Next Week in Cleveland: XPRIZE & CLE-BEE

Adult literacy providers and supporters in the Cleveland area have two exciting opportunities next week to network and learn:

$1 Million Adult Literacy XPRIZE Communities Competition Info Session

Want to revolutionze adult literacy by testing out the newest, research-based adult literacy mobile apps? Willing to compete for a chance at $1 million by motivating the most adult learners to utilize mobile learning? Register for free lunch and more information at 1pm on September 12th at Cleveland Public Library, Main Branch.

XPRIZE representative Haneen Khalef will also be hosting information sessions in Columbus on September 10th and in Akron on September 14th.

Not in Ohio? Find out more about the Communities Competition here.

One Night Only: 3rd Annual CLE-BEE

Many years ago, Christine Lee trained me as a volunteer adult literacy tutor, opening my eyes to the depth of the issue and inspiring my future career path.

More recently, Christine continues to inspire awareness and involvement with the crazy, fun idea to host a corporate spelling bee fundraiser to benefit adult literacy.

The whole team at The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland has worked to make this fun idea a reality. On September 13th, CLE-BEE will celebrate its 3rd year with high energy, local celebrities… and of course some good food and drink.

Individual tickets are $30.

Hope to see you there!

Your Early Holiday Gift: A Sneak Peak at Mustard Seed Teaching

Hi friends! SHHHHH! I have been working on something, and I can’t keep it a secret any more! But don’t tell everyone just yet…

I’m not ready to shout it to the WHOLE world, but just couldn’t wait to give you a sneak peak into an exciting new project I’m planning to launch in early 2017. I really look forward to your feedback!

fb-profilepicYou may notice I’ve been updating my social media profiles and testing out a redesign to my website, which will still be around at

While I’m keeping the website, I closed Farrell Ink LLC as an organization last year. In 2017, I will be building a new social enterprise called Mustard Seed Teaching, which will work closely with the existing non-profit Mustard Seed Books.

Check out our first two FREE courses!

You know how much I love sharing FREE study materials! Dr Rick Chan Frey and his team at Mustard Seed Books developed a series of 1st grade level readers that anyone can view, download or print for free. That’s TWENTY FREE BOOKS for 1st graders! Having a first grader myself, I decided I had to tell the world about these cool books.

But sharing the books is just the beginning…

Mustard Seed Books has the potential to go way beyond the existing original series. We want to develop a community of authors so that teachers, parents, and even kids can write their own Mustard Seed Books to share with the world. It’s not rocket science to write a 1st grade book, after all, and turns out to be quite a bit of fun!

Little Lizard

With my background in adult literacy, I instantly saw these elementary school books as adaptable for adult beginning readers as well.

Mustard Seed Books has the potential to address a major crisis in our field: we don’t have enough high-interest, beginning-level readers for adults, nor do we have many high-quality mobile apps for that demographic. Sure, there are some really awesome book series available on the market, and some great desktop-based software that has converted to mobile friendly.

But adult literacy publishers and programs alike are struggling to keep their doors open. The financial pinch means open source content is taking over. Mustard Seed Books offers a simple, engaging method to make that movement relevant to beginning adult readers. AND make reading materials easily accessible on any device, online OR offline!

“We don’t have enough high-interest, low level readers for adults.”

So I started daydreaming, as I often do…..


instead of writing books FOR adult educators, we wrote them WITH adult educators?


instead of writing books for a NATIONAL audience, we wrote them for LOCAL contexts?


instead of writing separate science, social studies, language arts, and math courses, we COMBINED them in a series of short and fun-to-read books?


we encouraged readers and parents and teachers to write and share their OWN stories?


high-demand entry level jobs had short, easy-to-follow training manuals?

That’s just a first glimpse at my vision for Mustard Seed Teaching. I hope you’re getting as excited as I am!

Starting in the spring, I will be offering a LIMITED NUMBER of online and face-to-face workshops to bring Mustard Seed Books to the world of adult literacy and workforce development. The workshops are not quite ready for prime time yet, but I wanted to share these FREE materials with you first, my most loyal readers.


I’m very open to improvements, and eager to talk with you about possibilities to get involved. Please feel free to comment, email, or schedule a call. But most importantly…

Enroll in the first two FREE courses today!

Think of it as an early holiday gift from me to you. Hope you enjoy!

PD Sililoquy

When contemplating an upcoming webinar…

To record or not to record–that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the training to suffer

The slings and arrows of potential distribution

Or to take record of the various questions,

And by answering end them.

What DO You Do All Day, Meagen?

