Helping Learners Problem Solve Using Technology-Rich Environments

Technology and Learning Colleagues,

 Helping Learners Problem Solve Using Technology-Rich Environments is an 80-minute webinar that was offered last week by World Education, and supported by LINCS. You’ll find the archived webinar here.   (Select "playback" or "download".)

I am pleased  that two of the presenters, Steve Quann and Kenny Tamarkin, members of our Technology and Learning Community of Practice, will be available beginning tomorrow, Wednesday, June 3rd, to respond to our questions and comments about the webinar. If you attended the webinar, or if you have a chance to watch some or all of the archive of it in the next day or two, this is a chance to explore what you learned in more depth. If you only have time to read a synopsis of the webinar, my reflections are published as a Tech Tips for Teachers blog article at I hope you will be able to read this article: it includes links to the great resources suggested by the presenters, including a computer assessment rubric that Kenny developed, and a link to the results of a survey being conducted in California of adult learners about their use of technology .

Read the blog article, watch the archived webinar, and definitely participate in the discussion here beginning tomorrow with our colleagues Steve Quann and Kenny Tamarkin.

David J. Rosen

'Technology and Learning CoP Moderator



Let's begin our discussion of Helping Learners Problem Solve using Technology-Rich Environments with a little background.

I think most T & L members are familiar with "digital literacy," especially when used to mean basic computer and Internet skills. What may be new to some is "problem-solving in technology-rich environments". This refers to the recent OECD PIAAC international Survey of Adult Skills in which the United States has participated. One of the three domains assessed as part of the Survey of Adult Skills is called "Problem Solving in Technology Rich Environments." Put simply, it assesses Americans' ability to solve a range of problems using computers and the internet. This takes "digitsl literacy" to a much higher level, as adults are asked to solve problems that range in difficulty from using computer tools to solve a simple work-related or family-related problem, to -- at the highest level -- given information about a problem, frame the problem and then using some or all of the given tools, solve it. Sadly, and surprisingly to some, Americans did not do well in this domain, roughly as poorly as we did in reading and in mathematics. So there is interest now in how to help Americans improve problem solving skills used in a technology environment.

In the webinar in which Steve Quann and Kenny Tamarkin participated as presenters last week, they advocated, and provided some theory and practical examples of, what some would call a constructivist approach to learning, or what others may know as project-based learning. The main focus of this discussion will be on that approach.

First, however, I would like to invite Steve and Kenny to introduce themselves, to explain their roles in the past and currently in using technology for learning, and perhaps say a bit about how they came to value and use a project-based learning approach,

Once they have introduced themselves, please post your questions. If you haven't seen the webinar yet, one way to get a sense of what it is about is to read my Tech Tips for Teachers blog article. Steve and Kenny will try to answer questions this week, and possibly into next week.

David J. Rosen

Technology and Learning Communiity of Practice

Thanks for inviting us to reflect on our experience, David.

The majority of my career has been dedicated, in one way or another, to preparing students to enter the workforce and transition to college-level coursework.  But with varied contexts to teaching English language learners in a community organization or college, my passion has been the integration of technology into instruction.  That came to fruition in 1995 when the community-based organization where I taught English language learners purchased computers for all teachers. I had been working with students in the computer lab with Word and educational software and used the lab computers when I could but having ready and continued access to a computer on my desk for my work and in my class really accelerated my professional development.  I tell this story because this is access is what I would like to see for all adult learners. I might have had some limited access to a lab when it was free, but it wasn’t until a computer became truly integrated in my work that I regularly searched the web for lesson plans, created lesson handouts and activities, so that slowly those ideas became part of a book.

One of my first experiences using technology with project-based learning was actually through an activity that David started, called Virtual Visits, where classrooms wrote about their schools and communities and created a class website and then interacted with another class somewhere in the United States and beyond.  Maybe David would share a bit more about that project.

Later, I came to work at World Education and have been involved in professional development on the topic of tech integration for about 17 years. I am now excited to be launching a new Education Technology Center at World Ed.  Presently I have been facilitating workshops and webinars as I work with LINCS on its digital literacy initiatives.  In that capacity, I had the pleasure of hosting the Helping Learners Problem Solve Using Technology-Rich Environments webinar, featuring presenters from Tech Goes Home and Kenny Tamarkin.  The aim of the initiative is to improve learner access to technology so they can improve their digital literacy skills and accelerate their overall learning.  

Now as much as having access and giving our learners the tools to learn is crucial, I would like to deepen the discussion here as to how best we can facilitate learning. And to me, one way is  to structure that learning has been via project-based learning.  

To explain why I think that is important, I will leave you with a quote from one of the best reading on the value of technology use.

“Research illustrates that when students have opportunities to create their own content using technology (for example, conducting research to make decisions or draw conclusions from evidence, finding and manipulating data, developing reports, creating websites, designing PowerPoint presentations, and creating spreadsheets), they become more motivated and develop stronger skills.” (Darling-Hammond, Zielezinski, and Goldman 2014)


Steve Quann

World Education, Inc

Thanks Steve for this great introduction. Perhaps your introduction, the blog article, or the webinar itself have stimulated some T&L CoP members' questions for you and Kenny about project-based learning. I hope so! 

