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With increasing recognition that vast numbers of Americans ?? disproportionately poor, recent immigrants, and minority groups ?? cannot function effectively as parents, citizens, or workers because of problems manipulating words and numbers, illiteracy among adults has taken its place on the national agenda. Adult illiteracy is probably linked with major social and economic problems such as crime, drug abuse, unemployment, international noncompetitiveness and the inability of American children to achieve their full human potential. With this recognition has come an expanded search for solutions to the adult illiteracy problem, including higher funding levels, altered administrative structures, and improved instructional approaches. 

The fact that "adult illiteracy" is a catch-all phrase, currently applied to a wide range of reading related skills and issues, exacerbates the problem of providing effective help to those who need it. The term "illiterate", originally applied to the ability to sign marriage licenses and respond to census surveys in 1840, has sequentially been understood to refer to more complex interactions with one's information environment. In the recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) study, literacy involved a person's ability to "recognize, acquire, organize, interpret and apply information which involves the use of various types of printed materials" (NAEP, 1986:I?12).

For the purposes of this proposal, literacy is understood in functional terms. That is, literacy is a measure of a person's ability to function effectively with words and numbers on the job, as a citizen, as a parent, etc. This contextualizes the application of reading, writing, interpreting, and speaking skills; they are not distinct faculties that can be learned and measured outside of particular situations. This is the notion of literacy that underlies most current estimates of the scope of the illiteracy problem and many of the programs that have been developed to address it (Solorzano et al., 1989). 

The NAEP study describes how media campaigns have been used both to bring the problem to the nation's attention and to recruit adult learners and volunteers to participate in instructional programs. The report also mentions the partnerships which exist between the public and private sector to pool limited resources, develop new programs and expand existing ones. Despite these efforts and the heightened awareness for the enormity of the problem, the report estimates that of the 20 to 60 million illiterate or marginally literate adults, currently only about 3 to 4 million adults receive some form of instructional services.

Fortunately, a broad, eclectic effort has been undertaken to meet the needs of individuals whose illiteracy limits their participation in our society. This effort includes a diverse range of activities from individual volunteer tutors to large-scale federally-sponsored research efforts. Instructional and services are being provided by a wide range of groups, including churches and civic organizations, employers, labor unions, community-based organizations, libraries, adult schools, and community colleges. There also are many different approaches to teaching literacy skills, including programs that focus on basic reading and writing skills, family-based literacy programs, workplace literacy programs, programs that focus on daily living skills, and programs that tackle literacy as an element of job training. The literacy service delivery system is both broad and heterogeneous. However, there is a more or less constant sense that more can and should be done.

As in many other areas of contemporary frustration, we tend to look to solutions through improving the underlying technology. Ever since NASA's triumphs of the 1960's, the cry has been again and again, "If we can send a man to the moon, why can't we..." Accordingly, there is considerable interest in almost all quarters in the use of better technology in literacy instruction. Many literacy programs are experimenting with computers, videodiscs and other technological applications. In fact, a national network of researchers and practitioners (sponsored by the Adult Literacy and Technology Project) was established to promote greater technology use in literacy instruction (Meenan, 1988). New instructional software and systems aimed at improving literacy among adults are being developed by many publishers (Apple, 1988),and the number of literacy programs that are experimenting with or actively using information technology in instruction is growing rapidly (Crandall, et al., 1984). Furthermore, computers also are finding a role in program administration (Solorzano, 1988). 

This report examines the use of such information technologies as computers and communication media (e.g., video, telephone, and computer networking), software, and educational programming in the context of current adult literacy programs. As a series of case studies, it makes no pretense to providing a complete or comprehensive picture to technology use in this context. We believe that it does, however, illustrate some major themes in technology applications to literacy, and leads to a number of useful conclusions and suggestions for such technology deployment.

Our Introduction to the Report outlines first some of the generic issues in technology use that must be taken into consideration. We then describe how we went about the study, and provide an overview of the sites we visited together with some of the concepts that we believe each illustrates. The six cases are followed by our summary comments and some recommendations that derive from the case data.


Generic Issues

The term "information technology" is used to describe many different types of mechanical and electronic systems. While these systems share many characteristics, they differ in important ways. It may be helpful to distinguish between minicomputer networks, micro-computers, interactive videodiscs, instructional television and videotapes, and satellite broadcast systems when examining the use of technology in literacy programs. Although the use of these technologies is relatively new, there is research that begins to identify the strengths and weaknesses of these systems in various contexts. 

