2017 Highlights from the IDEAL Consortium

By Jen Vanek, Director of the IDEAL Consoritum at World Education


A key strategy to our EdTech Center’s work catalyzing an edtech movement in adult learning is the IDEAL Consortium, a Professional Development (PD) and technical assistance initiative comprised of state-level staff, PD leaders, and ed tech specialists from 11 member states. Through peer mentoring, networking, and an annual Institute, IDEAL members work to improve blended and distance programming in their own states and identify opportunities to combine forces on PD and advocacy initiatives.

To date, this fiscal year, the IDEAL Consortium work has accomplished much.

Professional Development: This fall the EdTech Center has provided a range of online PD options to help over 100 teachers and many program administrators to improve distance and blended learning program options and policy in their state. A highlight of this work is the collaboration between the Outreach and Technical Assistance Network (OTAN) and the EdTech Center in support of OTAN’s Digital Leadership Academy; This work has included training teachers to utilize problem-based learning in both classroom and blended learning.

Policy Advocacy: IDEAL Consortium Director Jen Vanek, together with World Education Vice President Silja Kallenbach and Director of Strategic Initiatives Alison Ascher Webber, convened a call with Cheryl Keenan,  Director of the Division of Adult Education and Literacy, and other Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) staff. The core of the discussion was to share policy challenges articulated by IDEAL Consortium members in the following areas:

  •      NRS guidelines for proxy contact hours and the challenge of counting hours in a blended learning program.
  •      Alternative models for NRS testing at a distance
  •      Standards for digital literacy

OCTAE staff responded with a consistent message, stating that their goal in crafting federal policy is to create flexible guidelines that are relevant in diverse contexts but not unduly restrictive anywhere.

In terms of proxy hours and blended learning, they suggested that states already have flexibility within the federal guidelines to craft state policy that determines how and when to count hours for the online portion of blended learning.  

Similarly, regarding concerns about the difficulty of pre- and post-testing distance learners when they live far from their host institution, OCTAE staff noted that current requirements for in-person testing come from both standardized test developers, like CASAS and TABE, and the federal guidelines. The crux of this policy is that learner identify and time spent testing be visually verified and monitored, not that the test be administered at the ABE program where the learner is registered. There is precedence for testing outside of ABE program sites; in Arizona staff in some libraries across the state are trained to conduct testing, making it possible for distance learners to test closer home.

Finally, when discussion turned to the topic of digital literacy standards, the staff expressed excitement that state leadership is prioritizing developing technology skills of adult learners. However, they suggested they would not likely initiate the development of official digital literacy standards and certainly would not include such standards as an outcome measure. Doing so, would perhaps create unnecessary barriers to providing programming. Further, they acknowledged that the current administration did not place as much value on federally-mandated standards as did the past administration.

With respect to each of these issues it was clear that there is a role for the IDEAL Consortium to play in providing technical assistance to member states as they craft local and state policy that align with current NRS guidelines. The OCTAE staff also said that they were open to continued discussion with EdTech Center staff if issues were raised and would be happy to hear specific recommendations for how policy might be shifted to better guide programs serving adult learners.

IDEAL Summer Institute: In August, the IDEAL Consortium membership met for its annual multi-day IDEAL Consortium Summer Institute. Participants had an opportunity to share information and learn from one another, see presentations, and discuss innovative instructional strategies, important policy considerations, and administrative practices. This year members from the states of Arizona, California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan (Traverse City area), Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas convened.  A highlight of the Institute was a focus group discussion co-facilitated by Ed Tech staff and Mitch Rosin from Aztec Software, which resulted in a white paper titled How Investment in Technology can Accelerate Collective Impact in Adult Learning. The paper includes examples of innovation shared by our member state representatives.  

For more information about joining the IDEAL Consortium, please see program description and registration information on the EdTech Center website.

Published by

Alison Ascher Webber

Alison Ascher Webber

Alison is the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the EdTech Center @ World Education and is a national expert in adult education and mobile learning. As the Education Director for Cell-Ed, Alison led user experience, curriculum design, teacher training, and partnership development and helped grow Cell-Ed’s active users from 20 to over 1,000 low-wage agricultural and service economy workers through employer, union, government, and non-profit partnerships. Most recently, as Associate Director at Avasant Foundation she has supported innovative edtech and employment initiatives for youth in the Caribbean, Africa, and India. Alison has developed curricula, trained teachers, and led adult education programs serving low-wage immigrant workers in California for over 15 years. She brings to World Education deep expertise and experience designing and managing adult education initiatives as the first Executive Director of the Leadership Training & Education Fund and later helping lead the associated statewide non-profit, Building Skills Partnership. The ADVANCE Workplace English and tutoring programs she developed for janitors at leading high-tech companies and universities in Silicon Valley were recognized by the Migration Policy Institute as innovative models for immigrant integration.