Southern LINCS: An Interactive Tool for an Interactive Approach to Professional Development

Ed Mayfield

For the past several months, I have been participating in an online project that brought together adult education practitioners from several Southern states to explore and evaluate Southern LINCS, an interactive website that is being developed through the facilities of the Center for Literacy Studies at the University of Tennessee. Southern LINCS is actually one of 4 regional websites and is designed to: act as a clearinghouse for literacy resources and materials, build partnerships among practitioners by encouraging the sharing of resources, provide training and technical assistance and expand the overall technological infrastructure.

A primary outcome of this online discussion group was the promotion of Southern LINCS in each group member's respective state. In particular, we were looking for ways in which practitioners could be motivated to not only passively explore LINCS, but to actively contribute to it.

It was during the course of this inquiry that I first learned of the new professional development guidelines being created by Kentucky's Department of Adult Education and Literacy. It occurred to me that, for those of us in Kentucky, a connection could be established between the objectives of Southern LINCS and those of practitioners as they plan their professional development activities.

Your LINCS to Professional Growth

In the past, professional development in Kentucky meant sitting through hours of in-service trainings and conference sessions to gain professional development credit. While somewhat informative, this one-dimensional approach to staff development seemed inconsistent with what we as adult educators profess to be the most effective ways in which adults learn. The new professional development initiatives introduced this year place much more emphasis on research and inquiry as a means to professional growth. Practitioners are encouraged to choose from a menu of activities, including mentoring with colleagues, self-directed learning projects and group inquiries.

These types of activities do not occur in a vacuum. They imply not only research, but an exchange of information as well. Internet resources such as Southern LINCS can provide the conduit through which this exchange can take place. Whether networking with participants via listserv or launching the finished product on the World Wide Web through the use of HTML, Southern LINCS can facilitate both the development and the dissemination of material, enhance the technological skills of practitioners, and build partnerships in the process.

What Southern LINCS Offers the Practitioner

There are several features of Southern LINCS that deserve consideration by the practitioner who is planning a professional development project. One of the primary functions of Southern LINCS is to serve as a repository for literacy materials. Since it is part of a network that includes the National Institute for Literacy and 3 other regional websites (Midwestern LINCS, Western LINCS, and Eastern LINCS), the databases of all of them , in effect, merge to form one large collection. These databases can be accessed with the use of two basic types of search engines. One responds to keywords (e.g. "recruitment/retention" or "workplace literacy"), and yields articles that are about those subjects. The other is a more precise search that locates specific articles when details such as title, author and date are known. Perusing these databases can be a great way to begin researching a project.

The other important feature is the Forums section, the communications center of Southern LINCS. >From here, messages can be posted and responded to via an electronic message board. In addition to this, there are several listservs that can be subscribed to. With these resources, practitioners are able to dialogue directly with one another, share their experience and expertise, and expand a knowledge base that becomes, essentially, limitless.

With Kentucky's redefinition of staff development, new opportunities have been created for the professional growth of its practitioners, both individually and collectively. By providing relevant information and an effective way of exchanging it, Southern LINCS can play a crucial role in this process, but it does so largely to the extent that participants are willing to interact and to contribute to this pool of information.