There is certainly no gainsaying the vast contributions that technical advances have made toward improving quality of life and mediating a wide range of social and behavioral problems. But in literacy as in all other application areas, the problem is that technical solutions are very seldom self-implementing. Rather, they must be put into place and operated through administrative and managerial structures that may or may not be appropriate and effective. Technologies are no more useful than the socio-technical systems within which they are embedded will allow them to be (Tornatzky and Fleischer, 1990).

What makes a technology work is clearly dependent on particular features of the software and hardware; however, it is also dependent as well on its operative context. At a generic level, some features of tools have consistently emerged in research literature as predictors of successful outcomes in use (e.g., Bikson, Gutek and Mankin, 1987; Rogers, 1983):

bulletAdequacy: having enough tools available so that those who need them -- users as well as those who support or instruct them -- can have timely access
bulletFunctionality: how well suited the technology is for the set of learning processes that it is intended to enhance.
bulletInteraction support: the degree to which the interface makes these functions readily usable.
bulletModifiability, extendibility: whether the tools can be locally modified or adapted (e.g., to better fit with learners' needs or context constraints) and whether they can be upgraded or extended in response to new technology opportunities.

Similarly, a number of institutional characteristics are likely to influence the successful introduction of new technologies for education and training. The following parameters have been associated with promising results often enough to merit attention:

bulletResources: the availability of slack financial resources is probably a necessary but not sufficient condition for successful implementation of new technology (Tornatzky et al., 1983; Rogers, 1983).
bulletStructure: formal organizational structures are usually found to be less influential than informal roles (e.g., gatekeepers, change agents, technology champions) that emerge in the innovation process (Tornatzky and Fleischer, 1990; Berman and McLaughlin, 1978).
bulletGoal commitment: the importance of the outcomes to the setting and its participants has been consistently linked to successful innovation efforts (Bikson, Stasz and Mankin, 1985; Berman and McLaughlin, 1978
bulletChange orientation: the prevailing belief that changes can be accomplished effectively and that the results will benefit everyone in the setting (e.g., students and teachers as well as administrators) has been a significant predictor of successful implementation (Bikson, Gutek and Mankin, 1987); this finding is coherent with the popular view that organizational culture is at the heart of innovation (e.g., Peters and Waterman, 1982).

While it is clear that there are many exciting and possibly promising applications of information technologies to the improvement of literacy skills, it is also clear that most of our knowledge of these applications is anecdotal at best. There remains much to learn about how technology relates to the particular context of literacy programs.

Do Better Tools Really Help Teach Literacy?

While much experimentation with technology and adult literacy instruction is taking place, little systematic research has been conducted on the real progress made. What little has been done, however, suggests that many types of technology can be used effectively to increase the literacy of adults (e.g. Caldwell and Rizza, 1979). Some research suggests that adults may be willing to use computers or other forms of technology as an alternative learning method (e.g. Lane et al. 1984). The potential role for technology in literacy education provides a compelling reason to look at what technologies are working and why that may be. Although instructional learning systems have been found to be effective (Caldwell and Rizza, 1979), their initial expense is prohibitive for many small literacy programs (Turner, 1988).

There are several persuasive reasons to believe that the use of information technology might help to improve the effectiveness of adult literacy education and benefit adult learners. In the first place, information technology may be able to reduce the need for human instructors in some learning tasks, thus enabling existing programs to serve larger numbers of clients. Second, technology has the potential to reduce time and distance constraints, thus possibly increasing the accessibility of adult literacy instruction to clients who are currently unable to attend programs at particular times and places. Third, information technology is potentially very flexible and thus may be better able than conventional instructional approaches to provide instruction that is individualized, open-entry/open-exit, or accommodating of physical handicaps and learning disabilities. Fourth, the availability of computer-supported instruction may attract clients to literacy programs, thus reducing recruitment problems. Fifth, the newer, ease-to-use graphical computer interfaces are widely believed to have great motivating potential, thus possibly increasing client retention and performance. Sixth, adult learners who participate in computer-assisted literacy instruction may acquire marketable job skills as a byproduct of participation. Seventh, information technology can alleviate the administrative burdens of attendance recording and client tracking, thus reducing the amount of instructor time spent in non-nstructional activities. And lastly, information technology can support the sharing of information about problems and solutions among instructors and administrators, thus enhancing the national pool of adult literacy educational expertise.

