Meet Olga Herrmann, the newest member of the AlphaPlus team! Olga joined us in late 2022, and we’d like to introduce her — and her project — to you.
With 25 years of experience supporting adult learners along their unique journeys, Olga has worked as a literacy and basic skills (LBS) practitioner, English as a second language (ESL) instructor, learning strategist, vocational counsellor and career advisor in post-secondary and community-based agencies. She also has a master of education (M.Ed.), which included research in adult education and community development.
Before relocating to her current home in rural Ontario — where she loves to cross-country ski, walk her puppy and participate in a creative writing group — Olga lived in Toronto. She has worked at organizations including Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy (MTML), PTP Adult Learning and Employment Programs, George Brown and Centennial colleges and the University of Toronto.
“In a past role as a project manager for MTML, I benefited from the AlphaPlus team’s innovative work concerning integrating technology. It’s exciting for me now to join this group of creative, supportive, reflective individuals,” says Olga. “And this project has been a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with past colleagues and explore new developments in the field during a time of change.”
Lesson planning and digital integration from the practitioner perspective
Olga is inspired by adult literacy instructors and their resolve to deliver literacy programming to learners during the pandemic, no matter the circumstances. She notes the many ways practitioners learned and used any technology that would help them meet learners’ goals, including phone calls, Zoom and new ways of sharing learning materials online. Today, she’s excited to work on a project that will result in meaningful support for them.
“We’re conducting focus groups and consultations to figure out instructors’ needs more deliberately, outside of the urgent pivot to online learning,” explains Olga. “After being isolated, it’s time to come together, reflect and gather information about how people plan and conduct lessons, integrate technology, and what supports and resources would help front-line educators. We’re examining whether we can provide curriculum resources, planning tools or other materials that will allow instructors to integrate technology in a way that complements teaching and is relevant to adult learners’ lives.”
For this project, Olga is bringing her teaching and research backgrounds together, and she hopes to recreate the “magic” that happens in teachers’ staffrooms — the ways resources and ideas get shared and the conversations that happen. Her goal is to create a similarly generative space with AlphaPlus taking the lead. This winter and early spring, Olga is conducting focus groups and individual phone calls, identifying themes across teachers and organizations. This exploration will set the stage for the next step: co-creating materials with a group of instructors.
“In a world where we live and learn and function in digital spaces, the learning journey has been transformed,” says Olga. “We can build upon and fine-tune teachers’ innovations and adaptations from the pandemic by developing and co-creating resources from the instructor’s lens. We’re hearing from dedicated professionals about their successes, things they’d like to learn more about and things they’ve created (perhaps in isolation) that might be valuable to share.”
The AlphaPlus team is excited to have an experienced front-line teacher with an innate curiosity and analytical approach at the helm of this project. We are benefiting from Olga’s capacity for listening, gathering information and finding patterns to reveal crucial information.
When Ontario declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pivot to remote learning happened very quickly for literacy and basic skills (LBS) practitioners. In Toronto and York Region, Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy (MTML) partnered with AlphaPlus’ Educator Network (eNet) to provide these educators with support and professional development.
In April of 2020, MTML board member Susan Lefebvre envisioned a space for adult literacy educators to meet, network and share achievements, experiences, challenges and technical knowledge. Already working with AlphaPlus to address MTML’s digital technology infrastructure needs, Susan brought her vision to AlphaPlus team member Tracey Mollins, an organizational development consultant for education and technology.
“I’m not technical, but I knew what I wanted to achieve. Tracey has expertise in specific technologies and blended learning, with many resources at her fingertips. As a former LBS instructor herself, she relates well to the audience I wanted to support,” Susan explains. “I also knew that Tracey would be able to help provide a framework for our group.”
Susan suggested starting with weekly calls via Zoom and, with Tracey’s input, decided on a learning circle approach, allowing participants to set the agendas and find solutions to common challenges collaboratively.
“Because of COVID-19, we were able to take an unusual approach to professional development,” Tracey explains. “We formed a community of practice of highly motivated people working on the same challenge: the pivot to remote learning. We gave the group a place to turn and decided to be flexible and adaptable. And we recognized that while participants could have made the pivot on their own, in the middle of significant disruption, we could make the integration of technology smoother.”