Steve, you reminded me of one of my favorite learning projects, one that Susan Gaer, also a member here, and I cooked up many years ago. My colleague, Akira Kamiya, and I had been working with adult basic education programs in Greater Boston to do what we called "Virtual Field Trip" or "Virtual Visit" projects, where adult learners and their teachers recorded actual field trips, with digital photos, texts and interviews, and put them in web pages for other adult learners in programs around the country to see and learn from. The Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, for example, did a Virtual Visit to a community health center, the East Boston Harborside Community School did a Virtual Visit to a computer store, and Wendy Quinones, a member here, working in an out of school youth program north of Boston, did a Virtual Visit to a cotton mill museum. (If I recall correctly, Wendy then had no idea how to make a web page; fortunately, one of her young adult students did!) All the projects involved learning useful content, basic skills, website skills, and presentation skills, and they were very engaging for students and teachers.

I shared these projects with Susan Gaer, and asked if she was interested. She was working with ESL students and teachers at Santa Ana College in Southern California, and thought that some of her colleagues might be interested in having their students do virtual classroom exchanges with students in ESL programs in other parts of the country, and the world, so they could practice their English, learn about other cultures, and learn useful technology skills.. Susan and I created the entirely volunteer International Classroom Virtual Visit (ICVV) project that operated for several years. We laid out how to do this kind of project, then matched classes that were interested, and provided technical assistance as needed. In a few cases, we matched elementary school classes with other elementary school classes or adult classes, but most matches were adult ESL classes to other adult ESL classes. A very few of the web pages still exist, for example: , , ,, but sadly some of the best ones are long gone, including the Culebra Moms Website by Anson Green, now the state ABE Director at the Texas Workforce Commission, when he was an adult education teacher in Texas, and  Hans Seidenstickers'  English classes in Bielefield Germany. Susan and I explained a bit about the project In this web page, .

These projects took a lot of time, but they also provided teachers and their students with great satisfaction and, in most cases -- for teachers and students -- new skills in using technology. 

Steve, Susan, Anson, Wendy, Akira and others who were part of these projects, please feel free to add your own reflections. Others, who may be interested in launching Virtual Visit projects yourself, I/we would be glad to try to answer your questions about how we did this.

David J. Rosen



Since 1979, I have been involved with using technology to help adult learners develop their critical thinking skills. For most of my first decade using technology, I co-ran an office skills training program in Somerville, Massachusetts. Back then, even though I was mainly using a skills-based approach, I encouraged my students to develop their understanding of how word processing software could be used to create different documents, and meet various needs in an office. I knew we were on the right track when I would hear back from an internship site that our student had quickly become the office's word processing expert, even when that office was using different word processing software than we were using in our office skills program.

A decade later, I was teaching GED preparation in Lawrence, Massachusetts. I was concerned about the writing skills of my students, but rather than solely teaching how to create a standard GED essay, I had each of my students maintain a dialogue journal. Every student was given a floppy (they really were floppy then) which had a document from me that asked them a question.There task was to answer the question, and if they wanted, ask me a question or write anything else that was on their mind. We maintained the dialogue as long as they were in my class. Even today, I try to maintain dialogues with my students, though I  have moved from floppies to email. It's time consuming, but time well spent since not only am I informally assessing my students' fluency with using email, I am learning about my students' goals, priorities, and learning styles. These insights either confirm the relevance of the projects I am planning for learners or alert me that new projects need to be found or developed.

Years later, I was the Technology Coordinator for Northeast SABES, at that time the northeastern Massachusetts ABE staff development organization, where the adult learners I worked with were themselves teachers or other staff of ABE programs. Back then, organizations were starting to create webpages that were accessible on the Internet. I taught a web page development class for ABE programs. Each participating program had two to four staff working on their organization website project. They decided what they wanted on the webpage, and I helped them learn the html needed to code the project. We were located at a Community College that permitted me to set up a web server in our lab so we could host the completed web sites. After three classes, the first version of their programs' websites were all live on the web.

Recently, I have been teaching computer classes for Local 1199 SEIU (Service Employees International Union) at various locations and for AACA (Asian American Civic Association) in Chinatown, a neighborhood of Boston, MA. One of the classes I taught was the computer component of AACA's Careers in Banking and Finance. I was expected to teach the students how to use Microsoft PowerPoint, software that I hadn't used in years. I decided that rather than teach them how to use PowerPoint and decide which skills to concentrate on, I gave them a project. Students needed to research a randomly selected bank that operates in greater Boston and create a PowerPoint Presentation of at least 5 slides, including an introduction, history of the bank, a bank product, customer service, and employee satisfaction. I strolled around the room, giving assistance when asked. The assistance was often a conversation focused on what the learner wanted to accomplish. My assistance was usually in the form of modelling how I get help with getting a task done. When students finished their drafts, they were sent to me as email attachments which we then projected on the white board so students and I could make comments and suggestions. For me, the process was amazing. The students produced impressive slide shows They developed technical skills along with design and evaluation skills. The whole process made me think of the reality show Project Runway, in which clothing designers are given a project to create, materials to use and a deadline. The finished products are evaluated by a panel. But unlike the actual show, no one in my class is declared the winner and no one is sent home.

