11, 2001, Gazette)
brings rewards for many
by Chris Hammond
Dr. Roberta Hammett (L) and Dr. Phyllis Artiss are involved in
a community-based project in computers and adult literacy.
community-based project in computers and adult literacy combines
faculty research, employment for Memorial students, and community
service in ways that are rewarding for all concerned.
The project, directed by Dr. Roberta Hammett and Dr. Barrie Barrell,
Education, and Dr. Phyllis Artiss, English, is funded by a SSHRC
Strategic Literacy Grant and by smaller grants from other sources,
including MUCEP, SCP and SWASP.
Being a literate person is more than knowing how to read
and write, said Dr. Hammett. It includes being able
to use written texts and other resources to function as a full
participant in ones culture and environment. In Canada
today it is increasingly necessary for adults to have access
to computers and know how to use them.
Drs. Hammett, Artiss and Barrell discovered their mutual interest
in action research in community-based adult literacy programs
while working together in Memorials Womens Studies
program, and worked together to develop this interdisciplinary
Dr. Artiss emphasized the importance of finding an appropriate
community partner and developing a good working relationship
with that partner.
We respected the people, goals and accomplishments of the
Brighter Futures Coalition in Family Resource Centres in this
province, and after a number of preliminary meetings settled
on this coalition as our ideal partner, said Dr. Artiss.
Since January, they have offered their program in literacy and
computers in two BFC sites: one on New Pennywell Road and the
other in Holy Cross Elementary School on St. Clare Avenue. These
centres provide the site, community contacts, and childcare (when
possible) for participants, as well as invaluable administrative
and other support, while the Memorial provides computers and
related technology, and tutoring by Memorial students (in one-on-one
sessions, in small groups and in organized workshops) to interested
adults. About 60 participants are enrolled in the project.
Nineteen participants received certificates of accomplishment
in a joint gathering of participants from both centres in May
2000. Most of these had never turned on a computer when they
first enrolled in the program. Now they are proficient in word
processing and e-mail, and are developing skills in using in
the internet, computer imaging and more, said Dr. Artiss.
Drs. Hammett and Artiss said participants become involved in
the program because it is free, and because it is offered in
a supportive, familiar environment, with flexible scheduling
and with instruction designed to meet the expressed needs of
A woman who is working in another literacy project, (tutoring
adults in) reading and writing, has started to come to our sessions
with two of her students because she said here these students
can practice what they learned with her, said Dr. Hammett.
(This tutor) said she couldnt teach them about computers
because she didnt know how to use them herself. Now the
three of them are learning together.
Dr. Artiss talked about two participants who came to the sessions
and told tutors I cant read or write. Im illiterate.
Now both are working on their autobiographies, and both have
produced a variety of documents on the computer. Dr. Artiss considers
these two participants unusual in being so candid about their
problems with reading and writing.
A number of others have similar problems, but are hesitant
to admit this is the case because of the stigma attached to illiteracy.
Participants are proud to say they are going off to computer
class, whereas some might not be willing to say they are going
to a literacy class, said Dr. Artiss.
Another important benefit of this project is the work experience
it offers to students. So far 16 Memorial graduate and undergraduate
students from Arts, Education, Womens Studies, and Humanities
have been funded to work as tutors, workshop presenters and field
researchers, and in other capacities. A number of these have
continued to work with the project when their funding ran out,
and others students have worked on it solely as volunteers.
Drs. Artiss and Hammett are looking for provincial and federal
funding to carry on this project now that their one-year SSHRC
grant is coming to an end. They hope the two existing centres
for computer-and-literacy learning will gradually become self-sustaining,
and have plans to extend the project to other centres throughout
the province. If the group can demonstrate through their research
that this program works, Dr. Artiss said she hopes similar projects
will be funded.
Dr. Hammett said the students arent the only people to
benefit from the program.
My visits to the (computer) sites are always among the
most pleasurable moments in my week. I find everybody smiles,
everybody is enjoying themselves; people are very pleased with
what they have accomplished. There is a strong sense of friendship
and community. There are kids running around enjoying themselves
too. People talk to you. They ask questions. And they really
appreciate what were doing in the program.