August 5th Discussion with Sierra Stoneman-Bell on her study of NYC programs' transition to remote teaching

Hello Integrating Technology Colleagues,

As you may know, we will have a day-long asynchronous discussion on Wednesday August 5th with Sierra Stoneman-Bell, from the Literacy Assistance Center in New York City, about the survey she has done with adult basic skills practitioners about the transition of in-person programs in New York City to online learning.This is an opportunity to get an in-depth view of the experiences of our colleagues in New York City, and to see what resonates with our own programs and what is different. I encourage you to comment on those similarities and differences during the discussion. I also encourage you not to wait until August 5th, but instead to read about the findings and post your questions here now. You can read the report at

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group



Hello Colleagues,

Because of hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaias, power is out this morning in the home of our presenter, Sierra Stoneman-Bell. Although it is still possible that we can begin the discussion later today about her study of NYC programs' transition to remote teaching, the discussion could be delayed until tomorrow or Friday.

You might be able to use this time to read the report of her study at, if you haven't yet, and to post your questions here.  Thanks.

David J. Rosen, Moderator,

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

Hello Colleagues,

I would like to welcome Sierra Stoneman-Bell who will join us today for a discussion about the results of a survey she conducted in New York City, in May 2020, of practitioners' experiences with the sudden transition from in-person to remote/virtual/distance teaching and learning. This was one of several studies conducted on the adult basic skills transition in the U.S. this spring whose results have been, or will be, reported in this LINCS group. This is a great opportunity to compare your experiences as an adult basic skills practitioner with those of practitioners in New York City, as well as with results from other surveys, interviews and studies being reported here.

If you haven't yet, you can read the report of the study that Sierra conducted at

Sierra will be with us only today, so please post your questions now, on Friday, August 7th before 5:00 Eastern time, earlier if possible. I have many questions for Sierra that I will post throughout the day.

Here's some background information about Sierra, and about the Literacy Assistance Center in New York City under whose auspices the study was conducted.

Sierra Stoneman-Bell is Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Literacy Assistance Center (LAC), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting adult education in New York. Sierra began at the LAC in 2016 as the project lead for the Investing in Quality project and then for the Literacy & Justice Initiative. Prior to this, Sierra directed the adult education and workforce programs at Make the Road New York (MRNY), as part of a larger strategy to build the power of working class and immigrant communities through organizing, policy innovation, education, and survival services. Before joining MRNY, Sierra was Co-Director of Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, where she led advocacy campaigns at city and state levels for public policies that support adult education, school-community partnerships, and youth opportunities. Sierra also worked as Associate Director of the Institute for Urban Education at The New School and as a senior staff member at Youth Action Programs and Homes in East Harlem, where she continues to serve on the Board of Directors. Sierra holds an M.S. in Urban Policy from Milano/The New School and a B.A. from Brown University.

The Literacy Assistance Center (LAC) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to strengthening and expanding the adult education system, and to advancing adult literacy as a core value in our society and a foundation for equal opportunity and social justice. Since 1983, the LAC has been providing training and technical assistance to build the capacity of the basic education, high school equivalency, and English language programs that serve New York’s most educationally disadvantaged adults. Currently, the LAC provides professional development, technical assistance, and data management and support to over 200 adult literacy programs funded by the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) and the New York State Education Department (NYSED). In 2019, the LAC launched the Literacy & Justice Initiative, a new project to advance adult literacy education as a part of a broader vision and movement for racial, social and economic justice.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

Hello LINCS Colleagues and Sierra,

I would like to start with these two general questions about the survey for Sierra:

  1. Are you able to share the 40 Questions in the survey?
  2. Were there any types of adult basic skills (including ESOL/ESL) programs that were not surveyed, for example LEAs, union-based programs, or workplace adult basic skills programs?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

Good morning LINCS Community!

Many thanks to David for the invitation, and thanks to everyone for your patience with getting this conversation started. I’m pleased to be part of this online dialogue and to share highlights of what we’re learning in New York City about the impact of COVID-19 on adult literacy programs and students and how the field is adapting for the future.

In response to the first couple of questions:

You can see our full survey at this link, if you’re interested:

Most of the 72 survey responses were from staff at programs run by community-based organizations (76%), local community colleges (9%), and public libraries (9%). We received a handful of other responses, including one from the LEA, one union, and a couple of other types of programs, but those types of programs are not widely reflected in the results.

