Can you imagine starting a new role in a new sector and then discovering an organization entirely dedicated to supporting you?

Janet Oettgen transitioned to the Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) sector from a career in taxation and banking.  After deciding to change careers and completing her education in social work, Janet’s path led her to the position of Program Coordinator/Instructor for the Niagara West Adult Learning Centre.

“When I started in May 2021, our technology was in disarray. Lacking comfort and knowledge of online platforms, our tutors and learners were almost inactive,” explains Janet. “Two of us were brand new to the organization, and our third staff member, although here for a long time, had limited knowledge of online technology and social media.  We were using the personal account of someone who had left our organization six years ago to access our Facebook page!”

Getting one-to-one coaching support and learning in a group format

Being new to the organization and adult literacy, Janet was eager for training. She attended AlphaPlus Virtual Showcases, where she learned about new systems and tools, and how people in adult literacy were using them. A few months later, Janet started getting one-to-one support from AlphaPlus technology coach Monika Jankowska-Pacyna.

“The Learning Centre staff members were trying to find their way around the systems in place, what accounts they had, how to get into them, managing their email interface, sharing files and teaching resources, and more,” says Monika. “We started by discussing the team’s hopes and needs and decided to try to shift the organization to Google Workspace and Google Apps. I helped Janet with processes, setup, transferring data and emails, website redesign and setting up tools like Canva, YouTube, Google Calendar, Classroom, and Forms.”

Over time, Janet worked with Monika and AlphaPlus Executive Director Alan Cherwinski to build a new, easier-to-maintain website using Google Sites. She regained control of the Learning Centre’s existing Google for Nonprofits and email accounts, and established digital security procedures.

“I’m comfortable with technology, but there were so many things we needed to pull together, and I wouldn’t have known where to start on my own. In meetings with Monika and Alan, we figured out a logical, step-by-step process that wasn’t stressful or overwhelming,” says Janet. “I also continued attending Showcases, which helped me get oriented to the adult literacy sector and see what people are doing, their learners’ needs, and what is working. What I learned at these events also gave me the vocabulary needed to request funding for our centre.”

Continuing her learning journey and connecting with peers

Taking full advantage of the AlphaPlus support and services suite, Janet also participated in Educator Network programs such as Gabfests and Makerspace, exploring ideas, picking up tools and tips, and forming connections with peers.

“Each AlphaPlus offering addresses specific needs with intention and excellence. They also connect you with people in other regions who are willing to share,” explains Janet. “For example, I connected with a peer in the Kitchener/Cambridge area who shared many of her digital forms and activities. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I could make her tools my own, and I now have a model for what I can create in the future.”

Having sorted out foundational elements like the organization’s digital workspace and communications, Janet went deeper into using digital tools for teaching and program administration. She has conducted a community needs analysis using Google Forms, digitized learning activities, and automated learner follow-ups and closures. As a result, processes are simpler for learners, and the Learning Centre has obtained more complete data.

 Next steps: for technology integration in adult literacy program delivery

Janet’s next steps include digitizing learner files and participating in an upcoming digital workspace training to prepare to further automate and streamline processes. The Centre’s new office administrator is now getting coaching from Monika to take over responsibilities so Janet can spend time in the community making connections that will bring in learners.

“There is enough complexity in our sector, so why not get help simplifying what we can?  From running programs to attracting learners, if you have systems in place that help you to do the work without spending lots of money, that’s half the battle,” says Janet. “Before working with AlphaPlus, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Now, we have regained our autonomy and can communicate at the snap of a finger.”

The AlphaPlus team is invaluable and second to none. The foundation of adult literacy is empowering, educating and equipping — AlphaPlus empowers, educates, and equips us to serve learners better.

Janet Oettgen, Program Coordinator/Instructor for the Niagara West Adult Learning Centre

Coaching can be a great starting point for unraveling your literacy program’s technology challenges and learning more about how AlphaPlus can support you. New coaching spots are now available, so contact us to secure your spot.

Our Virtual Showcase sessions are designed to feature innovative programs and instructors who are using digital tools and approaches to connect and work with learners and colleagues remotely. 

Why Virtual Showcases?

When we started, we were still in the pandemic mode, with many instructors and co-ordinators feeling isolated, frustrated and often unsure about using technology and digital tools to reach and inspire learners, or effectively share and collaborate online with team members. Since our coaching team has worked with innovative programs and amazing instructors over the years, we saw first-hand their interesting approaches, unique designs and exemplary uses of digital tools. This inspired us to shine a spotlight on some of these organizations through Virtual Showcases.  

