I saw LINCS project as a technology affair filled with adventure

Lynda Breeden

I remember when I first got interested in technology as well as I remember my first date with my husband. Both events evoked the same feelings--excitement, fear, independence, anger at times, and finally respect. That first brush with technology forged a relationship that went through many stages just as that first date did. I first began to flirt with technology because my future husband was a computer programmer at the time. He insisted that my electric typewriter was useless and should be discarded at once. A college freshman should be using a word processor said he. So, I was forced to do my homework on his computer.

At first, he was eager to help me. I typed the words and he formatted them according to my over-the-shoulder instructions. During the first semester, it seemed to me a match made in heaven. How exciting for the three of us- him, me, and the computer- to be able to spend so much time together! However, the bliss soon ended and boredom entered. My eager helper grew ever so tired of working on my papers and eventually evolved into a monster computer teacher purged from the recesses of Hell. He gave me a summation of the history and the application of computers and allowed me to watch him model all the formatting devices in about one hour! After that first and only lesson, I nodded with phantom understanding and knew he would never be studying the same vocation as I.

The next assignment on the computer was not met with the excitement of the first few when we were still a threesome. Fear had crept into my relationship with technology. I could barely remember how to turn the darn thing on much less remember how to do any of the formatting. What if I couldn't even check the spelling, which was crucial for me? What if I broke His computer? None of those fears delayed the inevitable. The monster teacher's motto was that experience was the best teacher, so no questions were allowed after my whirlwind computer lesson. After losing my research paper for Tennessee History twice, I asked for help but was refused. When it came to the footnotes that had to be added, I begged for help but was answered with a locked door, which was a good thing for him because I had just moved into the anger phase of my relationship with technology. The monster teacher, who had grown a second head in my eyes by this time, decided that I would remember better if I learned through trial and error. Unfortunately, there was more error than trial for me. It took me nearly all night and a box of tissues to accomplish a polished paper. Nevertheless, I had finally conquered the fear for that night.

After meeting fear and the two-headed monster time and time again, I finally found a silver bullet-Computer 101. That summer semester was a gold mine. I was met by a computer teacher with wings (instead of two heads) whose heavenly motto was one of practice mixed with lots of questions. I learned the basics of not only word processing but also spreadsheet and database. My confidence grew with each new assignment. Now that I knew the basics, some of the excitement had returned to the relationship, and I was technologically reborn!

This new found independence allowed me to soar in creative and academic areas which I had previously been denied. And respect had carved out a place in the relationship as well. Not just respect for the machines themselves but also respect for the chosen teachers who have the patience of saints and the diligent learners of technology who have the endurance of Job. Determination is a must for the roller coaster relationship with technology.

The marriage was made with both technology and the once dreaded computer teacher whose second head mysteriously disappeared and whose previous transgressions against new learners were forgiven. That was nearly six years ago. Since then, technology and I have had our ups and downs. I took a job as a computer lab coordinator. I learned so much during those two years through trial and error, practice, and asking questions that fear is almost non-existent anymore. And each time I sit down with a student at a computer, whether it is her first time or sixtieth, I try to remember all the phases of a relationship with technology and hope they see wings when they look at me.

It seems such a long time since I first learned to use technology even though I am still learning something new with each student. I begin the matchmaking process in hopes of forging a relationship between technology and the student as often as possible. Sometimes it takes several dates to get past the fear and for the excitement to set in, but I'm successful more times than not.

One of the first blind dates my students go on is with A.D.A.M. This CD explains the body's systems and functions using humor and animation. As with most blind dates, A.D.A.M.'s not much to look at (because he's a skeleton), but at least he's funny and informative - - - the kind of guy that you just can't take home to mother but that you want to be friends with.

By the student's second date, most are ready to take a closer look which is exactly what they are supposed to do with the program Perfect Copy. It's an excellent tool to teach and improve proofreading skills. This Prince Charming has flaws galore. The students must find and correct all errors in a given passage before they get a check mark for perfection. The program allows students to select specific skills to practice, or they may take them all on at the same time. It also has various levels of difficulty allowing lower level students to activate hints that guide them to perfection. It's too bad human nature doesn't offer us that option.

One date that is always a one of a kind experience is a new program for driver's education. The information is in written form and audio form so that students may follow on-screen as they are being read to through headphones. This is a Godsend for auditory learners and weak readers. There's an objective test after each chapter as well as a simulated driving test. We are currently waiting for the steering wheel and pedals to come in for the driving simulation. At the end there's a full length written test and final simulation. The graphics are out of this world. I'm very excited about matching students who cannot drive to this one.

Quite often the man of our dreams is as plain as the nose on our faces. The popular program Oregon Trail is a wonderful match for students because it promotes teamwork and decision making under the guise of a game. After each history or social studies unit we complete in class, the students divide into teams of 2-3 people and play Oregon Trail. Students must decide on supplies and amounts, when to hunt and rest, and how to face crisis on the journey. The first team to make it to Oregon wins a prize. The one that mother warned you about is often the one you have the most fun with but also has a dangerous and dark side. Most students have heard of this match--- the Internet. It is usually a real eye opener for students, both the benefits and the drawbacks. If we're doing a history section, I have one student select a person, place, or event from the lesson. She searches the Internet for 1-2 articles of information about it, reads them silently, highlights information, and then presents what she's found to the class orally. This really helps students learn to summarize information and build confidence in speaking to others. Once students see the many charms this "gigolo" possesses, they are hooked. Many students begin to request time to find information on medical conditions, celebrities, and hobbies. I am currently arranging for my Families First students and the Even Start students to begin to post journal writings on a white board. As with any tall, dark stranger, he is always closely supervised.