I look forward to continuing today's discussion.


Sierra Stoneman-Bell

Literacy Assistance Center


  1. Are the “risks as essential workers” that you refer to all virus risks or do they also include safety risks?  People who have kept or who started physically dangerous jobs, for example in construction, might also be at risk.
  2. “Eighty-eight percent of survey respondents said these issues have been exacerbated for their students by limited reading, writing, English language, and/or digital literacy skills.” Do you have examples from the survey, or from additional information you may be aware of, about specific ways that limited reading, writing, English language, and/or digital literacy skills have exacerbated job and income loss, limited supporting children’s homeschooling, increased food and housing insecurity, made it more difficult to care for family members, increased health or other risks as essential workers, made immigration issues more challenging, exacerbated mental health issues, or limited access to healthcare?
  3. Adult literacy programs have risen to the challenge, quickly moving and adapting their instruction to remote platforms like Zoom, Google Classroom, and WhatsApp and providing additional one-on-one support to their students through phone calls, text messages, online platforms, email, and expanded support services. Programs are supporting students to continue their learning, stay connected to a caring community, and access essential information and services.” Have local government funders, private sector funders, charitable foundations, and/or individual donors risen to help programs meet the challenges, including access to technology hardware and Internet service? If so, can you give some examples?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

Responding to the questions posted by David...

1. In the LAC's survey and report, the reference to “risks as essential workers” was meant in the context of COVID-19 pandemic, e.g. grocery, delivery, food service, and homecare workers. But certainly many adult education students work or have worked in industries and occupations with other health and safety risks and labor violations, like construction, cleaning, and salon work in addition to those mentioned above.

2. We didn’t ask for narrative explanation of this specific survey question related to how the issues students were facing were exacerbated by limited literacy skills, but there are many examples from other sections of the report, as well as from conversations with program staff.  Here are a few that stand out in my mind.   

  • Many adult students face challenges navigating systems/supports/relief without English language proficiency and/or confidence communicating in English or advocating for language access services. This crisis has, once again, underscored the crucial role of community-based organizations (CBOs) that immigrant and working class community members already know and trust. A report put out in May by Make the Road New York (an organization that offers adult education classes in connection with their community organizing work) on a survey of mostly immigrant residents in one of the hardest hit areas of Queens, NY, showed CBOs as a main source of both information and direct support, including cash assistance, while the government was very low on the list.
  • Homeschooling – challenges with communicating with children’s teachers and/or accessing/navigating online school assignments, feeling unequipped to support/guide their children with school work, etc.
  • A program leader in a recent meeting said one of his students had asked something along the lines of: “Without English, how can I even identify when someone is discriminating against me?”
  • Having trouble navigating health care, hospital policies, making arrangements for loved ones who died, etc.
  • The language and digital literacy gaps make everything harder when most communication must be done by phone or online.


3. To the question about whether funders have stepped up to help programs meet the challenges, I would say no, not in any substantial way to date. Some of the local government funding agencies have offered much needed flexibility during this period. But in terms of resources, programs are facing funding cuts at local and state levels, and there is very limited private funding directed to adult literacy education. I'll write more about digital access in another post.


Hello Integrating Technology colleagues,

It isn't clear to me how many people have re-registered in the LINCS Community since the platform upgrade, but judging by the number of views of discussions, it looks like many have not yet found their way back. I hope you, who are reading this, will join in this discussion, and I have some questions for you:

  1. Which of the list of pressing issues for students at the bottom of page 4 of the survey report resonate with what your students are experiencing?
  2. At the top of page 5 of the report is a description of technology barriers that students in NYC face. Which of these resonate with what your students are experiencing?
  3. At the bottom of page 8 of the report is a chart of staff supports needed for remote instruction. Which of these resonate with what your students are experiencing?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

4. On Page 11 are these findings: “In the current pandemic, the main advantage of remote learning has been the ability to continue programming while ensuring the safety of students, staff, and their families, but many benefits extend beyond that. For students with reliable technology and internet access, remote learning allows students to participate from home and offers more flexibility to juggle work, parenting, studies, and other responsibilities. It saves time, money, and worry for travel and childcare, and expands access for students who may not have been able to participate in on-site classes due to physical limitations, health issues, work schedules, religious customs, not being able to afford subway fare, or needing someone to be home with the kids. More students have shown interest in classes during afternoon hours than before the shift to remote learning.” Which if any of these findings in New York City are also true for what you and your students have been experiencing?