“You’re a house-sitter, Mom, because you sit in the house all day!” That’s my four-year-old’s understanding of working from home.

When I was a kid, my Dad worked from home for IBM. On conference calls, he would wear a hands-free headset while watering plants or doing dishes. My brother joked that Dad’s job was, “Yelling at plants.”

Today my own family is just as mystified by what I do up in my attic office, and maybe you are curious, too, Farrell Scholars.

Attic OfficeI have two jobs: Teacher Trainer and Instructional Designer


The easiest way to explain my job is online teaching. Thanks to phones, email, and video conferencing, I can teach without being physically in the room with my students.

My “students” are teachers and administrators who are using computer-based products for adult education. The company I work for, Essential Education, is based in Corvallis, Oregon.

Here’s a picture of Global Headquarters! This is “The Vatican” of Essential Education, where my awesome Boss works and decisions get made!

Office BuildingInside, you are greeted by a cardboard cut-out of Leonard, the teacher character who is the virtual voice and face of all of our programs.

Meagen and cardboard cut outI visited Oregon once, but I live in Ohio.

Our customers are located all over the U.S. and we’re branching into international markets. We’re making headway in South Africa, but I haven’t been invited there…yet!

When an adult literacy organization purchases one of our products, then I set up their account and help them get started using the product.

Webinar Welcome PageFour times a week I provide interactive webinars for new teachers or customers. Another Teacher Trainer, the fabulous Dr Carmine Stewart, provides one webinar a week.

After the webinars, I provide ongoing support along with the sales reps and our other admin staff. This means I respond to emails and phone calls from teachers and administrators.

Sometimes it’s as simple as logging in for the first time, other times they have questions about program design or how assessments are scored.

Meagen Thinking
Thinking about a customer question

Most days, I only get a few requests but some days the phone is ringing off the hook. I try to clear my inbox every day, too. Customer communication is my first priority, but not my only job.

The rest of the time, I am BUILDING!


An instructional designer is a fancy name for a multimedia author. I don’t just write text. I create interactive, online lessons, quizzes, tests, and work with a team to design courses for adult learners.

GED Academy Social Studies
I helped build this!

Right now I am focused on Social Studies with another designer who is based in Hawaii.

We divide up material to be created (right now lots of quizzes and practice tests), and the other team members provide editing and feedback.

Our materials adapt to the student, so the tests and quizzes we’ve been writing create individual learning plans to prepare students in different subjects.

We also share articles and videos about education, technology, and topical issues, discussing perspectives and ways we can incorporate best practices into our work.

My job is similar to Instructional Coordinators or Technical Writing, with a bit of Computer Support Specialist thrown in.

MYTH 1: I work with kids home

Um, no.

True, occasionally me or my co-workers have kids at home during work time. But if you’ve ever met my children, the two of them together are like the Tazmanian devil.  They will tear up the house if I don’t give them my full attention.

Kid yelling with utensils
This is my kid relaxing. No joke.

On the other hand, I’m not tied to my phone and computer 24/7. Some people work like this, but not me. I protect my family time. After-hours calls automatically go to voice mail. When I’m off work, I’m unavailable.

Myth 2: I work part-time


My hours are 8:30am to 5:00pm weekdays, and some evenings.

I have to be responsive to the teachers, students, and design team. I have deadlines, meetings, provide trainings, and that definitely adds up to a full-time workload.

If I don’t “show up” or do my assigned work, it’s obvious pretty quickly.

While I’m not in the physical room with the team, they know whether or not I’m “there” on Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, and Dropbox.

Truth: No Snow Days

Since I don’t have to commute, I don’t get snow days or most federal holidays. My office has a nice view of the houses and field across the street.

Snow houses trees
Can you see the SNOW? In March?

So what kind of projects do I work on?

Example 1: Grading Extended Responses

Essential Education is unique among adult education publishers in that our team grades all the Extended Responses that students submit online. I grade on Wednesday mornings, and we typically get 40-60 responses each day.

If I don’t get my responses graded, then it’s quickly obvious to the next in line if they log in and see 30 still to be graded!

Example 2: Tagging and Testing

This month we’re entering tons of metadata on lessons, tests, and quizzes in our new course management system.

It’s data entry–mindless and repetitive–but still engaging because I helped to build what we’re entering.

I do my best to keep myself entertained and focused. A couple weeks ago, I was adding lessons to a unit called “Social Studies Analysis.” To find “Analysis” I got to type “anal” over and over again, 25 times.

So that’s what I do all day: type “anal.” I love my job. No joke!