There's always a certain amount of security in a regular meeting, even between friends. My class has a session about word processing 1-2 times weekly. Currently, we are switching from Microsoft Works to Microsoft Office once our new Compaq computers are installed. I use basic assignments like sentence writing, paragraphs, or essays to let students practice their skills from the book on their own work. The ultimate goal is to have them complete a cover letter, resume, reference page, and thank you letter to take with them when they graduate.

This regular meeting is not without charm. On Fridays, I allow seasoned computer students time to type personal letters or recipes on the computer. This is time for them to show off their new independence in their relationship with technology. The catch is that students are totally on their own to remember how to make adjustments to the format and edit their work. If there's a problem, they must remember to plan to ask questions during our computer lesson and get help then. This is incentive to pay attention during the lessons and promotes self-reliance and problem solving. I sometimes use this as a reward for perfect attendance.

Just as any frequent dater knows, there must always be a good stand-by waiting to be called at a moment's notice. For four years, the GED 2000 has been a dependable stand-by for many of my level three students who are close to taking the exam. I find that the skill builders are a good review, and the tests help build confidence in taking timed tests. The one date that a person can truly "take home to mother" is a fairly new program for us. Skills Bank impresses both students and teachers alike in how user friendly it is. It has an air of sophistication about it and is very comprehensive. The use of headphones is a plus for the auditory learner. It's excellent drill and review. Not only is it beneficial for GED students but also for adult high school students whom are preparing for the TCAP.

For all of us, there have been things that just aren't meant to be, and for me there have been some real heartbreakers along the way in incorporating technology into teaching and learning, but it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all!

From each experience, I always learn something and that is why I wanted to participate in this project about LINCS. It was another chance to learn, and it was finally a site relating to what I do which could directly impact my work. I saw this project as a technology affair filled with adventure. This project was an opportunity to help myself and other adult educators know where to go on the Internet for pertinent help and information. I also hoped this project would help develop an open door for my students to find information easily and gain confidence in finding topics they were interested in.

As affairs will often do, I was willingly swept off to places I have never been before. Working on this project has allowed me to gain some much needed insight into my profession. My first stop was to get to some cold, hard numbers. By nature I'm not a statistic kind of girl, but it has bothered me for some time that I don't know my own local county's statistics of how many people are still without high school diplomas. By using LINCS, I was able to quench my thirst for numbers and have safely tucked them away for future reference.

I bravely dashed off to the Workforce Education Special Collection quite frequently. What a wonderful chance to find the defining features of workforce literacy by examining model programs! I will be sharing the details with my program supervisor in hopes of expanding our program and gleaning as many useful techniques as possible to use in our regular GED classes as those classes begin to shift focus to applying basic skills in a work environment. To get a head start, I joined two discussion lists on Workforce Education.

A rendezvous with What's New, Top 10 List, and the NIFL link was a regular stop. I was able to get a fact sheet concerning welfare and literacy and more information on workforce literacy. I located the Top Ten Ways You Can Be Involved in Literacy. This will be great when we present to agencies and businesses because it names concrete things people who want to get involved can do to help our program.

The thought of resisting the temptation to look for lesson plans never entered my mind. My class loves to read the newspaper so much that I have to put them out of sight to do other activities. Consequently, I have wanted to incorporate the newspaper into their learning as much as possible without always just allowing free read time. I found something called The Teacher's Toolbox that uses the newspaper in its strategies for comprehension. Using this with my class was very successful, and I've bookmarked the site that the lesson plan came from to search for math strategies when I have more time.

I also wanted to do a lesson about safety in the home to coincide with guest speakers from the fire department and the rescue squad. I found a wonderful home safety checklist. Prior to our guest speakers, my students will conduct three hazard inspections of their homes using the checklist as a guide while adding any they may not find on the list. They may then discuss any concerns with the speakers in hopes of having safer homes.

One of the most valuable tools I found was Screening for Adults with Learning Disabilities. It outlines the specific characteristics to look for and to document when trying to determine if a student has a learning disability. I used the information to make appropriate recommendations to DHS about my Families First students' progress after being in my class for over one year and in writing letters to vocational rehabilitation case workers when my the students were referred to them.

However, this affair did turn bittersweet at times. Students are constantly asking questions or needing help in areas that I am ignorant of such as child support and TennCare. All I can usually do is refer students to Legal Aid which can not always provide the service or support needed. It would be great to have some links to these subjects on the site. I am confident that a section dedicated to just student concerns such as these would be utilized by multitudes. I also wish there were some specific links to scholarships especially for non-traditional students who are GED recipients.

Overall, working on the LINCS project has been an affair to remember. I have learned a great deal more about a profession I am so fortunate to be in. My respect for technology and those who contribute to making it better has grown by leaps and bounds. My relationship with technology, while rocky at times, is one that continues to evolve. Surviving the adventurous affair with LINCS has made that relationship even stronger. In short, I am a better teacher for having participated in the End-Users Consortium, and that will make a difference for all my students.