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Focus On Basics

Volume 1, Issue A :: February 1997

A New Center for Research on Adult Learning and Literacy

by John Comings and Cristine Smith

"By the end of the grant period, adult learning and literacy practitioners around the country will be able to point to specific ways in which the National Center has helped to improve their individual practice."

This quote from our proposal sets out the criteria that will be used to judge the success of the newly-established National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL). We welcome help from all of Focus on Basics' readers on how we can better serve you, and we encourage you to write or e-mail comments at any time.

NCSALL is a joint project of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, World Education, and the Center for Literacy Studies at the University of Tennessee. Our funding comes from the U.S. Department of Education through its Office of Educational Research and Improvement's Institute for Postsecondary Education, Libraries, and Lifelong Learning. Later in our five-year grant, we will add partner institutions in the Midwest and West so that we will have a truly national structure.

NCSALL's research agenda was informed by a national study that involved more than 450 practitioners in an exercise that asked which questions were of the highest priority to them. The input from this study produced four broad questions:

How can the motivation of the individual adult learner be sustained and enhanced?

How can classroom practice be improved?

How can staff development more effectively serve adult learning and literacy programs?

What impact does participation in adult learning and literacy programs have on an adult's life and how can this impact effectively be assessed?

While NCSALL is beginning a program of research based on this agenda, we believe that the agenda still needs more work to increase its usefulness as a guide to research and development. The agenda that came out of the initial study needs specific research topics under each of the four major questions, and the field should have a chance to suggest priorities as to which topics should be explored first. Over the next year, we will involve practitioners from across the country in the development of a comprehensive national research agenda that will ensure that NCSALL's research does help improve practice.

Even the best research has little impact if it doesn't reach practitioners. To ensure that research findings have an impact, NCSALL is supporting a Dissemination Initiative that includes Focus on Basics. The Dissemination Initiative is working with the National Institute for Literacy's LINCS network to develop a web site that will make the products of NCSALL available electronically. Next year, NCSALL will begin publishing the Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, which will contain articles that bring together the state of the art from research and practice around critical issues identified in the agenda-setting process. The most ambitious effort will be the establishment of a national Practitioner Network. The goal of this network will be the creation of a systematic partnership between practitioners and researchers that will support a dialogue helpful to both.

By reading this issue of Focus on Basics, you are already involved in NCSALL's work. Please look for the Review of Adult Learning and Literacy in January of 1998.

If you don't have personal access to these resources, encourage your program, state literacy resource center, a local college or university, or a public library to make them available. Let us know if our publications are useful, get involved in the agenda-setting process next year, and feel free to send us letters or e-mail about what we are doing well and how we can improve.

You can write to:
John Comings, Director
NCSALL, Nichols House
Harvard University
Graduate School of Education
Cambridge, MA 02138-3572

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL