Community Gabfests are Zoom gatherings for literacy educators who want to connect with their peers in an informal setting. Connecting with other educators helps us see our work with fresh eyes, validates our experiences and is a powerful way to renew our energy, purpose, and excitement about our work.  Join us as we chat, vent, brainstorm, etc., about this work that we love.

Tracey and Guylaine are your hosts.

Contact tracey@alphaplus.ca or guylaine@alphaplus.ca if you would like more information.

The next Gabfest is on January 12, 2023 from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Future Gabfests – save the dates:

Past Gabfests – see what happened:

Here is what participants say happens at a Community Gabfest:

  • Lots of opportunity for discussion.
  • Others sharing their best practices
  • Learning about what other programs are doing to increase learner engagement.
  • To know that others experience the same challenges that we do. Sharing ways to enhance our programming; sharing ideas to help solve problems
  • Meeting new people from the literacy field and learning about their ideas.
  • Going into different breakout rooms and meeting different practitioners.
  • Connecting with others in small groups

And here are some of the ways participants describe the Community Gabfests:

  • The Community Gabfest gives everyone an opportunity to share, to learn and to discuss. We are guided by seasoned adult literacy professionals.
  • It is great to meet, share, discuss ideas, and best practices.
  • An avenue to share techniques and strategies that are working in our programs. A forum to learn together about best practices, challenges, and possibilities.
  • It was a place where people could share their ideas, issues and challenges and share solutions too if needed. You also got the chance to meet people that were outside of your immediate region and you had the opportunity to expand your network in the space. There are also of really great people and agencies out there doing really great work for the community. It was nice to see just beyond your own agency or region.
  • It was nice to learn about different experiences from literacy practitioners. The environment was safe and cordial to talk about your experiences with learners.
  • We got to meet different literacy practitioners on Zoom and talk about what we do, resources, and learn from each other. It was a really relaxed environment and wouldn’t normally get to do this in-person. This was a great alternative.

Stay up-to-date with what we are thinking about at AlphaPlus and what we are doing to support  Ontario’s adult literacy instructors and program administrators.

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We’re excited to announce the launch of our microsite called The Digital Inclusion Playbook that’s filled with ideas, information and resources you can use to support local digital inclusion efforts. We hope the site builds awareness at a provincial and national level on behalf of all literacy and basic skills (LBS) programs and the many learners who find themselves excluded from full and equitable participation in a digital society.

Resources, articles and mini-infographics you can use

Digital inclusion and literacy development work together, and LBS plays a key role in digital inclusion as a provider of digital learning opportunities for adults. LBS educators, volunteers and program co-ordinators are on the front lines of digital inclusion work and often address issues — such as access to devices for learning and low-cost internet plans — that go beyond everyday teaching and learning work. The playbook’s facts, resources, articles and mini-infographics can be used to:

Information, ideas and strategies to help build awareness

Digital inclusion is bigger than LBS and involves affordable and adequate broadband internet service, internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user, quality and affordable technical support along with applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. The playbook contains information, ideas and strategies that explore the following topics:

We invite you to explore the site and share your feedback with us. We’d also love to hear about your digital inclusion initiatives and stories.
You can also contact Christine (christine@alphaplus.ca) or Alan (acherwinski@alphaplus.ca) directly.

Need help with technology set up or training?

Connect with us to take advantage of our FREE technology coaching services where we will work with you hand-in-hand to help you explore, integrate and adapt various technology tools and solutions.

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The Virtual Showcase sessions are back this fall!

Our third session Should we Kahoot it? Using game-based learning and quizzes for fun and quick learning activities is scheduled for October 18, and the fourth session is planned for November 15.

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Do you ever wish that you had time to stop and think?

We all do, especially after the hurly-burly of the pivot to remote learning during pandemic lockdowns and the pivot back to the blended and hybrid models that programs developed to meet the needs of new learners who joined during the pivot and returning learners who were unable to connect remotely.

