From K–12 to Adult Education: Expanding Civics Education Through Distance Learning
by Craig Jones
Education, it need hardly be said, is in a time of massive transition. New methods, technologies, and practices are being developed at lightning speed to improve student outcomes. For educators, this is a wonderful opportunity to improve our instruction while easing some of the burdens of lesson planning. This has been especially notable for me, a high school English and Social Studies teacher who has been in the classroom for nearly a decade. But this semester—the fall of 2023—I have expanded into teaching civics for the Laurel Ridge Community College adult education program, which has allowed me to test some of my previous practices on adult students. Through my personal transition from K–12 to adult education, the role of technology in education has only become more apparent to me. In high school, I have the benefit of having my students in class every day. I can catch them up if they miss a day, remediate if a lesson did not stick, and enrich and extend if a student gets the concept immediately. In my adult education class, I see my learners once a week in an online call. In the past, this would have been a challenging situation to maintain the same level of connection many educators believe is essential for the educational experience. Consequently, the ability for me to make personal connections and to stay on top of student achievement and progress might be assumed to suffer because of the virtual meeting format, but I can proudly say this has not been the case.
For my online learners, I started using online review services like Kahoot! and Quizlet, among others. These services provide me with data on what learners are consistently getting right or wrong, allowing me to tailor my instruction for future classes and address those areas of weakness. These sorts of programs also encourage learners to take ownership of their own education. While it is sometimes hard to motivate children, adults can usually understand the importance of what they are learning. My online adult learners can, at their convenience, study material previously discussed in class, wherever they are, whenever they want. This gives them the power to decide for themselves what they need to do, and when they need to do it. Crucially, this also gives them confidence in the success of their learning. Instructors get useful data, and learners feel that they are involved in the educational process.
Online education need not simply consist of review games, however. I have been fortunate to be able to augment my instruction with various online resources specific to civics. My community adult education program has provided learners with access to an online, asynchronous class that they can take to enhance their understanding of civics during the time in-between our weekly classes. This is also a marvelous way to enrich those who have understood the information, as well as remediate those who are still struggling. Online, self-paced courses have many of the same benefits mentioned above for the review games. Learners feel empowered to take their education into their own hands, while at the same time getting the flexibility to attend class and study for class in ways that give them freedom of choice.
Another aspect of the online environment that strikes me as transformative is the ability to video-conference wherever someone happens to be. This has the convenience of allowing learners to call into class regardless of where they are, but there is a far more important benefit that I think gets overlooked. Videoconferencing in education enables people who otherwise would not be able to attend class to do so. This is incredibly important as it has the potential to open education up to underserved communities and allow educators from nearly any location to share their expertise. It also allows for the personal touch that would otherwise be missing from entirely online classes. I can still joke with my learners, ask them questions, check for understanding, and more. This empowers the human component of education—a component I feel is vital—to remain in the online environment.
The importance of studying and giving learners ownership of their education is all the most important given who I am educating. The adult education program I work for intends for my civics class to be taken by English as a Second Language (ESL) learners looking to prepare for the United States Naturalization Test in order to become citizens and learn the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in the United States. These learners have decided to commit themselves to a new country; to learn the laws, customs, and government of this country; and to eventually swear loyalty to the country. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this work for the learners themselves, and the responsibility on the part of the educator is also obvious and deeply felt. Having technology help any student learn is wonderful, but helping the ESL learners in our adult education program reminds me every day how important education is for the daily lives of our students.
I am incredibly grateful to be teaching in this time of rapid change. I can talk to anyone, anywhere, about an incredibly important topic in their lives; and do so in a way that is relevant, useful, and engaging. I can use online programs and websites to support the learners in my classes, while giving myself useful data on their progress. These thoughts and observations are admittedly not revolutionary, and the utility of online services in education has been well understood for years. I am not writing to share something new. I am writing to share my new experiences. Adult education was one of the first areas of education to embrace online learning; but with a little attention to the student experience, enhanced and supported by technology, it can still be at the forefront of educational innovation for years to come.
Craig Jones is a secondary education teacher with eight years of experience in high school English and social studies classrooms. Craig is also in his first semester of teaching Civics for the Laurel Ridge Community College (LRCC) Adult Education Program. Before teaching, Craig was born and raised in central Pennsylvania where he graduated from Bloomsburg University with two bachelor’s degrees, one in history and the other in English literature. He went back and earned his M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from the same university. Craig would like to thank his colleagues at LRCC Adult Education for giving him the chance to learn and grow as an educator and a person.