Imagine: A reality TV show for literacy?

September 5, 2011

I don’t watch a lot of TV. Or at least, I didn’t a few years ago. My other half, however, is a television disciple. I have two degrees in literature and I liken his knowledge of television and movies to my knowledge of literature. He knows just about every major television show and movie ever produced, when it was produced, who directed it, who the actors are, and what other shows the actors have appeared in. He also picks up on cameo appearances of the director or the writer. He instantly understands intertextual references between shows (except that he calls them “Easter eggs”) and can point out in a second when a show makes reference to a show or movie before it. He’s really brilliant at this stuff.

I, being a somewhat stereotypical academic I suppose, tend not to watch much TV. But because it’s important to my other half, we sit down and watch TV. He works hard to find shows I like. We have found common ground in some competitive reality TV shows. Top Chef Canada was one of our recent favorites.

Competitors who excel in their field are gathered and given challenges. They compete against the clock and against one another in order to prove their skills. They are judged by experts in the field. Their work is critiqued, praised, applauded and trashed — all in the matter of a few minutes. Every week, a chef is sent home. No competitor escapes criticism and no one is ever perfect. Even the last chef standing has experienced harsh criticism from the judges and has been trashed by their fellow competitors. Despite it all, they continue to focus on producing their best work, every single time.

Imagine if there was a reality TV show for literacy programs. An episode might go something like this:

“Competitors: Your challenge this week is to develop a 3-hour workshop to teach adults how to write a resume. You will have 12 adults in your class, with reading levels between IALSS levels 2 and 3. Your budget is $50. You have 1 hour to prepare your workshop. The winner will receive a $5000 prize to make their workshop a reality. Your time starts… now!”

There would be no whining about a lack of funding. There would be no grumbling about being overworked. There would be no complaining about there not being enough time. There would be energy, hard work, inspiration, creativity, a deep sense of purpose and a heightened awareness of urgency to produce something amazing with severe financial and time restraints.

Imagine if we worked as if we were on a TV reality show… pushing ourselves to produce consistently outstanding results under ridiculously difficult circumstances, working through the fatigue, ignoring the trash talking by others and the lack of resources, time and budget.

There’s never enough time, never enough money and never enough resources. That is, after all, our reality, isn’t it? Passion, creativity and purpose drive what we do. It’s when we expect reality to be something other than what it really is that we lose our sense of urgency and purpose, let frustration take over… and emotionally, mentally or literally, we get voted out.

Accepting the limitations of any given situation can either mean giving in or using those same limitations as a challenge to fuel your own inner drive.

Achieve the impossible because of the circumstances, not despite them.

Be the star of your own reality show.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


How to Market Your Literacy or Language Program (Free 5-part video series)

May 30, 2011

I’m happy to share this 5-part video series that was recorded live at the 2010 Spotlight on Learning Conference, held in Toronto, Canada by the Ontario Literacy Coalition.

I did a one-hour presentation on how to promote literacy and language programs. The conference organizers videotaped the session and are sharing it publicly. You can consider this a one-hour crash course in marketing:

Low-cost High-Impact Marketing for Literacy Programs – Part 1

Low-cost High-Impact Marketing for Literacy Programs – Part 2

Low-cost High-Impact Marketing for Literacy Programs – Part 3

Low-cost High-Impact Marketing for Literacy Programs – Part 4

Low-cost High-Impact Marketing for Literacy Programs – Part 5

Related posts:

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Hate the idea of marketing education? There’s an alternative…

May 9, 2011

Alberta Languages Initiative - Language Learning - Second LanguagesWhen I was starting my PhD program in 2005 I was planning to research the marketing of a new government initiative in Alberta that would have brought in mandatory second language students for all students in grades four to nine across the province. The Ministry of Education had prepared a “Tool Kit” for schools, which was a set of advertisements to be included in school newsletters, stock articles that could be printed and sent home to parents, slide presentations that could be given at information sessions and a few other resources for schools they could use to promote the new initiative. My research was going to involve working with schools to find out how they implemented this Tool Kit and marketed the languages initiative.

The second edition of 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program had just come out and I was excited to start my research.

A conversation with one of the Russian professors at the university changed everything for me. She asked what I was going to research and when I told her it was the marketing of the soon-to-be-rolled-out Languages Initiative, she said, “This isn’t marketing. It’s propaganda. Trust me, we Russians know all about propaganda. When the government tells you that you must do something and they make all kinds of posters and do news articles to try and convince you it is a good thing, that’s not marketing. Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea of the Languages Initiative. I believe that everyone should learn a second language… But make no mistake. What you’re studying is the propaganda around a new government program.”