What is happening so far?

We have now hosted eight Virtual Showcase sessions with 946 registrations. Many participants have returned over and over to explore and share their tips and stories, while others volunteered to be our next guest presenters. We grew and built a community that would gather around to share, connect and inspire each other during facilitated discussions and demonstrations. We also developed resource collections around each topic we discussed (presentations, video recordings and tips/links shared by others) that you can access via the past sessions menu on the website

I found that the speakers had great tools to use and that the sharing of those tools was great! There is a vast amount of knowledge out there and to be able to listen to how people are using the various apps/tools was very informative. Knowing the different organizations that are working with this kind of education to help individuals and having the ability to connect with them is great! 

What is happening next?

As we return to in person services, your needs and our services are evolving again. We all are more tech savvy, and many programs are planning to use blended learning and hybrid models in their practice. We noticed that some of you prefer more frequent and informal settings to connect (like our Community Gabfests) while others look forward to the future showcases. We are excited but wonder, what would you like to explore in the future showcases? 

Click here to share with us what would be helpful. How can we inspire you next?

Questions? Contact Monika

Workshop Story: What we learned from Virtual Showcases

The summer months are a blur at this point, but the memory of how excited and inspired we were after each of our Virtual Showcase sessions still energizes us and we wonder if we should do it again…


Setting up for the second session with ASL interpreters
Setting up for the second session with ASL interpreters

The idea

It all started with a Zoom call in 2020. “It would be great if you could organize a conference/sessions where others would share what they use and how they use it,” said Gay Douglas from Literacy Link Niagara. “And then you can spend some time training us on some of the tools discussed,” added Tina DeLuca from Niagara Catholic District School Board as we were reviewing our recent coaching project together. “It would reach and help so many other instructors and programs,” she added.

This got me thinking… Through our technology coaching services, we work directly with a selected group of programs, but what if we could open it up and make it more accessible to instructors and program coordinators who aren’t engaging with us in this way? Would that be helpful? Would there be interest? 

We explored this idea at our team meetings and decided to add it to our business plan for 2021.  

We were so excited when the sessions got approved in April but also a bit scared — as we had until September to make them all a reality!

The sessions

With the full team support, my colleagues Tracey, Aletheia and I set out to plan, organize and deliver four AlphaPlus Virtual Showcase sessions via Zoom. 

We used Google Sites to set up a website,, where we announced the upcoming sessions and guest presenters. Afterwards, we posted the recordings, slides and additional resources shared by the guests and participants. It’s now a great resource collection to explore! Check it out!

Our goal was to elevate and showcase how innovative programs and instructors use digital tools and approaches to connect and work with learners remotely. We realized that we often meet these amazing instructors and programs through our coaching and other projects, but this was a chance to really showcase them and in a different way. ASL interpretation services were provided and allowed the Deaf community to participate as well.

We even tried to be clever about our session titles, but it wasn’t always that easy, so we gave up after the first one. 🙂

The sessions focused on:

  1. Fighting the Zoombie fatigue: Making online learning more “human” for teachers and learners
  2. Online tools to the rescue: Engaging learners to collaborate together remotely
  3. Digital resource collections: Extending learning and critical thinking beyond virtual meetings
  4. LMS in LBS: Figuring out if a learning management system is the right fit for your program

Each session featured three guest organizations — representing a community program, school board and college — that shared their approaches, strategies and tips on how they connect with learners and build a virtual community using online tools and resources.

The Learning Place team sharing what collaboration tools they are using

We loved how guests used slides or simply shared their screens to show us their approaches and how participants got involved, asked questions and shared their own experiences and resources in the chats and breakout rooms. It really felt like a community coming together to a virtual event. The Tech Q&A part of the sessions allowed us to discuss the tools in more detail and offer additional tips. They weren’t easy sometimes, as we weren’t sure what specific information participants would want to learn, but we were thrilled to receive followup calls and emails from participants telling us how they’re trying and implementing some of the things they learned about in our sessions.


We received a lot of encouraging feedback from participants:

“Very helpful to see how others have created very useful resources for their learners and tutors. It was especially helpful to hear about challenges and possible solutions to problems.”

“The information presented will be very helpful for me to help my learners. I was not aware of there being so many resources that are out there to assist us in our everyday teaching.”

“I liked having people from the field speaking and then having some tech information at the end. It was a good combination.”

“The testimony of LBS instructors and their experience using LMS. That was terrific.”

