Dr. Larry Mikulecky Response to Questions from the Workplace Discussion List October 2000
Hello Subscribers, I am happy to announce that on October 9, 2000 we will have a
distinguished guest speaker joining us to discuss workplace education. During
this week, we will look at some topics to discuss and begin formulating
questions for our speaker.
I am honored to have had Dr. Larry Mikulecky accept this opportunity
to speak with us. Below is some information about Dr. Mikulecky so that
we can begin to get know him.
Larry Mikulecky works for the School of Education at Indiana University.
His email address is: MIKULECK@Indiana.edu
Dr. Mikulecky is Professor of Education at Indiana University-Bloomington.
His research examines the literacy requirements for success in business,
the military, universities and secondary schools. He currently teaches
a course in Young Adult Literature to teachers all over the world through
an Internet based graduate course. His most recent research examines literacy
and technology-- especially in School-to-Work transition programs. He has
served as principal investigator on over twenty research projects funded
by the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor as well as foundation and
corporate sponsorship. Dr. Mikulecky has published over 100 journal articles,
textbook chapters, and textbooks.
Dr. Mikulecky is lead author on Simon & Schuster
series Strategic Skill Builders for Banking
as well as the basic skills series On the Job,
published by Cambridge Publications. He has also been Project Director
for nearly a dozen computer assisted instruction study skills programs
designed for college students with funding from the federal government
and corporate sponsors.
Dr. Mikulecky has also served as an international training, evaluation,
and document design consultant in Australia, Canada, and the United States.
He has worked on or directed projects for the U.S. Military, the U.S. Departments
of Labor and Education, the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, the Ontario
Ministry of Skills Development, the Queensland Board of Teacher Registry,
the American Bankers Association, United Auto Workers/Ford, the Business
Council for Effective Literacy, several Fortune 500 corporations, and over
100 school districts and corporations.
Some publications from the past few years include:
Mikulecky, L., & Kirkley, J. (1998). Changing
workplaces, changing classes: The new role of technology in workplace literacy.
In Reinking, D., McKenna, M., Labbo, L., & Kieffer, R. (eds.) The
handbook of literacy and technology: Transformations in a post-typographic
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ. pp. 303-320.
Mikulecky, L. (1998). Adjusting school writing curricula
to reflect expanded workplace writing. In Garay, M. & Bernhardt,
S. (eds.) Expanding literacies: English teaching and the new workplace.
University of New York Press, Albany, NY, pp. 201-224.
Mikulecky, L. (1997). Too little time and too many
goals: Suggested remedies from research on workplace literacy. Focus
1, Issue D (December, 1997), pp. 10-13.
Mikulecky, L. & Lloyd, P. (1997). Evaluation of
workplace literacy programs: A profile of effective instructional
practices. Journal of Literacy Research
, Vol. 29, No. 4, pp. 555-585.
Mikulecky, L., Lloyd, P., Siemantel P. & Masker, S.
(1997). Transfer beyond workplace literacy classes: Twelve case studies and a
model. Reading Psychology
, Vol.18, no. 4. pp. 352-368.
Mikulecky, L. (1996) School-to-work transitions for
middle school students. In Lapp, D. and Flood, J (eds) Spotlight on the
York: Macmillan/McGraw Hill.
Mikulecky, L. Lloyd, P. Kirkley, J. & Oelker, J. (1996). Developing
and Evaluating Workplace Literacy Programs: A Handbook for Practitioners
and Trainers. Philadelphia, PA: National Center on Adult Literacy.
Mikulecky, L., Lloyd, P., Horwitz, L., Masker, S. &
Siemantel, P. (1996) A Review of Recent Workplace Literacy Programs and a
Projection for Future Changes
. Philadelphia, PA: National Center on Adult Literacy.
Mikulecky, L., Lloyd P., & Kirkley, J. (1996).
Assessment Approaches and Impact Results in Workplace Literacy
PA: National Center on Adult Literacy.
Mikulecky, L., & Lloyd, P. (1996) Effective
Workplace Literacy Programs: A Guide for Policymakers
. Philadelphia, PA: National Center on Adult
Mikulecky, L. (1996) Family literacy: Parent and child
interactions. In L. A. Benjamin and J. Lord (eds.) Family
Literacy: Directions in Research and Implications for Practice
. Washington D.C.
