooperating people or agencies has been gratifying, suggesting that the activation of the educative community may not be very difficult or very expensive. The following web site provides additional ideas: .

Implications for Training Teachers of Adults and Youth

The discussion presented throughout the chapter suggests that several new roles for educators are needed or possible if education is to be made more available on a community-wide basis. For example, K-12 teachers should become knowledgeable regarding an understanding of the community, its power structure, and its resources. Skills are needed on how to study a community, coordinate school activities with adult education programs, and work more closely with parents. In addition, the educational activities of a teacher may need to include occasional visits to homes, the administering of needs-assessment projects, or an involvement with educational programs outside the school setting. Several of these type of activities will need to become accepted endeavors during the regular working day so school administrators need to be a part of activating the educative community, too.

A continued growth of community education programs throughout the United States also necessitate that schools, colleges, universities, and vocational training organizations become familiar with the related philosophy and programming possibilities inherent in the community education movement. Enriching any curriculum with community-related activities and learning is an example of such a philosophy.

Perhaps one of the most crucial implications is for teachers and trainers to help integrate education into the entire life of the community. This must include identifying potential educational resources and planning for their use, helping interested citizens learn how to use the resources, and adjusting school, higher education, and training curricula to maximize the learning potential of community experiences. The two activating examples described in the previous section only begin to scratch the surface of what can be done at the adult level.

Another task for educators is helping to develop a more extended use of all educational facilities by people of all ages. Keeping public school buildings open more hours each year, utilizing existing community athletic and auditorium facilities more extensively, and creating a community center facility are some of the possibilities already being implemented in many communities. Additional uses only need to be experimented with by interested educators and community leaders.

Implied, too, by the information presented in this chapter are new roles for parents. It should be possible in most communities for parents to supplement and reinforce in the home the education taking place in each school by using community resources. In some cases there are also responsibilities that could be undertaken by parents directly in the schools. In addition, because the first few years of a person's life are so important to later development, important learning skills and positive attitudes toward education can be more effectively developed in the home if parents are more knowledgeable and positive about learning. Consequently, effective parent education and leadership training programs are needed in the educative community.

Another implication, especially vital in view of the lifelong learning information, is for K-12 , college, vocational, and human resource development educators to become more aware of the adult and continuing education field. Such an awareness should include being knowledgeable of the various adult education opportunities and agencies in each community, developing a close working relationship with adult education colleagues, and even working as a part-time teacher of adult education.

There are also several implications that should be considered by schools of education in the United States. For example, there is a need for university personnel to understand community theory in order to help teachers in training learn how to work more effectively at the community level. Consequently, an exposure of students to community theory, the provision of off-campus experiences in community activities, and the development of activating skills such as those suggested in this chapter are some of the activities that could be enhanced even more than they are in most colleges and universities. Experienced teachers would no doubt benefit from similar learning opportunities if they are made available through in-service or extension education opportunities.

Various additional roles by colleges and universities are possible. University experts working on special community problems or with special audiences, helping educators at the community level learn how to utilize various nontraditional approaches to education, and carrying out the research necessary to solve various community problems are only some of the possible roles. It is hoped that all educators will accept the challenges presented by a wider use of the community in lifelong learning.

Some Definitions

Change agent--Persons or agency representatives who instigate purposeful social action activities.

Community--The organization of various social activities and units in such a manner that the daily living of a certain set of people is facilitated.

Community education--This can be thought of as a way of viewing education in the locality setting, a means by which people, their problems, and community resources are central to designing an educational program. The traditional role of the school is thereby expanded to one of identifying needs, problems, and concerns of the community and then assisting in the development and utilization of programs toward improving the entire community.

Community school--A site serving as a center for community education. Sometimes referred to as the "lighted school house," the community school attempts to facilitate education to all groups of people at all times of the day and year.

Educative community--That community which is a learning laboratory in its totality.

Horizontal relationships--The association of one individual to another individual within the same locality such as a neighborhood or a city.

Vertical relationships--The association of an individual to another individual or to a group based primarily on group membership affiliation. The affiliation usually includes membership outside of the locality setting.

Study Stimulators

1. Randomly select a half dozen residents from your community. Ask each person to define in their own words the term "community." Note the differences and the similarities.

2. Analyze the various horizontal and vertical pulls on yourself or someone else you can interview. How would you go about strengthening your horizontal relationships in a community?

3. Determine how the neighborhood school buildings in your community are being utilized for other than K-12 activities.

4. What sort of legislation does your state have pertaining to community schools or community education? What amount of financial support is provided at the local level from state and national sources for community education?