In retrospect

We, as a team doing this type of showcase for the first time, learned a lot too and are sharing our reflections as lessons and tips:

Some of our guests taught us that you don’t need to use new and fancy tools to be effective. You can use and adapt existing tools too. For example, the Excel database spreadsheet shared by Leo and Denise from the Frontier College team was a great hit with participants. We got a lot of requests about it so we created a sample sheet to share their formula and are working on a video to provide more tips and details. 

Fleming College team showing how they explain math virtually

Should we do it again?
I’m extremely thankful to everyone — the AlphaPlus team, our guests who agreed to come out and share with others, and participants — for the support and encouragement we received. It wouldn’t be possible without all of you!

As we were wrapping up the sessions and reviewing the feedback, a question lingered… Should we do it again? What should we focus on? What would be helpful?

We decided that it might be best to ask you.

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us using this SURVEY

Learn more about training and workshops

green arrow right

Read more case studies

green arrow right

Join us for a Virtual Showcase — a series of 4 Zoom sessions showcasing how innovative programs and instructors use digital tools and approaches to connect and work with learners remotely.

Each session will feature guest presenters who’ll share their approaches, strategies and tips on how they connect with learners and build a virtual community using online tools and resources. Participants will have a chance to discuss and share their own experiences in breakout rooms. Afterwards, we’ll have a Tech Q&A to explore some of the digital tools mentioned during the session.

ASL interpretation services will be provided.


  1. Fighting the Zoombie fatigue: Making online learning more “human” for teachers and learners

June 22, 2021, 1:30 to 4 p.m.

  1. Online tools to the rescue: Engaging learners to collaborate together remotely

July 20, 2021, 1:30 to 4 p.m.

  1. Digital resource collections: Extending learning and critical thinking beyond virtual meetings

August 17, 2021, 1:30 to 4 p.m.

  1. LMS in LBS: Figuring out if a learning management system is the right fit for your program

September 14, 2021, 1:30 to 4 p.m.

To learn more and register, visit the showcase website at

Follow us on social media using #LBSshow and @alphapluscentre.


While connecting with instructors and coordinators through our coaching, research and support services, we’re often asked about best practices, examples and tips for connecting with learners and building a virtual community — especially now, during COVID-19. In fact, the most common question we get asked is “What are other programs and instructors doing?” We’re very excited to organize the showcase and hope to have the guest presenters help us answer some of these questions in a virtual setting.

Coaching Story: Year in Review – 2020

A busy year for the adult literacy field and for AlphaPlus!

2020 has been like no other for our coaching team! It has been busy, hectic —and yes — sometimes overwhelming. Many programs reached out to our team to ask for ideas, support and training in the unexpected and fast shift to working from home and delivering their services remotely. 

It was also extremely rewarding to see these programs try new things, build up their confidence and then take off with so many great ideas. They started connecting with learners online, sharing resources digitally, offering online training, expanding their social media presence and so much more! 

Adult educators and practitioners grew their skills in 10 key areas

So what exactly were our Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) coaching programs asking for and working on this year? Here are the top 10 items we covered in 2020:

  1. Exploring video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and others to find the best tool for them to meet with staff, volunteers and learners online.
  2. Learning how to share files and folders in the cloud through Google Drive or OneDrive to virtually access and share documents with team members working from home and with learners.
  3. Setting up websites with Google Sites to quickly organize and share information, lessons, links, videos and other resources with staff, volunteers and learners.
  4. Launching online classes using Google Classroom, Canvas, Moodle and more to move the lessons and activities to an online environment.
  5. Developing quizzes and assessments using Google or Microsoft Forms to quickly get and see the responses from learners.
  6. Digitizing printable materials to make the content accessible online as fillable forms or documents and using tools like Bitly to create short links.
  7. Looking for affordable devices (internet sticks, mobile devices and laptops) to provide learners with access to technology from home.
  8. Creating digital graphics, posters and promotional materials on Canva to reach learners via websites and social media.
  9. Editing videos to share stories and meeting recordings with learners.
  10. Applying for and setting up FREE Google Workspace for Nonprofits so that the entire organization can use Google apps such as Gmail and Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and more remotely.

Get inspired! Join us!

“We don’t know what we don’t know” is one of the most common statements from our potential and new coaching clients. If you’re interested in exploring new ideas and tools with us, learning what other programs are doing and using, plus getting hands-on training and support in implementing new solutions in your practice, reach out to us!

 Simply contact or our other educational and technology consultants to grow your digital skills and explore the LBS coaching possibilities with us.

Learn more about coaching

green arrow right

Read more case studies

green arrow right