BUILDING PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE: SARN LOOKS BACK ON 2014-2015…. “WHAT DID WE DO & WHAT DID WE LEARN?”
“Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.” — Kurt Lewin (1946)
OUR BUSIEST YEAR EVER…
June is year-end for our SARN project and, looking back, this was easily our busiest year ever–the busiest since 2003 when SARN began. We typically conduct two invited workshops per year at postsecondary institutions but this year we not only conducted our two workshops but added a webinar (our first ever). Another major change, the selected theme this year was a focus on “transitioning adult basic education students into the workforce.” The webinar focused on this topic, as did the follow-up workshop two weeks later. This topic was included along with learner retention in the workshop we conducted later for North West College in North Battleford. In addition to presentations at both the SABEA conference and the TEAL SK conference, we made strides in building our Face Book and Twitter communities.
But perhaps you read a few of our monthly blog installments that concentrated on how other provinces delivery literacy and basic education this academic year. We asked, “How does BC, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario deliver adult literacy and basic education programs?” And, “What is the potential of distance education here in Saskatchewan to help meet the adult literacy and basic education need here?”
So, with that quick overview, here’s a closer look at what SARN did last year. But, before I move on dear readers, thank you for your involvement and support this past year. Our 2014-2015 website statistics show that we had our highest readership ever. Again, thank you.
- Webinar: In 2014-2015, our Saskatchewan Action Research Network conducted its first ever province-wide Webinar. It was conducted with an expert on this topic speaking from Ottawa and was held over a noon-hour on February 25. As mentioned, the topic selected by our Advisory Board was: “Transitioning Basic Education Students into the Workplace.” We had 51 registered (our largest group ever) and we had extremely positive feedback. The plan now is to build on this success next year with a “Part Two” Webinar on this same important topic, hopefully with the same presenter (stay tuned).
- Follow-Up Transition Workshop: Two weeks after the webinar, we conducted a follow-up workshop with an action research “hands-on” training workshop. Held in Saskatoon, we had 31 registered from across the province. Interestingly, we had a large number of counselors and workplace coordinators in attendance. They came from colleges, Dumont Technical Institute, the Sask. Polytechnic and other allied providers. This training workshop began with an overview of SARN, moved to a review of what we heard and saw in the webinar presentation, then we switched to small groups after learning how to use and apply action research. Participants left with exciting, practical plans on how to help their students transition from classrooms to employment—or to employment following further education. Each plan was developed to meet the unique needs of each discussion groups’ own work settings.
- North West College: We also conducted an invited workshop in North Battleford for the BE staff of North West College. Again, it began with an overview of SARN, moved to a review of SARN research posted on our website (SARN.CA) about proven ways to reduce learner dropout and improve student attendance. And, since the college had requested a review of what was presented in the webinar, we covered that as well. So, at the end of that productive day, 21 participants left with step-by-step research plans to implement back at their worksites. AND, you can see a very promising project already posted on our website (WWW.SARN.,CA) resulting from this workshop. This group explored the intervention strategy of introducing healthy food and exercise into the classroom schedule to see if that would increase learning performance, make the curriculum more relevant with these activites and see if this strategy had the potential to improve student attendance and retention. Check out that latest report on the SARN website.
SARN team members also presented at the annual SABEA conference and organized and sponsored the SABEA reception. Team members also presented at the annual TEAL SK conference to introduce SARN to more ESL/EAL practitioners, and we hosted two Advisory Board meetings. Whew!
But perhaps our widest reach came with our monthly blog series… The statistics show we had readers from across Saskatchewan, New York, San Francisco, Europe, and even Buenos Aires, South America. So let’s take a look at some of the things we learned in our blog series….
BLOG SYNOPSIS: “HOW IS ABE DELIVERED IN OTHER PROVINCES?”
From January through May, I posted monthly blogs on each of: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario’s BE delivery systems. We also had a look at distance education developments in our own province. I gave some observations on the practices and policies that might benefit our own province along the way in hopes this might engender some discussion as we move forward with adult education into 2015-2016.
