Discussion with Kim Gates, Veteran Adult Education Online Instructor from Atlantic Technical College

We are delighted to have Kim Gates, an 18-year veteran adult basic education online instructor, joining us for a discussion about teaching and learning online!  

Kim Gates comes from a long line of educators.  Her father was a high school science teacher, her mother was an elementary school teacher, and her grandfather was a high school math teacher who even taught Bruce Springsteen!  (Yes, that’s true!)

After earning her bachelor’s degree from The College of New Jersey, Kim moved to Florida and became a 7th grade math teacher in Broward County, FL.  As the saying goes, she fell sideways into adult education and never looked back!  A grades 6 - 12 math certification and a true love for teaching math made her a good fit for GED students who didn’t always like math.  In 2002, Kim was hired to be the GED Online instructor and had a whopping 4 students, but that enrollment quickly grew.  It wasn’t the heyday (yet) for online teaching, but Kim’s love for technology and willingness to try new things was a good way to test the waters to see if distance learning would work for adult education.  Enrollment grew, and grew, and grew, and fast forward many years later, Kim is still teaching online adult education working primarily with lower-level ABE math students and imparting her love of math to them through her live Blackboard Collaborate math classes.  

What’s the secret to having an effective online math class with students who are at different levels and all joining remotely: Be yourself, have fun, and be goofy!  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or bobbles.  Just like teaching in the classroom, every day and every lesson won’t be perfect, and that’s ok!  Students like to see and hear that you’re human just like they are.  Kim is still part of the Broward County Public Schools and currently teaches for Atlantic Technical College in Coconut Creek, FL.

When she’s not teaching online, Kim is out running.  She’s completed 44 marathons and 18 ultra-marathons.  She’s also a cat mom to three adorable rescues: 13-year-old Ginger (a Japanese bobtail), 9-year-old Nina (a “brown tabby with tail”), and the newest member of the family, 20-year-old Rizzo (the little polar bear).  She’d gladly be a crazy cat lady but knows it’s important to keep some goals for the future!

Kim, we so appreciate you being here as our online learning guest expert.  To start the ball rolling, I have a few questions.  Community members, please ask questions and make comments! 

Why did you choose Blackboard Collaborate for your online instruction platform?

What challenges did you face in getting your online instruction going?


Good morning, everyone!  It's great to be here, and I'm happy to share any and all helpful information I have during this as we all transition to a distance learning format!  No question is too big or too small!

I attended a training at Nova Southeastern University where the presenter talked about a live delivery platform called (at the time) Elluminate.  It was exciting, looked easy to use, and seemed way better than the feature-limited whiteboard I was then trying to use with my online students.  I started to ask about Elluminate and found out that my school district, Broward County, had a district-wide license to it!  Talk about a "woo hoo" moment!  The lesson I took away from this is that it's always best to ask (sometimes at multiple levels) if a certain piece of software has been purchased or is available.  Without attending that session at NSU, I don't know when - if ever! - I would've found out about live delivery via web conferencing and how awesome it could be as a component to an online course!  It seriously has been a game changer for my program & my students!

Back in 2002-2003, online learning especially in adult education was nearly unheard of!  In my state, Florida Virtual School was seeing success in working with high school students via the web, but that was sort of it.  The thought among many educators was that adult students wouldn't want online instruction or couldn't handle it (perhaps from the standpoint of being techy-enough to work a computer for the purposes of school work).  Perhaps there was an underlying fear that students would leave the classrooms in droves if given the opportunity to learn from home!  (Needless to say, that didn't happen.)

In the beginning, the biggest challenge was just finding students to enroll!  When I officially began, I had just 4 students that first week.  But like all good instructors, I was determined to give them the best of me; it didn't matter if there were 4 students or 100!  In fact, I think it was really a blessing to only have 4.  I could get my feet wet, find what worked, get more comfortable with the system, and then go from there!  The next week brought a few more students, then a few more the following week, and eventually enrollment got up to normal levels!  I'm glad that no one expected to start things with 20, 30, or even more students from day 1!  That would've been unrealistic and, most probably, a recipe for disaster!  Don't you feel that small growth, especially when beginning something new, is best?

Another hurdle was helping adult students in the use of technology.  This was everything from what website they needed to use to how do they logoff to how do they check their assignments for scores and comments.  Most of my students were true "digital immigrants;" they were not the students we have today who have seemingly been brought up with a computer and cell phone since they were born!    I made lots and lots and lots of phone calls.  I had students log on while I was on the phone, I had them explain what the screen showed, I described where they needed to look, what they needed to click on, and so forth.  A big help was creating step-by-step directions with screen shots so they could see what step 1 should be, what step 2 should be, etc.