U. S. Department of Education Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
Moderator: NIFL-Workplace subscribers, I asked our guest speaker
what possible topics within workplace education he might be interested
in discussing. This was his answer. Maybe we can come up with some statements
he could speak to beginning next week.
1) What role does workplace literacy play in adult literacy education
and what role ought it to play?
2) Problems and solutions when developing and delivering workplace literacy
3) How are workplace literacy demands changing in light of new technologies
and new ways of operating in the workplace?
Speaker: I appreciate Heidi Watson's invitation to respond to questions
and join in discussion of workplace literacy issues on the Listserv over
the next two weeks.
My name is Larry Mikulecky and I am a professor of education at Indiana
University. Over the years, I've been involved in several workplace literacy
research and development projects. My most recent work has examined the
impact of technology on workplace literacy demands.
Many of the questions forwarded to me and posted recently on the listserv
have related to evaluating workplace literacy programs. Among these were
questions from: Ajit Gopalakrishnan asking about how one determines
if programs make a difference for organizations and learners; Walter Wallace
asking seven different questions related to-- well just about everything;
and from J. Salembier about evaluation of programs. I guess we should start
Subscriber: Please tell us about some models of evaluation and samples
of surveys that can be used?
I recommended some models developed by Nickie Askov, and I think these are very
good. I've also published a program model and a handbook for program development
and evaluation which can be downloaded for free from the University of
Pennsylvania Online Literacy site at: http://ncal.literacy.upenn.edu/pubs.html
Click on the "search our site" button on the top of the page, then "detailed
search" and type in Mikulecky or anything else you wish. Typing Mikulecky
will get you to a list including the evaluation publications.
These publications include my ideas about choices and limitations for
evaluating workplace literacy programs and how to best match evaluations
to both program and learner goals.
In addition to more traditional discussions of evaluation, I do present
a method for monitoring important changes in learners:
§ Beliefs about literacy (Do they expand and become more sophisticated?)
§ Literacy practices (Does the volume and breadth increase?)
§ Literacy processes (Do the strategies employed by learners become
more sophisticated?) and
§ Literacy plans (Do new goals emerge as a result of program involvement?)
Most workplace literacy programs do not have sufficient time with learners
to make much impact on standardized tests. The programs can, however, positively
influence fundamental learner literacy beliefs, practices, and strategies,
which can lay the groundwork for continued improvement at home, on the
job, and in the future. It is important to note these positive changes
and to give credit to teachers and programs for making them.
The workplace evaluation models also include some ways for assessing
impact on productivity and ways to customize assessment to match workplace
Moderator: (Quoting the Speaker) "Most workplace literacy programs do
not have sufficient time with learners to make much impact on standardized
tests.*snip* It is important to note these positive changes and to give
credit to teachers and programs for making them."
Larry, Are we giving the credit to administrators/teachers of programs
or the student? Whether we have enough time with students or not we are
often required to give standardized assessments anyway. From these scores
the quality of our programs are judged. I believe this creates a real struggle
for many workplace education programs.
Speaker: The face-to-face contact time in workplace literacy programs,
indeed in most adult literacy programs, is usually less than 50 hours.
This, all by itself, isn't sufficient practice time to make much impact
on general literacy standardized tests. If a general literacy standardized
test is the ONLY measure of success, there is a problem. The evaluators
aren't measuring enough to capture all that a program is doing.
I think part of the solution is recognizing that learner literacy practice
must also occur and increase outside the literacy classroom (at home and
on the job). This means that one aspect of program success is the degree
to which the learner's goals have been engaged and the degree to which
habits have been changed to include literacy away from the classroom. A
person with changed habits and goals is likely to continue with literacy
growth and this is an important program goal. These things can be assessed
and I think ought to be.
In addition, a good deal of research has documented that gains with
the sorts of literacy one has been practicing with occur long before transfer
to broad, general literacy occurs. For this reason, part of program and
learner assessment in workplace literacy programs should also include measures
of increased comprehension and mastery with the specialized materials which
have been integrated into the workplace literacy program.