Adult Educators’ Recommendations for Best Free Resources

It was a delight to work with adult educators to share and evaluate a smattering of the free content available out there for adult education and GED Test Prep. Participants at The Literacy Cooperative’s training organized into groups to become the Adult Education Resource Evaluation Team (AERET). After introducing 25 free websites available for Ohio adult educators (18 of those sites are free to a national audience), I sent the teams on a webquest.  They have shared their recommendations with you:

Low Level English Proficiency Learners

Our first group were professionals who serve a variety of literacy levels. Their overall finding was that there is not much out there that is intuitive and well paced for low level English readers or speakers. Almost everything requires instructional intervention.

Parameters for evaluation:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Site navigation
  3. General app look and feel
  4. Tech requirements

  1. Accessibility : Need to sign in which requires a username and Need to have an email address in order to enter the site. Need to answer a series of questions in order to enter the site.
  2. Site Navigation: The site is difficult to navigate; it doesn’t allow you to return to the previous page.
  3. Applications : The speaking part of the testing is too fast for low level learners. There are multiple ads on the page which makes it confusing for low level English.
  4. Tech Reqs: Need to have speakers on the computer to do the testing. (non profit)

  1. Accessibility : No sign in for this site ; no email address needed.
  2. Site Navigation: No ads on the site but you need to have a higher level English level to understand the choices.
  3. Applications : Navigate in multiple languages to understand what to choose but there is a lot of narrative (content). There are many applications but they are scattered and difficult to navigate by technology.
  4. Tech Reqs: No special technology requirements.

  1. Accessibility : Need to sign in (register) and requires an email. You need to enter a birth date which is a personal security issue.
  2. Site Navigation: Requires that you go to your email and click a link to sign up. Once you go to the email you then have to enter additional information which is confusing.
  3. Applications : Requires you to select an avatar which is confusing and then does not allow you to move to the next level.
  4. Tech Reqs: Speakers would be nice for interaction of sound but not necessary; necessary for video component. Adobe flash needed for video component.

  1. Accessibility: No sign in required ; no security issues or email address needed.
  2. Site Navigation: The site has too many ads that could be confusing to the low level English learner.
  3. Applications: The quality of the videos is very low; not ESOL teachers on the video which allows for the use of confusing English for low level learners.
  4. Tech Reqs: Speakers and Adobe flash for video component.

NEO Literacy Corps

The next group was a team of AmeriCorps Members serving for a year in adult literacy and workforce development contexts.

We evaluated four different sites for GED preparation. It was our goal to find sites to use in our classrooms, with students ages 17-22 as well as adult learners (22+).  All sites evaluated require internet access and access to a computer with a functioning keyboard, mouse or track pad, and monitor. We analyzed the sites based on Usability and Instructional Quality. In the conclusion, we covered Cost Analysis.

Tri-C’s Math MOOC


  • the students need to know how to navigate the Blackboard Course system.
  • Accessing the system requires login
  • Facilitators would need to have taken the course themselves, as there is no instructor companion material.

Instructional Quality:

  • Student & adult learners can use website
  • Math, English, GED readiness
  • Learners use without instructor guiding

McGraw Hill Online Learning Center

[Farrell Ink’s note: Aligned to the 2002 GED Test Prep Series from Contemporary/McGraw Hill.] Websites:


  • Has a teachers guide
  • Does not require auxiliary equipment
  • Simple, logical layout and structure
  • Language arts focus on writing, but not reading comprehension.

Instructional Quality:

  • Both instructors and students can use site for language arts, math, various refreshers for GED readiness
  • Instructors can assist students with curriculum
  • Does not have to be instructor lead


  • Unappealing set up: small print, antiquated look.
  • We don’t know if signing up grants you access to automatic grading for question responses.

Instructional Quality:

  • Student based
  • This site does not give process updates, this is not instructor based


  • This site was one of the only places we could find for Reading Comprehension, which is one of the major components of the GED and one that many sites (including Khan Academy) did not specifically target.
  • Sleek, appealing layout and appearance.

Instructional Quality:

  • Reading comprehension, language arts, reading development
  • Student based but they can track their progress


With respect to analyzing cost, start-up fees are associated with any computer lab or computer based program including location (renting or maintaining available space, as well as associated utilities).  Classroom instruction fees could be incurred as well.  Maintaining the computers will require IT personnel, which may be volunteers but it is more likely that programs will pay for these services.  All of the online programs we analyzed were free to access.

Workforce Development

The final group’s target population were low-income, low-literacy un-employed or under employed adults with limited labor market attachment; individuals who need to advance towards self-sufficiency.

