IBM’s involvement in literacy is representative of its “collaborative citizenship” approach to corporate responsibility. The company works hand-in-hand with public and nonprofit organizations to respond to issues at the global, national, regional, and local levels in education, workforce development, and arts and culture. IBM supports literacy by donating its voice-recognition technology and other resources to schools and nonprofit literacy organizations across the U.S. and around the world.
IBM offers grants to schools and nonprofit organizations to facilitate their use of two innovative IBM products designed to support adults’ and children’s reading development and education, Reading Companion and ¡TradúceloAhora! (TranslateNow!). In return, grantees provide a “reality check” by contributing their feedback, expertise, and advice based on their experiences using the software. IBM also partners with Workforce Development Inc. (WDI), a nonprofit organization providing technical assistance to Reading Companion grantees, and collaborates with the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), which reviews content submitted for Reading Companion, and Verizon Communications, which provides financial support to some Reading Companion grantees.
Expand program capacity by combining your know-how with that of your partners.Reading Companion
Drawing on 40 years of expertise in voice-recognition technology, IBM researchers have combined voice-recognition technology with Internet access to create Reading Companion, an online interactive reading program for children and adults who need help improving their English-reading and -speaking skills. IBM recognizes that these skills are necessary for success in school, further education, job training, and employment.
Developed by IBM in partnership with schools and nonprofit organizations, this innovative software 'listens' and gives feedback to users on their reading accuracy and English pronunciation. Users access the software through schools or nonprofit adult education programs participating in IBM’s Reading Companion grant program. In 2006, IBM launched a $2 million program to provide Reading Companion to more than 100 schools and nonprofit organizations in the United States, Canada, and other countries. In 2007, IBM expanded the program to 200 more schools and nonprofit organizations worldwide. IBM offers the software via readingcompanion.org, and through WDI. Grantees include public schools, community colleges, and nonprofits, such as public libraries and adult literacy organizations. Because Reading Companion is available on the Web, students can work on their reading and speaking skills anywhere, at any time, 24-7.
The library for Reading Companion contains e-books written especially for children and adults. The software helps adults improve their literacy skills while learning about relevant topics, such as preparing for the U.S. citizenship test or getting a driver’s license. To supplement existing literacy curricula, teachers can select books for students from the Reading Companion virtual library and make them available on an online bookshelf. By downloading the Reading Companion Book Builder software, teachers and students also can create original e-books for learners that, when approved by IBM, can be posted on the Reading Companion Web site for use by any participating organization.
"Those who are most vulnerable, and often most in need of the service provided by our nonprofit partners, cannot access the tremendous resources available on the World Wide Web when the content is primarily in English. Our goal is to help this community in need bridge the Digital Divide."
Several years ago, IBM wanted to understand how diversity influenced use of the Web and how the company could ensure that various population groups benefit from resources available on the Internet. IBM staff examined data on who was using the Web and found that Hispanics were not using it as much as were other populations. IBM commissioned a report from the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute to see if there was something the company could do to make a difference. Among the report’s findings were that the lack of Spanish content was a major barrier to Hispanics, especially new immigrants, in using the Internet.
In response to the report, IBM developed ¡TraduceloAhora! (TranslateNow!), which makes information on the Internet accessible to Spanish speakers through automatic English-to-Spanish translation software. This software is helping thousands of Hispanics quickly and easily find information on jobs, health and human services, and other resources.
In 2003, IBM collaborated with 30 nonprofit organizations serving Hispanics across the United States on the ¡Traducelo Ahora! grant program. Spanish-speaking adults served by these organizations used the software and Internet to develop technology skills and learn about employment, education, health care, immigration, and citizenship. The organizations partnered with IBM to evaluate and provide feedback for further development and refinement of the software. Although the first phase of the grant program ended in 2004, thousands of adults associated with these organizations continue to use the software. One important benefit to adults of the translation software is finding employment using job search Web sites. In 2006, IBM expanded the grant program to 100 schools and nonprofit organizations in the U.S., Mexico, and Venezuela.