I don't think the problem is that general standardized tests are being
used. A fifty contact hour program which has also gotten students to practice
a couple of hours outside of class for each hour inside may have impact
on general literacy. I think the problem is that in some programs ONLY
standardized tests are being used and other program goals (e.g., Improved
ability with workplace literacy, changed goals and behaviors, improved
literacy strategies, improved productivity, increased confidence and willingness
to take further training, etc.) are not being assessed and taken into account.
Subscriber: "Most workplace literacy programs do not have sufficient
time with learners to make much impact on standardized tests.” This is
true whether one is using standardized tests or some form of portfolio
or authentic assessment. And, too, whether one is working with basic education
or professional adult learners.
One of the real challenges I face in developing and delivering non-clinical
workplace curriculum with residents in a teaching hospital is the matter
of time. Residents are on a three to five year program booking between
60 to 80 hour work weeks during their training. Much of their training
must focus on clinical practice. Yet there is also the need to integrate
non-clinical workplace skills into their rotations: communication, ethics,
practice management, negotiation, risk management, critical thinking, systems
Non-clinical workplace training for residents is not a frill nor only
an add-on in those teaching hospitals who deem it necessary to integrate
quality-oriented programming in rotation cycles. The national accrediting
organization for graduate medical education (the Accreditation Council
for Graduate Medical Education, or ACGME) requires each specialty to have
non-clinical workplace training as an integral part of residency programs.
This is a relatively new requirement. As individual programs are reviewed
for re-accreditation, a lack of non-clinical courses, seminars, workshops,
conferences, or Grand Rounds will now jeopardize a program's accreditation
no matter how world-class and cutting edge the clinical curriculum.
Similarly, continuing medical education requirements for doctors already
in practice (and who have 50 to 80 hour work weeks) will soon require similar
non-clinical workplace skill training and assessment through the Accreditation
Council for Continuing Medical Education outcome guidelines.
There is some real shoe leather that can be applied to ensure the implementation
of non-clinical workplace training. In either case, without accreditation
the hospitals or individual practices are ineligible for Medicare or Medicaid
funding. And if they are ineligible, they generally become ineligible for
any third-party billing from other sources.
The problem is clear: where do we find the time to provide meaningful
non-clinical workplace training opportunity? How do we assess skill development
and attainment? How do we benchmark outcomes? How do we design and implement
feedback loops to tie identified outcomes with training improvement?
Speaker: In the health care situation you describe, I agree that: "The
problem is clear: Where do we find the time to provide meaningful non-clinical
workplace training opportunity? How do we assess skill development and
attainment? How do we benchmark outcomes? How do we design and implement
feedback loops to tie identified outcomes with training improvement?"
Some hospitals with which I've worked have tried to partially integrate
literacy training with the on-going technical training. This could mean
a mix of time spent on non-work related learner goals which incorporate
some of the same skills which will be called for in up-coming clinical
training classes. Charts and tables used in clinical classes have their
correlates in lots of other information. Following moderately complex
directions for hobby activities overlaps, to some degree, with following
directions in training settings.
At the secondary school level, reading specialists sometimes work with
science teachers, math teachers, and social studies teachers on modeling
the skills and thought processes needed to successfully comprehend and
use literacy material in those classes. Though it may somewhat violate
the concept of "non-clinical class," a literacy teacher in a health care
clinical program could try to work with other instructors as well as learners
to support the special literacy challenges learners will and do face in
the clinical training.
Assessment, benchmarks, and feedback end up being a direct outgrowth
of what you and the other instructors want to happen. (What changes in
literacy related behaviors, attitudes, habits and accomplishments do you
want to occur?) If it is higher success with the literacy demands in one
of the clinical programs, you can either compare the clinical performance
of previous classes on these tasks to performances of students who've received
the special support. If more rigorous documentation is required, pre and
post performance on a literacy related class assignment can be gathered.
If increased practice with personal materials which parallel the demands
of workplace materials is a goal, having students keep track of this practice
in journals can be used. If journals don't work, weekly in-class writing
assignments can serve a similar purpose.
Subscriber: (Comment) I would add that the program evaluation should
demonstrate that the requisite transfer skills were included in the curriculum.
It is unjust, I think, to assume that the participant will figure out how
to make the transfer by him- herself given that the workplace behavioral
norms frequently support literacy.
Speaker: I agree. The key to transfer is in the head of the learner.
The skills/activities need to be in the curriculum AND the connection between
the class activities and challenges real to the learner must be highlighted
on a regular basis.
