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Drop-In Centers 2020

More people have learned about online education in the past few weeks than they probably did during the last 10 years. At least we all now know the importance of online learning.

So now would be a good time once again to introduce the idea of drop-in centers for adult education. 

The concept is very simple. Just imagine a place such as a library where any adult can go to learn computer skills so as to access a wide variety of online classes.

To facilitate the education of these students' education, there could be paid staff who act as tutors. Now connect this process up throughout the whole city. In this way Community College classes, literacy classes at the libraries and community centers - all become connected and even interdependent. 

I suspect that funding for such a project would be much easier to get than if each program were to "go it alone". 

In any case, I personally think it is an idea whose time has come - for sure this time.


Shelia Palmer's picture

Hi Mr. Rogers and Colleagues,

I have always thought this model would be a great project to pursue.  I am currently working on a business plan to execute this process.  Thank you for your insight.  I hope all is well with you and family!



David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Hello Paul, and others,

I wonder if, during the pandemic at least, there could be online drop-in centers. At first I thought, this is an absurd idea, that the face-to-face drop-in center's purpose is to help people who don't have online access get it, learn how to be comfortable and competent in using computers or smartphones to access and use online learning. However, as necessity is the mother of invention, I have been trying to imagine what this might look like. Here is a possible scenario that might give you a sense of how I am thinking about this:

1. An adult learner, let's call her Angela, possibly a student enrolled in an in-person English language program that has recently had to close, possibly not, wants to improve her English skills using the computer online. She has a computer at home, and it usually has Internet access except when her husband doesn't pay the Internet Service Provider bill, which doesn't happen very often. Her husband and children know how to use the computer and the Internet but she doesn't, and they are not excited about teaching her because it would mean less time on the computer for them if she were also using it, and because they lack the patience to teach her. A friend tells Angela that there is a free 12-hour a day, 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. (state or national, possibly public library-sponsored) computer and internet skills information and training hotline with people who speak her first language as well as English. Her friend said that they will take time with you, and you can call back as many times as you need.  She calls, chooses the option to get a Spanish-speaker, and the woman technology helper asks her questions (in Spanish) to determine what she might need:

These are the questions, but in English:

  • Hello. what's your first name? Your first name only, please. Angela
  • Hello Angela. I need to ask you some questions about what kind of computer or smartphone you have, and about your Internet service. These will enable me to help you better.
  • Do you have a working computer at home? Yes
  • Do you have Internet service? Yes, usually.
  • What kind of computer is it? I don't know. I think maybe a Dell.
  • Can you go to it now? Yes......okay I am looking at it. It says "Dell".
    • Can you you find the model number? It might be be at the back, or if it is a laptop maybe underneath, or you may need to turn it on to find the serial #. If I know this I will be able to help you better. I can't find it.
    • Is there someone home whom you can ask? No, but I can ask my husband later, and call you back.
    • Okay, call this same number.  I am setting up a file for you and it will have a unique identification number. Here it is: Angela 69321 Whoever you talk to next will have my notes and can help you. Please write down this identification number and have it, and your dell computer model number, with you when you call back. Ok, thank you.

On a later call

  • Hello, am I speaking to Angela? Yes.
  • How can I help you Angela? First tell me what you now know how to do.  I can open the computer, and turn it on.  I know how to use the mouse. I want to learn English online, but don't know how to find an English class.

And so on...

There could be another scenario where Federico calls. He doesn't have a computer, but he does have a smartphone and, using it, he can access the Internet from home.

The telephone hotline service could help with the most basic skills such as turning a computer on, using a mouse or trackpad, using a keyboard, getting to a basic computer skills website. The website could have links to the free version of the Northstar digital literacy assessment and, after Angela or Federico were comfortable with the most basic skills, a telephone helper could assign a module, or could point them to an English language website. 

This is a time-intensive service, but it could be provided remotely by interns or volunteers. For example, there are now over 7,000 Peace Corps Volunteers being sent back from their host countries to their homes in the U.S. Most do not have jobs and they will probably need them. They may be interested in further education, but right now that is out of the question. They speak other languages besides English. They would be good telephone helper candidates, working remotely from their homes, for this online technical assistance and basic computer -- or smartphone -- skills training. Its goal would be to help people who lack digital literacy skills to become competent and comfortable in using a computer or smartphone for online English language learning, for example to join, or to join an online learning circle using the We Are New York  or the We Speak New York videos, to get access to the free English language website USALearns, or to purchase a subscription to an English language app like Learning Upgrade or CellEd. Also, some of the proprietary products, during the pandemic, are being offered for free or at a discount. Volunteer telephone helpers, again during this emergency, could get a government stipend from the new Stimulus Package that was just passed, or from a subsequent one.

I could describe the "telephone drop-in center" model in more detail. I have deliberately not fleshed out the Federico scenario where no computer, only a smartphone is available from home. I am hoping that Paul or someone might add details. My hunch is that for many people who already know how to use their smartphone, this could be achieved in one or two sessions with a telephone helper.

I don't know that a state or national telephone help hotline such as I have described will be funded, but if we can think together about it here, maybe we can come up with a credible model to propose.

Anyone interested in this? Tell us your thoughts.

David J. Rosen


Susan Gaer's picture

While I have been busy running CATESOL these days, I think this is a fantastic idea. I think with texting and video chat, those with a only a phone could be helped. In California the majority of learners only have phones.

Paul Rogers's picture
One hundred

David - great idea! This way the needs of all students could be met. It also could connect classes in community colleges, churches, community centers etc. People who start out with non-formal whatsapp classes could eventually be enrolled in a formal program. As the British say: Brilliant!! There should be no problem funding this approach.

RosemaryS in Charlotte's picture

What a grand idea. I was listening to NPR today (Mar 28) and a woman from Alcoholics Anonymous was talking about transitioning from Face-to-Face, in person community groups because of COVID-19. I am currently struggling with taking a writing class for low level English learners online. Fortunately, they are college students. Not all are tech savvy though. They are finding family members or friends who are, and we are all learning together. Beginners, especially, need caring support. The Peace Corps volunteers are an excellent idea, and also those folks who served in the past.Many military and their spouses are another resource to look into. I've also trained volunteer tutors, and there are materials for training already available. The language courses the Peace Corps uses have a basic framework that could work in reverse for learning English. I don't remember details, but the Goodwill Industries Education program has some very basic level practical training online. I realize that there is no organization to this comment. I am tired and just putting my random thoughts into sentences. Would the tutor and the student be matched for a certain period of time? Would they use Zoom or Skype or whatever? There are astounding free resources on learning about every subject imaginable, and at all levels. Dropping in first might actually give courage and a sense of accomplishment and result in students attending "brick and mortar" places of learning!