5, Also on Page 11 are these findings” Students and staff are gaining valuable digital literacy skills. Students are learning important computer skills and online platforms, which better prepare them for college and the job market. Teachers are learning how to lead and manage classes online. They are expanding their teaching techniques and incorporating synchronous and asynchronous learning formats and digital tools to maximize student access and engagement. Many teachers are video recording their lessons for students to access when they miss class or cannot join at the time offered. Teachers also have had more access to professional development offered online. This emergency situation has highlighted the need for greater use of technology in adult education and has prepared teachers, albeit in a challenging way, to plan and deliver distance learning classes.” Which if any of these findings in New York City are also true for what you and your students have been experiencing?

6. Sierra Stoneman-Bell described four models that programs in New York City are considering using (listed below) Is your program considering using one of these? Will you be using a different model? If so, what?

  • Continuing some classes remotely while reconvening some classes in person
  • Convening classes once a week in person and other days remotely
  • Conducting classes with some students in person and others participating remotely
  • Assigning students to different in-person/remote schedules.

David  J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

4.“For students with reliable technology and internet access, remote learning has offered some benefits…” From the survey, or other evidence, have program staff mentioned a desire to keep some features of remote learning once they can also return to in-person learning?  If so, what features do they think are especially important to retain?

5.“For effective remote instruction, staff need professional development; new methods for outreach, enrollment, and assessment; more paid time for preparation and planning; support with technology equipment and online tools; and more resources for students.”  Could you expand on this with examples?

6.“Ninety-two percent of respondents saw benefits and opportunities in remote programming, beyond as a temporary alternative to in-person classes. Nearly half (45%) reported that their programs envision continuing to offer some form of remote teaching even after the city reopens – and they see this as an opportunity to serve a greater number of students at a time of increased need and demand, as more New Yorkers seek out adult literacy programs to upgrade their skills during a time of economic uncertainty.” And “Programs are imagining new, creative program solutions to respond to the new reality, including hybrid learning models that incorporate remote and in-person formats.” Do you – does the Literacy Assistance Center – see remote or blended learning as an important way to expand adult basic skills (including English language) to adults in New York City?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

More responses to questions #4-6:

4. Yes. Many staff see remote learning as a way for students who might not be able to attend classes in person (for a variety of reasons including childcare issues, travel time/expenses, work schedules, health issues, physical mobility issues, etc.) to participate and continue their learning, even after the current health crisis ends. For some students who have reliable devices and internet access and digital literacy skills, the remote format seems to work better. Some programs reports that some students are more present and engaged. This seems to more true for students who are more tech savvy and starting at higher literacy levels, as well as those engaged in classes/programs with particular vocational or employment goals.

This emergency transition to remote learning has certainly pushed teachers and students to quickly gain valuable digital literacy skills. This is something that should continue in an intentional, integrated way.

Teachers also commented on the fact that other models now seem more possible, e.g. intensive online classes during evenings and/or weekends. Moving professional development online has made it more accessible to teachers/staff during this time, and this is something to consider for the future.

The ability to offer distance learning as part of a wider array of programming could allow programs to engage more students without the costs or other hurdles to access physical space.

You can find more details on p. 11 of the report:


5. There has been a steep learning curve for staff to quickly pivot to remote teaching. Especially in the first couple of months, teachers were eager for professional development and support in learning basic tech tools and platforms (like Zoom, Padlet, Google slides, white boards, etc.), as well as how to adapt their teaching approach to a remote format. In the last few months, the LAC’s professional development team has trained hundreds of teachers on a range of topics, and it’s just the start.

For remote intake and assessment, programs are inventing new practices and protocols as they go, with mobile-friendly access as a guiding requirement since many students are connecting via smartphone. There has been little guidance from funders in these areas, as most policies were put on hold temporarily.

Staff report that extra time is needed not just to transition to remote teaching but also to sustain it, and this has implications for staffing structures and compensation. Many part-time teachers are paid for a small number of prep/planning/admin hours in conjunction with direct teaching hours. These guidelines need to be revisited (by programs and funders) to support teachers to do their best work and get paid fairly for it. In the words of one staff member, “There is also no way that the time we are paying instructors for during regular programming is enough to review and respond to the daily assignments.” (p. 14).