The first “Silver Linings Café” meetings kicked off at the end of April — the name coined by Susan to acknowledge the motivation and ingenuity demonstrated by instructors as they navigated the complexities presented by the pandemic. From April 30 to June 25, 2020, MTML and AlphaPlus hosted more than 40 literacy practitioners in 12 meetups. Along the way, Tracey helped Susan to research useful technologies and provided demonstrations to help instructors learn a new feature or skill to apply in their next online class.
At the end of the five months, Silver Linings Café participants reported reduced feelings of isolation, a shortened learning curve and increased confidence associated with digital technology for remote learning. They reported feeling empowered to help learners tackle learning barriers and noted a beneficial impact on learner engagement. Participants had also been able to help each other by sharing community support resources such as links to food donation programs, computer donation programs and the Toronto Public Library’s Wi-Fi hotspot lending program.
Susan, AlphaPlus and a team of contributors documented many of the group’s lessons, creating and publishing a suite of guides. COFA generously supported the translation of the guides. Topics include setup, in-meeting controls and whiteboards, breakout rooms, polling and building engagement to help others make the most of their Zoom meetings with adult literacy learners.
“AlphaPlus stepped up province-wide during COVID-19, and their partnership made this experience a success for the programs in our network,” says Susan. “Everybody agrees that we cannot drop the ball on technology when we go back to in-person learning. We must continue to benefit from AlphaPlus’s knowledge and leadership in blended learning, and we have to continue to think about breaching the gaps in access to technology many of our learners face.”
Would you like to connect with fellow practitioners in the adult literacy education space? We offer periodic, time-based and structured network experiences for educators with similar goals and visions for using digital technology. Learn more about current and upcoming cohorts of our educator network. If you have questions or would like to talk about joining a group, please contact Tracey Mollins, at firstname.lastname@example.org
In early 2020, Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy (MTML) was grappling with several digital technology issues. Their website had been corrupted three years earlier and had not been replaced. Recent turnover of staff meant they needed to address technology knowledge and skills gaps. And they needed to decide on and commit to a single productivity suite.
MTML is a membership-based umbrella organization supporting 26 agencies in Toronto and seven in York Region running Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) programs — in some cases, two or even three programs — at multiple locations. In addition to advocating for adult learning, MTML supports these programs through education, information and referrals, professional development, service co-ordination, research and more.
According to board member Susan Lefebvre, early 2020 was the right time to address all of MTML’s digital technology challenges from the ground up: “Having worked in this field for years, I know the team at AlphaPlus and I knew they could help us. They are extremely knowledgeable, competent, approachable and, very importantly, they start with you, where you are. That’s so important when it comes to technology because it can be intimidating, with so many moving parts.”
Susan began working with Maria Moriarty at AlphaPlus and then after Maria’s retirement, Monika Jankowska-Pacyna, their organizational development consultant for education and technology. Monika, who has many years of experience supporting adult education service providers through the implementation of technologies that improve their work in the classroom and reduce administrative burden, took an incremental approach to helping MTML.
“We started our coaching engagement by addressing gaps in technology skills and troubleshooting administrative processes,” Monika explains. “Over the longer -term, we gradually tackled bigger administration issues. I gave MTML an overview of their choices: tools they could use to collaborate, such as Google Suite and Microsoft Teams. I guided them through a framework for what factors to consider and which technology solutions would address their numerous challenges in a holistic manner.”
MTML decided on using Google Workspace and then worked with Monika to do specific things with the applications, including:
“Looking back, we had been stuck for so long,” says Susan. “After our website was corrupted, we waited three years, debating the right website platform and worrying about the budget and maintenance. We also had so many discussions about technology systems and office suites — with differing opinions on which way to go. But Monika’s holistic, systematic approach helped us to take a big-picture view and carefully evaluate the options.”
According to Susan, investing the time and turning to AlphaPlus to coach them through the process has allowed MTML to move ahead in multiple areas. They felt confident about their decisions because they went through a process, and new team members have been able to jump in and build upon the digital technology foundation they’ve created.
“AlphaPlus put us on a path that incorporates digital technology strategically and intentionally — in fact, our business plan now has a whole piece on digital. Our own operations are stronger, and we are better prepared to try to support literacy programs in this area.”
Would you like to connect with the AlphaPlus coaching team to incorporate digital technology into your practice? Learn more about current and upcoming Tech Coaching opportunities.