On the other hand, there are equally plausible reasons for the expectation that information technology may have little effect -- or even negative effect -- on adult learners or the performance of adult literacy programs. First, some clients may be intimidated, rather than motivated, by computer- or telecommunications- mediated instruction. Second, currently available educational software and support materials may not meet the needs of some or all adult learners; despite technology's theoretical potential, commercially available software may lack flexibility and easy customizability by instructors or adult learners themselves. Third, administrators or instructors may not accept information technology as an instructional tool, or they may lack the knowledge and skills needed to deploy technology appropriately; inappropriate uses of such technology may actually decrease instructional effectiveness rather than increase it. Fourth, over-reliance on information technology in adult literacy programs may de-skill adult literacy instructors or reduce their motivation. Fifth, effective use of information technology in adult literacy programs may require scarce or expensive technological specialists for such tasks as configuring systems and networks, evaluating and selecting equipment, software, or courseware, diagnosing problems, developing courseware, etc. Sixth, funding problems and resource constraints in adult literacy programs may result in "portfolios" of diverse technologies that are inadequate, incomplete, incompatible, obsolete, difficult to use, expensive to maintain, non-integratable, non-upgradeable, or otherwise incapable of supporting educational objectives. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it may be that what prevents adult learners from making progress toward literacy is a complex of problems (e.g., illness, malnourishment, or lack of transportation or child care) that are simply not amenable to improved instructional approaches, whether or not these involve the use of information technology.

Because it has so much potential to benefit adult learners and the programs that instruct them, and because there are so many threats to the realization of these benefits, it is essential to examine the ways in which information technology is currently being used in adult literacy programs, the effects of information technology use on program effectiveness and learner outcomes, and what can be learned from this experience for national policy-making. 

What We Know Going In

A broad range of "information technologies" have been applied to adult literacy education. One of earliest to emerge was instructional film, and more recently videotape. Such media can be used by learners working independently with or without workbooks, or can be used by instructors in a traditional classroom setting as a basis for class discussion. With the advent of inexpensive but powerful microcomputers, much interactive computer software has been developed to support literacy education. Some of this has been bundled with hardware into what are known as "integrated learning systems" (ILSs). In other cases, software has been designed for use on general-purpose computers, in what is known as an "open-architecture" arrangement. 

Many microcomputers used in adult literacy education operate in a "standalone" mode; that is, there are no electronic connections among various similar devices, and their users cannot "communicate" with each other. However, over the last decade or so, there has been a major trend in the direction of "connectivity" ?? linking microcomputers via such technologies as dial-up telephone lines and local area networks. These approaches complement and extend other means of "distance learning" such as broadcast television and telephone?? distribution systems. Another recent trend is toward "multimedia" systems, such as interactive videodisk and computer based courseware that employs voice recording and playback or speech synthesis.

Clearly, the potential effects of information technology on adult learners and adult literacy programs must depend, at least to some degree, on the nature of the information technology used. ILSs are more self-contained than open-architecture systems, permitting them to be used in adult literacy programs where there is little expertise about information technology. However, they are also frequently less flexible than open-architecture systems, so that instructors and adult learners have more difficulty adapting them to unique local needs. 

Another important factor influencing the effects of information technology on adult learners and literacy programs is the way in which the technology is understood and used within any particular context. For instance, the same ILS could be deployed in one program as a discretionary "independent study" machine (perhaps while students are "between" classes) and in another program as an integral part of a particular curriculum of study (e.g., GED preparation). 

In many cases, what enables a particular way of using an information technology is what we may call the "technology infrastructure" -- the set of enabling technologies, skills, policies, and support arrangements that lie "behind the terminal." The open-architecture approach is likely to be more successful in a program where there are full-time specialists to review educational courseware packages and to prepare simplified and standardized instructions for instructors on when and how to use each package in the curriculum than in a program where the evaluation and selection of courseware is left entirely to the initiative of individual instructors. In short, systematic evaluation of the effects of information technology on adult learners and literacy programs requires detailed assessments of the technologies in use, the ways in which they are used, and the supportive and enabling infrastructures behind the technology used.

But a meaningful assessment of information technology effects cannot stop even at this larger definition of "information technology." Technology must also take into account the context in which information technology is used. Perhaps the most obvious aspect of context is the "users" of information technology. In adult literacy programs, four kinds of users can be identified. First, there are the adult learners themselves. Hardly a monolithic group, the clients of American adult literacy programs include: jail inmates who may be attending to kill time, to impress their parole boards, or to fulfill court orders, in addition to improving their minds; young welfare mothers, who may enroll to receive ADC or to be able to read to their children; elderly black men who wish to learn to read the Bible; Latino immigrants who wish to learn English in order to get a job; and assembly line workers who are embarrassed that they have to take job materials home for their family members to read to them. Each of these groups has unique learning needs and problems (such as lack of social support, lack of money for food, transportation, or child care, and various physical, mental or emotional handicaps) that may hinder their progress in literacy programs. These needs and problems must be taken into account in assessing information technology effects. 