And of course, the digital barriers must be resolved to make remote learning a viable education option moving forward. Many students and some staff need reliable, free internet access and equipment, supplemented with technology training and support. Otherwise, access will be seriously limited. In NYC, technology access is being provided for K-12 students but not for adult education students. Some adult students who are parents of school-aged children are relying on the devices and internet access being provided to their kids by the NYC Dept. of Education.  

In the face of current challenges, students need more support with basic needs (cash assistance, food, housing, health care), as well as mental health, legal services, language access, decisions regarding family, school, work, safety, and much more.   


6. Yes. If supported by public funders, adult education programs can use what they’ve learned in this emergency to integrate technology into new models that expand access to more adults, not as a replacement for in-person learning, but as a way to expand options for programs and students.

7,“The ‘digital divide’ remains a serious barrier, and an over-emphasis on remote programming could leave behind those students who do not have reliable internet access, hardware, or basic digital literacy skills.”  Do you think the pandemic has awakened potential local, state or national funders to the seriousness of the digital divide problem in New York City and that, as a result, the gap might be narrowed?

8.“Continued city and state funding are critical for programs to be able to sustain services and adapt to the new situation. Reductions in public funding could lead to program cuts and/or closures, layoffs, and more loss for communities already hard hit by COVID-19 health and economic impacts.” In some cities, Philadelphia for example, reductions in public funding have resulted in the closing of the Mayor’s Office on Adult Literacy. Has New York City already cut public funding to adult basic skills?

9.“Programs need maximum flexibility, trust, and collaboration from funders to design new approaches and respond to the challenges and opportunities of their particular program, student population, and location, especially in this period of crisis response and phased re-opening.” What are some of the new approaches that have been discussed?

10. “If given the necessary resources and support, the adult education field can use this time of hardship to learn, adapt, and emerge in a stronger position to support students to achieve their goals and aid the city’s recovery.” Adult educators across the country, for example in LINCS discussions, as well as in surveys and interviews feel strongly that they need professional development as well as direct experience to effectively change their program models. Is this something the Literacy Assistance Center has already been helping with, or hopes to help with, specifically with generating and documenting these new models?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group


Thanks for the questions, David. Here are my responses to #7-10:

7. Yes, this pandemic situation has definitely highlighted the need for digital access and equity across the board. There are consistent calls across issue areas for policymakers and funders to address the gap. NYC K-12 public school students have been supported with devices and internet access, and the City has announced plans to accelerate the expansion of broadband internet access in hard-hit communities, including public housing. (According to the NYC Internet Master Plan, 46% of New York City households living in poverty do not have broadband at home. A full 18% of all New York City residents – more than 1.5 million people – have neither home nor mobile connection.) But we have not seen anything hitting the ground yet that has opened up access much beyond that. This is definitely an advocacy issue for the field.


8. Re: funding, the NYC FY2021 budget passed in June cut 18% of a $12 million annual city funding stream that has supported community-based adult education for the past 4 years. We are still waiting for full information about how this will impact programs on the ground. The cuts could have been worse considering the overall budget outlook, but any cut is damaging as the field is already so under-resourced. Framing adult education as an immigrant justice issue in NYC has been a successful advocacy approach in recent years and may have been one reason we avoided deeper cuts this year. New York State is also warning of slowed contract payments and significant funding cuts if no federal relief to states is passed soon.  


9. There are many ideas and new practices that programs are planning and/or trying out – remote intake and enrollment using mobile-friendly tools, developing hybrid/blended models that combine aspects of in-person and remote learning, engaging volunteers to provide tech support, rethinking staffing structures, and much more. Here’s an excerpt from the report that explains a bit more especially in relation to phased re-opening:

“With flexible options, programs will be able to reach more students while maintaining social distancing and reducing the number of people in physical spaces. Some possibilities include: continuing some classes remotely while reconvening some classes in person; convening classes once a week in person and other days remotely; conducting classes with some students in person and others participating remotely; and assigning students to different in-person/remote schedules. Students who miss class could access recorded lessons and complete remote work outside of class. Some classes could continue in fully remote formats for students with technology capacity who are not able to participate in person due to work schedules, travel time/expense, or family responsibilities.