Costs:  Headphones for computers (if needed), paper, pens, printer


  • Low-cost/free resources for low-income and low-computer literacy users
  • Materials written at around a 6th grade level; visually appealing as well to keep users engaged
  • Sites able to blend smoothly into the job search process AND support career retention and advancement

Recommended Resources and Process:

    • We will start off with an assessment of each individual’s existing computer literacy level
    • Students will be instructed on how to improve their skills, as most resume and job search is done online
    • This website has different modules that individuals can take on their own; they are scored and instruction can be tailored to the lacking skills
  2.’s Soft Skills to Pay the Bills
    • This site uses role play and interactive classroom-based activities
    • These can keep students engaged while teaching valuable job skills that are needed to gain and retain employment
    • The materials on the site are written at an appropriate literacy level and the printable worksheets are visually appealing
    • This site offers an excellent section on jobs
      • Includes online career coach, resume tips/examples, interviewing basics, how to dress for success, and how to find a job with a criminal background, amongst others
      • The site is well-written at an appropriate literacy level, and again is visually appealing
    • At this point, we envision students registering on the website, uploading the resume, and beginning to search for jobs online
    • They can also perform WorkKeys testing, if they want to brush up on their skills
  5. The Beehive (again)
    • After obtaining employment, students can be referred back to the for additional supportive services
  6. Tri-C’s Math MOOC
    • Students who are interested in career pathways and advancing their education and career will be referred to Tri-C for MOOC and other classes

Thanks again to all the awesome AERET groups for their recommendations! Happy teaching, and Happy New Year!

Chromebook for Education? Home?

Is Chromebook a worthwhile purchase for schools, parents, and educators? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Last night at PTO, we discussed purchasing a laptop for the group’s use, particularly to store documents centrally and to print from the school instead of using home printers (and not everyone has one).

Then they mentioned that all the seventh graders in our school district had been sent home this year with Chromebooks. I volunteered to research whether the Chromebook would be a good option to purchase for PTO. For fellow educators, I’m also going to review its potential use for education and for home offices.

Teacher in classroom with middle school kids and Chromebooks
Photo source: “Chromebooks Rollout – Gibson” by flickr user Kevin Jarrett


Our criteria were:

  1. Store files in a central location,
  2. Purchase only one version of software (particularly for accounting), and
  3. Print to the school printers instead of home printers.

Chromebook fails all three tests.

First of all, it has very minimal storage. You have to use Google Drive to store files used on Chromebook.

We could either not use Google Drive and use a flash drive, or start using Google Drive to store all files without having to purchase the Chromebook hardware.

The lack of storage also causes its failure on the second point, as you have to run apps, not software. There is not even a disk drive if you wanted to install a CD. That said, accounting software like Quickbooks now often offer web-based versions, and much software is now downloaded from the web. But there are serious security issues with using web-based apps and cloud storage for sensitive data.

Third, Chromebook is notorious for NOT being able to print to what Google calls “classic printers.” In other words, you can’t just plug in a cord or search for a printer on the server and download the driver. Again, Chromebook doesn’t have the storage. You have to use apps like Google Cloud Print or HP ePrint. If your printer isn’t compatible with Cloud Print, too bad.

Then again, printers tend to be just glorified ink cartridge holders, so it doesn’t cost a ton to upgrade the printer itself for home or single office use (says the woman who refused to buy a new printer for five years). But we can’t expect the school to upgrade all its printers to cloud print compatible just for PTO.

So I’m going to report that Chromebook is not a good fit for PTO. However, I will explain the process for converting files to Google Docs so at least everyone can use the same format without purchasing the latest Microsoft Office Suite.


Chromebook seems to be JUST RIGHT for the middle school kids and teachers in our district.

Chromebooks are typically priced under $400 with way more functionality than netbooks a few years ago. It might be an adjustment, especially for teachers, because the app-based system operates similar to tablets.

For schools with tight budgets, most versions of Chromebook are much cheaper than the iPad. Chromebooks actually have a keyboard, which is very important for student writing, and a USB port, unlike iPad. On top of that, apps in Google Play tend to be less expensive or free compared to the Apple App Store.

The trick is to purchase a Chromebook with enough battery life. The cheapest Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer have as little as 3.5 hours battery life to start. You don’t want the computer to shut down in the middle of the lesson, or force all students to sit near an outlet. There is even a high-end Chromebook that comes with significant storage, but in that price range you might as well purchase a laptop.