And I learned so much. My students and I were truly partners in learning.

Kenny Tamarkin

Hello colleagues, I appreciate the way Kenny suggests having students learn by doing through engaging in meaningful projects. While I have done some technology training for teachers, I do not consider myself all that skilled as a technology trainer; however, I do consider it vital to integrate technology into my teaching. My approach mirrors the one Kenny has shared, i.e., project-based. Students in my classes use technology for their own purposes to research and/or create and then present their work to others. I support them as the need arises while they are working on their projects.

In most adult literacy classes, adult learners have a wide range of skills and comfort with technology. I'm wondering how Steve and Kenny and others have dealt with this issue. In my experience, students who are skilled are almost always eager to help those who are novices. I have found it useful to survey the class at the outset to find out about individual's comfort level with technology. Those who are skilled with computers are then assigned to provide support to others.

I have noticed that in some cases teachers are reluctant to bring technology into their classroom due to their own limited expertise. It's a fact that many students are more savvy with computers than their teachers! I'm wondering how Steve, Kenny, David, Susan and others who work with teachers deal with this issue.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

LINCS Moderator, AELL, Assessment and CCR

Just like Susan, I encourage advanced students to help less skilled students. I usually make an informal pitch that students work together, and in most classes we do. For example, a few months ago, I was teaching a small Excel Class in Methuen, MA. Our project was the battle of the supermarket circulars. We had to find items that appeared in the weekly circulars of two local supermarkets and decide which was the better deal. We had to design a spreadsheet that would present the data so we could decide which was the better deal. Since in a previous project, we had looked at If then statements and what they could do on a spreadsheet, we figured out an If-then statement that would announce which store won the battle of the circulars.

As for students knowing more than their students, I can assure you that many of my students know how to do some tasks on the computer that I do not know how to do. For many years, I have believed that if you are not comfortable falling flat on your face in public, you will not be a successful technology teacher. If I never made a mistake, I would manufacture one just I can model the habits of mind and attention to detail required to successfully overcome challenges. But I usually supply an ample amount of errors. I try to make editing and revising a standard part of what we do when we work with technology.

I have a current example from a presentation project my students in my Careers in Banking and Finance computer class are working on. Last week, one of my students asked me if instead of using PowerPoint, could his group use Prezi, a different presentation software, instead. Even though I had never used Prezi before, I agreed that his group could use it. I saw the completed presentation today, and they did a great job. Over the last two weeks, I was able to help them with design issues and editing, and we all have learned a great deal, though I still consider myself a Prezi newbie.

Kenny Tamarkin 

This discussion brought two things to mind.

[I'm going to date myself here...]  Do you remember the days when the "AV Club" in high school helped teachers get those strange educational films started on very complex projectors?  In my class of 19XX, two of my fellow students spent most of their school day traveling from class to class, helping teachers with technology.  No shame there.

Then, I read an article about college faculty that peaked my interest:  Low Digital Fluency of Faculty (starting on page 22) While higher education is better resourced, some of the same issues we find in adult education persist there.  "A large part of the challenge is based on insufficient professional development, which is the result of a number of issues that range from a lack of funding, low administrative support, the paucity of formal digital literacy agendas, or ambiguity around definitions of digital fluency...instructors reluctant to embrace new technologies and promote digital literacy, students not seeing the importance of these competencies to succeed in the workforce."  Part of the article references Mount Holyoke College which proposed peer-to-peer learning rather than loose connections of various trainings and pairing digitally savvy students with professors (especially in the use of social media).  Time for a new "AV Club"?


Susan, you wrote, "I have noticed that in some cases teachers are reluctant to bring technology into their classroom due to their own limited expertise. It's a fact that many students are more savvy with computers than their teachers! I'm wondering how Steve, Kenny, David, Susan and others who work with teachers deal with this issue."

Here are a few strategies I am familiar with. I would love to hear others' strategies as well.