Second, there are the instructors. Instructors also differ -- in their motivation, their knowledge of information technology, and their willingness to use it as an instructional tool. Third, there are instructional and technological support staff who evaluate, select, and install equipment, software, and courseware, who train instructors or clients in how to use technology, who develop or make arrangements for custom courseware development, and who assist in troubleshooting, maintenance, and repair work. Finally, administrators are also information technology users in their roles as champions (or as negative opinion-leaders), as recipients of technology-generated management reports, and as makers of technology-related policy decisions. Each group of users has a unique perspective on information technology effects and effectiveness, all of which must be taken into account in a comprehensive assessment.

In addition to the users, another important aspect of the context of technology use involves the larger geographic, social, and political environment in which the adult literacy program operates. American literacy programs exhibit amazing diversity in funding arrangements and administrative auspices. Among the providers of adult literacy education are churches and civic organizations, employers, correctional institutions, labor unions, community-based organizations, libraries, adult schools, and community colleges. 

Not surprisingly, there also are many different approaches to teaching literacy skills, including programs that focus on basic reading and writing skills, family? based literacy programs, workplace literacy programs, programs that focus on daily living skills, and programs that tackle literacy as an element of job training. Some programs are small, single-site centers; others run large networks of coordinated service providers. Some operate in remote rural areas where no alternative providers exist; others operate in large metropolitan areas where there may be some degree of choice. Each of these factors can make a difference in how a program can use or does use information technology and with what results.

In addition to information technology and the context in which it is used, a third major factor that can influence the success of information technology in such programs is the implementation process. Here we include the series of decisions made and actions taken to acquire information technology, to communicate about technology to funders, instructors and clients, to integrate into the curriculum, and to develop a supporting infrastructure. Key aspects of the implementation process in adult literacy programs might include: writing grant proposals to funding agencies or information technology vendors; "networking" with instructional technology specialists in other programs; and obtaining media exposure for the programs' use of technology.

In general, then, we understand the process of choosing and operating information technology in the context of literacy improvement programs to be a complex and never-wholly-resolved sequence of choices, consequences, and evaluation, as dependent on local conditions as on the state of the technological art. It is within this context that we set out to gather some illustrations of what this process actually means in practice, to those who provide services, those who receive them, and those who oversee and manage the effort.


The Underlying Study Model

We believed at the outset that there was little point in compiling just another set of stories about interesting programs. What was needed, rather, was an analysis of such programs with an eye to their generalizability. This required, in turn, an analytical framework that emphasized the social and context aspects of programs as strongly as it did the purely curricular and technical.

A sequential replication case study design is most appropriate to arrive at a systematic understanding of how technology can be effectively used in addressing problems of adult literacy. The case study is the most appropriate method for defining and interpreting an ongoing process in a real world context, especially when the variables of interest far outnumber the possible data points (Yin, 1981; Hersen and Barlow, 1976; Campbell, 1975). The cases should be regarded as "replications" because similar criteria will be used to select the sites, and similar information gathering procedures will be employed within them. Within these constraints, however, sites varied widely in type of technology, characteristics of users, staff and settings, and instructional strategies.

Our study draws its methodological framework from a growing body of empirical work on technological innovation in a variety of substantive domains and user settings (e.g., Tornatzky and Fleischer, 1990; Stasz, Bikson, Eveland and Mittman, 1990; Bikson, Gutek and Mankin, 1987; Bikson and Eveland, 1986; Bikson, Stasz and Mankin, 1985; Tornatzky et al., 1983; Berman, 1980; Rice and Rogers, 1980; Berman and McLaughlin, 1978; Markus, 1984; Markus and Connolly, 1990) NB: References avalable on request; please contact JD for specifics). This literature provides a robust foundation for identifying and documenting the factors most likely to account for the effective application of information technologies in a wide variety of public and private settings. 

The consensus from this body of work is that understanding the consequences of technological innovation requires attention to three distinct but interrelated elements that we alluded to earlier:

bulletfeatures of the technologies themselves;
bulletcharacteristics of the context into which they are introduced; 
bulletfactors of the implementation process, i.e., the series of decisions made and actions taken to integrate new technologies into extant settings.

