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Using technology in adult literacy and basic education classrooms: The Australian National Staff Development presentation package

Douglas Purcell, Andrew Smith and Donald Strempel

'Using Technology in Adult Literacy and Basic Education Classrooms' is a resource package for use across Australia to encourage and empower instructors in the use of technology. The package was commissioned and funded as part of the TAFE (Technical and Further Education) National Staff Development Project. A national survey that was conducted to ascertain the needs of practitioners is reported. It formed the basis for the content, and the methodologies recommended for the conductors of staff development workshops. A video sampling the application of technology in Adult Literacy and Basic Education programs is included in the package and is presented in conjunction with this paper. In the package an annotated bibliography referencing materials, books, journals, and programs, together with a glossary, and a listing of technology appropriate for ALBE are included as resources for presenters and participants. The package can be of interest also to educators in other fields of study who are moving into the extension of the use of technology, especially computers, in providing individualised learning programs.

In 1991 the Australian TAFE National Staff Development Committee (TNSDC) commenced a project to develop the skills of Adult Literacy and Basic Education personnel in response to the growing national awareness that as education and training are the key elements in the Australian program for economic and industrial reform, language and literacy skills are key tools for effecting that education and training.

In order to ensure that Adult Literacy and Basic Education (ALBE) personnel are all equipped to meet the challenges of the Training Reform Agenda, TNSDC developed A Draft National Framework for Professional Development of Adult Literacy and Basic Education Personnel. The objectives were developed to meet the needs for a national approach to upgrade the skills of current staff and to provide professional development for new staff.

These objectives are:

Objective OneTo ensure that there is a sufficiently trained human resource base within the national TAFE system to deliver quality adult literacy and basic education programs.
Objective TwoTo ensure that adequate recruitment and induction processes are developed and implemented.
Objective ThreeTo promote opportunities for ALBE staff to develop additional competencies.
Objective FourTo increase the competencies of ALBE personnel so that they can respond effectively to a broad range of learning situations or contexts.
Objective FiveTo ensure that current practice is informed by research and that theoretical implications are addressed through professional development opportunities
(In service Program for ALBE Personnel, TNSDC, 1993).

The staff development modules

Six integrated modules were planned for development. Modules 1 to 4 were published in 1993, and Modules 5 and 6 in 1994. The modules are written in competency based terms following the ACTRAC User Guide of 1992.

The Modules are:

  1. Assessment Placement and Referral
  2. Developing ALBE learning programs
  3. Managing an ALBE learning environment
  4. Linking theory and practice
  5. Language in the ALBE classroom
  6. Technology and ALBE

Module 6: ALBE and technology

In 1993 the State Adult Literacy Unit of the Department of Employment Education and Training South Australia successfully tendered for Tender Number 64/93 of the TAFE National Staff Development Committee projects for the development of in service professional development packages. This project was entitled An ALBE (Adult Literacy And Basic Education) In Service Program - Unit 6: Using Technology in the ALBE Classroom. The State Literacy unit has now developed into the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Services Unit, DETAFE, South Australia. The authors of this paper were the project writing team. The writers are all experienced in providing professional development in the use of technology, and are also practitioners using technology in their ALBE teaching/learning programs.

In order to ensure national input into the total project, reference was made to the professional educators nominated by the TNSD Committee.

Input was obtained regarding the process for development of the package, and also the content and methodology for conducting the course.

The national reference and consultative committee included

This group was referred to before and during the project development.

National survey of ALBE personnel

For additional information and guidelines as background for developing a relevant package it was also decided to conduct a national survey of TAFE personnel. The format of this survey was based on a recent survey by Strempel ( 1993 ) which investigated state use of technology in Adult Literacy programs, and the needs in South Australia for further professional development in computing.

Over 200 replies were received to the national survey, with strong recommendations that the course include as much 'hands on' use of technology as possible. Other strong recommendations were that there be a spacing of the course into at least two sessions with an intermediate break providing an opportunity for individual exploration of technologies. lf computers were being focused on, there would be a need for time to explore available software in more depth. These potential course participants also indicated the need for the course to be of direct practical application for using technology with students. They wanted all the course to be practically relevant. These recommendations were used as basic principles by the writers.

Other resources

Other resources for information on conducting successful professional development courses for ALBE personnel were researched. One particularly helpful document by Donna Miller-Parker (1993) reinforced the ideas gained from the reference group, the survey and from experience.

Miller-Parker has synthesised fifteen recent documents relating to staff development for technology integration, and has herself, based on those principles, developed a plan for the integration of instructional technology. It is relevant to quote her "Proposed Staff Development Model" that was incorporated in the planning of the course.