Chromebook keyboard
Photo source: “Samsung 4G Chromebook by YES 4G 182” by flickr user Vernon Chan

I was very excited for netbooks a few years ago, and then later tablets, but felt neither lived up to their promise. They were too lightweight to use all day in a classroom. I know many programs have had success particularly with iPad, but I’m actually not a big fan of touchscreens (or touchpads, for that matter).

Our students need keyboarding skills. Full QWERTY keyboards have persisted for a reason, and I think the Chromebook signals the marriage of app-based OS to old school five-fingered word processing.

In summary: Chromebook is cheaper than iPad with cheaper apps, and still has a keyboard and USB port. Yay.

If you have experience using either Chromebook or iPad in classrooms, please comment with your thoughts.


After my research, particularly this review on Living with Chromebook, I am consider purchasing a Chromebook to work from home.

Here’s something you should know about me: I’m both geeky and cheap about new technology. For example, right now I’m doing all my work on a three year old desktop with no plans to upgrade. I had the same smartphone for almost four years. My last printer lasted five years and the only reason I got rid of it was because it wouldn’t work with Windows 8 (worst OS ever!).

I like to know what’s new on the edtech market, but I am very hesitant to purchase. I did splurge on a Nexus 7 tablet a year or two ago, and found it absolutely useless for work. I thought it would be perfect for conferences and meetings, but I haven’t found an external keyboard that works. Okay, actually I only found one that didn’t work, and I refused to buy another one because I’m cheap.

Despite being Android OS, using Google Docs offline and syncing was a total challenge. And when I’ve tried to play Angry Birds or Simpsons Tapped Out, it regularly crashes the system. So I basically use it to browse Facebook or watch YouTube videos and that’s all.

However, I live out of Google Apps and HP ePrint. Because I’m already “in the cloud,” Chromebook would let me get away from my desktop more often without plunking down the full price of a laptop.

I still don’t think purchasing a laptop is worthwhile, as need my heavy-duty desktop to use educational publishing software like the newly-released Articulate Storyline 2. Even though I can theoretically use my tablet for products like Adobe Creative Cloud or to write blog posts here at, I prefer the desktop set up with the big screen, mouse, and detached keyboard for creative projects.

Did I mention touchpads drive me crazy?

I think Chromebook might be a worthwhile purchase, but what about you? Is it worth it for working from home? What about the classroom? Please chime in and let me know your thoughts.

Summer PD for 2014 GED Test Instructors: 3 Week Online Courses

WVIZ/PBS/ideastream is offering two sessions of an online course for instructors of the 2014 GED Test. The paid, facilitated three-week courses can also include graduate credit. Sessions will be offered July 9-29 and July 30-August 19, 2014.

Description: “Find exciting strategies and technology to prepare your GED students for the New 2014 GED Online Test! This course allows instructors to dive deeper into Teaching Adults: A 2014 GED Test Resource Book. Learn more about what to expect in 2014, and consider new ways to engage and teach your adult students. By the end of the course, you will have selected a set of resources, lessons, and technology relevant to your instructional setting. Book not included.” You can purchase the book in advance from New Readers Press.

To register, visit WVIZ/PBS/ideastream’s website (scroll down to “GED: Teaching Adults”) or email Ann Ebersole at

Seven Free GED® Test Study Sites

This post goes out especially to @desmondmckree who has great hopes for the future, like so many great folks who find this website. He wants to pass the GED® Test to get a good job and get his life on track.

I suggest that if you can, try to enroll in a GED® Test Prep class in the US or online. There is no substitute for a good teacher or tutor! You can also purchase your own books to study from home, which are worth the $10-15. For some extra practice, try these sites with FREE practice tests, lessons, and study guides for: GED® Test Prep, technology, reading, math, writing, science and social studies.

Remember: WATCH FOR ADS! Be careful what you buy. You can NEVER take the official GED® Test online!

New Online Course for Instructors to Implement 2014 GED® Test Changes

Instructors and administrators! Are you looking to develop new lesson plans or find resources to go in-depth with the changes to the new 2014 GED Test? WVIZ/PBS/ideastream is offering a 3-week online course starting next week: Wednesday, February 19, 2014.

Teaching Adults GED Book CoverParticipants will work together through the Teaching Adults: A 2014 GED Test Resource Book to find resources and strategies that work in your unique setting. You will share reflections and lesson plans with other participants to implement changes in your program.

The course is $100, and one graduate credit is available from Ashland University. You do not have to be online at a specific time. Each week, participants will gain access to new information, activities, and discussion forums.

Contact Ann Ebersole to register today!

Space is limited, but registration is open to anyone on a first-come, first-served basis. Ohio residents may be eligible for a scholarship from The Literacy Cooperative.

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