It was not the purpose of this study to evaluate the programs under study. We took it as a given that each of the programs selected for analysis was making an effective contribution to adult literacy, in differing and illuminating ways. The aim was to identify distinctive features of the programs that uniquely demonstrate how different technological opportunities can integrate with and reinforce the general aims of increasing functional literacy. This entailed both assessing what the program's specific features of interest are, and understanding how they developed and are tied into a specific context. Only when that context is in turn understood can it be determined what about the project bears useful lessons for other settings and problem areas.

Neither was it our purpose to assess "best practice" in the field of adult literacy as such. The cases we selected for study are not necessarily held up as standards to be emulated across the board. Rather, each case was intended to have one or more elements that was uniquely interesting and enlightening in terms of understanding the general interactions of technology with literacy and learning. 


The first task was site selection. Identification of potential sites was an iterative "snowball" procedure, in which we contacted a large number of literacy experts, software developers, and literature in the field to get leads to programs that seemed to be doing interesting things. We had defined certain basic criteria that all sites had to meet:

bullethave a reputation among professionals in the field of adult literacy for exemplary performance, at least in terms of technology applications;
bulletbe significant in scope, with a minimum of 3-5 staff and a commensurate number of students/clients;
bullethave been in operation for at least two years;
bulletbe accessible; that is, have a significant portion of staff and students/clients available to meet with the research team on a timely basis.

By contrast, the sites were to be selected to exhibit as much diversity as possible in terms of:

bulletgeographical location, both regional and urban/rural: it was our intent to select one project from each of four main regions (northeast, north central, southeast, and south central); at least one project was to focus primarily on rural or remote populations, and another was to have rural populations as a significant part of its focus. 
bulletadministrative/management context: we intended to select one essentially free-standing program, one school-based program, one corporate-based program, one corrections-based program, and two others that while they may overlap one of these categories, do not wholly duplicate the context. At least one program was to be a largely or entirely volunteer operation. 
bullettypes of technologies: At a minimum, we intended to include three sites using microcomputer systems, including at least one employing network-based (preferably distributed) technical arrangements, one site emphasizing interactive video, and one emphasizing telecommunications; the sixth site will employ a mix of technologies. 
bullettypes of students/clients: we intended to include programs focusing on a variety of different population groups, including students with serious literacy problems, those with less serious problems of functional literacy, the handicapped, non-native English speakers, recent high school dropouts. low-skilled employees, older adults, the seriously socioeconomically disadvantaged, etc. Some programs were to target a relatively specific group; others were to address a wider range of clients. 

While data gathering for site selection was under way, the initial interview protocols were being developed. We employed four largely structured interview guides, one each for program administrators, program operatives (teachers, etc.), technical experts (if any), and program clients. The client guide was designed for use with groups of respondents. Somewhat more open-ended versions of the guides were prepared for use with "context personnel" -- that is, those individuals not directly part of the program who were in a position to shed significant light on its development and operations (such as government officials, school administrators, corporate managers, etc.) We needed to be able to contact both those formally involved with the program and those playing significant informal roles in its operation. 

When contact was originally made with prospective sites, the purposes of the study were explained and the general sorts of data being sought set forth.. Appointments were scheduled by the research teams before going to the field. In addition, we collected as much initial public information, printed materials, program guides, and other documentation on the sites as they can provide in advance, so that the team would be generally familiar with the site before arriving there.

Site teams were usually composed of two interviewers, one senior and one junior. The procedures to be followed at each site were essentially the same. Interviewing usually began with program administrators; two interviewers conducted this interview. Following this, the interviewers usually separated to conduct interviews with program operatives and technical personnel. Interviews with program participants/clients were usually in the form of "focus groups", with 4-8 clients interacting with both interviewers, at least one group and often more per site. 

Confidentiality of interview information is difficult to maintain in a small number of specific case studies such as this. In general, we asked our respondents to speak "on the record" and for attribution. Often, however, respondents preferred to speak to the interviewers in confidence, and we felt that they should be given that opportunity. As a result, a definably large portion of the data we report here was obtained under conditions that do not allow active attribution. We have therefore chosen in this report to refrain from mentioning names of individuals interviewed. While this to some degree reduces the "real world" flavor of the cases, it is consistent with our promises to our interviewees. 

