John Fleischman's Responses to Questions February 2000

John Fleischman's Responses to Questions

John Fleischman's Responses to Questions

from the NIFL Technology Listserv

In February 2000, the NIFL Technology-List invited John Fleischman, Executive Director of OTAN, to engage in a virtual Q & A on our list. Several list members posed great questions for John about the use of old and new technologies in adult education. The Q&A session has been organized into the following categories:

On Distance and/or Web-assisted Learning:

1. Do you know of any successful initiatives that have actually conducted distance learning with adult literacy/GED students?

Over the last 20 years there have been many initiatives and projects to reach adult learners at a distance. There is an abundance of anecdotal information but a dearth of hard data to show actual effectiveness.

The BBC conducted some of the very early pioneering work with adult learners in Great Britain. David Hargreaves found that video was an effective tools when coupled with more traditional approaches. In the USA, some of our

"harder" data is based on use of KET's GED series. Many state directors of adult education have found this series effective in reaching significant numbers. Learner outcomes for these efforts have been measured via retention

rates and numbers of students obtaining the GED.

During this past year, a distance learning study was conducted using the ESL series "Crossroads Café." A standardized assessment instrument (CASAS) was used to measure actual learner gains. More studies like this are needed to

validate various approaches to conducting distance learning. I would love to hear about any others that have used standardized assessment instruments to measure actual learner growth.

More than 38 states are currently planning or implementing some form of distance learning. These efforts incorporate an array of different technologies, from very traditional print and video distribution done in an

asynchronous mode, to more sophisticated instructional television done in a synchronous mode. The best I can do is point people in the direction of promising programs or approaches that seem to have met the needs of a

particular adult learner audience. And therein lies the caveat. Any approach to use distance learning needs to take into account the desired outcomes and the tools available to the learner and the provider.

Following are some promising practices that have achieved success for their particular populations. Certainly there are many others, but the following have achieved some degree of success over a period of time.

Program: MindQuest (Minnesota)

Content: Adult high school diploma courses.

Distance learning approach: Computer online; interactive teaching and learning with strong teacher support


Program: CLASS (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Content: Adult high school diploma course, ESL

Distance learning approach: Computer online


Los Angeles Unified, Division of Adult and Career Education

Content: ESL, Parenting

Distance learning approach: Video check-out


San Juan Adult School (California)

Content: ESL, ESL/Citizenship, GET Test Preparation, Parenting

Distance learning approach: cable television (live); telephone; mailed print materials; WebTV


2. What online GED courses are available for no fee?

To my knowledge, there are no free comprehensive online GED courses available at this time. If your budget permits, you may want to investigate one of the commercially available products such as PLATO or NovaNet. Both

systems have GED curriculum that can be delivered online. For information, contact:



Description (from PLATO Web site): Whether you are trying to prepare learners for the GED or improve their skills to enter a job training program, PLATO lets you offer targeted instruction that meets each adult's

specific needs. PLATO quickly targets learner's skill gaps and automatically provides a path of instruction to fill them.

There are many Web sites that offer supplementary learning materials that would be suitable for pre-GED or GED instruction. A few of my favorite sites include:

The Math Forum

A great site for everything related to mathematics instruction.

Academic Assistance Center

Great set of links to instructional resources on math, English, history and science.

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Everything you need to know about English grammar and punctuation.

For Web-based instruction lesson plans - - ones that could be adapted for GED instruction - - check out:

Blue Web'N

Blue Web'n is a searchable database of about 1000 outstanding Internet learning sites categorized by subject area, audience, and type (lessons, activities, projects, resources, references, & tools).

GEM - The Gateway to Educational Materials

The key to one-stop, any-stop access to high quality lesson plans, curriculum units and other education resources on the Internet.

Microsoft Lesson Collection

A set of free tools to help teachers search for lesson plans that match their local or state curriculum standards. Microsoft site server-based technology searches through lesson plans indexed from multiple sites on the Internet.

SCORE - Schools of California Online Resources for Educators

Resources and lesson plans in the areas of science, history, language arts, and mathematics. All lessons are categorized by grade level and based on a standards framework.

3. Are there any good interactive GED tutoring courses (on CD-ROM or the Internet)?

There are many commercial software products that offer GED tutorial-based instruction. Two of the most popular comprehensive programs are published by Contemporary Books and Steck-Vaughn.

