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Online Professional Development for Adult ESL Educators
William B. Hawk
According to recent statistics, 70% of adult education programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) offer instruction to English language learners, and in 1998, nearly 2 million adults studied English in these programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). The need for teachers who can provide instruction to adult learners of English as a second language (ESL) is apparent. An increasing challenge in satisfying this need for teachers is providing effective and efficient pre- and in-service training and professional development opportunities to adequately prepare teaching staff.
What are the benefits of online professional development?Current research studies, though limited, suggest that online educational and enrichment activities are effective for well motivated learners, especially those who understand the format and nature of the online learning experience (Brown, 1998; Schrum, 2000; Warschauer, 1995). The studies also find that two benefits of online learning are the flexibility of real-time and any-time options and the convenience of communication options across wide geographic distances. Online opportunities can have an impact on a larger and more diverse audience than most professional development activities. Additionally, a by-product of online professional development may be learning about the technology and its applications while pursuing the subject matter of interest.
Because of the large number and variety of online professional development learning opportunities available, practitioners are likely to find a match for their specific needs, abilities, subject interests, and technical requirements. While sorting through so many options can be daunting, more sophisticated search engines and the development of the concept of Web portals that collect content around certain topics, are making information more quickly and easily accessible to Web users.
The National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) funds a number of portals, called Special Collections, on topics of interest in the field of adult and family literacy, including adult ESL. (See http://www.literacynet.org/esl or the complete list of LINCS Special Collections at http://www.nifl.gov/lincs/collections/collections.html). These constantly changing sites find and disseminate new information on specific topics, providing links to instructional resources, professional development opportunities, news and events, and updates on current research.
What are the challenges of online professional development?For many, the benefits of online professional development outweigh the disadvantages. However, there are challenges that should be considered.
What types of professional development exist online?Broadly speaking, there are two types of online professional development: Internet-based training and Internet resources. Internet-based training offers more structure in both the content and the delivery of the training, including the guidance of a facilitator or team of facilitators. Internet resources have a much broader definition and tend to be self-accessed and self-guided. Resources can include everything from online journal articles to real-time chats on specific topics to models for materials and curriculum development.
What Internet-based training options are available and what do they offer?Online course work offered by universities is perhaps the most commonly recognized Internet-based training option. These offerings range from individual for-credit courses on a specific topic to sequences of courses that lead to certificates, master's, or doctoral degrees. Fees for the different courses vary, but many are comparable to the fees for on-campus courses. Courses may include a range of activities similar to those of off-line instruction, such as individual reading and writing assignments, online discussions and electronic bulletin board postings, and group projects.
Listed here are some universities that offer certificate and degree programs:
What Internet resources for professional development are available and what do they offer?The range of Internet resources for professional development is extensive. These materials and resources can be selected and used by practitioners to meet their immediate needs. They are not part of a larger structure or delivery plan, and they can be accessed and combined by the individual practitioner. Because of the number of online resources available, users need to take the time to search systematically or use appropriate Web portals to guide them. Examples of online professional development resources are listed below.
What can be expected of online professional development in the future?Challenges remain in the field of online professional development. Adult ESL instructors need more professional development on adult learning and language acquisition, ESL content, and multicultural instruction. Also, questions about the availability and quality of evaluation of online professional development have yet to be adequately addressed, as have concerns about the extent to which adult ESL practitioners are involved in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the various distance learning models.
However, advances in telecommunications technologies are rapidly expanding and enhancing the delivery of online professional development. It is difficult to determine which technologies will emerge as the most accessible, either in the value they will add to the delivery of online training or in the speed at which the supporting hardware and software can be acquired by users. While few quality uses of video and audio streaming for professional development exist at present, many leaders in the field of adult education are investigating its potential advantage to online training (Davis, 1999; Silc, 1998). The integration of online training with other delivery mechanisms like teleconferencing, computer software packages, or traditional workshops is also an area of continued exploration (M.C. Florez, August 2000, personal communication). The push to use information and communication technologies to enhance all forms of education will most likely result in greater strides in online professional development in the future.
ReferencesBrown, B.L. (1998). Distance education and Web-based training. (Information Series No. 379) Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education. (ED No. 430 120)
Burt, M. & Keenan, F. (1998). Trends in staff development for adult ESL instructors. ERIC Q & A. Washington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education. (ED No. 423 711)
Davis, R.S. (1999, June/July). Video in the corridors of cyberspace. TESOL Matters, 9(3), 14-15. http://esl-lab.com/tutorials/lesson4.htm
Schrum, L. (2000). Online professional development: Suggestions for success. http://www.att.com/learningnetwork/virtualacademy/success1.html
Serim, F. (1996, May). Building virtual communities for professional development. http://www.ed.gov/Technology/Futures/serim.html
Silc, K.F. (1998). Using the World Wide Web with adult ESL learners. ERIC Digest. Washington DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education. tm (ED No. 427 555)
Tibbetts, J., Kutner, M., Hemphill, D., & Jones, E. (1991). The delivery and content of training for adult education teachers and volunteer instructors. Washington, DC: Pelavin Associates. (ED No. 344 055)
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education. (2000). Adult education data and statistics. Washington, DC: Author. http://www.ed.gov/offices/OVAE/datahome.html
Warschauer, M. (1995). E-mail for English teaching. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Other ResourcesBurt, M. (1999). Using videos with adult English language learners. ERIC Q&A. Washington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education. (ED No. 434 539)
Cowles, S. (1997). Teaching and learning with Internet-based resources. Literacy Leader Fellowship Program Reports, 3(2). Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. (ED No. 425 340)
Gaer, S. (1998). Using software in the adult ESL classroom. ERIC Q&A. Washington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education. (ED No. 418 607)
Hacker, E., & Capehart, M.A. (1999). Surfing for substance: A professional development guide to integrating the World Wide Web into adult literacy. New York: Literacy Assistance Center.
Rosen, D. (1996). How easy is it for adult educators to use the information superhighway? Boston: Adult Literacy Resource Institute. http://www.alri.org/pubs/cruising.html
This document was produced at the Center for Applied Linguistics (4646 40th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20016 202-362-0700) with funding from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0008. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of ED. This document is in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.