The Benefits of Southern LINCS as They Impact New Users

-- Susan Gibson

The statement that the Internet is the communication and information wave of the future is a declaration of the obvious. However, for many adult education programs, where funding for the "luxuries" is rarely available, the obvious is just becoming a reality. Practitioners and students in these programs venturing onto the Internet for the first time, looking for information or resources, may face a daunting challenge. The question "Where do I start?" pops up. These practitioners and students now have a friendly guide as they begin their Internet journey in the form of Southern LINCS (Literacy Information and Communication System.) This site, sponsored by the National Institute for Literacy and housed at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's Center for Literacy Studies provides a one-stop-shopping location for adult literacy practitioners and students. This site invites visitors to not just stop for a brief look, but to spend time evaluating the site and its resources to determine if these resources have application in their programs. The Southern LINCS site is valuable in locating information about the Internet and in finding links to other resources. It can also be used as a 'jumping off point' for practitioners as they begin implementing the Internet as a teaching tool.

The Internet is a world of its own complete with its own language and rules of behavior. The adult practitioner or the adult literacy student using the Internet for the first time may not have the time or motivation to read Internet for Dummies. This type of learning is not truly hands-on which is a must in becoming familiar with the Internet. The Southern LINCS site provides an introduction to this technology, its language, and its protocol that allows for a more hands-on approach to learning. The users are actually using the technology as they are learning about it. The Help menu on the Home page provides information on PDF files, browsers, plug ins, and HTML by giving relatively brief explanations of each. The "Beginners Guide to HTML" provides interesting reading for those with ambitions of publishing on the Web. Walt Howe's Internet Learning Center is an excellent tool for beginners on the Internet. From this site, users can access The Internet Learning Tree which provides information on the Internet, the World Wide Web, how to create your own home page, how to use e-mail, and much more. This page also provides a link to an Internet glossary full of Internet terms and definitions. This is a great tool for new users (and experienced users as well) to learn the language of the 'net. A last interesting 'find' at this site is the history of the Internet link found at the bottom of The Learning Tree page. This choice provides a brief, but informative, account of the development of this technology. Another great tool for practitioners wishing to provide content-based Internet instruction can be found at the NIFL web-site which has a link on the Southern LINCS Home page. At the NIFL web-site, choose NIFL's Top Ten Sites and then choose Susan Cowles' Teaching and Learning with Internet-based Resources. The final method of using Southern LINCS as an Internet training tool is by simply navigating through the site. The style of the site is similar to others with its menu and links to other sites. For users totally new to the Internet, navigating this site can be an exercise in using links, searches, listservs, and more while learning more about the offerings of Southern LINCS in the process. The Southern LINCS site is, therefore, a great opportunity for students and practitioners who do not have a great deal of experience using the Internet to learn more about this great new technology.

The Southern LINCS Web site has great potential to provide resources for adult practitioners. Once again, the problems of funding (especially in small, rural programs) limit the amount of time and money that can be spent in curriculum improvement and development. Southern LINCS provides a central location for practitioners to access special collections of resources in addition to general resources comprised mostly of locally produced materials. These materials, produced by practitioners, have hopefully been tried and proven successful in at least one program. An example of one such locally produced material is You Work Hard For Your Money produced by NashvilleREAD. It is a consumer-based curriculum with topics ranging from managing credit cards to how to read nutritional labels. The curriculum has tremendous potential for application in any program. The great hope for Southern LINCS is that as more and more practitioners become familiar with the site, they will be willing to share material they have produced with other practitioners and the catalog will grow. Topics can be easily accessed through the Search page, the Resources page, or even through visiting state literacy resource centers using the Directory. The special collections available at Southern LINCS can also be used to enhance specific types of curriculum. Southern LINCS is developing two special collections. One deals with Workforce Education and the other deals with Correctional Education. Found in this collection, is a great resource that could be used in a certification program for workplace instructors called Adult Education at Work by Dent C. Davis. Links to a variety of Web-based journals is also available on the Special Collections page. The Southern LINCS site offers a great deal to all practitioners and provides a tremendous opportunity for resource-sharing.

The wider world of the Internet has even greater potential for adult practitioners and students to reach those resources that will enhance instruction. Once practitioners have trained themselves in the vocabulary and the protocol of the Internet using Southern LINCS, they are ready to step out into that wider world. There they will find an access to research and information that has been unavailable to them in the past due to limited access to libraries or huge travel budgets. Practitioners and students may enter the White House for a virtual tour or the latest press releases. They may search the archives of The Library of Congress or the Smithsonian. They may read biographies of the famous and the not so famous on the Biography Channel. They may even keep up to date with the latest breaking news developments through a variety of on-line news agencies. Teachers will be able to assign research topics that can be researched without ever leaving the classroom. For example, a student may want to get the feel for the impact of the Vietnam War on the personal lives of those involved. A number of veterans and family members of veterans have their own Web pages. Practitioners will benefit from sites designed specifically for teachers with links arranged by content. (Try Crazy Carrie's site.) The opportunities to enhance instruction are tremendous as the Internet is opened wide to practitioners and students.

The development of the Southern LINCS Web-site provides unlimited potential for adult practitioners and students. Southern LINCS can provide an introduction to the Internet that will give the new user the confidence to move forward. It will provide practitioners the opportunity to gain access to resources that will improve curriculum or provide a curriculum where one does not exist. Finally, Southern LINCS prepares the new user to venture farther out into the Web, creating a valuable teaching tool. In conclusion this project can be valuable to all literacy practitioners, but the value is even greater to the new user.