Current Use of Technology
WEST ABE has worked diligently over the past several years to embed technology into programming and instruction throughout the consortium, both as management tool for communication as well as for data collection and instruction. Technology is integrated both online and and in the classroom.
WEST ABE runs all paperwork through Google “Drive” which houses a variety of forms and documents including timesheets, mileage and material request forms as well as staff resources such as state policies and supplemental service providers. Each teacher is required to have a Gmail account for access. It also acts as a repository of information for staff that are geographically challenged. Here they are able to share classroom tools and curriculum as well as have access to professional development opportunities such as state-sponsored webinars on topics such as College and Career Readiness Training (CCRS) and a variety of “helpful tips” for covering everything from how to manipulate the Student Information Database (SiD) to upcoming transition classes being offered. All staff have access to the SiD (Student Information Database) where data is recorded, contact hours are collected and testing is tracked. The Database Manager oversees the input of data and monitors it for accuracy.
Every classroom in the consortium has access to computers, either desktops, laptops or tablets. Most classrooms have at least one iPad for portable lessons during one on one instruction and classroom tutoring. The majority of classrooms are within schools and have access to SmartBoards and/or Smart Kapp IQ TVs allowing for an interactive classroom setting, especially in group settings. Cell phone usage is becoming more and more recognized as a viable tool as most students have a Smartphone and are able to access apps and websites. WEST keeps a close monitor on the best distance learning (DL) websites to coincide with what options are accessible to students. When needed, WEST uses materials borrowed from the Minnesota Literacy Councils lending library to access specialized technology resources for learners. (See the Technology Resources chart supplement.)
Use of technology like this introduces digital literacy skills to adult learners earlier in the learning process. Embedding it into instruction, as is done in all types of classes throughout the consortium, helps contextualize learning in a meaningful way that students are able to use throughout their lives regardless of their stage in the learning process. For example In Big Lake and Monticello, the Smart Kapp IQ TV is used with low level ESL students to review concepts, interact with speakers and presenters throughout the lessons and as a way of connecting with each other by teamwork and problem solving. Students demonstrate learning by responding to questions either through tablets or in small groups using the interactive TV. These apps are integrated into instruction as a way for students to practice what they have been learning in class, such as counting money, new vocabulary and pattern recognition.
As students gain comfort with technology instructors become even more purposeful in building digital literacy skills and moving towards topics as outlined in the Northstar Digital Literacy Standards. More advanced students are offered the ability to access a variety of distance learning platforms. Students without access to technology are able to come into the classroom and work in the computer lab on the online platforms outside of their regularly scheduled class time or they may attend another class and work on their DL platform as if it was an open computer lab. Students also have the ability to earn a computer through WEST in agreement with PC’s for People. Students, most commonly in our ESL programs, can earn a free desktop or laptop computer by taking a pre- and post-test and completing 100 hours of state-approved distance learning hours. This is closely tracked in the classroom for incentive with visible charts, timelines and goals. The device comes with a mouse, cord, monitor and hard drive, or self-contained as a laptop. All student computers come with MS Office installed. Internet and future technology issues are the students responsibility.
WEST ABE has invested money in state-approved fee-based online distance learning (DL) platforms since the majority of our students live in rural areas and cannot access public transportation. When the highly used Skills Tutor was discontinued, two state-sponsored platforms, Burlington English (BE) and Edmentum Plato emerged. Initially the state allotted us 20 seats but increased our allowance to 54 because of high usage. WEST purchased an extra 10 seats of Burlington at $96/seat. A 3.5 year consortium license was purchased for MobyMax Pro at $4,995. MobyMax replaced I-Pathways when the state discontinued its support in June of 2018. The Pro version opens up the entire site list of topics on every subject and gives teachers tracking and performance feedback information on their students. This online resource offers curriculum focusing on material from second to eighth grades. All lessons are aligned with the Common Core Standards. This was chosen to include more options for classes besides English-language learning. And the best part is the analysis and charts that the instructors can print off to show progress, areas in need of further study and how many hours were accrued.
We are finishing up our third year of a 3-year contract with Rosetta Stone at a cost of $5,000/year for 100 seats, totaling $15,000. WEST will continue with a new Rosetta contract but decrease the seat allotment to 65. Rosetta Stone seats cost $79.10/each so will total $5,141.50 for a one-year contract. Rosetta is preferred for our zero to low level language learners. This decision was made to decrease the amount of Rosetta seats was due to the newly issued Burlington English. Burlington has transition training as well. For an example at our Big Lake site we have a non-native English speaker who was a nurse in her native country and is now studying medical terminology on Burlington with a goal of obtaining her license in the United States.
“Proxy” contact hours are earned when students complete lessons/units of study on approved DL platforms. This helps students who, in some cases, are unable to get to class due to transportation problems, scheduling conflicts or lack of childcare. The most determining factors in the success of distance learning is dedication to persistence. Students who do not dedicate consistent time to distance learning, like they would coming to class, tend to drop off and discontinue its use. Many teachers have “Distance Learning Agreements” with students where they discuss days and times of the week dedicated to online learning as well as when they will check in with the instructor. (See Distance Learning Rules and Expectations)
Staff continually take part in professional development DL opportunities. This is done via webinars, staff meetings, group trainings at their site and technology circles where a training will be held and an ongoing conversation via “Drive” will answer questions and aid staff as they figure out a new platform. Susan Wetenkamp-Brandt, the Educational Technology Manager at Atlas, came to WEST twice last year for all-staff meetings and trained us in NorthStar and Google Drive. The most common DL platforms WEST offers are Burlington English, Plato, MobyMax and Rosetta Stone. There are also free state-approved platforms where students collect and report proxy hours, such as USA Learns that offers beginning and intermediate English through interactive learning activities in such areas as listening, vocabulary, grammar, spelling, pronunciation and speaking. Also used is Khan Academy which uses YouTube videos in subjects such as math, economics, science and computer programming. This is an additional resource for strengthening basic education topics outside of English language learning. Khan includes practice videos along with instructional videos and also has a personalized learning dashboard that empowers learners to study outside of the classroom from beginning to advanced content levels.
Since it is a state initiative, All WEST ABE classrooms are encouraged to promote digital literacy instruction in keeping with the Northstar Digital Literacy content standards. In addition to technology-embedded instruction and access to online distance learning platforms, the Workforce Center in Monticello site offers stand-alone Digital Literacy classes quarterly. Conditional Content workers are workforce clients referred to ABE programs for instruction in areas of Basic Technology Skills (i.e. computer literacy), in addition to Job Seeking Skills (i.e. resume writing, interview and job searching) and Soft Skills Necessary for Work (SCANS skills). This category of student was created in 2009 due to a recognized economic need to provide greater opportunity to underemployed and unemployed Minnesotans looking to gain skills that lead to productive employment. WEST ABE receives written referrals from in-house partners at the Workforce Center, where our ABE program is co-located.
One goal for the next two to three years will be to create a distance learning team to develop new procedures to help support staff and students to engage effectively with distance learning platforms.