5. Assume that you are new to a community and would like to be instrumental in establishing viable adult education activities. How would you go about determining the educational needs and interests of the residents?

6. Taking the situation established in Number 5 above, how would you go about facilitating the coordination of existing educational activities?

7. Determine if any sort of community guide booklet on available human services exists in your community. If one does not exist or if it does not contain information pertaining to education programs, you may wish to facilitate the development of such material.

8. What type of community centers exists in your community? Assess whether or not educational activities for adults take place in the centers.

9. Design and implement a project to activate the educative community. Use as a guide the two examples described earlier in the chapter but remember that the potential in almost every community is limitless.

10. What does the future portend for the use of community resources for educating all citizens in light of the Internet and wireless technology advances?

Selected Bibliography

Bagin, D., & Gallagher, D. R. (2000). The school and community relations (7th Edition). New York: Allyn & Bacon. This is a text on how community relations programs should be developed, the ingredients that go into them, and the ends toward which they should be directed. The emphasis is on the importance of designing programs around the needs and problems of the school and its special publics. Included is information on current developments and concepts regarding school and community.

Biddle, W. W., & Biddle, L. J. (1965). The community development process: The rediscovery of local initiative. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston. In the classic book the authors are guided by the philosophy that community development is essentially human development. They identify the means by which citizens in the small towns and urban neighborhoods of America can be encouraged to take action in an attempt to improve their local situation and to create or reaffirm a sense of community. Their message still has relevance in the 21st Century.

Brookfield, S. (1984). Adult learners, adult education, and the community. New York: Teachers College Press. The author divides the book into three major parts: Adult learners in an individual mode, adult learners in a group mode, and how to support learners in the community. He provides several chapters to help the reader better understand the relation between adults as learners and what is available within communities.

Etzioni, A. (1994). The spirit of community: The reinvention of American society. New York: Touchstone Books. Edzioni has a somewhat pessimistic view of where community is today. He believes we must do more to nurture familys, build character education opportunities in our schools, and do more as a society to uphold moral values.

Galbraith, M. W. (Ed.). (1990). Education through community organizations (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 47). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Galbraith and his colleagues do an excellent job of describing how various community organizations can be utilized to enhance the education process. This book provides you with a greater understanding of not only what is possible, but what is already taking place.

Galbraith, M. W. (Ed.). (1992). Education in the rural American community. Malabar, FL.: Krieger Publishing Company. Galbraith does it again, as he pulls together a team of colleague to describe what all is happing in rural America in terms of education. The interested reader will find much of value in relation to the information provided in this chapter.

Galbraith, M. W. (1995). Community-based organizations and the delivery of lifelong learning opportunities (A commissioned paper presented to the National Institute on Postsecondary Education, Libraries, and Lifelong Learning, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U. S. Department of Education, Washington, DC). Available electronically:

Glickman, C. D. (1993). Renewing America's schools: A guide for school-based action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. The author talks about various ways we should think about schools today and how they can be improved. Chapter Six contains specific information and suggestions on becoming an educative community.

Goodlad, J. (1997). In praise of education. New York: Teachers College Press. In this book, Goodlad explores the thesis that the "proper context for education is a politically and socially democratic one." He argues that education should prepare students to be thinking, caring citizens engaged in creative civil communities. Goodlad therefore advocates for the creation of an educational curriculum and ecosystem to develop democratic character. The book a;sp discusses the relationship between education, democracy, and the educative community.

Hiemstra, R. (2000). See Chapter Two.

Hutchins, R. M. (1968). The learning society. New York: Frederick A. Praeger. Although more than three decades old, this book is worth the effort of finding it on some dusty library shelf. Hutchins lays the framework for the educative community by descibing how all of us can and must become involved in learning pursuits throughout our lives.

Putnam, R. D. (2001). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Touchstone Books. Putnam is another author somewhat discouraged be where he sees the American community today. Writes Putnam, "Americans are right that the bonds of our communities have withered, and we are right to fear that this transformation has very real costs." Putnam takes a stab at suggesting how things might change, but the book's real strength is in its diagnosis rather than its proposed solutions.

Rogoff, B., Turkanis, C. G., & Bartlett, L. (Eds.) (2001). Learning together: Children and adults in a school community. New York: Oxford University Press. A great account of a school that is really working as a learning community involving children, parents, teachers, and community members. It shows the possibilities of what can be created.

Sissel, P. A. (Ed.). (1996). A community-based approach to literacy programs: Taking learners' lives into account (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 70). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Sissel and colleagues describe how various kinds of specific community groups or settings can be successful in developing viable literacy programs.


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-- Go to the Preface, information about the author, Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Seven, or Chapter Eight