“Other program adjustments may include changing the physical classroom space to follow distancing guidelines, staggering hours for staff and students, and integrating more support for parents as they support their children’s education given the uncertainty regarding public school re-opening.” (p. 12)


10.  Much of the Literacy Assistance Center's (LAC) core work is supporting NY programs with professional development, instructional coaching, and data support. The LAC has played a critical role in helping programs transition to remote learning and training teachers on new tools and techniques. We are also playing a leading role in advocacy with city and state funders to adapt policies to support programs during this time and into the future. We expect to be involved in supporting the field to generate and implement new models, through providing forums for teachers to share emerging best practices; disseminating best practices through our professional development, coaching, and technical assistance with teachers and programs; and highlighting these emerging best practices from the field as part of our advocacy efforts to increase investment.


Sierra Stoneman-Bell

Literacy Assistance Center

Full Survey Findings Questions

  1. The phrase “Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning” seems to be a good description of what many programs across the country have provided since the pandemic began. At the bottom of page six you have included a graph with a list of the top challenges. Do you have any additional information at this point about the extent to which any of these have been addressed?
  2. “PROGRAM IMPACT & TRENDS.  Not surprisingly, COVID-19 and the emergency move to remote learning had negative impacts on student attendance and retention in many programs. Seventy-eight percent of survey respondents reported lower attendance compared to the previous year, while 22% reported steady or higher attendance. Sixty-nine percent reported lower retention, while 31% observed steady or higher retention.” Can the survey data or other information explain what factors led to the 22% having steady or higher retention rates and the 31% having steady or higher retention?


David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

Responding to the final questions about the full survey findings:

1. From the LAC’s professional development team’s ongoing contact with teachers/staff, we know there has been much learning and adjusting among students and teachers/staff. And many challenges remain.

The digital access challenge has not been addressed system-wide and remains a major barrier. For students with access, they have certainly gained digital literacy skills during this period, alongside many teachers. There was no choice. And programs figured out all sorts of creative (and time-consuming) ways to provide extra support to students in this emergency transition. One challenge now is to deepen the new practices and integration of new tools to improve the teaching and learning experience beyond emergency response. Organizations and funders also need to recognize the extra work required to transition and plan for and facilitate quality remote teaching and learning.

Regarding assessment, some programs have begun using remote versions of standard assessment tools like BEST Plus testing. Others have found or created their own assessment tools. But this is still a gap where there’s a lot of uncertainty, inconsistency, and little guidance from funders so far.


2. As noted in the question, more programs saw a drop in attendance and retention. But for some students, remote classes have worked better -- no need to travel, spend time away from family, etc. They’ve been more able to participate from home, and some are even more engaged. Classes have provided a valued sense of community and mutual support, and/or welcome time-out from the myriad challenges of the pandemic. Remote classes have offered a way to keep learning and engaging even under quarantine. Some students have had more time and fewer conflicts during this period. 

One staff member reported: “Each week we have more students connecting with the program. Because geography is not a limitation now, we find that students who were unable to come in person are now attending online classes. Some of our students also have more free time because of job loss and want to use their time constructively.”

For more on the “Benefits and Opportunities of Remote Learning,” see p. 11 of the report.

Also linking an article from May that offers a good snapshot of two local NYC programs and their students during this period:


Hello Colleagues,

Although I am disappointed that there have been no questions or comments from the members of the Integrating Technology group, I am now aware of some possible technical problems that may have caused this low response. I hope that those who did not receive email notifications of the discussion today (neither Sierra nor I received these, although both of us had received notifications in the past) will eventually get notifications and will read the discussion.

I want to thank Sierra for her terrific responses to my questions, providing thoughtful answers to all of them. Her commitment will be fulfilled this evening when she replies to my last two questions. Of course, I would be delighted to have her remain as a member of the Integrating Technology group.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

It was my pleasure to share about our work in NYC, and I look forward to hearing more about what all of you are learning through this challenging time. Thanks to David for the invitation and many thoughtful questions. Signing off for today. 

In solidarity,

Sierra Stoneman-Bell

Literacy Assistance Center

I am so grateful to see the postings about Sierra Stoneman-Bell's survey and David Rosen's questions. I wish that I had received notification about the discussion. Thanks, David, for providing all of this valuable information, including the Literacy and Justice Initiative.

Nan Frydland

ESL Instructor