Learning Webs - A Decade or Two Later - Continued from Page 1
To put theory into practice, the Learning Webs project came into being in 1996. The project goal was to use Internet tools to enhance community access to learning opportunities beyond the walls of Camosun College in Victoria, British Columbia. To that end the project developed partnerships with community literacy learning centres to develop and deliver hybrid online/ face-to-face, literacy and Adult Basic Education upgrading programs. As of the spring of 2003 project partners include Project Literacy Victoria, the Songhees First Nation Employment Centre and Bridges for Women.
As project leader and college instructor, I play two roles. The first is to interact face-to-face with community learning centre partners and their learners. Our goal is to establish good working relationships that can be maintained at a distance via an online classroom for each centre and subject area. Students can then work through three upgrading levels of math and four of English to gain the skills required for success in post-secondary programs. Most of this latter activity takes place online, with the community learning centre partners providing face-to-face support to enable learners to interact with me from the comfort and convenience of their own community. Further face-to-face interactions with learners in their communities or on campus are scheduled as necessary. The second role is to assist the partners with their own Internet literacy needs. At the beginning of the project, basic Internet literacy was the major requirement. More recently the focus has shifted to developing skillswith Internet tools to create the centre’s own online literacy materials.
The literacy centre partners have their own Internet connected computer labs as well as staff and/or volunteers to support the whole range of functional literacy skills for their learners. Project Literacy Victoria solicits computer donations, refurbishes them and then makes them available to qualified learners to take home. In the last year, as prices for used Internet capable machines have fallen, learners have been able to purchase their own used systems to connect from home.
Demographics and the Internet made for interesting dynamics of online learning. Most of the volunteers, staff and instructors are my age – fifty-plus. Many in this age group have their own literacy issues when it comes to the technology of the Internet. According to Alan Kay, “What people mean by the word technology is anything invented after they were born.” For this generation the telephone and the printed word are not technology, while anything computer related most definitely is. The demographer, Ian Foot (2002), explains:
For our younger literacy learners, however, the Internet is just part of their everyday experience. They know all about chat groups, web browsing, online community and Google searches. So when it comes time to interact online, many in this group are functionally more literatethan the typically older staff, volunteers and instructors who are there to guide them. In this case the learners can become the teachers, if they are allowed to do so.
So the younger learners have taken to online learning as if they were made for it. The older learners soon pick up the necessary skills with the appropriate supportive environment that literacy learning centres know so well how to provide. Once over their initial fear, they are quite ‘teachable’ and soon come to enjoy the flexibility, convenience and power the Internet provides them. However, faculty and board members come from a more powerful position that allows them to be resistant to change. This can provide some challenges.
Almost a decade after the project’s first envisioning, I have come to believe even more passionately that Internet tools must play an important role in promoting and developing literacy. The literacy community’s wise use of these tools can support the lifelong and just-intime learning needs critical to the adult learners’ ability to take, and maintain their places as fully functioning members of society.
Martin Buck is an Adult Basic Education instructor at Camosun College in Victoria, British Columbia. For more information see the links above as well as http://lwebs.camosun.bc.ca/buck or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The project homepage is located at http://lwebs.camosun.bc.ca.
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