GED Interactive

Vendor: Contemporary Books

4255 West Touhy Ave.

Lincolnwood, IL 60646


GED 2001 Software

Vendor: Steck Vaughn / EDL

P.O. Box 690789

Orlando, FL 32819


There are dozens of other software programs that offer supplementary GED or Pre-GED instruction. For a list of vendors, check out the OTAN Adult Education and Technology Vendor Database. Follow the path:

  • OTAN Forum
  • For Teachers
  • Adult Ed and Technology Vendors
  • Search Vendors by Category Select GED and Software and search the database. Results of the search will show 32 vendors that distribute GED software programs

On Technology Resources for Specific Groups of Learners:

1. I'm interested to know if John has had any experiences in integrating technology in an adult correctional education program. Either in a county jail or state prison. I am preparing a workshop for our state correctional

education conference (April 27) and would like to be able to share what programs are doing around the country.

From 1982 through 1989 I worked in the Los Angeles County Jail system. My primary responsibility was to set-up literacy programs with an emphasis on use of technology for learning. Of course that was eons ago, and much has

changed during the last 20 years.

In the early 80s microcomputers were still pretty primitive and most software was difficult to use. Instead of attempting to use children's software (there wasn't much else available), we put a focus on using

productivity software. When the Macs came along in 1984 our job was made easier with software that could be used easily by inmates to create meaning from words, to create graphics, and to manage information. Taking what I

learned from Antonia Stone (Founder of Playing to Win), we incorporated the use of computer productivity tools into all curricular areas. MacWrite, MacDraw, and MacPaint were used to teach basic literacy skills, writing, and

to improve math skills. A great deal of effort was required to develop lesson plans and appropriate curricula, but I felt the effort was very worthwhile.

Another area of focus was on integrating video into instruction. A team of teachers and techie types put together hundreds of "single concept" videos that were used to individualize the teaching of specific competencies. We

found that most inmates were visual learners, so the use of video to illustrate concepts and ideas seemed to make sense. As our production skills increased, we got more ambitious and created videos that could be

used as springboards for classroom discussion. One of the videos that had the greatest impact (and is still being used today) is called "What Mother Takes... Baby Gets."

Information about best approaches to use of technology in a custody environment may be available through the Correctional Education Association. Each year, at the International CEA conference, the Al Maresh award is given

to a correctional educator that has shown the best application of instructional technology. The winner is selected after a detailed application and peer review process. For information about past Al Maresh

award winners, contact Steve Steurer at Correctional Education Association.

Web site address is

Be sure to also to also check out:

Bibliography of CEA Journal articles

Office of Correctional Education

Report on Correctional Education for a Satellite Based Corrections Training Network

2. With respect to the Web-based software-authoring products OTAN envisions creating through the Cyberspace project, is there money in the U.S. Dept. of Ed. OVAE grant to fund formative research into content

development for specific low learner populations? My organization has skads of empirical observations as to why existing Web content for low literacy level adult learners is not meeting their needs, and lots of ideas as to how

to write programs which WOULD address the unique learning challenges these individuals face. But without having the money to utilize our adult literacy programs as laboratories to conduct systematic research into how different

pedagogical approaches for Web-based content actually WORK, I'm concerned that such content development efforts could expend lots of $ developing content which ends up not serving the needs, after all.

The Cyberstep Project is a partnership between California State University Institute, Aguirre International, Sacramento County Office of Education (fiscal agent for OTAN), Adult Literacy Media Alliance, and Los Angeles

Unified School District. Funding is being allocated to each partner to produce very specific deliverables. Aguirre is providing overall research and formative evaluation, SCOE is developing Web and CD ROM authoring tools,

ALMA is developing a comprehensive Web site to accompany their TV411 video series, and LA is developing a beginning level ESL video series and companion CD ROMs and Web site.

You can obtain Aguirre's papers - - "Standards for Creating Multimedia Learning Modules for Low Literacy and Limited English Proficient Adult Learners" and "Multimedia Development Standards, Learning Principles,

Interface Guidelines, and Frameworks" - - at

Our front-end research is attempting to address both the theoretical and practical. We're making every effort to speak with a broad range of practitioners, to research current technology available to adult educators,

and to carefully craft our design to meet the needs of the adult learner. We also adhere to the theory of rapid prototype development and testing whereby we use learners in all phases of development and testing.