Subscriber: I think that you are "right on" with your analysis of what
happens, what doesn't happen, and what is not going to happen in workplace
A couple of years ago, I was involved in a workplace literacy project
in the urban (Halifax-Dartmouth) area of Nova Scotia. I was, technically,
assigned to prepare employees in health care facilities to pass the GED.
In one particular workplace, I had a class of 15 students with highly-varied
backgrounds. This was the third group of a three-chance program, so I had
the "last" possible applicants -- the ones who had either failed to qualify
before or were too scared to sign up for either of the two previous GED
offerings. One woman had only a Grade 6 academic background, and had been
out of school for almost 50 years! My students were an absolutely WONDERFUL
group. During our ten weeks (40 hours) the students changed from being
fearful, reluctant or dependant learners, to working 2 hours outside class
for every hour spent in class -- and asking for more! Supervisors reported
increased confidence levels, increased independent thinking, and greatly
increased inter-departmental communication.
Nevertheless, over half my class failed the GED and I felt devastated.
When I re-frame the experience using your criteria, I can see that we really
accomplished a great deal. Thanks for the insight.
Thanks. In addition to the behavioral and attitudinal gains
you report for your student, I am willing to bet that she also made literacy
gains. About a decade ago, I did a literature review for the U.S. federal
government. One of the things examined was program data for adult literacy
programs. On standardized tests, most programs reported 100-120 hours of
practice time in programs per grade level gain in reading. This is pretty
fuzzy data, but does indicate that literacy gain usually takes a long time
and lots of practice. Your student probably read more than she ever had
before during your 10 week program (i.e., maybe as much as 100+ hours).
Still, if she began at a 6th grade level it is probably unreasonable to
expect she would show literacy gains much above a 7th-8th grade level on
a standardized general reading test. This gain is important and a good
deal to accomplish in 10 weeks. It is not enough, however, to meet the
higher criterion of the GED test.
I think part of our job is to educate both learners and program funders
about how much effort it takes to accomplish different goals. Even though
this may be daunting to some adult learners, I think we owe it to them
to treat them like adults and let them know what it will take while at
the same time suggesting some intermediate goals.
For funders-- especially business people-- I think we can help them
reframe the problem. Many business people tend to think of literacy like
more typical human resource classes-- you should get it done quickly. I've
found it helps to remind them that it probably took them and their children
180 school DAYS to make a one year gain in literacy ability. Adults
can do better than this (i.e., 100 hours), but it is unreasonable to expect
4-5 years of growth in 40 hours.
Subscriber: There are some powerful learning programs that are partnerships
of union and management (Harley-Davidson, Saturn, UAW-Chrysler, etc.).
What advice do you have for getting folks from the "opposing camps" to
begin this collaboration? --Particularly post-strike when the union leadership
sees collaboration as caving in or comprising to their position?
Do you know of documented case studies that might shed some light on this?
Speaker: The ERIC system has some program descriptions of successful
collaborative union/management programs. The steelworkers Management/Union
collaboration has a great program operating in northern Indiana.
There is a menu of classes of personal interest to learners on everything
from taxidermy to home repair. Skills in the classes overlap with
job skills-- they are carefully designed to do this. My favorite
class involves workers refurbishing a house for a women's shelter.
I'd try the ERIC system and put in search descriptors like "steel and basic
skills" or "automotive and basic skills."
I think the key to talking with union and management is the same in
any negotiation. Are there areas where both can win? Classes
that are a mix of learner goals and management goals is one way.
Classes that address learner topics of interest and incorporate skills
also called for on the job is another way.
Moderator: Tell us about your work with workplace literacy and technology
In 1998, the Peabody Journal of Education published several pieces on Literacy
Education in the 21st Century. Jamie Kirkley and I did a piece that examined
this issue in relation to workplace literacy instruction. Below are some
scenarios of workplace literacy/technology demands, which I believe have
significantly changed during the past decade.
