section six

Professional Development and the Internet

The Internet is not just for students. There are numerous opportunities for educators to enrich all aspects of their professional development online. The Internet can be especially beneficial to teachers lacking a professional community, due to the nature of part-time employment, geographic location and a variety of other factors. Many teachers have found communities of colleagues on the Internet via Listservs, regular E-mail, Chat and Bulletin Boards (also called Message Boards, Discussion Groups and Forums). Some people have concerns that the online environment is not conducive to complex ideas or reflection. If they spent time exploring the archives of the literacy listservs hosted by the National Institute for Literacy, they would see that the opposite can be true, provided that the online tool is well designed and well moderated. On these listservs, practitioners from across the country are asking questions and sharing advice on a wide range of critical issues in adult education.

Listservs can also be a valuable tool for increasing communication and collaboration in staff development activities that span a period of time. They are especially useful if your workshop participants are separated geographically. A listserv enabled the thirty-two World Wide Web Institute participants to communicate easily with each other during the month-long training. The listserv also provided a way for the facilitators to automatically send messages to the entire group of participants, with a single e-mail transaction. Listservs are generally easy and inexpensive to set up through your Internet Service Provider. You can also set them up for free through several Web-based services, such as . To get an idea of how teachers can use a listserv as a forum for posing questions and exploring issues together, read the following excerpts from the LAC Institute listserv:

I've been trying to integrate technology into my classroom for years, from word processing the old Apple IIE's years ago, to research on the Internet today. Yet I'm still not certain what "integrate" actually means in this context. I like the idea of project-based learning with an interdisciplinary focus, where computers and other technology are part of a set of resources available to students for research, exploration, learning and self-expression. I'm not sure how much of that is possible in the adult education classroom.

There's a lot of resistance among the staff who don't want to "take away from class time" by bringing students into the lab. Some staff members are intimidated by the computers and therefore don't feel comfortable using them with their students...Other staff members seem to feel that computers can do the job of teachers, that simply finding something on the Internet will make students better readers. Unfortunately, even when students access information on the Web, they often can't understand it.

This morning I took my class to our computer lab and had them look up the Women's History Project. Students had been given the task of writing a narrative about a woman they knew and admired, or alternatively about a woman they admired from history or contemporary society. Mostly, they explored. It was especially fun to see the students who had never been on the Net before become adept at using the mouse. I went around and helped them and moved students so that the ones who had the most experience were teaching the others.

Of course, not all online discussions attempt meaningful dialogue. Of the millions of people communicating online everyday, more are looking for dates, new cars, or bargain flights than are having deep discussions about educational philosophy, but these discussions do exist. More importantly, the Internet is an open, democratic environment. If a discussion you're looking for isn't already occurring somewhere online, you can start it and, as a character in the film Field of Dreams said, "if you build it, people will come." To search by topic for existing listservs go to LISZT: the mailing list directory, at

Adult Literacy Listservs

NIFL Listservs

You can subscribe to any of the following listservs directly through the NIFL Web site. Go to the Forums list at and follow the directions.

Equipped for the Future
Features targeted discussions about NIFL's students-based Adult Literacy System Reform Initiative.

Family Literacy List (National Institute for Literacy)
The focus of this list is family literacy.

Health & Literacy List
The focus is on literacy issues in health education and in health care.

Workplace Literacy List
The focus of this list is workplace literacy education.

Homelessness and Literacy
List Focus is on literacy among the homeless population.

Focus on Basics
List Articles published in the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy's quarterly publication "Focus on Basics" is the focus of this list.

In addition to a listserv, a Web page can be a very useful supplement for long-term staff development activities. A simple Web page can include the agenda, schedule, activities, homework assignments and a list of links to other Web resources you want participants to use during the workshop. A more complex page can include an online discussion area, or bulletin board, where participants can post and reply to messages on workshop issues and projects. The unique feature of bulletin boards offer is that the messages are organized by subject and stored on the Web, so you can keep track of and participate in discussions with a sense of continuity and history. Setting up a bulletin board requires advanced programming skills, but many popular Internet Service Providers, like Mindspring at http://www.mindspring.
offer easy to set-up bulletin or message boards as part of their member services. For an example of simple Web sites developed to be the virtual space for staff development institutes, see the home pages of the World Wide Web Institute, at and the Teachers, Technology and Leadership Institute at

The communication and networking possibilities the Web offers to literacy practitioners are increasing daily. Beyond lesson planning, the Web can be a valuable resource for research connected with fund-raising, proposal writing and curriculum development. There are opportunities for practitioners to take online classes ­ an excellent way to learn by doing. LitTeacher, a project developed in partnership by the National Center on Adult Literacy (NCAL), Kentucky Educational Television (KET) and PBS, will soon offer a variety of opportunities for online staff development. You can learn more about LitTeacher and the other resources provided through this project, at adultlearning
/literacy/ index.html

Once you begin actively exploring the Web, it shouldn't take long for you to find a variety of ways that it can enhance your work and enrich your students' education. After exploring Web resources in a workshop on the Internet and workforce preparation, a literacy practitioner wrote in her evaluation, "I can envision teachers, students and job developers [in the computer lab] till midnight!"


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