  1. Teach one computer or Internet application that the teachers have said they want to learn to use, for example: a vocabulary building app, an online high school equivalency preparation program, an English language learning simulation, a spreadsheet, a slide presentation program, a web page design program, etc. Focus on that, providing guided practice and, support once the teachers start to pilot or use it with students until the teachers say they feel “comfortable” and “competent” in using the application (two important words I learned from Kenny Tamarkin long ago in the context of what “computer literacy” means.)
  2. Once teachers are comfortable with one application, help them to try another application that has the same purpose, this time with the goal of consciously thinking about what they learned about the features of the first program that transfers or doesn't transfer to the second.
  3. Pick a common hardware or software problem and model solving it together. For example, teachers -- all of us -- often have printer problems. Ask the group of teachers if they have faced printer problems, ask them what solutions they tried, and why, and write down the strategies so everyone can see them (on a flip chart, chalk board, electronic white board, or computer and multimedia projector projecting the strategies on a screen.) Call these “Basic strategies”. Add other basic strategies of your own, if you wish, after the teachers have given this a workout first. Ask the teachers to evaluate the strategies, and perhaps to order them by what they would try first, and/or what they think might be the most fruitful ones. Ask the group to talk about how it feels when one is solving a problem alone compared with how it feels solving it with others, how it feels when you solve the problem and also when you don’t. Talk about how when you get stuck in technology problem solving on your own you can you get outside help – and list some of those as “Strategies for Solving Difficult Problems. ”
  4. Practice using a WAITT  (We Are All In This Together) model for teaching/learning technology. There is no single expert, no “sage on the stage,” no expert “guide by the side” either. In this model the teacher and students learn how to use a piece of technology together. The teacher makes it clear that in learning this s/he is not an expert, is like the students, a learner, and that the learning model (paradigm) shifts to drawing on group expertise and experimentation.
  5. Practice looking foolish, at first with your peers. When I read what Kenny Tamarkin wrote, “For many years, I have believed that if you are not comfortable falling flat on your face in public, you will not be a successful technology teacher” I smiled with self-recognition. Like Kenny, I don’t have to invent mistakes or glitches; they find me.  From years of experience presenting using technology, what is different now is: 1) I expect glitches, and 2) I have a few more strategies for dealing with them. Recently, I was doing a presentation at a national conference in which I was showing online science videos. Of course, I had tested my equipment in advance, and also in the session room before the session was to begin. My new laptop uses a relatively new kind of connector cable, with a DVI-D plug that has a lot of pins. If you wish, you can see one here: Of course, I brought one, and had tested it out. It worked fine. Five minutes before my presentation was to start, a hotel multimedia person arrived, saw that I had a short connector cable and said, let’s switch it out for my longer cable. I agreed. Everything worked fine…until it was time to show the videos: no streamed video was visible on the large screen, not even the backup video I had saved on my computer could be seen. I had no idea what was wrong.  Cables? Settings? I stopped the presentation, asking for indulgence, and also if anyone recognized the problem and had a solution. One colleague looked at the situation, tried a couple of things, but she didn't have an immediate solution. I checked cable connections, then re-configured, using my own cable, and everything worked. Later, I learned from a colleague that she always brings two of these DVI-D connector cables with her because the delicate pins often break, which is probably what had happened with the hotel’s cable. After the presentation, one of the participants thanked me for as she put it “modeling grace under pressure.” I appreciated that comment, especially as I wasn’t feeling the grace as much as the pressure. But I also had had a backup plan in my mind in case the technology were to fail altogether, so perhaps that allowed me not to panic. I have just added this story to the Handling Technology Glitches page of the Adult Literacy Education (ALE) Wiki at You might enjoy reading about other technology glitches that colleagues have experienced and what strategies they have used to solve the problems.

What strategies have helped you get over your fear of using technology, or what strategies do you use to help other teachers feel comfortable and competent in using technology in the classroom?

David J. Rosen

Technology and Learning CoP

Thanks Steve and Kenny for your introductions.

Everyone, now is the time for your questions and comments. In addition to reading Kenny's and Steve's introductions and the short blog article about the webinar, if you can, also watch the archived webinar.


1. Both of you have provided some information in the webinar, and in your introductions, about why you think project based learning is an important approach to teaching and learning. I wonder if there are any other reasons why you (or others here) think it is important. To push this a bit, is it the most important or best approach to teaching and learning? Do you think -- as some do -- that a project-based (constructivist) approach should replace a decontextualized skills-based approach altogether?

Some major thinkers -- and countries' educators -- have come to that conclusion. For example, Seymour Papert, at the MIT Media Lab many years ago, developed the easy-to-use, but actually fairly sophisticated, Logo computer programming language to help kids make things using computers and, in the process, learn about computers, programming languages and logic. Perhaps his thinking is one of the underpinnings of the increasingly popular "Maker" movement in education and libraries, and perhaps an original source of inspiration for a growing movement to teach elementary school children computer programming. Papert was against teaching decontextualized basic or academic skills, not against kids learning basic skills. The great American educator, John Dewey, in many of his writings, focused on what he described simply as learning by doing, learning useful basic skills in the context of making or doing engaging and useful projects. A proponent of organizing learning for adults around their own articulated interests, needs and goals, in particular their goals for liberation, was, of course, the Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire. The International adult education researcher, Tom Sticht, has long been a proponent of what he calls "functional-context learning" that focuses, for example, on work-related basic skills instead of decontextualized basic skills. Recently Finland, always a top-performing country on international standardized tests such as PISA (for school children) and more recently the PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills, has decided that their K-12 system should replace academic subjects with engaging topics and projects that include relevant basic skills.) 

So, Steve and Kenny, do you think that in adult basic education we should throw out approaches that focus on decontextualized basic skills, and re-design how we help students to learn using an entirely constructivist/project-based approach? Or do you think we need to do both, or something else?