A thumbnail sketch of our west-to-east journey:
I. For over 20 years the B.C. government has supported a providers’ lead project to create and maintain: Adult Basic Education: A Guide to Upgrading in British Columbia’s Public Post-Secondary Institutions. This guide is continually updated to try to keep the k-12 and post-secondary systems informed. It also helps inform multiple providers, referring agencies and employers by updating them on what, where, and how literacy and basic education programs are made available in the province. A side benefit, by maintaining this guide through regular meetings and internet discussions, contributing practitioners have the opportunity to discuss specific new materials and best practices in each others’ teaching areas and subject disciplines. Couldn’t we use something like this in Saskatchewan?
Some further snapshots of B.C.’s system:
- The “Dogwood Diploma” Alternative: As will also be seen in Manitoba and Ontario, B.C.’s adult learners have a choice of graduating with either a grade 12 High School Diploma or an Adult Graduate Diploma (AGD)—also know as the “Dogwood Diploma.” Both diplomas are offered by most postsecondary institutions. More information is available at the website of the B.C Ministry of Advanced Education.
- School Boards & Embedded Courses: Both B.C. and Ontario have long histories of school boards offering ABE. This route to high school completion is free for full-time adult learners over 18 in B.C. And, in many institutions, such as the Vancouver Community College, younger adult learners and more mature adult learners are often “streamed” to different classrooms routes for pedagogical reasons. This is further discussed in that individual B.C. blog article and in more depth in the Ontario blog article, but, both provinces’ school boards enroll at least as many adults learners as their provinces’ post-secondary systems. The school board’s BE courses for adults are typically offered in facilities such as adult campuses.
Here in Sask., to the best of my knowledge, only the Saskatoon School Board has adult campuses. One is at Saskatoon’s Royal West campus and the other is located at Nutana Collegiate. The Regina School Board also has an Adult Campus in downtown Regina. Perhaps the wider need could be better addressed with more Ministry of Education adult programs? Since the school boards’ BE courses are free for full-time adult students up to age 21 here in Sask, this existing structure would permit good pedagogical “streaming” into appropriate cohorts for younger adult learners, leaving more of the more mature learners in our postsecondary programs and overall helping take some of the backlog pressure off those BE programs with waiting lists.
Embedded BE Courses: Some B.C. colleges and post-secondary institutes are teaching basic education courses simultaneously with trades courses. This means basic ed’ courses are effectively embedded in the trade classes’ schedule so adult basic students may, for instance, have their BE courses in the morning and their trades classes in the afternoon. Both may well be in the same room or shop space but with different instructors. The objective is to make BE streamlined to meet the prerequisite needs of trades courses.
II. Alberta’s “Entrepreneurial System”
- Alberta raises a question: “What is the Purpose of Adult Basic Education anyway?” Looking at Alberta, one has to ask about the purpose of a province’s basic education delivery system.
In Saskatchewan, graduates must complete the public school’s grade 12 curricula to graduate. While this has obvious academic and future educational benefits, Alberta sees basic education very differently. As my Alberta interviewee said, basic education is meant to help adults “upgrade and meet pre-technical needs.” In Alberta, each individual postsecondary institution has its own BE curriculum and each assumes it will prepare learners to enter their, or another’s, trades programs. The concept is not so different from the way many universities today have their own preparatory courses at the front end of their academic program.
Here is what NAIT’s Website states: “Students who complete the Academic Upgrading program do not receive a certificate or diploma, and do not receive course credits toward an Alberta Learning High School diploma. However, the courses are accepted as entrance requirements at NAIT and at all other Alberta post-secondary institutions (December 12).”
In Western and Central Canada, the continuum of high school completion diplomas seems to range from Saskatchewan’s mandatory grade 12 for BE completions, to Alberta’s requirement whereby each post-secondary institution has its own BE program. Between these two poles are B.C., Ontario and Manitoba which individually offer parallel or dual systems of high school grade 12 and Basic Education diplomas. Should the purpose and completion diploma discussion be re-visited in Saskatchewan?