As I mentioned in my intro, one of my objectives is to create a tool so that adult educators can enter their content into a structure that would allow intuitive delivery of Web content to learners. With that understanding, the

hope is that adult educators would use content relevant to their learners so that instruction will be appropriate and meaningful.

I'm very interested in your research on why existing Web content is not meeting the needs of low-level literacy adult learners. Anything you have to share would be appreciated. Please contact me so we can discuss a

possible collaboration.

3. Our program is set up in multi-level classrooms. What tips can we get to accommodate students at various levels & how can we deliver instruction to them?

By using a combination of large group, small group, and individualized learning, students in a multilevel class can be fully accommodated. Technology-assisted instruction is one of the best ways to meet the varied

needs of learners at multiple levels.

The debate still rages in K-12 in regards to the best location for implementing instructional technology. Many think technology belongs in a lab media center environment; some feel it works best when the technology is

located in the classroom. I believe that technology belongs in the classroom at all levels of learning, K through adult.

In a multi-level adult class, large and small groups can be used to engage learners in meaningful conversation. These topics can focus on life skill competencies relevant for learners at any level. Using structured

organization techniques, learners can then be assigned to individualized learning materials that reinforce the functional skills related to the context discussed in groups.

Technology tools that may be appropriate to address a multi-level functional context approach to learning:

  • Magnetic card readers * prepare customized sentences and words for students to practice language and writing skills.
  • Authoring tools * software such as Davidson's Word Attack and Speed Reader crossword builder programs, and many other authoring tools allow teacher to easily load customized content relevant for learners at different

    levels. For a more contemporary tool that has authoring capability, check out The New American Reading Disk distributed by the Center for Rehabilitation Technologies.

  • Individualized video stations * video can effectively stimulate ideas and reinforce learning. You may want to investigate some of the new video products such as TV411, Crossroads Café, On Common Ground, Workplace

    Essential Skills. I believe all of them can be effectively used in an individualized mode with learners.

  • Web-assisted instruction * if your classroom is wired to the Net, you can find many excellent resources that can be used independently by learners.

As many of you know, there are dozens of ways to effectively integrate individualized learning into the adult education classroom. The above suggestions offer just a few possibilities. Others may want to share their

ideas for effective integration strategies in a multi-level classroom.

On New Resources:

1. With reference to the CyberStep project, you said: "My major contribution to this effort will be a Web-based authoring shell that will allow all adult educators to create dynamic Web-based instruction for their learners."

This sounds very interesting. I feel that teachers should be involved more in generating content for web-based instruction and I feel that your product can be very useful here. Can you expand on it a little more? Here are some

of my questions: I presume this shell will generate HTML code for the instructional modules that teachers choose to develop, is that correct? If yes, what aspects of the instructional process will this shell help build

(e.g. lessons, student activities, student assessments such as multiple choice answers, teacher class management, etc.)? Is there any way in which we can help you out in this product development? Do you have any thoughts

around that? When do you anticipate having it ready? Do you think there will be a fee for this product? If yes, any estimates?

You already have a good understanding of the intent of the Cyberstep authoring shell. The concept is to allow teachers to create their own content that can be used by their learners' at the agency site or by the

learner at a distance (under the direction of a teacher or independently by the learner).

The entire site is being built using database technology. After activities (Web pages) are created by teachers, all content will be delivered dynamically. To build the site, we're using Microsoft SQL 7 for the

database, Tango as the middleware, and a wide variety of other vendor products (for email, threaded discussions, etc.). We're designing without using Java so that it'll run smoothly on 3.0 browsers and various Web

appliances. To serve the site, we're using a Quad NT with Xeon processors loaded with RAM and a large disc array. Our connection to the Net is with a 20 MB line leading directly to a backbone provider.

A very simple screen design will guide teachers through the process of activity and lesson development. We're taking an approach that will allow teacher to create learning prompts and learner responses.