2.  How do you think computer and other digital technology, including the Internet, enhance project-based learning?

3. From your own experience, and the experience of adult education teachers you have worked with, what are some of the challenges in implementing project-based learning?

Everyone else, please ask your questions, too!

David J. Rosen

Technology and Learning CoP Moderator


I would like to share a bit more about a couple of my experiences and reflect on David’s question.

Virtual Visit - Alianza Hispana and La Guardia Community College 1999
I used the Internet Archive WayBack Machine to find the defunct website my ESOL class helped design. After presenting the class with the challenge and purpose of the project, they began by looking at websites and deciding on the color, layout and design of the home page, which now has some broken image links and such. But see the link below to get the idea and chuckle. Be gentle and remember this is 16 years ago!

Along with conversation practice students got when discussing design, after learning how to use digital camera, they wrote a short bio to go with each of their photos.  When LaGuardia finished their site our classes shared their two websites and learned about each other’s program and community, followed by an email exchange with questions and a conference call.

Addressing David’s question about decontextualized basic skills or entirely constructivist/project-based approach

The virtual visit project was fabulous for giving learners an authentic audience to write for, read about and speak with. Priceless! But one thing I heard from students who worked on the project was about the limited time spent on grammar, vocabulary, etc.  Not that some of that was provided by me as they wrote and spoke, but I got the sense they wanted and might benefit from more explicit instruction. Sometime after that, Diana Satin and I worked on a book and website that would incorporate study of vocabulary and other skills, but within the context of the project. At that time, I began to see what the Buck Institute says. Yes, even quizzes can be part of project-based learning. 

So David, certainly what you referenced in your last post is a powerful endorsement of constructivist/project-based/action learning approach.  I also feel that ideally every lesson should begin within the context of an essential question, problem or challenge to frame the learning about to take place.

To my mind and experience, for a number of reasons, I don’t feel it is always practical to do project-based learning all the time nor for very situation.  Does anyone feel similarly or disagree, and care to explain why?  I suspect Kenny will speak to this, so I will end here.

Steve Quann

World Education, Inc.

David Rosen has provided a great list of educational philosophers, and if you have never read their work, I suggest that you give them a try. Papert's Mindstorms is particularly relevant to this discussion. 

I would also suggest that you check out Sugata Mitre's TED talk about his Hole in the Wall Project. Though he focuses on the impact of technology access on poor children, his findings suggest that with adults as well as children providing unlimited access to technology will lead to the development of problem solving skills and creativity.

In general, I prefer a project-based approach, but even then, I have sometimes developed a list of skills that will most likely be exercised in the project. By maintaining such a list of skills, when I select a sequence of projects I want to use with a class, I can check to see if key skills are required in at least one of the projects.

And sometimes an entire skills-based course is justified. For example, I believe in teaching touch typing whenever possible. However, I also encourage my students to write whenever possible so they can experience the necessity of this skill.


Steve and Kenny, I have a few more questions, and there is still time for others to ask you questions or to comment on what you have written.

  1. What advice do you have for teachers who want to try project-based learning using technology for the first time?
  2. What would you suggest that people read, or what videos might they watch to better understand project-based learning?
  3. Kenny, in the Project Runway TV show there are winners and losers. How about in project-based learning? If so, what kinds of students — if any — just can’t or don’t want to do it? And how do you handle that challenge?
  4. Kenny could you update us on what is happening with your students’ getting access to Everyone On services?
  5. Steve and Kenny, what is your take on the California student survey data that Heidi Silver-Pacuilla mentioned in the webinar ? How do the California survey results fit with what you are seeing?

Other participants in this discussion: Could you look at the California survey results on how adult education students are using technology please, and tell us how these do (or don't) fit with what you are seeing in your program or your state?

David J. Rosen

Technology and Learning CoP Moderator


I would like to combine questions 1 and 2 and present the group with a scenario where we can hopefully collaborate and share suggestions you have.

The Scenario

Let’s assume the teacher has some experience with projects and had learned the basics of project-based learning by viewing this 4-minute video called Project–Based Learning Explained.

Following that, the teacher asked students to develop tri-fold brochures (no tech - using colored markers) on an occupation that interested them. They researched in the library using the text, Occupational Outlook Handbook. Then students shared their brochures with the class.  

The Challenge

So let me pose this as a challenge:  After viewing the following video about SAMR model of tech integration, how could we advise and support this teacher in adapting what he or she is doing to incorporating technology? Perhaps if the teacher is a beginner we should suggest learners substitute books for the Occupational Outlook website.  What else would you suggest to bring the tech integration “over the line” into problem-solving using technology referenced in the video and tapping higher order thinking skills, i.e., into the modification or redefinition stage?   

Are there other suggestions for simple activities to help a teacher get started?  To prime the pump, look for some simple projects to try.

Professional Development

I find I keep learning more since there are actually so many approaches to all this and new ones develop all the time. So after beginners have gotten their feet wet, I would suggest further professional development:

Steve Quann

World Education, Inc.

