Month: January 2017

New Posting Schedule

If you read this blog, you share our deep commitment to digital equity, digital inclusion, and the need for research into what teaching and learning approaches can best help underserved populations.  We greatly value your participation in this community and look forward to sharing more of our work with you.  Due to our new focus on our digital equity in libraries study, we will be posting every other week rather than every week.

We will continue with guest posts.  If you have something to share, please contact Gloria Jacobs at

Getting from Enthusiasm to Effective Technology Implementation in Adult Learning

This week’s post is by Patti Constantakis, Ph.D., Director, Digital Promise Adult Learning Initiative. 

The following is based on our most recent research report, Integrating Digital Tools for Adult Learners: Four Critical Factors.

Technology can be a powerful tool for improving access to learning for the 36 million U.S. adults who lack the basic literacy, numeracy, and job skills necessary to find well-paying jobs and navigate public and social systems. Technology can help create personalized pathways to support learning differences and open up a world of digital information and resources that form the gateway to today’s job market.

Despite all of this promise, adoption and implementation of technology in adult education is nascent. But according to two recent Tyton Partners studies (Part I and Part II), demand and enthusiasm are increasing for education technology among adult education program administrators and educators.

Signs of this enthusiasm can be seen across the country as programs and individual instructors experiment with incorporating digital tools into their teaching. In addition, developers are beginning to consider ways to leverage their products for adult learners.

Yet, in general, adult education programs still lag behind their K-12 and higher education counterparts in incorporating technology.

If we believe in the potential of technology to bring quality digital learning opportunities to this underserved population, what can we do to accelerate adoption? How do we bridge the gap between enthusiasm and effective implementation?

For our latest report, Integrating Digital Tools for Adult Learners: Four Critical Factors, we worked with 14 adult education program administrators and instructors to try to answer these questions. Their insights led us to identifying four factors that adult education programs and product developers should focus on to effectively implement technology in the adult learning classroom:

  1. Support Multiple Implementation Models – Allowing for varied blended learning models is critical with adult learners, as there is no one way to meet the differing needs and levels of these learners.
  2. Use Data – Knowing how to use and analyze learner data is key to understanding where individual learners are struggling in order to provide personalized learning experiences.
  3. Support a Rich Technology Infrastructure – Thinking long-term and considering the infrastructure that is needed to create a flexible, rich, anytime, anywhere learning environment is also important for these underserved learners.
  4. Support the Evolving Role of the Instructor – Supporting this shifting role goes beyond just product training. It requires opportunities to develop ideas, strategies, and resources, then to try them out, reflect, and adjust.

We invite both educators and developers to consider these factors moving forward. The potential for technology to provide low-skilled adult learners access to more individualized learning opportunities is there. But to really accelerate the adoption of technology across our adult education programs will take effort and commitment from program administrators, educators, and product developers to create and support those experiences.

Need buy-in? Collaboration is the name of the game.

This post was written by Digital Equity in Libraries research team member Amy Honisett, Public Training Librarian at Multnomah County Library.

In support of a research project focused on public library patrons, our research team needed to figure out how to get participants. Would you like to take an assessment of how you problem solve in technology rich environments? Of course not, that sounds terrifying.

The first step was to have patrons complete a background survey. Those eligible patrons would then be invited to take the PSTRE assessment.  To achieve our goal of including a range of patrons we offered a $20 cash incentive for completing the assessment, but we also leveraged our patrons’ feelings of responsibility and affection for the library. To show potential participants why they should help us, we created half page flyers with information about how to access the survey, and a call to action, “The library needs your help! We want to make sure our resources work for everyone.”

Initially, we set up in library lobbies and entrances to ask people for their participation. This was difficult and time consuming, and it meant that we were not reaching as many patrons as we needed or wanted.

We then turned to library staff, who kept the flyers at reference desks, and talked the survey up to patrons. Gaining support from library staff was crucial, as they know their patrons and their community. Their efforts lead to 436 clicks on our survey link.

Later, when we needed to gain input from lower-income community members, we again relied upon collaboration with library staff, who brought our cause out into homeless shelters and low-income housing, bringing in even more potential survey participants than we could offer the assessment to. We ended up with 465 participants completing the background survey and close to 200 individuals who took the assessment.  

Lessons learned:

  1. People want to know how their participation helps. Tell them why you need them!
  2. Collaboration is essential for the best results. We could never have reached so many people on our own.

Advancing Digital Equity in Public Libraries:
Assessing Library Patrons’ Problem Solving in Technology Rich Environments

This research project is designed to improve library practices, programs, and services for adult patrons — especially economically vulnerable and socially isolated adults, seniors, English learners, unemployed and others lacking digital problem solving skills. The project provides the opportunity to administer and interpret data from the “Problem Solving in Technology Rich Environments” (PSTRE) survey, a portion of the Education and Skills Online (ESO) assessment, developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).  The assessment allows the opportunity to administer an online set of automatically scored tasks.  Researchers can  use the data to examine local trends in adults’ digital literacy skills.  These local trends can be examined alongside national and international data to make comparisons that have practical as well as policy implications.

Our project team has collected data collected from a diverse sample of Multnomah County’s adult library patrons (ages 16 to 65).  Analyzing these data will provide valuable insights into how libraries can invest resources and direct services to improve patrons’ digital problem solving skills. These are the types of skills that are particularly important during an economic downturn to help people address their educational, employment, health, information, and other needs, and to seek out classes and other learning opportunities in the community.

By administering the PSTRE and analyzing test-takers problem solving strategies, this research offers a grounded understanding of what constitutes the different levels of digital problem solving skills based on observable behaviors.  We are in the midst of using these data to create a learning progression that represents the full range of these skills, grounded particularly within a library contexts.  As a result, our work moves beyond what PSTRE scores alone can provide.

We intend that the protocols and procedures for administering the PSTRE assessment developed through this project can serve as a guide for other libraries. Collecting PSTRE data and interpreting the results will aid libraries nationally in responding to the growing need within their communities to help vulnerable adult populations become fully digitally proficient. Administering the PSTRE, and reflecting on what the results mean for library patrons, invites libraries into the national and international conversations taking place among policymakers, educators, and community organizations around PIAAC data and positions library leaders to design better and more data-driven life- long learning opportunities.

Stay tuned here for future posts that will feature emerging findings from this exciting and ground-breaking research.