Prompts and responses will include activities such as:

  • Read text
  • Examine a picture, graphic, ad, chart or form
  • Consult an outside resource
  • True/False Quiz
  • Matching
  • Short-answer Quiz
  • Cloze exercise
  • Email
  • Threaded discussion
  • Listen to audio
The developer/teacher will be able to classify and store their content based on the following structures:

Life Theme

  • Consumer Education
  • Family & Children
  • Finances
  • Government/Law/Citizenship
  • Health/Safety
  • Housing
  • Jobs/Employment
  • Lifelong Learning Living
  • Public Services
  • Time & Weather
  • Transportation

Skill Area

  • Arithmetic
  • Decision-making
  • Lifelong-Learning
  • Listening
  • Planning
  • Problem-solving
  • Reading
  • Responsibility
  • Self-care
  • Social Skills
  • Speaking
  • Thinking
  • Writing


  • Beginning
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

Type of Activity

  • Game
  • Skill Development
  • Individual Project
  • Group Project
  • Assessment

We're scheduled to have a prototype up and running on April 1. Final product should be ready on July 1.

We welcome any and all suggestions for improvement as we continue to develop the shell. The finished product will be totally free and available for any teacher or learner. There will be no limits on the number of lessons you

can create or the number of students you can "enroll". All learner activities will be tracked and teachers will be able to see results of student work.

If you interested in participating in beta testing (after April 1), please email Andrea Key at

2. My question for John Fleischman is besides web design, videotaping interviewing skills etc, what or where else does he think we might better have our students integrate technology.

I'm a real fan of a constructivist approach to learning. The concept that students can use technology tools to learn about other ideas and to communicate their thoughts is a marvelous approach to learning. It's true

that it takes more time to implement these learning strategies, but it's so much more powerful that using off-the-shelf computer software.

Some of the best work in using the Web with adult learners is being conducted through the efforts of Susan Gaer (California Email Projects) and David Rosen (Adult Literacy Resource Institute). To see how they're using

the Web to involve learners, check out their Web sites at:

Adult Literacy Resource Institute projects

Other ideas for having students integrate technology into their learning:

  • Use digital cameras for students to create photo stories, newsletters, etc.
  • Create multimedia project-based learning using PowerPoint, MPower, or other similar tools.
  • Get one of the new DV iMacs and a digital camcorder and have learners create digital movies
  • Be creative with productivity software (word processors, spreadsheets, databases, graphics programs) and have students collaborate to create meaningful publications focusing on real life issues relevant to their lives.
  • Purchase some low cost Web appliances (such as WebTV) and have learners start using email to communicate and become a part of the new digital world.

On Research:

1. Currently I am working on a research project that will give some insight in to how people learn on computer i.e. what is their learning style and how do them acquire further knowledge. As part of this project I have conducted

an extensive literature review and while there is some information available, I was surprised at the lack of information on my basic do people learn on computer, i.e. how do they acquire further

knowledge..Hence, my question is, in your experience how do people learn on computer, i.e. acquire further knowledge?

I wish I could help you with this question, but it's a bit out of my area of expertise. Learning theory is not one of my strong points.

I'd also love to understand more about this subject, and also how people learn via video. I do believe that we what we don't know far exceeds what we do know.

For some of the most recent scholarly journals on technology, you may want to review the white papers that were developed as part of the "Evaluating the Effectiveness of Educational Technology" conference held in July 1999.

The papers, as well as the conference agenda & "spotlight schools," are at:

On Project-based Learning:

1. I am interested in a project based curriculum for my Basic Computer Classes. Is this a good idea and if so, how do I proceed?

If you believe in lifelong learning, project-based learning is a great way to actively promote and enhance self-directed learning. In today's contemporary society, those that move further are able to quickly learn new

things and apply them to a specific context. When I look to hire technology workers, I look for candidates that can quickly learn to apply new things to a particular situation. I believe that project-based learning can help

bring about that type of thinking.

There isnt a great deal of literature on project-based learning strategies for adult learners. However, there is a growing body of knowledge in the K-12 arena. Useful information can be found at the following Web sites:

Project Based Learning

Buck Institute for Education

Project Based Learning: What is it?

Introduction to Project-Based Learning

Lightspan * The Global Schoolhouse

Project Based Learning with Multimedia

San Mateo County Office of Education

Project-Based Learning for Adult English Language Learners

ERIC Digest

National Clearinghouse on Literacy Education