Steve, and others,

Sometimes a learning project begins not with a professional development technology innovation strategy like SAMR, but with a student need, goal, objective, or question. Of course, then the research, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication/presentation steps can be a great way to organize the project. A favorite example of such a project grew out of the Massachusetts Department of Education-funded, Massachusetts Alliance for Adult Literacy (MASS ALL) project that enabled a group of adult learner leaders at a Cape Cod Community College adult ESOL program to solve a community health problem. Their goal was to enable students and other community residents who were not getting preventive health care services to get free cancer screenings and other preventive and early detection care. They researched the possibilities as a team, identified the possibility of a health van making regular visits to their campus, and designed ways to reach students and community members with information about the health van. The project was launched almost two decades ago, and the health van still makes its annual visit to the campus-based adult ESOL program. It is especially interesting to me that the project was designed and carried out by adult learner leaders. (MassAAL is a statewide adult learner leadership organization.) 

The practitioners involved with this project supported adult learner leadership, and were also interested in how to help adult learner leaders improve community health.

If the project were launched today, since the culture has changed so greatly in adult learners' use of technology, the students' research would undoubtedly need to use the Internet; their communication might also use email, instant messaging and perhaps an online group or message board; and perhaps the team would choose to develop marketing for the health van by designing flyers using a word processing and graphics program and they would want to use web-based social media to get the word out too. The shift from Substitution to Augmentation in the SAMR model, particularly when adult learners are organizing the project, may integrate technology from project strategies suggested by students. We need to help technology-reluctant teachers to accept this learner leadership, and to let adult learners who may have the technology skills take positions of leadership. One way to do that, in cases where the teacher doesn't have the technology skills or comfort, or time to supervise adult learners' work, is to engage volunteers who do have the technology competency and comfort to work with the students, and also to mentor the teachers. In cases where it is not possible to involve volunteers as technology mentors, there may be other teachers at the program who have the technology skills who can be a teacher mentor and, as needed, assist students.

Mentoring is an important strategy for advancing teachers' technology comfort and competence.

David J. Rosen

Technology and Learning CoP Moderator



Great questions, David. My responses are below: 
1. What advice do you have for teachers who want to try project-based learning using technology for the first time?

I think that every teacher who wants to try project based learning for the first time needs to balance their own research of what others have done with actually going forward with a project of their own. Participating in staff development activities is great, but at some point you have to jump into the deep end of the pool and try something out.

In most cases, I recommend the KISS (Keep It Simple, S*****) approach. For example, I had one class where students used Google Search to look for their ideal vacation. Two women found such good deals to Las Vegas, they planned a vacation there and booked their trip online a few weeks later. Another student, a member of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, found that the AFL-CIO website that had special travel specials for union members had the best deal for her family’s vacation to Disney World. She eventually booked her family vacation through the website.

Another simple project I used was a virtual meal, where I asked students to find an actual restaurant menu online, select menu items for themselves and their families, and develop and use a spreadsheet to figure out total cost, including tax and tip. The next week, a student told me that her family was trying to decide where to go out for dinner, and she was able to check out menus online, much to the astonishment of her husband and children, all of whom had always considered her computer-phobic. One note of caution: Many national chains do not put prices on their menus since they charge different prices for the same items from different restaurant locations.

A project doesn’t have to be exclusively computer-based. Two years ago, the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund in Massachusetts created and printed a book of student writings. The writers were from all their classes, including ESOL, transitions to higher education, and computer skills, and the assigned topic was “My Mother”. While my class and the other classes with access to computers created and submitted writings electronically, the students from classes without that access submitted hand-written writings. All submissions, even those off topic, were accepted, edited and printed in a book of student writings released the week of Mothers Day.

2.·  What would you suggest that people read, or what videos might they watch to better understand project-based learning?

The best way to understand project-based learning is to do a project with your students. If you are having trouble developing a project for your students, ask your students why they attend your class and what they hope to do once they complete it. Your students’ dreams and aspirations are a great starting point in developing a meaningful and engaging project.

As for readings, websites, and videos, I have relied on the suggestions of David Rosen ever since he first created The Literacy List. Over the years, David has created and organized an astonishing array of resources. You can access them at I also rely on the suggestions of Steve Quann. He has done great work  in project-based learning and staff development for years.

3.· Kenny, in the Project Runway TV show there are winners and losers. How about in project-based learning? If so, what kinds of students — if any — just can’t or don’t want to do it? And how do you handle that challenge?

Everyone who makes an honest and open effort usually wins in a project based approach. Experiencing collaboration and creation first-hand is even more important for most adult learners than the actual final project.

The main losers are those who give in to shame and try to hide their lack of skill by avoiding doing anything. Occasionally, well-meaning students will, instead of helping a fellow student, do the work for them. Other times I have seen electronic versions of “The dog ate my homework.” Be on the lookout for these situations and address them. The main challenge is these situations is to connect with your struggling student and help them cut through their fear and shame without ever humiliating or embarrassing them.

For me, the most challenging student is the one who insists “Just give me the steps.” as if there is a completed available worksheet for anything you might want to do on a computer. While sometimes it does feel that we can learn anything from a Google search or a YouTube video, it is even more important for students to exercise their own critical thinking skills and become independent learners.