What Literacy Demands Look Like in the New Workplace
Restructuring and technology have changed the nature
of many job descriptions from the factory floor to the corporate office. These
changes place new literacy demands upon workers and transform the way jobs are
done. To demonstrate how new technologies and organizational changes are
affecting workplace literacy skills, we offer several vignettes based upon
New Demands on the Factory Floor: Using Statistical Process and
Quality Control in Manufacturing
technology produces products so rapidly, the costliness of mistakes is greatly
multiplied. Hourly workers must monitor the quality of what is produced, make
adjustments, and communicate compiled information so that system-wide
adjustments can be made. The example below is from an hourly job in a
Several times an hour, the machine operator takes samples of length
of planking and measures the length of each unit. This involves using and
reading a digital printout. The data are then recorded by keying results
into a data management program. This is done each quarter hour, and then
data from several trials are tracked. The machine operator uses a computer
with menu choices to calculate means and the range of the sample values.
This information is graphed, and the worker must interpret the graphs in
terms of how much measurements exceed acceptable parameters for quality.
The worker needs to decide whether production is sufficiently within pre-set
parameters and, if not, by how much to adjust the settings on the machine.
Too small an adjustment will not solve the problem, and too great a change
will turn under-weight into over-weight, producing a new production problem.
Keep in mind that the machine is still in production while all this is
happening, and the worker's speed in dealing with the sample and making
the decision will avoid costly wastage of materials and production time.
Because of the rapid speed of machinery, a thirty-minute delay can mean
the waste of several thousand dollars of product. Toward the end of the
day, the worker will use a word-processing program to type a brief end-of-shift
report describing decisions, anticipated problems, downtime, and reaction
times if help was requested from another department to perform minor repairs
upon a machine. These reports are sometimes e-mailed to a central site
where patterns of machine problems are examined and decisions made about
replacement and major repair.
New Demands: Managing Production in Quality Control
One way in which the workplace has become more democratic is in the
way teams of workers make decisions about how to achieve goals of higher
quality and more rapid response. This form of workplace democracy calls
for greater literacy, communication, and problem-solving skills. Quality
monitoring and just-in-time production also figure into most team decisions.
The example below is from an ISO certified sub-contractor producing electric
motors for the automotive industry.
Six hourly workers representing activities at various stages of
production meet once or twice weekly in what are called "quality assurance
teams.” The purposes of such teams are to identify problems, jointly set
new productivity goals, and discuss the results of monitoring productivity
at various stages of production (i.e., where are the mistakes or slow-downs
happening and what can be done about it?).
A typical team problem is too much inventory (i.e., skids loaded
with parts or finished product) on the floor. A major productivity goal
is "just in time" production so material is ready for the next stage of
production or for the customer exactly when it is needed. This reduces
inventory stored on the floor, saving warehouse space and reducing spoilage,
breakage, and pilfering.
To solve problems like this, team members may call up inventory
graphs on the computer and either print them directly or use desk-top publishing
programs to arrange them in meaningful handouts. These are often line graphs,
which record the amount of inventory in various locations at various points
in time (i.e., by the hour, day, week, or month). Synthesizing information
from these graphs can allow the team to determine when build-ups of excess
inventory (i.e., parts or finished product) are occurring. Team members
will offer problem-solving suggestions on why the build-ups are occurring.
Additional information is then gathered on suggested possibilities. For
example, what would happen if a worker at stage 3 went to help at stage
4 every other hour? This can involve computations using simple calculators.
In some cases, custom-designed data management programs do calculations
and plot graphs. Alternative computations of output might involve computing
half-day splits of time or two hour splits of time. Speculations about
machine breakdowns might involve checking when the machine was last overhauled
and re calibrated, looking up projected times between maintenance, and
computing time to go. Pulling up machine records of the questionable machine
during a comparable time during the last maintenance cycle would provide
information to justify a call for early maintenance. New and old work orders
would be scanned to see how many parts are called for to complete a special
order which took a machine off line. Based on performance so far, computations
and estimates would be made for how long it would remain off line.
The culmination of all this brainstorming and quantitative information
gathering would be a provisional plan which would be typed into the word
processor for distribution to workers not at the meeting, but involved
with various stages of production. This agreed upon plan would identify
which workers and machines would do what tasks during which times. It would
involve setting goals, counting and making measurements at regular intervals,
and recording data to monitor the various stages of production. After 5
days time, the quality assurance team would meet again briefly to determine
how well goals had been met and how well problems had been solved.