At present, ¡TraduceloAhora! focuses on facilitating communication between English-speaking teachers and Spanish-speaking parents by translating school-related e-mails from English to Spanish and vice versa. Grantees include libraries, community-based organizations, community colleges, social service agencies, and workforce development centers. ¡Tradúcelo Ahora! is now used in more than 350 schools and nonprofit programs in the U.S. and Latin America. IBM expects the translation quality will continue to improve as the company modifies the software based on grantees’ feedback.
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Workforce Development Inc.
As IBM’s partner in Reading Companion, Workforce Development Inc. develops training materials, creates e-books, and provides technical and online support to fellow grantees. WDI focuses mainly on helping adults find and keep good jobs, and it has a long history of serving the needs of job seekers and employers in southeast Minnesota, especially low-income and disadvantaged populations facing multiple barriers to obtaining employment. Its students range from very beginning English-language learners who may not be literate in their own native language to highly educated dislocated workers. WDI uses Reading Companion with beginning language learners to improve their English-speaking and -reading skills, so they can apply for and get a job. Reading Companion is available to adults in the computer labs of all ten WDI offices.
During the initial adult literacy pilot project with IBM, WDI created more than 200 e-books. When IBM saw an opportunity to expand the program to the Web, the company approached WDI to become a partner, because of the quality of their work and IBM’s positive experiences working with WDI during the pilot. Both partners describe their collaboration as a “perfect fit.”
Working with adults from many different countries, WDI staff find Reading Companion most helpful for non-English speakers who want to learn to read and speak English. WDI staff note that the most effective way for adults to learn to read and practice English is by using materials that integrate reading development strategies with content pertinent to adults. Jakki Trihey, WDI’s literacy services coordinator, appreciates her organization’s role in Reading Companion because, in creating the e-books, “We create content that is most meaningful to our customers.”
Queensborough Community College
"IBM people are wonderful to work with. They’re extremely supportive; they only want to be helpful. There’s nothing that you ask them that they don’t do. We want to reciprocate in any way we can. IBM’s been such a wonderful partner, and they are truly committed to literacy; they’re putting their money where their mouth is."
The partnership between Queensborough Community College’s (QCC) adult literacy program and IBM began when the program was selected as one of the 100 sites to pilot test Reading Companion in 2003. The program’s goal in participating in Reading Companion was to help immigrants acquire the English language skills necessary to prepare them for jobs, promotions, or college. Like WDI clients, some QCC students are not literate in their native language.
QCC teachers use Reading Companion to supplement their curriculum, and the main users are the 400–500 students who speak and read very little English. QCC’s literacy program is in the process of evaluating Reading Companion data and student assessment results to determine the impact of the software on student learning.
National Center for Family Literacy
The National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) contributes to the Reading Companion program by recommending family literacy programs that could benefit from using the software and reviewing e-books for children. NCFL makes sure the books are relevant, fun, and age-appropriate. NCFL’s model program sites also participated in an early launch of Reading Companion. Emily Kirkpatrick, vice president at NCFL, commented, “Programs always enjoy ‘testing’ things, and the opportunity with Reading Companion has been a great one!”
Verizon Communications partners with IBM by providing additional funds to several Reading Companion sites Verizon already supports. Verizon also leverages funds from both businesses by identifying organizations in key locations that both businesses could support. For example, IBM offered Reading Companion to a nonprofit provider, and Verizon contributed $10,000 to support use of the software.
Benefits to Business
Some benefits to IBM of its partnerships with adult education organizations include:
Benefits to Adult Education
Some benefits to Workforce Development Inc. (WDI) and Queensborough Community College (QCC) of their partnerships with IBM include:
The following resource has been compiled for further reading on topics related to business-adult education partnerships. A pop-up window with a link to and description of the resource will appear as you click on the title. Resources may be categorized below as: Business Partnerships (descriptions of the business-adult education partnerships referenced above); Partnership Profiles (related examples of other community partnerships); How-Tos (guides and tools for establishing partnerships); Research; the Case for Business Involvement; and Web Sites. A complete list of resources related to business-adult education partnerships is found in the Workforce Issues section on the C-PAL Web site.
Durham Literacy Center and its partners in Durham, North Carolina
Doris B. González, Senior Program Manager