Here are some opportunities to stop and think about technology and teaching that AlphaPlus is offering this fall: two collaborative learning spaces, two self-directed learning spaces and the results of our new maker space project

Two collaborative learning spaces

Educator Network (eNet)

ENet is where literacy practitioners collaborate to evaluate blended learning approaches, tools and resources that enhance and expand learning.

Join our next cohort starting October 25. Contact tracey@alphaplus.ca to sign up.

ENet also happens in French. This year, we are working with COFA (Coalition de Ontarienne de Formation des Adultes) to deliver eNet sessions. 

Contact guylaine@alphaplus.ca to find out more.

Wayfinders Community Gabfests

Conversations. Come to one, come to the series.

Learn more here: Wayfinders Studio: Community Gabfests 

Save the dates.

  • September 27, 2022, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
  • October 27 and November 24, 2022 (times to be determined)
  • January 12, February 9 and March 9, 2023 (times to be determined)

Contact tracey@alphaplus.ca to sign up.

Two self-paced, self-directed learning spaces

Planning Your Digital Toolbox

Planning Your Digital Toolbox is for people who prefer a self-paced eNet experience. 

“I learned about some new-to-me tools and was prompted to closely evaluate reasons for and methods of using those tools to enhance and expand learning.”

This reflective practice opportunity takes place in six self-paced modules in Moodle. People who complete the activities report that it takes them about 24 hours.

Join anytime. Contact tracey@alphaplus.ca to sign up.

Wayfinders Studio Website

People often tell us that some of the best learning happens in the ad hoc conversations they have with other practitioners in hallways or in breakout rooms at conferences. How can we mobilize the knowledge that we would share amongst ourselves in those informal settings? Explore The Wayfinders Studio to see what others are doing and thinking about.

In 2021, AlphaPlus interviewed facilitators about how they applied their knowledge of content, pedagogy and technology during the pivot to remote learning. See more here: Wayfinders Studio: Pivot to Remote Learning.

And something we are working on

Wayfinders Studio Maker Space

This summer, we are working with practitioners in a digital storytelling maker space to create multimedia Wayfinder Studio stories. We hope that the things the Wayfinders create will inspire other educators as they explore, experiment and become Wayfinders themselves. See updates here: Wayfinders Studio: Maker Space

If you are interested in joining future Wayfinders projects, contact tracey@alphaplus.ca 

Planning your Digital Toolbox Story with Susan Korstanje

Trying new things can be daunting but fun. Pushing outside of our comfort zones is a valuable experience. These are lessons that Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) instructors impart to learners — and that math instructor Susan Korstanje experienced herself over the last two years, as both a teacher and a student.

Susan teaches at the Thunder Bay Literacy Group Adult Learning Centre, which offers free education and skills upgrading for adults via classes in English, math, computers, General Education Development (GED) test prep and trades prep. The team emphasizes meeting each learner where they are and providing personalized learning plans to meet their goals. Susan focuses on building math skills and helping learners apply them in practical ways.

Like many of her peers, Susan has learned new ways of teaching, new techniques, tools, platforms and efficiencies over the last two years. Today, she continues to offer remote instruction for learners who request it. In the spring of 2022, Susan took the new Planning your digital tool box online course from AlphaPlus because of her ongoing need to teach remote learners effectively and provide all of her learners with more ways to learn independently.

Planning your digital toolbox online course 

According to the course creator and instructor, Tracey Mollins from AlphaPlus, planning your digital toolbox is a reflective practice and self-paced, facilitated opportunity for LBS instructors to evaluate theory and research and think about how it applies in their practices. The online course consists of six modules designed to help explore digital technology tools and resources to enhance and expand learning.  

“I created this course to build instructors’ confidence in applying blended learning concepts and methods,” Tracey explains. “For people who plunged into digital technology during the pandemic, it’s an opportunity to step back and consider what you’ve learned and how it fits into the broader field of blended learning.”