Preparation of the individual case studies followed each site visits. Case writeups follow a generally similar format, with the narrative introduced by a table giving program data in summary form. Draft cases were prepared by one of the original team, and reviewed and edited by the others who had participated. In addition, comments were sought from each site through the contact person, and this site feedback was incorporated into the drafts. This final report is thus the product of a considerable iterative process. Signs of the many hands that went into it can be detected. This can be both good and bad. In this case, we hope that it can be interpreted as reflecting diverse inputs and the enthusiastic involvement of a large and vocal team of research participants and subjects.

Unfortunately, we live in a rich world of acronyms. The alternative to using them seems to be even worse -- that is, endless repetitions of long phrases or even more complicated circumlocutions. We believe acronyms to be the lesser evil. Therefore, we have often relied on them. To help, each case also includes a Glossary of those acronyms particular to that case. In addition, certain common ones are used in almost all the cases. These are:

bulletABE: Adult Basic Education
bulletGED: General Equivalency Diploma (the test)
bulletESL: English as a Second Language
bulletILS: Integrated Learning System
bulletJTPA: Job Training and Partnership Act (a Federal program)

To those readers who still find the proliferation of capital letters distasteful, we extend our apologies.


Within six sites, it is obviously impossible to represent the universe of adult literacy programs, or even all the relevant dimensions of that universe. However, we believe that we selected six sites that each have something unique to say to OTA, the Congress, and the literacy community. This section provides an overview of the sites we selected, and outlines what we believe each represents -- and does not represent -- in terms of generalizability.

Los Angeles County Jails

The Hacienda-La Puente Unified School District operates a correctional education program for the Los Angeles County Jail system. Operating over twelve diverse facilities, the program has made major use of video as well as computer technology. It is widely regarded as one of the most outstanding programs in correctional education, and has been very active in assisting other adult literacy programs both in and outside of the corrections area.

Correctional institutions are particularly key venues in the field of adult literacy improvement. Unfortunately, prisons appear to be a major growth industry in our country in recent years, and equally unfortunately, a very sizable proportion of those committed to the care and concern of these institutions are limited in literacy skills. The degree to which illiteracy itself contributes to encounters with the criminal justice system is open to debate; however, there is no doubt that criminality and illiteracy are frequently part of a destructive syndrome affecting a disturbingly large number of individuals. it should also be clear that unless the connection can be broken, the chances of rehabilitation are virtually nil. Thus, prisons are places where literacy programs are not merely highly practicable, but absolutely necessary. 

The LA County Jails program is included in our sample as an example of how technology can work to great effect even within an environment of severe constraints on what technology can be used and how it can be used. It shows how a caring and committed staff can mobilize resources from a variety of sources and deploy them in the context of a larger corrections education program under conditions bordering on the impossible. It is clear that education is not the primary, or even a significant, mission of the jail system; that mission is custody and facilitation of inmate processing through the court system. But education can be positioned such that its value to the larger system is evident; in so doing, teachers can serve educational purposes without compromising their key values.

While jails are a big part of the criminal justice system, they are only partly representative of the rest of the corrections picture. Prisons -- institutions for longer-term incarceration -- are probably more important venues for literacy training overall, since they offer the possibility of more continuing access to clients and the opportunity to develop ongoing relationships between clients and teachers. In addition, literacy training in prison settings can be usefully combined with other kinds of training (for example, vocational education) in a synergistic pattern of enhancement of skills for life outside the walls. Jails, by contrast, offer a kind of "revolving door" for clients, and any attention given to education must be sandwiched in between many other priorities. So what works in a prison setting will not, in all probability, have the same effect in a jail. However, by contrast, one might argue that if one can construct programs that work in jails, it is highly likely that many if not all features of such programs might profitably be employed in prison programs.

For purposes of this report, the most interesting and potentially generalizable features of the LA jail program are the use of inexpensively produced limited-purpose videos, and the evidence that Macintosh technology can be effectively employed even under conditions of high security requirements. it also illustrates how the vision of one person is a necessary -- if not sufficient -- condition for development and implementation of a major technology thrust within an existing program structure.

Baltimore Reads, Inc.

The city of Baltimore is home to a number of community-based literacy programs, all operating within the general umbrella provided by Baltimore Reads, Inc. The city government has made a major commitment to literacy improvement, and has successfully mobilized a wide variety of community resources, public and private, toward that end. The organization operates two centers of its own, and provides a range of services and support to many more groups and programs.