New Demands for Solving Problems in Customer
Customer service and sales are two of the more rapidly growing
occupational areas. Increasingly, competition for business is based upon
the quality of service provided. This usually means that good decisions
must be made by the person who is providing the initial service. Workers
without a great deal of training and education are now expected to use
technology to gather information, rapidly answer questions, and often make
decisions formerly made by managers. In the example below, computer technology
and retrieval makes accessible to every customer service representative
the equivalent of thousands of pages of information. Rapidly accessing
accurate information, updating the information base, and making good decisions
have now become integral parts of many jobs.
A customer service representative (CSR) handling billing inquiries
receives a telephone request for late payment. After asking for the customer's
name, the CSR can pull up the whole of that customer's record on a computer
screen and check on the payment history. Rapid screen reading of print
organized in blocks of information is required. At this point, there is
an initial decision to be made: How reliable is this customer? Can any
extension of time be given? Written policy guidelines may be accessed via
a hyper-text help screen to guide the CSR. If an extension seems to be
in order, the CSR then keys another hyper-text screen to consult a set
of rules concerning the length of such an extension and whether some percentage
of the bill must be paid immediately. After calculating the effect of the
rules (in this case using another function of the computer), the CSR tells
the customer the result-and probably generates a discussion on the possibility
of the customer paying as required. If the CSR is unable to answer the
questions during the brief time the customer is on the phone, a letter
will need to be sent. A word-processing program with several dozen form
letters will be called up on the screen. The CSR will be expected to select
an appropriate form letter from menus, modify the address and body of the
form letter appropriately, and print a letter and envelope to be mailed
to the customer.
Managing Information in the Office of Today
A secretary at a middle-sized corporation begins her work day by turning
on her computer. Much of the staff communicates through electronic mail
rather than by memos or phone calls. She uses her computer system as both
a mail and information manager. After she opens her e-mail account by typing
in her name and password, she finds 15 new messages. She first scans the
computer screen for the e-mail addresses and determines which messages
are most important to read. She skips over less important messages until
she has more time. As she reads each message, she makes handwritten notes
of actions she needs to take, such as reserving a conference room and ordering
word processing software for the new computers. She then composes an e-mail
message to the work team to which she is assigned informing them of an
upcoming meeting, and then sends the message to them. She saves each message
in an appropriate folder on the computer. Her computer's folders are similar
to folders in filing cabinets--she uses them as a place to save or store
Her next task is to prepare charts for a team presentation to
be made later today. She reads instructions from an e-mail sent by a team
member requesting her to make a chart that shows the fluctuating prices
of oil over the past two years and then create a graph that will show the
patterns of prices over the past 12 years. She opens her computer's spreadsheet
software, which consists of small boxes or cells that enable her to create
tables and graphs and store the information. This is a complex, multi-step
process which requires her to use hyper-text help screens several times
to clarify questions she has.
The day will continue with requests for information, documents
to be designed, meetings to be scheduled, and two or three emergencies
arriving via fax, e-mail, and telephone call. The secretary's day will
be a stream of information to be understood, processed and communicated.
Patterns Across Jobs
The jobs highlighted in most of these vignettes are held by individuals
with little or no post-secondary education. The pay is above minimum wage,
but not by an extraordinary amount. Over the past decade, most of these
workers have seen a steady increase in the skills and flexibility demanded
of them and they have also seen fellow workers released as employers "down-sized"
to become more competitive. Because there are fewer of them in a given
department, they have less social support and must function independently
much more often. When they spend time with others, it is often in a scheduled
meeting with its own new set of literacy and communication demands. When
work demands increase beyond their capacity to function, they face the
additional chore of informally training temporary workers. The most competent
and highly trained of these temporary workers may be offered full-time
positions. On top of all this, newly arriving technologies keep the new
demands coming. The variations of change and demand across occupations
and locations makes it difficult to generalize, but some patterns of changed
demand do seem apparent. Technological support has made it possible for
lower paid workers to do some of the tasks formerly performed by more highly
trained workers. In one sense, the technology "dumbs down" the skill needed
to do a task since it walks a lesser trained individual through how to
perform complex tasks. In another sense, the technology makes jobs more
complex since individuals without much training are expected to perform
multiple tasks and roles which are often far beyond the few simple tasks
which were part of former job descriptions.
