T h e C O M P A S S Technological Tools for Teaching Literacy
sensible budgets, then explains how to spend the funds wisely. Literacy Technology for Today and Tomorrow (ALT) conference gives educators access to up-to-the-minute information. The most recent conference, held in August, took place on Drexel’s campus. The NCAL, Drexel University’s Office of Computing Services, the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy, and the Pennsylvania State Department of Education Bureau of Adult Basic and Literacy Education co-sponsored the event. Penn students and grads who work for the NCAL took part in presenting four of the 73 workshops. Topics included everything from literacy software to using the Internet as a teaching tool. Mr. Hopey and Mr. Rethemeyer also gave a pre-conference seminar, Technology Planning and Fundraising for Adult Literacy Adminis- trators. The NCAL did its fair share of work behind the scenes. To ensure the long- evity of the 10-year-old conference, the NCAL devel- By Jerry Janda Millions of men and women cannot read these words. Nearly half of American adults have severely limited literacy skills, the first National Adult Literacy Survey reported in 1993. Yet fewer than 10 percent of them actually receive literacy training. The NCAL also does a fair amount of training, showing teachers which technology works best and why. In some cases, the teachers—most of whom are volunteers—may have had no exposure to the technology. According to the National Center on Adult Literacy (NCAL), headquartered at “The programs that...teach people to be adult-literacy practitioners only recently began Penn, limited funding is partially to blame. Adult-literacy programs don’t have the means necessary to reach all those in need. This raises a serious ques- tion: How can you teach so many people with so little resources? The NCAL believes it has an answer. “We feel very strongly that technology is one of the levers you can use to make money go further,” said Karl Rethemeyer, manager of NCAL’s Literacy Technology Laboratory (LTL). Founded in 1990 with a $10 million grant from the U.S. De- partent of Education, the NCAL has stressed the importance of technology from the moment of its inception. Mr. Rethemeyer credits Dr. Daniel Wagner, direc- Photograph by Candace diCarlo oped facts and figures to pass their semina . Karl Rethemeyer (left) confers with Chris Hopey before along to future organizers. “We’re trying to forward to the next people enough materials to do the conference with less effort,” Mr. Rethemeyer said. to emphasize technology,” said Chris Hopey, NCAL’s project coordinator and a doctoral candidate in the GSE. tor of the NCAL, for giving the organization its focus. “He saw that technology was going to be
an important area for the field—and that was five years ago,” Mr. Rethemeyer explained.
Aside from his duties at the NCAL, Dr. Wagner is a professor in the Graduate School of Education, which provides NCAL head- quarters with most of its staff.
Dr. Wagner’s technological vision culminated in the creation of the LTL. The LTL promotes the use of software, hardware and other equipment in adult-literacy pro- grams. By adapting such solutions, educators often improve their curricula and find cost- effective ways to reach more students.
This isn’t to suggest that the NCAL simply encourages practitioners of adult literacy to invest in as much state-of-the-art equipment as possible. The organization actually helps literacy programs develop
To educate the educators, Mr. Hopey and Mr. Rethemeyer spearhead NCAL’s Adult Literacy and Technology Innovation Network. Both men travel across the United States with a portable lab, putting approximately 25 teachers per state through 40 hours of intensive instruc- tion. When the teachers finish the program, they, in turn, can train other educators.
Going around the country gives Mr. Hopey and Mr. Rethemeyer the opportunity to talk about the latest technology; it allows them to listen to the teachers’ concerns, as well. “We’re getting feedback about what’s important—so we can get the best bang for the buck for everybody in the field,” Mr. Hopey explained.
Teachers interested in learning about new technology don’t have to wait for the NCAL to come to their doors. The annual Alternatives for
“Our goal was to make sure the ALT conference becomes more of a national conference instead of a regional undertaking,” Mr. Hopey added. “NCAL brings national recognition and some organization to a chaotic process. We hope other prominent literacy organizations will now want to get involved and host the next conference because NCAL has laid the groundwork.”
Typically, the ALT conference hosts 200 people. This year, over 400 administrators and teachers from across North America and the United Kingdom attended the event.
“We want to bring together as many people interested in literacy and disseminate as much information as possible,” Mr. Rethemeyer said. “We want to get out the word on what we’ve done.”
ALMANAC September 5, 1995