4.· Kenny could you update us on what is happening with your students’ getting access to Everyone On services?

I am currently teaching an Introduction to Computers course at the Asian American Civic Association in Chinatown in Boston, Massachusetts. TechGoesHome is providing my eighteen students the opportunity to purchase new Google Chromebooks for $50. The TechGoesHome website links to the Everyone On website. This past week, I had the entire class visit the EveryoneOn website, which requires them to submit their zip code so that they can view the Internet connection options available in their community. We had a discussion about the different options. This coming week, I will ask them to compare the options offered with other commercially available options such as Comcast or Verizon. We will also be collecting money for the Chromebooks, which must be paid for in advance for TechGoesHome to arrange delivery to our location. The Chromebooks will be delivered a week from Tuesday (June 16) and on the final day of our course on June 18, we will attempt to connect all the new equipment to AACA’s WiFi, so they have some experience getting access to the Internet from their Chromebook. Since I have never seen more than a few smartphones and tablets connected to the Internet via our WiFi before, I have no idea if this will work smoothly or if we will overtax the network and crash and burn. If we are successful and any of the students feel ready to sign up for free or low-cost Internet, I have offered to help them sign up.

5.·  Steve and Kenny, what is your take on the California student survey data that Heidi Silver-Pacuilla mentioned in the webinar ? How do the California survey results fit with what you are seeing?

It is clear from the survey results that even at the lowest skill levels students are having increased exposure to technology and increasingly use it in their daily lives. I suspect that over the next few years, we will see a greater percentage of adult learners who use technology on a regular basis, though it might be more likely to be a smartphone or tablet rather than a laptop or desktop computer.

Kenny Tamarkin

David, Kenny and all,

The results from the California study showing cell phone usage of adult learners in the 70% range is probably no surprise as many of us have seen the huge uptake of smartphone purchase in the populations we serve. Related to that, both Kenny and David referred to the need for students to expand their digital literacy skills beyond typical smartphone usage to include keyboarding and word processing for work and study.  And to me that translates into one reason why we owe it to our students to urge them, in addition to getting connected by phone, to take advantage of Everyone On and obtain or update their computer hardware and broadband connection.

Related Lesson Idea
I have been piloting some lessons for LINCS that will be part of a lesson packet, Digital Literacy and Problem Solving in Instruction.  It seems like it might be a good time to share an abbreviated (no evaluation/rubric included) draft of a handout within the packet. It incorporates the above issues into a project- based learning activity that helps learners become aware of Everyone On, improve their digital literacy and practice communication skills.  

Note: Depending on the language and computer skills of students, significant adaptation or pre-teaching and scaffolding may be needed by facilitators. And of course this might not be appropriate for all levels/classes.  It would be great if you can let me know if you use this, how you adapted the ideas and if you have any feedback.

Everyone On Public Awareness Campaign


In this lesson, you will learn about special offers for technology that will get you connected to the Internet. Everyone On is an organization working with the government. This non-profit organization offers inexpensive technology and Internet to adult education students. Most students do not know about these offers. The problem is: How can we tell others about this information?  


What is the solution?  Tell other adult education students about these inexpensive devices and high-speed Internet offers. You will need to:

  1. Collect more information on the Everyone On website.
  2. Create a flyer (or another communication tool) that tells students at your program about low-cost offers available.
  3. Share your product with the whole class and other students.


  1. Get in a small group. Decide the work each member will do.
  2. Read this document, including the evaluation on the next page.
  3. Think about your audience and what they need to know. Then go back to and collect the information you need for your flyer.
  4. Go to the Resource section below and use the example flyer. Create your own or replace information and images.
  5. Show your classmates and your instructor your first draft. Make corrections and then complete your final revision. Print copies for others in your program.



Steve Quann

World Education, Inc.

Hi all,

I promised that I would get back to you when the lesson packet with project-based learning ideas was ready. It is now up on LINCs and can be found by following this link: Integrating Digital Literacy and Problem Solving into Instruction

LINCS is offering a webinar where those piloting these lessons will discuss how they adapted the lessons to meet the needs of their learners. (See information below.) There are two full-fledged lessons. One is aimed at lower level students and poses the problem of finding a library where students can get computer access. The other is a more comprehensive lesson based on getting connected to Everyone On that I posted above earlier.  

How could you adapt these for use in your class or program? It would be great to hear some of your adaptations. Don't miss the additional lesson ideas on pages 21-24.  

Steve Quann

World Education, Inc 


Free Webinar

Thursday, August 13, 2015, 3:00-4:30 pm Eastern

Register now!

Integrating Problem Solving, Digital Literacy and Access into Instruction 

Hear how adult educators have been integrating digital literacy into instruction. Ideas will be shared on how to use project-based learning activities to help adult students improve their solving problems skills while offering practice with reading, writing, speaking and listening. A panel of practitioners will share their ideas on how adult learners can improve digital literacy skills and access to technology thereby accelerating learning.