In health care, for example, some of the monitoring tasks formerly
performed by nurses are now performed by Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA's)
or Patient Care Technicians (PNT's) who use technology to gather information,
directly enter data into bedside computers for central storage and examination,
and make some decisions based upon information gathered. Patient charts
are no longer at the end of the patient's bed. Down-sized staffs of doctors
and nurses examine records on-screen from a centralized location. Nursing
assistants with new responsibilities are the most immediate point of contact
with patients since nurses and doctors see patients less often. In addition
to monitoring and entering information into data-bases, nursing assistants
must be able to process information and make decisions in emergency situations.
Nursing assistants provide some therapies, answer some patient questions,
and have increased responsibilities for patient care. They also participate
in team meetings where they are expected to provide information, take notes,
and help make decisions based upon information from a variety of sources.
Laboratory work in many health-care facilities has also changed with technology
making it possible for a few professionals and a cadre of lesser trained
technicians with technological support to perform analysis work previously
done by many professionals.
Though rules for decision-making are still evolving, the pattern
in health-care is similar to patterns in manufacturing and other service
industries. Cost-containment has led to downsizing and job restructuring.
Fewer highly trained individuals process more information, which is gathered
by others. These others are not trained to a professional level, but are
required to have broader skills and training than previously required.
Technology has increased the job demands of lower skilled workers who are
expected (with technological support) to perform some tasks previously
performed by professionals. The lowest skilled, who are the first point
of contact in many service occupations, must perform an expanded set of
job tasks, participate in decision-making teams, and even perform some
professional level tasks while being paid relatively low wages.
Subscriber: This is in response to an earlier remark you made about
the need to educate the people who hold our purse strings about the amount
of time that is needed for adults in literacy programs (in our case in
an ESL literacy program) to make progress. Yes, absolutely, but how do
we do this? As you know well, the move is all towards holding us accountable
( i.e., performance -based funding) for having students reach the stated
goals in as short a period of time as possible. Increasingly I find vocational
training programs are "creaming" and taking only those students who they
are sure will be successful in the short period of time. It's quite disheartening.
Moderator: In the October issue of Forbes Magazine an article was published
called "The Crisis That Isn't." This article claims that the rates of functional
literacy are untrue. Here is the link to the article on line http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2000/1002/6609086a.html.
I encourage everyone to read it. Feel free to comment to the list or
otherwise write to the author.
Subscriber: Thank you for pointing out this article. My comments:
1. The author clearly does not believe that government either can or
should do anything to help improve the skills of the less-skilled among
us. This despite the fact that he may support public education at
the K-12 level (though he may not). His criticism of the literacy
"problem" should be viewed in light of this, so that we (on this list)
don't start a very long debate about his politics v. the legitimate criticisms
that he raises. While we all appreciate the opportunity to vent our
frustrations at those who would remove any and all public funding for literacy-related
efforts, it would be preaching to the choir for all (or many) of us to
chime in with why we disagree with his politics.
In short, I propose that we recognize that (a) if you're subscribed
to this list, then (b) you probably agree that something can be done to
address literacy deficit issues, thus (c) we do not need to explain to
each other why we disagree with the author on this point.
2. The author correctly points out that "literacy" is a less-than-ideal
appellation to apply to the diverse skills classified by the NALS.
I agree with him wholeheartedly on this point. Whenever I am speaking to
anyone outside of the adult education field, I have to use other terms
such as basic skills, etc. (This of course is a topic that long-time subscribers
to this list will note has been discussed numerous times.) My personal
perspective is that professionals in this field (as well as NIFL) run the
risk of marginalizing themselves by constantly referring to "literacy problems"
as opposed to some other name. The key, of course, is coming up with an
alternative that is better than "literacy.” I personally prefer "basic
3. The issue of how much government can do to help those with low literacy/basic
skills is an open one. While there are many anecdotal success stories from
the adult education field, the lack of systematic evidence provides a daunting
challenge to those in the adult education field who would like to argue
for more (or even sustained) resources. I have seen enough anecdotal and/or
incomplete evidence to believe that interventions can and do work. But
until there is more systematic scientific evidence available, adult education
professionals will have a difficult time defending themselves against attacks
such as this author's. (For a review of the research, I encourage everyone
to take a look at Hal Beder's report for NCSALL: "The Outcomes and Impacts
of Adult Literacy Education in the United States" NCSALL Report #6, Jan
1999. This is available for downloading at: http://gseweb.harvard.edu/~ncsall/research/reports.htm
Speaker: I am going to try to rise to Alec's challenge that we not respond
to all of the barbs and implicit assumptions in Dan Seligman's piece in
Forbes. It is difficult since the piece is written as a heavy opinion piece
designed to elicit those very reactions. I doubt that even Seligman wishes
to dispense with all prison education because we do not really want qualified
He does touch on a rhetorical vulnerability of literacy educators and
policy advocates. We have used figures from the National Adult Literacy
Survey as a fairly simplistic call to action. This survey, as well as similar
surveys in Canada, Australia, and England all show about the same general
distribution of low, middle, and high performance. For years, Tom Sticht
has commented on this and the same pattern in previous surveys. He
wants us to recognize that general intelligence is partly at play, here.
