Integrating Technology into Teaching and Learning

Report of the Conway Adult Education Center LINCS Project

Conway, Arkansas

Southern LINCS Division

In March 1999, five students from the Conway Adult Education Center in Conway, Arkansas began a LINCS project. The project’s main goals were to increase the students’ reading and math skills through Internet activities. These students had very little computer knowledge and no Internet knowledge.

We began with a quick overview of the Internet and its uses. Each student created up an e-mail account using Hotmail and practiced e-mailing to each other and to other people associated with the Adult Education Center. The students found the speed of the Internet amazing. They seemed astonished that the words they typed on their computer "magically" appeared on another student’s computer.

To introduce the students to the Internet and its vast capabilities, we located some web sites with information about our hometown. We also looked at web sites about fishing in the state of Arkansas since most of the students were interested in fishing. The students were again amazed at the wealth of information that is available. They had no idea that the Internet contained so much information about our small community. During our first excursion into cyberspace, the students became aware of the differences in commercial, educational, and organizational web sites. We discussed in depth the need for commercial banners on the .com sites.

After a discussion of the need for and uses of search engines, we looked at many of the engines and searched for a given topic on several different engines. They were quick to notice that even though they were searching for the same topic, different search engines produced quite different results. We then tried Dogpile.com and discussed how this engine searches several search engines at once and gives the top ten "hits" from each engine. We decided that this was very productive.

During the course of our project, we used Dogpile to search for a wide variety of information. Each week the students were given an assignment for the first segment of classtime. When the assignment was complete, the students were allowed to search for information on subjects that interested them personally.

We located the local weather and weather in various countries. We found maps of cities and countries around the world, newspapers written in English, Spanish, French, and German, museums in France, and music from various countries. The students often had to read instructions learning to download various players in order to hear music or watch video clips. The students worked together to accomplish the downloads. Often all students in attendance would work together successfully.

One week’s activity was locating the real names of many popular people such as Mark Twain, Elton John, John Wayne, Confucius, and Buffalo Bill. Often the real name was buried in biographical information that the students found fascinating. The students would then share the information they had discovered with the rest of the class. Another activity centered on Olympic sports. Many of the events, such as curling, were unknown to the students and they learned much about sports that are popular in other areas of the world. The Olympic site also had video clips that demonstrated many of the events. The students had to download QuickTime in order to view the videos.

One activity that the students found interesting was regarding professions and the salaries received by different professions such as orthopedic surgeon, trash collector, elementary teacher, federal judge, fast-food waitress, computer software developer, and public school superintendent. While the students were unable to find all of the salaries, they were amazed at the education required by some of the professions, and the demand in certain fields.

We did several activities concerning travel – local, within the continent, and international. We used several travel sites such as Expedia and Travelocity to compare the fares of tickets to various destinations. We also used Dogpile to research each student’s favorite destination. The students were then encouraged to choose a destination on another continent and find various means of travel and different types of accommodations. The students also researched the history of their destination and found as many of the local customs as possible. We used Mapquest.com to obtain driving directions from the students’ home addresses to their destination. This site gives detailed, turn-by-turn directions as well as maps of the area.

At the end of each class time, the students were given the opportunity to research topics of their own choosing. Often they were too involved in the class activities to switch, but it was fascinating to observe what topics the students chose when given the opportunity. One student usually informed us what our horoscope was for the day. One student usually checked the weather and local newspaper from his hometown. One student found the World Wrestling Federation.

It is very difficult to assess the impact this project had on the students’ reading and mathematics levels. Attendance in the class was sporadic in both this class and the regular adult classes. Here is a sampling of the TABE scores of students who did attend the class with some regularity:

Though the students’ TABE scores vary tremendously, they all felt much more comfortable with computers and the Internet by the end of the project. They learned that almost any information that they are interested in finding is on the Internet. They also learned that it is not difficult to locate the needed information.

In summary the coordinator/instructor and students felt that the project was valuable in motivating students to read with more intensity, to read more varied subject matter and for longer duration of time than in the past. The students were able to find interesting information that is not readily available in a classroom setting. The interaction among the group and their excitement at the use of technology as an addition to the learning enviroment was welcome and refreshing as noted by the coordinator/instructor. Regular classroom instructors polled for feedback also commented that the attitude of the internet project students was very positive and that all seemed genuinely excited and interested in their project work. Students were eager to share their latest site findings and interest with the general student population. It is our belief that this project is just the beginning to a new and exciting way to add to the learning environment.