Hosts: Steve Quann and Ben Bruno, LINCS Region 1 Professional Development Center, a project of World Education 

Welcome: Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, Team Leader, Applied Innovation and Improvement, Division of Adult Education and Literacy, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education 

Presenters: A panel of adult educators will share how they have implemented lesson ideas.

Pre-webinar assignment: Review Integrating Digital Literacy and Problem Solving into Instruction

Steve, Kenny and others,

How important is project-based learning to prepare for, and for doing one's job in, the world of work?

Here's one indication, and also a heads-up that sometime this summer we hope to have a discussion in the Technology and Learning CoP, the Career Pathways CoP, and the Program Management CoP, about micro-credentials, including digital badges, and online learning portfolios. Udacity, a major MOOC provider, is now offering "nanodegrees" (micro-credentials), and they are based on completing learning projects. and From their FAQ: 

Nanodegree curriculums are designed to help you become job-ready. Similar to our course experience, you'll work on projects. Unlike our individual courses, you'll need to submit your projects by a given deadline for validation. Each course and project builds on each other so, at the end, you'll have a portfolio of projects to demonstrate to potential employers that you're job-ready.

Will Nanodegrees be recognized by major employers? The Udacity web page says their courses are built by Google, facebook, MongoDB, cloudera and at&t, so perhaps yes. 

Kenny, Steve, and others, what evidence are you seeing, including from your own experience, that project-based learning -- and micro-credentials based on learning projects -- are of interest to employers?

David J. Rosen

Technology and Learning CoP Moderator


Hi David,

As you many have experienced, I am sure, whether it is a product from a project-based learning activity as an outcome to add to a student's portfolio or a certificate or any type of credential, I have seen incredible motivation come from the value placed on these by adult learners. Unfortunately, in my work on career readiness initiatives,  I have not seen this translated into wide enthusiasm by employers. I do know many people are working to change this, but in the meantime, I think we need to help learners find ways to communicate forthrightly about these outcomes and their value when students add them to their resumes or speak about them in interviews or in conversations with their present supervisors. 

Anyone else have some hopeful evidence of change in this arena?

Steve Quann

World Education, Inc

Upcredentialing -- the phenomenon in which employers are seeking workers with degrees or credentials for jobs that have not historically required them.

This definition from an article published last fall by Inside Higher Ed, highlights a report titled, "Moving the Goalposts: How Demand for a Bachelor’s Degree Is Reshaping the Workforce".  This report was produced by an organization that "studies employment markets by analyzing job advertisements", according to Inside Higher Ed.

There's a lot of insight in this report, but one of the key findings here speaks to Steve's question. The following is a direct quote from the report's key findings.

Jobs resist credential inflation when there are good alternatives for identifying skill proficiency. Many health care and engineering technician jobs, such as Respiratory Therapists, show little sign of upcredentialing. That is likely because those positions are governed by strict licensing or certification standards, well-developed training programs, or by measurable skill standards such that employers do not need to look at a college degree as a proxy for capability.

If we look at what the jobs that have resisted credential inflation have in common, we see greater alignment with industry licensing and credentialing.  I take this as an indication that in order to make learners' educational credentials more meaningful in the job market, we need to align what we do in the classroom with existing industry credentials.  In cases where these aren't clearly established, we need to advocate for greater participation by industry in setting these standards, and establishing credentialing to signify proficiency in career fields where they don't yet exist. 

This is a long-term project, and not easily accomplished, but the underlying message for me is that we need more engagement with industry to establish systems and practices that support strong career pathways for our learners.  One place to start could be asking learners to contact the association or credentialing organization in their career field to learn more about what credentialing options exist.  This could be set-up as a web quest activity, where learners search for information on the web.  What other ideas do you have for learners to begin engaging with industry and credentialing organizations?


For those that might not be familiar with Mike's reference to Web Quests, they are a great way for teachers new to using technology and/or project-based learning to start. See one on How to Find a Good Job at  I can see adapting TASK 1 to include searching for and learning more about credentials.

Steve Quann

World Education, Inc. 

Technology and Learning Colleagues,

Our discussion has been very rich, and I want to thank Kenny Tamarkin and Steve Quann for their very thoughtful comments and replies to questions. I also want to thank those who joined in with their questions and observations. Although this discussion is ending, for now at least, since both Kenny and Steve are members of this CoP, if a question, comment, new resource, or something else occurs to you, you can still post it in this thread and Steve and Kenny should see it and, if they can, will respond.

As the T & L CoP Moderator, this was the kind of discussion I hope we have frequently. Although there will be discussions with experts from outside the CoP, we have a great deal of expertise within our group as well, and since this is a Community of Practice, it is important to draw on that in all the discussions. Steve and Kenny, you have certainly showed us what is possible when we draw on knowledge and experience from our community experts here.

Everyone, in case you want to re-visit this discussion, it is archived, and you can find it  by using the LINCS Search feature, with the search terms,

"Helping Learners Problem Solve Using Technology-Rich Environments" or just "technology" although with that search it may take a minute or two longer to find this particular discussion.

David J. Rosen

Technology and Learning Community of Practice