Since March of this year, LBS programs around the province have been innovating and reorganizing their program technology and tools as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed. Many LBS programs continue to reflect on the changes the pandemic will place on how they do their work in the future. Our technology coaching services are here, as ever, to support teams and learners navigating the remote learning and working landscape.
Expedited, short-term coaching still available
Teams that require support to make rapid changes to their program delivery and communication methods are invited to reach out to access short-term technology coaching sessions. Our coaches can help teams quickly identify technologies and tools that suit their unique needs and can help programs improve administrative processes while keeping in touch with learners.
To learn more or sign up for short-term coaching, contact Alan Cherwinski, Executive Director.
Are you interested in using Microsoft Teams? Will you be using the Education edition available to schools and colleges or the Business edition? Which one is right for you, and what’s the difference, anyway?
The Education edition is tailor-made for education settings and includes Classes and Class Teams as well as an additional notebook and other assignment management options not available in the Teams Business edition.
Today, many school boards and colleges are pushing for MS Teams Education to be used in classrooms. To help you learn more and break down the differences between the Education and Business editions, we’re sharing a few MS Teams resources about platform basics and how-tos.
Visit this tutorial resource page to learn more about MS Teams Business.
Check out this article to learn about the differences between MS Teams Business and MS Teams Education.
Try this quick course on transforming learning with Microsoft Teams.
MS Teams Education is available for FREE to students and educators at eligible institutions.
Visit https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/education/products/teams to find out if your organization qualifies.
This spring, our sector made a sudden shift to communicating, working, and teaching online. As LBS programs made the transition to remote delivery, we realized this was an opportunity to learn more about how our sector was working and adapting to this unprecedented and unplanned change.
What were their new priorities and how were those priorities identified? What challenges were LBS programs facing? In the last two weeks of June, we launched and administered a survey in hopes of answering these and other important questions.
Now, as COVID-19 numbers are more stabilized and many programs reopen, AlphaPlus is finalizing a full report detailing our survey’s results. But before the report
goes live, we’re sharing initial results based on responses from 368 respondents who provided information in both French and English.
● 45% of learners have a household Internet connection.
● 27% of learners have limited connectivity using cell phones.
● 13% of respondents said programs purchased additional data and/or devices for learners.
● 67% of respondents were able to focus on instruction; 33% prioritized communication and learner supports.
● Respondents used three to four different modes of communication and instruction, such as telephone, videoconferencing, emails, learning management platforms and printed materials.
● 66% of respondents stated the top priority going forward is adapted accountability and reporting processes.
● 53% of respondents said other priorities are ensuring Internet access for learners, professional development and training using ed tech and access to online assessments of literacy, numeracy and digital skills.
Look for the completed survey report on our website around the end of September. Contact Christine Pinsent-Johnson for more information.
It’s been six months since COVID-19 arrived in Ontario. While programs continue to adapt to this ever-changing “new normal,” the AlphaPlus team is continuing to bring you training, information and resources to support learners and program staff through the transition.
On August 27, we were invited to present at the Pop Up PD for Literacy Educators webinar, organized and hosted by a committee of the Learning Networks of Ontario, E-Channel and the Provincial Support Organizations for Literacy.
During this session, we reviewed how programs have shifted and adapted to remote teaching and learning, and detailed the tools and resources used to support these transitions. This session is designed to keep LBS program teams connected and informed of each other’s successes and challenges and to share knowledge.
If you missed the session, you can view the slides and access the recording on this website.
Learn more about the Pop Up PD for Literacy Educators at https://learningnetworks.ca/resources-publications/popuppd/
For additional questions or to sign up for technology coaching or training sessions to improve your remote learning and work, email Alan Cherwinski, Executive Director.
This August, Alan Cherwinski and Christine Pinsent-Johnson represented the AlphaPlus team during an adult literacy roundtable discussion with Jill Andrew, MPP for Toronto–St. Paul’s. They were joined by Reb Chevalier of Parkdale Project Read and organizer Phylicia Davis-Wesseling, founder and program manager of the KGO Adult Literacy Program.
Together, the group discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the growing digital divide and affected literacy workers and learners. The conversation also addressed the need to advocate for increased support, resources and visibility of adult literacy work.
Watch the session on Facebook (you don’t need an account to watch).