It is also true that those in the lowest SES groups of each country are
more heavily among those performing at the bottom. This suggests opportunity
may have something to do with it, too.
We educators have argued and will continue to argue about how much performance
on such tests is the result of innate abilities and how much the result
of real educational opportunities in schools and homes. My judgment is
that it is a mix and pretty close to 50/50. We do know that individuals
can improve and that it sometimes takes a significant amount of effort
beyond the average. Without that effort, the normal curve is not tilted
Seligman also chastises the NALS survey for going beyond a simple definition
of literacy. I have a colleague who claims that "pure" literacy is simply
recognizing sound/letter correspondences and how to make out the meaning
of simple sentences. The rest beyond that is learning to think, draw inferences,
and having access to increasing large knowledge and vocabulary bases. I
will not argue. It seems to me that the point is we expect people in developed
societies to make critical sense of these more complex things and that
many cannot. It also seems pretty clear to me that many people can't due
to lack of opportunity or because they were never taught how to use specific
skills or master specific knowledge bases. (Some people can teach these
things to themselves and others clearly need additional help). As a taxpayer,
I'm very interested in monitoring who can do what and much less interested
in holding to a simple definition of literacy for aesthetics’ sake.
We search and scout for athletic talent in all sorts of places and provide
substantial support to develop that talent-- mostly for our own entertainment.
Given the fact that innate ability is partly at play in being able to perform
complex literacy tasks, I agree with Seligman that we will probably never
bring everyone to the highest levels. It is also true, that unless we want
social splits in developed nations to widen to very dangerous levels, we
need to help as many people as possible to perform at levels high enough
to increase their life choices. Education is part of this mix. Technological
supports to help people gather information and make decisions are probably
also likely to be part of this mix. So, too, is a recognition that as things
change ALL of us need to continue learning.
The sub-text of Seligman's message-- ain't no problem here and even
if there were it couldn't be fixed is in my judgment dead wrong.
Subscriber: Is there a national listing of potential funding for workplace
literacy issues? Where do workplace literacy programs go for funding?
Speaker: I know of no single national funding list and funding has tended
to move from the national to the state level. In addition, funding in most
states is often found in several different areas (i.e., Departments of
Education through Adult Education, Departments of Commerce through special
training program funds, and in some states special set-aside funds for
workplace literacy support). On top of this, some funding comes from employer
and union sources.
A majority of workplace literacy (basic skills) programs draw funding
from more than one source. Since funding tends to have strings and requirements
attached (i.e., equipment or materials can sometimes only be used by learners
accepted by a funders criteria), program providers with multiple funding
sometimes have to be very flexible and creative.
I am looking for workplace education professional development
programs. Do you have any recommendations for interesting models or certification
Subscriber: There is a model program in Illinois administered by The
Center, which provides 40 hours of training resulting in a Workplace Basic
Skills Instructor certificate. The program director and developer is Linda
Mrowicki, who can be reached at 847/803-3535.
Indiana University has a series of distance education courses, which
focus upon adult literacy, workplace literacy, and family literacy. I believe
Penn State has a similar adult literacy oriented program.
Speaker: I don't know of programs which focus purely on workplace education
professional development. Indiana University has a series of distance
education courses which focus upon adult literacy, workplace literacy,
and family literacy. I believe Penn State has a similar adult literacy
Moderator: I would like to thank Larry for being our guest speaker.
His participation has been very interesting and helpful. I hope subscribers
enjoyed his time with us; and we will continue to look for additional guest