When it came to doing webinars via Elluminate and then Collaborate, the biggest challenge was getting students to know what in the heck a webinar was!  Once I got someone in to a live math class, they saw how fun and interactive it was!  But the challenge was in getting them into the first session!  After that, they were hooked, and they'd return time & time again!  Many, many, many phone calls happened.  By calling each student and personally going over what Elluminate was (in terms they could understand) and asking them to log in to a session to try it out, participation grew.  Think about how nice it is to receive a personal invitation to something; sure - sometimes you get put on the spot and say "yes" just to appease someone, but hopefully that pressure to say "yes" leads you to try something new or attend an event you wouldn't have necessarily done on your own.

Another hurdle was getting more teachers to participate!  The sessions were awesome, but they were just one component of my job.  By getting more teachers into the mix, more live lessons could be delivered and all of our students could take advantage of these opportunities!  I won't lie: there were some teachers who jumped in right away and were super excited to try this, but there were also other teachers who had no interest in this and would've refused forever.  I'm grateful to those first 3 teachers who joined me in this endeavor and really showed what a great addition a live delivery component is to distance learning.  The best part was we each had a different area of expertise!  So the teacher with a HS English background taught the language arts & writing sessions; the teacher with the social studies background taught webinars around social studies topics, and the teacher with the technology/CTE (career and technical education) skills taught classes with this focus.  It was truly a collaboration that gave something for every student!!!!

Oh - good question, and I like how this balances out the "biggest hurdles" because sometimes it's easier to focus on the problems.  If I had to pick just 1 "lesson learned," it's to have a plan B, a plan C, and a plan D too!   We always expect technology to work (be it hardware like our computers, our smart phones, our headsets, etc. or the software and websites), but be ready to go to your back-up plan if things don't go right!  Sometimes you need to go to the back-up plan's back-up plan!  What if your computer won't connect to the wifi?  Plan B: Reboot!  But what if that doesn't help? Plan C: Go to a secondary device!  What if you don't have one or if that doesn't work?  Plan D: Have a "buddy" who you can call (perhaps a colleague) to assist!  See what I mean?    (Oh, and trust me - the above scenario is not just a hypothetical!  Been there, done that, and got the t-shirt too!  Haha!)

Hi Kim!

Thank you for all your words of wisdom!  It is always helpful to learn about the "pioneer" before we jump in ourselves!  Online instruction is relatively new to me.  First, it was training EBRI via the new STAR online platform.  I'm really just getting my feet wet, currently instructing my second cohort.  I have definitely used both email and the telephone to clarify many issues during this time.  Tomorrow I begin instructing with Zoom in a correctional education classroom.  I am a substitute, filling in for the permanent teacher, so I will only teach occasionally.  I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

Have you, or do you have knowledge of teaching online in corrections?  EVERYTHING is different in corrections, and changes daily!

Thanks for your insight!


Hi, Jeri!
I always wanted to do more when it came to being involved in adult ed for corrections; the problem was that (at least in the past), Internet connectivity was not necessarily as easy to come by in those settings, and many places opted for closed network programs (ie: not online or cloud-based).  Security was (obviously) a huge concern, and sometimes it felt like the traditional way of teaching (ie: classroom-based) was how it would be forever.  I hope that's changed because there are so many truly wonderful resources like School Tube, Teacher Tube, Khan Academy, etc.  I'm loving that you're going to be able to teach via Zoom!  If you don't mind me asking, what state is this?  Please follow-up and let me know how it goes!  Zoom is all the rage these days, and there are lots of great live-delivery platforms.  Will it be just one camera showing the group to you?  Will there be a facilitator at the location to help?  What will your topic be?  Oh, I think I have more questions for YOU!!!!

Hi, Kim -

Thanks for joining us and sharing your experience with leading the way in online adult education instruction.  Would you tell us more about your learners at Atlantic Technical College (ATC)?  I'm curious about learner demographics, and what type of program(s) they are enrolled in at ATC?  I was happy, but not surprised, to see a CTE teacher in your original cohort of online educators.  So many CTE teachers I've worked with open to learning and integrating new technologies into their classrooms.  Does ATC have an identified career pathways program?

Going back to your learners, what CTE programs are they enrolled in, or planning to enroll in the future?  I'm also curious how you've seen CTE colleagues tackle some of the unique challenges to using virtual learning in their lab-based instruction, or with teaching specialized technical skills?


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator


Hi, Mike!  It's awesome working at a technical college and to be able to have the added bonus of amazing CTE programs for the adult education students to take advantage of both during or after they finish their adult education.  We call our department "academic studies," and all students who sign up meet with one of 2 incredible career advisors, Ms. Kahn or Ms. Bouqlata, before they begin with me.  This allows the student to learn more about what career options are available to them through ATC or our sister technical colleges in the county.  Some programs (like Cosmetology, Culinary, Automotive, etc) give students the opportunity to take classes for their career field and earn an industry credential while simultaneously working on their academics.  Other programs (like Practical Nursing) require students to complete their academic studies ahead of time.  What I like best is that ATC is always encourage students to see their ABE/GED classes as a stepping stone (ie: a pathway) into a career field!