The Role of Alberta’s Non-Profit and Community-Based BE Providers: Who should offer the lower levels of basic education? Alberta and Ontario both work especially hard at having non-profit and community-based providers deliver most of the lower levels of basic literacy—at least this seems to be the case in their larger cities. The objective, according to my Alberta informant, is to have levels 1-4 located in community-based centres and locations where learners live and feel comfortable. Bow Valley College in Calgary, as I was told, works with libraries, Aboriginal centres, civic facilities, the United Way and any number of local organizations to have their basic literacy programs located in free or low-rent facilities where many learners live. As will be seen, the same is true in Manitoba and Ontario.
Should more of our province’s level 1-4 program be in the community based programs of the province?
IV. Saskatchewan Distance Education
- Distance Education: The Saskatchewan installment focused on what our province has been doing and learning about BE delivery with distance technologies. In my interview with Kami DePape at Parkland College—our province’s main distance provider for over 10 years—Kami explained: “Currently, we offer 20 and 30-level asynchronous programming through our distance school, which was officially launched provincially in 2009. We also have grade 12 face-to-face staff teaching our campus-based levels 2, 3 and 4 Adult Basic Education programs. These are in addition to the 3 instructors in our distance program.”
According to Kami, “Parkland has had an average of 275 learners yearly since 2009 with many taking multiple 20 or 30-level subjects.” As she told me: “We have served 1,379 learners over the past 5 years, all at level four, meaning 20 and 30-level courses leading to a high school diploma.” And the numbers appear to be rising with learners registering from our province and others, including former Saskatchewanians now located in other provinces, Europe or the United States.
The Parkland experience for the past decade has been to serve adults who need some credits to finish high school. And, the retention rates are quite impressive. Kami reported: “Our retention rate over the past 5 years has been 83%.”
Does this route hold promise for the 21st century for Saskatchewan?
- But this is not the whole story. Three of the Saskatchewan Polytechnic campuses offer the lower level 1-4 program to a limited number through an off-campus Polytechnic contract with Arrowmight. Arrowmight delivers basic literacy education classes in other parts of Canada as well. And, as of January of this year, the (then) Dean of Basic Education told me this distance innovation was going very well using local tutors for support.
Saskatchewan has two things in great abundance—lots of distance and lots of adults who have not completed high school. Should our province build a larger off-campus outreach delivery system using distance technologies as we move into the 21st century?
IV. Manitoba’s Integrated System
As I said in that blog article, Manitoba may have well have Canada’s best delivery system. It depends on one’s criteria for “best system” …. but consider the following:
- One Ministerial Funding Branch: It is impressive to see how all funding for all levels and all types of adult literacy and basic education is funded and supported by a single branch out of one MB ministry—the Adult Learning and Literacy Branch of the Manitoba Ministry of Multiculturalism and Literacy. From the John Howard Society to colleges, that single branch administers a network of adult literacy programs at the non-credit upgrading level as well as approved/registered adult learning centres (ALCs) that offer both the high school curricula the Manitoba adult BE alternative.
- Legislation: This province is also impressive in that it has government legislation in the form of The Adult Literacy Act and The Adult Learning Centres Act. Under these two acts, adults have the option of attending tuition-free programming at Adult Learning Programs to upgrade their basic academic skills and/or attending tuition-free programming at Adult Learning Centres so they can obtain a high school or a mature high school diploma. Further, adult students can have their previous learning assessed and recognized for credit at Adult Learning Centres and can earn up to two high school credits for their prior learning at the basic literacy level.
- Dual Credits: As in B.C. and Ontario, Manitoba’s adults have the opportunity to obtain dual credits at some ALC’s so their credits are then recognized by the schooling system and the post-secondary system. Here is a dual credit system not seen in most provinces. And, those who already hold a high school diploma may be eligible to enroll for four additional courses, tuition-free, to obtain the necessary pre-requisite credits for employment or further post secondary education.