She was right.

I was so excited about the thought of second language learning coming to all Alberta schools, I lost sight of the very essence of marketing: choice.

The idea of marketing as a business practice today dates back hundreds of years when farmers and other vendors would take their wares to the market in the town square and sell them. “To take items to market” is one of the definitions offered by the Oxford English Dictionary (Eaton, 2009, p. 189). From there vendors would compete for customers’ money in a variety of ways… displaying their products attractively, calling out to customers to buy their wares and so forth. The line between marketing and selling gets blurred at that point. But at the very core of it all is that people have a choice.

Yes, I want this product. No, I prefer that product.

We don’t like the word “propaganda” in the Western world. It has echoes of the Nazi regime and its associated horrors, of foreign governments (and possibly our own) that pit us against one another as human beings as if we were animals, ultimately trying to convince us that “we” are good and “they” are bad; whoever “they” are (it changes depending on which government is issuing the propaganda). It is designed to convince us, not to invite us to question and explore.

Governments, school boards and other institutions mandate policies that require convincing people to “buy into” the idea. Propaganda isn’t always bad. Campaigns promoting the law that people have to buckle their seat belts are essentially propaganda. At the heart of it, people don’t really have much of a choice. There are punishments (fines and possible jail sentences) if people don’t comply. Seat belt laws are designed to protect us and they’re there for our own good. It’s not really open to debate. We may call it “propaganda” or we may call it by its newer, more culturally palatable name, “communications”, but the bottom line is, it’s not marketing.

In terms of education, there are mandatory aspects of education that we generally consider good. You may have read my recent rant against the abolition of mandatory second language learning in Calgary’s elementary public schools. Basically, my point was that our local school board was targeting second language programs in the wake of massive financial cutbacks. They weren’t making all subjects voluntary. Sciences, math and other subjects are still mandatory. Its just the second language programs that are being offered as a “choice”. Having some subjects as mandatory and some subjects as a choice in elementary school setting is not something we have typically done. School boards are charged with the responsibility of providing a solid foundation in important subjects to children that they can build on in later grades. At that age, educational experts are charged with the responsibility of educating them and making that choice on their behalf. It’s never really been open to debate.

Marketing, by its very nature (and if it is held true to form) involves research, exploration and questioning… What will people choose? Why will they choose it? What do they want? Why do they want it?

Marketing of education is a tricky thing… There’s a fine balance between what’s mandatory (or what should be) and what governments, school boards and institutions of higher learning decide to give people a choice about. Olga, the Russian professor who cautioned me about confusing “propaganda” with “marketing” was right.

As it turned out, in 2006 there was a change of Ministers and the Alberta Languages Initiative was canned. The Tool Kit was all but shelved and although a few school boards kept the mandate of second language learning, many did not. Learning a second language in Alberta continues to remain optional in many areas. People debated whether language learning should be optional or not… This debate has always fascinated me.

Nevertheless, the implosion of the mandatory second languages initiative meant the end of my proposed research project. Instead I went back to the original idea of studying marketing of language programs and conducted a case study looking at how English as a Second Language (ESL) programs at the University of Calgary were marketed. I looked at programs that were truly marketed… students had a choice between programs and schools. They could attend any program they chose, anywhere in the world. Marketing of ESL programs is a global business.

At that point, I became more convinced than ever that marketing, when it’s done right and held true to its purest form, is a good thing. Marketing involves choice, lots and lots of research and a long and arduous process of thinking things through. It’s that last bit about thinking things through that some organizations forget to do… Once you take the thinking out of the equation, you’re not marketing any more.

The alternative to inviting people to think, to question and to make decisions on their own is to make things mandatory and bombard them with propaganda convincing them to comply.

Education isn’t really been clear about which way it wants to go.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Breathtaking Impact of Volunteers’ Contribution to Non-formal and Informal Literacy Education in Alberta

March 28, 2011

At the National Metropolis 2011 conference this year in Vancouver, I was part of a panel of experts presenting on Family Literacy and the New Canadian. My paper focused on the research I’ve done on Formal, Non-Formal and Informal Learning: The Case of Literacy, Essential Skills and Language Learning in Canada. I’ll post the entire paper shortly, but for now, I wanted to highlight one bit from it that generated some significant discussion.

My point was that when informal and non-formal learning for literacy and language learning are tracked and recorded, we can better see the impact. The example I gave was that in 2009, Alberta Advanced Education and Training, produced Living Literacy: A Literacy Framework for Alberta’s Next Generation Economy. The 19-page report talks about why literacy matters and outlines priority actions for 2009-2013.