The training design being proposed here is a two-phase workshop, with an extended period of time between the two parts. The first workshop session can be used to introduce participants to new ideas, methods, and/or technologies. Following the training session which introduces new concepts, participants should leave with an "assignment" to be completed during the interim between the first and second sessions. This interim period provides participants with an opportunity to apply the training. monitor the results, record questions, etc. Appropriate assignments could be to become familiar with the new technology, to analyse it for incorporation into the curriculum, to try it on a few students, etc. Participants then attend a second training session which focuses less on the introduction of new materials or ideas and more on the sharing of experiences, responses to questions or problems, and planning tor future use (Miller-Parker, 1993, p14).
The "Technology and ALBE" course reported here also includes a Pre-Workshop Survey so that intending presenters can ascertain the experience with technology which participants will have, the technologies available at their teaching sites, and what technologies the participants are most interested in for their own development. This information will assist presenters to decide whether the group nominated will be too disparate in experience or interests to be able to be accommodated in one course, or will require courses pitched at say, beginners and at experienced user levels. The information can also be used to plan appropriate activities and time allocations.

The target group

The course is designed for all Adult Literacy and Basic Education personnel. Adult Literacy and Basic Education courses may also include courses in the fields of Workplace Education, Women's Studies, Aboriginal Education, Education for Persons with Disabilities, Courses for Non English Speaking Background (NESB) persons, or other designated courses.

The course

Following the pre-workshop survey. distributed with a letter about the course arrangements and some challenging pre-course quotations about the use of technology, the first session of three hours is conducted. The total course time of six hours is divided into two sessions of three hours' duration, but if extra time is available there can be an extension of these times. In this session there is a 'get to know you' introduction and an overview of the workshop. The three assessment tasks are explained, one to be completed in the workshop -
'Devise a plan that incorporates the use of technology to help meet students' learning outcomes. The plan in operation will be trialed during the break between the two days of the workshop.'
and the other two assessment tasks are to be submitted within two months after the workshop - 'Use the student profiles provided at the workshop to devise a range of technological applications which will help those students to achieve their learning outcomes', and 'Develop a post course action plan which identifies further activities to be undertaken to enhance your knowledge and skills in the use of technology in the ALBE classroom'.

Participants are then given a report on the National Survey, and also of their own pre-workshop survey group profile for present skills and workshop needs. The video "Switch On Learning!" is then used to promote awareness of technologies in actual use, and also to stimulate questions and discussion. The next activity elicits and provides ideas for the evaluation of technologies. An activity follows where participants are directed by means of a series of Task Sheets to use a range of technologies suggested as appropriate to meet the learning needs of students described in case studies. An hour or more is allocated for this 'hands on' activity, which can be worked in small groups or in pairs. The first day concludes with the planning of practical application activities for the intervening period, which is suggested to be of approximately four weeks.

The course: Day 2

Each participant presents a report on the trial of the technology/ technologies that was/ were chosen.

A case study of a 'typical' ALBE student is then selected by each participant. For this case study participants are to prescribe or devise a number of strategies using technology that could be expected to assist the 'student' to achieve the learning outcomes he or she requires. For the subsequent 'hands on' session participants are to select from activities using Task Sheets, Case Studies, 'prescription for a real student known to the participant, exploring / trialing computer software packages ,tape or video learning packages, view a demonstration of hardware / software from the presenter if this is requested by some of the group, or if the presenter has something appropriate to group needs to demonstrate.

The final part of the session is taken up in the discussing and developing further action plans, eventually for each individual's needs. An evaluation of the workshop is to be completed and as mentioned assessment tasks 2 and 3 are to be completed and returned within a set period of time in order to receive a course completion statement.


With any such course it is important for participants to be able to access further support and encouragement to keep applying the skills learned.

Romaszko (1994), when involved in professional development for teachers of technology used a series of workshops conducted in one 'home' base for the teachers involved. As the facilitator he became part of the campus personnel for the term of the series, and made sure that he began with committed and interested staff. Romaszko also enlisted the support of senior staff. Other approaches to assisting staff to retain and use their skill for the benefit of learners is to develop formal and informal networking, assist staff to develop along their own lines of interest such as by joining computer interest groups, or sharing use, trialing or authoring of software within and across campuses.

The TAFE National Staff Development Committee expect that the modules developed will 'provide a framework for future development of professional development programs' and conclude the introduction to Modules 1 to 4 as follows:

The outcome of this program will be that a wide variety of ALBE personnel: teachers, teacher managers, senior managers and trainers of volunteer tutors, will enhance their professional skills. This will equip them to respond more effectively in a variety of contexts: in TAFE colleges, the workplace, the community, prisons, adult education centres and curriculum development units.


Miller-Parker, Donna (1993). Instructional Technology Resource Guide for Staff Development. Division of Adult Education and Literacy, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, US Department of Education.

Purcell, D., Smith, A. and Strempel, D. (1994). Technology and ALBE: Module 6 - In service Program for ALBE Personnel. TAFE National Staff Development Committee, Melbourne. Victoria.

Romaszko, R. (1994). Enhancing Teachers Understanding of Technology Education. Australian Council for Education Through Technology - 11th National Conference.

Strempel, D. (1993). Computing Survey. State Adult Literacy Unit, Marleston, South Australia.

TNSDC (1993). In service Program for ALBE Personnel. Modules 1 to 4. TAFE National Staff Development Committee, Melbourne. Victoria.

Please cite as: Purcell, D., Smith, A. and Strempel, D. (1994). Using technology in adult literacy and basic education classrooms: The Australian National Staff Development presentation package. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 255-258. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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