For the Forum, Sasha V. Lotas, an adult literacy practitioner-scholar at Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School, looks back at the abrupt switch to distance learning with the onset of the pandemic and where the past year has brought us.
Lotas shares the challenges Academy of Hope faced, which most of the adult education field can relate to. Yet, looking past what initially seemed impossible, the year has led to some successes, too. For example, students in the program may not have ever had the opportunity to become so digitally literate. “Learners who had never turned on a computer prior to the pandemic are now effortlessly Zooming,” Lotas says in the article.
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Understanding that adult learners could not afford to put their education or career training on hold for the duration of the pandemic, our transition to distance learning was swift and expansive. We converted 44 in-person classes into both analog and digital remote classes in the spring of 2020, allowing us to continue serving both lower and higher-level ABE learners.
Our transition was also extremely challenging. Like many other adult literacy programs in the nation, one of our greatest challenges was learners’ lack of access to devices and broadband (Belzer et al., 2020). When the COVID-19 crisis began in March, nearly 75% of AoH learners reported they did not have the digital tools needed to fully participate in distance learning. Of those with devices, many relied on their cell phones to participate in virtual learning, and others shared devices with their children, who were simultaneously participating in their own virtual learning.
In addition, transferring classroom-based instruction to virtual instruction was complicated, as was navigating among various digital learning tools, causing staff and student frustration and some learner disengagement. We quickly understood that adult literacy virtual teaching and learning necessitates more than just teachers, learners, and technology; it also requires a robust behind-the-scenes infrastructure that connects and supports all three.
Fortunately, the summer break allowed us some time to better prepare for distance learning in the fall. With much fundraising and advocacy work, we were able to provide every learner with a Chromebook and internet access, and we were also able to offer technology bootcamps so that learners could receive intensive and individualized digital literacy support.