The Baltimore case is particularly interesting as an illustration of a broadly based community thrust, rooted at least in part in the political agenda of the city. As the case shows, this has significant advantages, as well as some potential hazards. It also shows the need for a committed central coordinating point for technology applications -- and the difficulties involved in the creative exercise of such a role.

Baltimore is the quintessential "inner city", with all that entails in terms of urban problems, resource shortages, and social pressures. Fortunately, it is also a city that has been capable of generating several political generations of wise and effective leadership and direction, and a city with a strong community tradition that makes it possible to mobilize the efforts of many disparate groups toward common civic ends. The creation and operation of Baltimore Reads, Inc., is in keeping with numerous other combination public/private initiatives over the years, from a successful urban renewal program culminating in the magnificent Inner Harbor development to "urban homesteading" initiatives that have revived large neighborhoods of classic nineteenth-century homes. The dedication of native sons like Cal Ripken Jr. to the welfare of their city is a common phenomenon. In short, Baltimore has had significant advantages in its efforts to pull together disparate groups toward common ends, based on a civic tradition that might be hard to replicate in cities with a traditionally more adversarial political-business climate.

On the other hand, the Baltimore case does show clearly how public/private partnership can leverage resources from both sides toward common purposes. Further, it shows how a central vision of technology use -- one that characterized the Baltimore program from its inception -- can both pilot technology applications and stimulate the extension of these applications into community programs that would otherwise stick to traditional methods. Finally, it illustrates that even modest investments in information tools themselves can have significant payoffs if applied broadly and creatively. We have included Baltimore in our sample to show how a whole community can be mobilized around the issue of literacy, and how that overall thrust can be focused into specific programs that in turn have payoffs for that larger community.

Watts Adult Education

The Watts Adult Learning Center is a component of the Los Angeles Unified School District, operating in the south central part of the city in a neighborhood that has seen more than its share of civic and community troubles. It is an example of how a school-based program can create and manage an innovative set of technology applications even within a giant bureaucracy.

Like Baltimore, the Watts case describes a program focused in an inner-city neighborhood. By contrast with the broad-gauge program set in Baltimore, the Watts adult education center's efforts are modest, and their use of technology less spectacular. On the other hand, it is an excellent illustration of how clever and dedicated professional teachers can make even a relatively unpromising kind of technology work effectively through effort, enthusiasm, and dedication to their clients. The Watts case is included in this set at least in part to show that it is possible to overcome bureaucracy, resource shortages, and technical limits when people care enough.

One point highlighted in this case (although also appearing in others) is the difficulty of expecting some form of "integrated learning system" to meet a broad range of needs, particularly when information technology has to be implemented in the context of a broader educational program. Watts has managed to make reasonably effective use of its system, but it has taken a lot of work and energy that could have been devoted to other ends. The case also has some cautionary tales relating to the necessity for local expertise in information systems; many of the problems that have complicated Watts' technical systems could have been alleviated if they had been more successful in cultivating a more effective local technology support team. This is not a criticism of the individuals involved in Watts, but more a commentary on the inherent difficulties with trying to operate a technology-focused program within a bureaucracy as large as that of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The Watts case also shows that even fairly traditional school-based adult education programs can use computer-based tools with a considerable degree of effectiveness, but that this can only be achieved through a fair degree of basic redesign of the program; it is not simply a matter of automating an existing traditional curriculum. Finally, it shows that technology's appeal to people across the socio-economic and educational spectrum is deep and abiding, and that even those who might initially have been considered poor candidates for hands-on computer use can take to information tools quickly and effectively. 

McAllen Learning Center

The McAllen Learning Center is a community-organization-based program operating in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It serves an almost entirely Latino community, and manages to integrate its literacy services with a range of other initiatives in a synergistic and energetic fashion.

Like Watts, the McAllen experience illustrates the appeal of technology to a population who might initially be thought resistant to it. it also provides a vision of how technology can be used to support a broad program aimed not merely at literacy alone but at a full spectrum of social and economic problems that need to be addressed at the same time if real impact is to be made on the quality of people's lives. A concept of entrepreneurial development, combined with a firm set of roots in a local community, can serve as a foundation for a major social intervention effective across the board.

McAllen is also interesting from a technological viewpoint as a case of effective use of an integrated learning system. It is hard to determine the relative utility of the technology apart from the setting; however, it does appear that its system is one of the better and more flexible tools available to those who prefer the integrated environment. It certainly meets McAllen's needs for a technological support package that does not require large amounts of local support -- support that the community simply cannot provide. McAllen has succeeded in finding technology appropriate to its needs, technology it can live with. it may not be the most elaborate or sophisticated, but it is well matched to the requirements of the situation.