My students range from the younger side (a few who are 16 or 17 years old) on up to those who I like to call "true adult students" who may be in their 50s and 60s.  Some of these students know exactly what they want to do as far as a career and others are still trying to figure that out.  We talk to our students about the opportunities available to them including financial aid, career placement, and articulation agreements that exist between the technical colleges and the state colleges which allow them to continue their studies and have credits given for successful program completion.  The Out of School Youth (OSY) grant is also another great opportunity available to some of our students who meet certain grant requirements as to age, TABE scores, etc.  I'm so proud of the support that the school as a whole gives each & every student who comes to us with the goal of academic skill improvement and/or earning a GED.

As you can imagine, certain programs in the CTE arena lend themselves better to distance learning.  Some like medical coding and billing can be done 100% at a distance (outside, of course, of certification exams for state credentials).  Others like automotive or massage therapy have to have a certain portion that's hands-on.  Could you imagine taking your car to a mechanic who says "yeah, I learned all about how to do an oil change by reading about it, watching simulations, and taking tests/quizzes, but I never did one in real life?"  Haha!  Many programs like these have a certain amount of core work that can be done online, and these classes end up with a blended format where some parts are online and other parts are on-campus.  So many career fields have technology that impacts how people do their jobs that it's not surprising to see that even the most hands-on careers can have at least a little bit done online.

A full list of ATC's programs can be found on our website (https://www.atlantictechnicalcollege.edu/); we've got something for everyone: trades like architecture, manufacturing, and construction to business management to health science and more!  Over the years, I've had students who were in almost every program.  Some of them may not have had a HS diploma and were aiming to taking and pass the GED test in order to earn one; others students have had HS diplomas but needed skill improvement to meet their program's basic skill requirements.  What I love about being a part of adult education is that this is literally a life-changing opportunity for students!  Perhaps they're coming in with a singular goal of meeting their program requirements or earning a GED, but the skill improvement that they having is something that benefits them (to the point of new/better job opportunities) and their friends/family (by being able to help with homework - especially when they're parents to little ones).

A colleague of mine, Charlie, once said "we're in the business of changing lives," and he could not have summed it up any better!

Hi, Kim -

Thanks for giving us more insight to your work and ATC's many programs!  I agree, some careers are more easily translated to fully virtual, or remote instruction (medical coding and billing; programming certifications; digital marketing; etc.) but others can still be integrated into blended learning environments.  I wouldn't want a mechanic to work on my car without having first performed the same tasks in real life, but many newer cars have to be diagnosed by computer before the mechanic knows where to begin.  Luckily, my car is over 20 years old, so I can still troubleshoot a lot of its problems on my own. 

Medical professionals, mechanics, and others used to working with specialized equipment are more and more needing skills that are acquired and practiced through virtual learning platforms. While these can't (and I hope never will) replace human interactions and experiences, they have come a long way in providing greater access for learners with the resources to access these digital platforms.  With virtual and augmented realities making their way into CTE and job skills training, I imagine the importance of thinking about the blend of in-person and digital learning will only become more important to adult educators, from ABE and ESL to those teaching in more technical skills-based programs. 

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator



Mike, you bring up a good point about how important it is to think about online classes (in some capacity) for adult education.  In fact, in FL, HS students must complete at least 1 online class in order to pass and earn a diploma.  If that requirement exists for HS and if adult education should (somewhat) mirror that, I think we'd be doing our students a disservice if we didn't encourage them to take at least a portion of their studies online.  If nothing else, students' computer literacy skills could absolutely improve!  Talk about a usable life skill!

Hi Kim!

Once again, thanks so much for giving your time and sharing your expertise with us!  As WIOA asks us to prepare students to transition to further education and training, I agree that having our adult basic education students be familiar with online learning is a must.  Even many face to face classes now have online components to them, so our students must be familiar with online learning management systems.  

Many people are speculating about how things will be different once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.  Now that many adult education practitioners and students have had a taste of online learning, I see online learning continuing to grow, change, and improve.  The future will continue to be challenging and exciting! 

Thanks again so much for sharing your thoughts and expertise!

Steve Schmidt

LINCS Reading and Writing CoP Moderator



Thank you, Steve, and the rest of the LINCS members for allowing me to join your discussion!  This was fun, and I hope it has sparked some new ideas on distance learning and real-time instructional delivery to keep our students engaged and learning!  Stay in touch!  Kim.Gates@browardschools.com