Is this Canada’s “best” literacy and basic education system? Maybe. But however you see literacy/basic education purposes or optional delivery systems, I would like to suggest other provinces need to look at what they have developed in Manitoba.
V. Ontario’s Massive, yet Forward Looking System
Imagine this, Ontario’s basic education system annually serves some 85,000 learners.
In this case, I interviewed an academic, a consultant and a senior official with the Adult Education Policy Branch in the Ontario Ministry of Education. Each has over 25 years of experience in practice, policy and/or research. What I mainly learned was from the point of view of literacy/BE as offered by the Ministry of Education, not so much from the viewpoint of “employment literacy” (as the senior official termed it). The employment literacy side is the responsibility of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
Here are someOntario innovations to consider:
- Age Matters: As explained by my academic interviewee, it is pedagogically important to stream younger apart from more mature adult learners. In Ontario, younger adults typically go into the youth-oriented ABE programs; likewise, older–the typically more mature adults with more life experience—often can perform better with their own age cohort.
- Competing for Students? Another important point, there is a concerted effort in Ontario to build a stronger collaborative approach to literacy/BE programming among colleges, school boards, CBO’s and other providers to reduce competition for adult students. Competition for students is perhaps the least discussed problem in our delivery systems. But, in Ontario, providers are being strongly encouraged to plan and work together.
- Two Diplomas: As in B.C., Alberta and Manitoba, the lower levels of literacy are often offered by community based organizations. And, what we see in Ontario are CBOs developing more and more innovative pathways with “boutique programs” to meet the special needs of so many of their higher risk adult learners. Meanwhile, the higher 4-5 levels, as termed in Ontario, are offered by both school boards and colleges where adults can earn either a high school diploma or the widely recognized Adult Completion Certificate (ACE). This constitutes a “parallel” system of diplomas, not a dual credit system since the ACE certificate is not officially recognized by the Ministry of Education. Rather, the ACE certificate is a postsecondary certificate offered by and recognized by the postsecondary system.
- One Course per Quarter: Increasingly, ON postsecondary institutions are adopting a “quadmester system” for BE; meaning 8-week terms whereby students normally take but one course. This concentrated approach, they have found, is proving to be very effective for the high level of “stop-out” among our adults who often have family and life challenges.
- Learning/Training Pathways: The Ontario Ministry of Education is seeking better articulation across schools and colleges. The idea has been that students do not necessarily need to first finish their basic education diploma, then apply for trades training, then enter the workforce. It doesn’t have to be steps on a “ladder.” The ministry respondent I interviewed gave the recent example of 25 basic education students in a George Brown College Registered Practical Nursing Program—well known to have high academic standards—who received both high school and advanced standing in biology and mathematics in their nursing program simultaneously, and they all then moved into the Ontario health field via the college’s co-op placement program.
- A New E-Learning Hybrid: The Ontario Ministry of Education is piloting a promising “hybrid E-Learning system” that involves both classroom teaching and distance delivery. This should better accommodate the schedules of adults who attend classes only when they are able. The hybrid approach will have built-in diagnostic placement tools so returning adults can re-assess where they should re-engage in programs of study and will have a required refresher component so re-engaging won’t be so difficult. As of spring, 2015, this new approach was being pilot tested by 15 boards with some 200 learners involved. And, they were showing an 80-100% completion rate.
- “Learn & Earn:” Some Ontario school boards are experimenting with an approach where adults can gain credits while on the job. Programs and credits are being developed where literacy and basic education knowledge and skills can be acquired while doing specific tasks on the job—an “Earn and learn” approach.
So it is hard to say which province has the “best” system but Ontario is doing great innovative work…
In closing, there is a lot to be learned from our neighbours. I hope you agree… Comments are always welcome… But, once again, thank you for your support and engagement in this important movement. We are building practical knowldege…
Hoping to “virtually see you” next year,