McAllen is included in our sample to highlight that the use of technology for literacy is not the exclusive property of urban areas, or of those inclined to high-tech solutions. McAllen is a grassroots effort to affect a broad scope of the lives of its people, and shows how technology can be an effective servant in pursuit of goals that go well beyond the merely technical.

Cuyahoga County

Cleveland/Cuyahoga County in northern Ohio has implemented a number of literacy programs that all derive support from the Community College District. Like Baltimore, this case represents a relatively broad-based community effort implemented through a variety of venues and approaches. It is both broader and narrower than Baltimore -- broader in the range of activities folded into its umbrella, narrower in the scope of its coordination and central direction. It is more a "confederation" of programs than a single program as such. Its value to the study is to illustrate how a coordinating entity with little direct power -- in this case, the Community College -- can have wide-ranging and significant effects.

The case also shows the value of allowing different programs within such a confederation to experiment with different kinds of technologies as long as there is enough in common across sites that central support is feasible. Moreover, it also provides evidence of the value of local expertise; in most components of the Cleveland system, gurus were alive and well. It is this expertise that allows such a highly decentralized effort to succeed. The Cleveland initiatives obviously operate within an atmosphere of mutual interest and supportiveness that gives synergy to what might otherwise be a series of disparate and even competing efforts. 

UAW/Ford Workplace Sites

The United Auto Workers has teamed with the Ford Motor Co. to create a large number of literacy improvement projects operating at the level of the individual auto plant. Tailored to the needs of particular workplaces, these projects (of which we visited two) provide a particularly interesting version of what is undoubtedly one of the hottest developments in adult literacy today -- that is, workplace-based educational intervention within the context of jobs themselves. The UAW/Ford program is not a job skills training program; rather, it is aimed at the development of skills that can serve workers off the job as well as on. It is truly a collaborative effort between the company and the union that serves goals not directly related to the more specific interests of either party alone.

It also illustrates some of the difficulties of implementing such joint programs, and the need for thoughtful and careful planning and negotiation to make things happen. Particularly in a fast-changing and volatile environment such as that faced by the U.S. auto industry today, external circumstances can be expected to have rather immediate effects on how programs are structured and managed. In such an environment, educational goals cannot be clearly separated out for attention, but must be considered in context. The program has done an excellent job of defining a broad mandate, but within that mandate there is continuing need to remain focused.

In terms of technology, the decision has been made to allow a wide range of different approaches, and this seems to work given the different kinds of program environments folded into the overall effort. Regardless of the technology selected in specific instances, they seem to be able to make effective use of it. As in other effective sites, computers and video are tools, not ends unto themselves. 


Across the six cases, we believe that we have an interesting balance of urban and rural, high-tech and low-tech, computer-based and video-based, school-based vs. community-based vs. government-based. Indeed, there is so much variation among these cases that it may be difficult at first to see what common themes emerge from the case study exercise. As we return at the end of this report to this search for such common themes, it will be well to remember that our purpose has been to seek out the diverse and the interesting, not to find the "typical", which in fact does not exist. Diversity is the nature of the beast. None of these cases is truly generalizable to anything beyond itself; each is idiosyncratic. 

Obviously, there are common issues attended to across sites. Readers will quickly notice that virtually all the sites feature many programs in common: adult basic education, GED preparation, usually high school equivalency and English as a Second Language. The other interesting common feature is that very few of them have a clearly articulated "instructional philosophy" or guiding set of coherent underlying assumptions. It is simply not possible to place these cases into ideological boxes. All the program administrators we interviewed are pragmatists, ever in search of what works, whether or not it is necessarily consistent with what they already have. This makes for great vitality and considerable accomplishment, but does not make for easy mapping of these cases into the conceptual space of adult literacy as a discipline. We ask that our readers take these cases for what they are worth -- descriptions of people doing the best they can in turbulent and difficult environments -- and map into their own conceptual space as best they can.

Collectively these cases serve to illustrate that technology applications in adult literacy are alive and well, and that for the most part there is great good sense employed in technology decision making. That's the good news. The bad news is that technology effects are inevitably mediated by organizational and social contexts. We believe that the most basic lesson to be drawn from our study is that tools, uses, and situations constitute an intertwined braid; none can be fully understood apart from the other. In the detailed cases that follow, we hope that this interplay comes through loudly and clearly.