In this client coaching story, we’re talking with Lisa McArthur, program manager of The Literacy Group (TLG) of Waterloo Region, about how they used Google Sites to create an online resource for learners and linked it to their website’s home page. Learn about how the portal is helping learners continue to work remotely and keeping TLG connected and moving forward while we all work and learn from a distance.
Q: As a community-based learning program, what professional development challenges does your organization face, and how did working with an AlphaPlus coach help you overcome those challenges?
A: Money for professional development (PD) training is always an issue for non-profit organizations like ours. Also, we have a small staff, which means classes stop when individual staff are out for training. While it’s nice to go out for PD individually, working on a common development goal as a team can be better.
When we began consulting with Monika about AlphaPlus’s free technology coaching, she encouraged us to focus on specific projects and outcomes we wanted to achieve. This mindset drove our team-based professional development efforts and helped us to keep our goals and aspirations realistic and achievable.
Q: What website-building technology did the team choose to implement and why?
A: Google Sites provided ease of construction and let us make site content updates and edits that appear right away. We didn’t want a complicated site that is tricky to design and update or requires special web design knowledge to edit. Over time and throughout our coaching, we used the simple, user-friendly Google Sites template to create and post our content. As our coaching progressed, we learned more about the back end of Google Forms, particularly applying them toward improving team projects.
By the time we finished our coaching cycle and training with Monika, we had a solid foundation and scaffold of tools that we could further build out on our own. We were using Google Sites for learner stories (TLG voices), we had created an easy to navigate learner resource portal that lives on the home page of our website, and we created a new/updated computer curriculum. Now we’re developing a tutor resource portal on our own.
Q: How has using Google Sites allowed you to better communicate as a team and engage with other service providers and partners in your region?
A: Based on our analytics provided through Google, our learner portal has reached readers around the world and hosted more than 600 learning opportunities. The portal launched just before the COVID-19 outbreak and TLG’s shutdown. Because the portal was already active, we were able to quickly create a COVID-19 info page that includes updated government information and links to federal, provincial and municipal websites, as well as links to health and well-being resources.
Our jobs page within the portal includes links to employment services and programs available in our regions, and our partner organizations have asked us to add links to their services and online resources so learners can access them all in one place. The next step will be expanding the site to permit public users of the portal to connect with the appropriate LBS program using a referral tool.
Q: How have Google Sites and Google Forms made learning and information-gathering easier for learners?
A: The learner portal created by TLG co-ordinators, Johanna Brown and Julie Sigrist, using Google Sites and the computer curriculum, in particular, are the sites most actively used and frequently updated. The computer curriculum template has given us an edge to add a fifth module that we would likely not have attempted without the knowledge gained through coaching.
Q: Describe the training and workshop process you followed with your coach.
A: Initially, we conferenced online with Monika to review our needs and schedule a four-hour face-to-face training session. After the training workshop, we booked a followup, and Monika made herself available to individuals and pairs of team members for mini sessions and problem-solving. This three-pronged approach meant that no time was wasted and we were free to tackle lots of issues as a team. It really served as problem-based learning, which I feel is the best way to learn and retain knowledge and skills long term.
Q: How will what you’ve learned through the coaching process influence future work and technology implementation, and how has it helped TLG work remotely?
A: Creating the learner portal has been instrumental in keeping us connected to our learners. The portal has also helped keep resources easily available to tutors, too. Soon, the portal will become the primary tool for one of our online classes. Soon, it will be used to connect the general public with various LBS programs.
We’re getting ready to launch our computer curriculum available fully online. This will allow learners to complete the curriculum independently or as part of a Zoom session with a tutor.
The courses and the portal can each be easily updated and edited to accommodate changes like the COVID-19 shutdown. In the future, when things are more stable, we will get back to finishing and launching the volunteer portal.
Over the past few weeks, many LBS programs have reached out to AlphaPlus for support regarding how best to work from home and how to reach and connect with learners from a distance. Many are also reflecting on the inevitable changes the pandemic will place on how they do their work in the future. Our technology coaching services are here, as ever, to support teams and learners navigating the remote learning and working landscape.
Expedited, short-term coaching available
Teams who require support to make rapid changes to their program delivery and communication methods are invited to reach out to access short-term technology coaching sessions. Our coaches can help teams quickly identify technologies and tools that suit their current unique needs and can help programs improve administrative processes while keeping in touch with learners.
To learn more or sign up for short-term coaching, contact Alan Cherwinski, Executive Director.