Buried on page 12 of the 19-page report is a gem of information that deserves to be highlighted and explored, which is what I did at my presentation in Vancouver. It states that in Alberta,

“In 2008, 2,000 adults were matched with a volunteer tutor who assisted them with basic reading, writing and/or math. On average, these learners received 39 hours of tutoring. “

So what does this mean?

It means that volunteers collectively spent 78,000 hours assisting adults with literacy in non-formal and informal learning contexts.

78,000 hours. In one year. In one province.

Let’s put this into perspective.

According to the Government of Alberta, the average student will receive 950 to 1000 hours of instruction per year. Let’s look at that number of 1000 hours for a minute.

A student in school gets 1000 hours per year of instruction.

That means, collectively in Alberta, volunteers contributed the equivalent of 78 years of school, in the form of non-formal and informal education, helping other adults to improve their literacy skills.

That’s over three-quarters of a century in the equivalent of school years.

Doesn’t that just take your breath away?

Often when people think of adult non-formal and informal education, they think of developing countries, where formal education is harder to access than in developed nations. But the impact of non-formal and informal education in nations like Canada is significant. The problem is that we don’t track it. At least, not very often. And not very systematically.

What would we discover if every Canadian province, every US state and every developed country tracked the contributions made to language learning and literacy in the way that the Alberta government did in 2008? We’d be blown away by the results.

There’s a big push in the non-profit and education world to capture learner stories. I completely agree with that. But it’s not the whole picture. There’s a saying in evaluation: No numbers without stories; no stories without numbers.

The equivalent of 78 years of schooling, contributed completely by volunteers in one year alone is staggering.

One call to action in my presentation in Vancouver is that we must make a concerted effort to track the number of hours contributed by our volunteers – particularly those working in rural and remote areas – in order to understand the impact of volunteer literacy tutoring programs.

Stay tuned for the whole paper. It’ll be posted on line in a few days.

Related posts:

Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada

Formal, non-formal and informal education: What Are the Differences?

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: A podcast

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning (Infographic) https://wp.me/pNAh3-266

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Panel Speaker at Metropolis 2011 – Vancouver, British Columbia

March 14, 2011

If you’re in Vancouver, BC, come and join us at the Metropolis 2011: Bringing the World to Canada, March 23-26 at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre.

This National Metropolis Conference focuses on “the role of immigration in connecting Canada with the rest of the world.” Organizers are expecting over 1000 participants from Canada and abroad. The main conference website says:

A recent report by Statistics Canada projects that, by 2031, at least one in four Canadians will have been born in another country. With this remarkable feature of our society as a backdrop, the conference will discuss the scale and nature of Canada’s immigration system and the policies and practices that have emerged to foster the socio-economic inclusion of new Canadians. Immigration and emigration are transforming the populations of most countries, and in this conference we will consider the place of Canada in this global process by asking speakers from elsewhere in the world to explain the migration and integration dynamics of their regions, thereby allowing us to understand better the effects of these trends on Canada.

I’m delighted to be speaking on a panel on Saturday, March 26. Here are the details:

E4 WORKSHOP | ATELIER (English | Anglais) Junior Ballroom D – Level 3 – North Tower | Niveau 3 – Tour Nord

Family Literacy and the New Canadian

This Workshop will bring together a panel of language experts from across Canada that will outline the importance and value of heritage / international languages and illustrate how schools, academics, community organizations and government policies can assist in maintaining and developing the multiple literacies of all Canadians.

Organizer | Organisateur
Bernard Bouska, Canadian Languages Association
Khatoune Temisjian, Québec Heritage Languages Association / Association québécoise des langues d’origine

Participants

Sarah Eaton, University of Calgary
Formal, Non-Formal and Informal Learning: The Case of Literacy, Essential Skills and Language Learning in Canada

Maria Makrakis, TESOL International and International Languages Educators’ Association (ILEA), Ontario
Language and Literacy for New Canadian Families

Constantine Ioannou, Government of Ontario
Ontario Schools and Communities Can Reflect the Languages of our Families

Khatoune Temisjian, Québec Heritage Languages Association / Association québécoise des langues d’origine
Literacy and Heritage/international Languages in Quebec: An Overview

Michael Embaie, Southern Alberta Heritage Languages Association (SAHLA)
Successful Implementation of Heritage / International Language Programs in Canada: Selected Strategies and Case-Studies

Chair | Modérateur
Marisa Romilly, Society For The Advancement of International Languages (SAIL British Columbia)

Discussant | Commentateur
Bernard Bouska, Canadian Languages Association

If you’re planning to attend the conference, please come and join us at the session!

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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