While Susan acknowledges that she would have benefited from the peer support available in the AlphaPlus Educator Network, the self-paced format allowed her to fit learning into her unpredictable schedule. She worked through modules covering blended learning frameworks, contexts for learners and educators, goal setting, learner agency and forming a plan. Along the way, Susan summarized her observations, created resources she can use with learners and used frameworks and rubrics to evaluate her use of technology. 

“My primary goal in taking this course was to discover new technologies or new ways of using technologies I was already familiar with,” says Susan. “But I discovered things I didn’t even know I needed and was prompted to evaluate my reasons for and methods of using tools. The course helped me go beyond simply imitating what we could do on paper to create a multi-dimensional learning experience.” 

Susan chose to explore choice boards, Jamboard and Flipgrid during the course to help her extend learning beyond the classroom. The choice board allows learners to continue learning independently, and Jamboard supports both synchronous and asynchronous learning and communication between lessons. She is considering ways to use Flipgrid to encourage learners to think about topics and create videos outside of class time — strengthening their communications skills.

Taking the course meant benefiting from the learner experience

Susan explains that she has added new tools to her digital tool box and explored new ways of using familiar tools thanks to the course. She now has an expanded suite that she can draw from when she needs to. Furthermore, the course turned out to have greater depth and breadth than she expected, covering such topics as the theories and framework around blended learning. And the course eased the way as she continued to push outside her comfort zone and learn new technologies — a process that created a deeper sense of empathy with learners’ experiences.

“Our learners are constantly facing things that they never thought they could do before, and this experience helped me appreciate that while that’s fun, it’s also daunting,” says Susan. “An important point in the course was the focus on learner agency. To encourage lifelong learning, we encourage learners to make their own choices and follow their paths toward their goals. That is something this course allows us to do; take the time to be a learner and enjoy all of the benefits of lifelong learning.”

Would you like to grow your digital toolbox, getting exposure to different theories, methodologies and tools? Would you like to be prepared to adapt your approach for diverse learners, technology changes and contexts? Learn more about the Planning your digital tool box online course

Learn more about Planning your Digital Toolbox

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Finding an innovative way to deliver course content online with a coach by your side

Do you have innovative ideas for using technology to help learners? Do you know where to get help with implementing those ideas? Like literacy instructor Amanda Valliere, you can turn to an AlphaPlus coach.

When in-person programs shut down in early 2020, Amanda, a training facilitator at Spark Employment Services in Sudbury, quickly shifted to using Zoom to meet with her group. Her next step: figuring out how to make her Microsoft Office Workplace Essentials Introduction course content and materials available online — with no budget for a learning management system (LMS).

“I had dabbled with Google tools ever since AlphaPlus provided us with an overview years ago — but I knew I wasn’t using them to their full advantage. Along the way, I had formed an idea about digitizing course resources using Google Sites and suddenly, I had the opportunity to try it.”

Developing her idea for a course website

Amanda started by reaching out to Monika Jankowska-Pacyna, an education and technology coach at AlphaPlus. At weekly coaching sessions, Amanda explained her ideas and Monika answered her questions, helped solve problems and worked through different approaches. Monika also followed up between calls with email support and quick video demonstration or troubleshooting. Gradually, Amanda needed less support, so she and Monika met less often and eventually moved to email support.

Monika explains that this consultative, fluid approach is what any program can expect from working with an AlphaPlus coach: “Amanda was precise about what she wanted to do. However, we always start by asking coaching participants what they are looking for and how comfortable they are with a particular technology. Then we serve as a sounding board, offering ideas, suggestions, options and ways of doing things that you might not have considered.”

With Monika’s support, Amanda created a one-stop course website complete with the manual, videos and quizzes. Thanks to grant funding, Spark purchased laptops installed with Microsoft Office, which they lent out to help learners complete the training.

Several months later, Amanda returned to Monika for help with creating a more engaging learning environment and learning to use additional features within Zoom (for example, reactions, backgrounds and chat), Kahoot and other tools.

Learning alongside learners

“I might have been able to do this on my own, but it would have been inefficient and taken so much longer. Instead, I had access to one-to-one guidance catered to what I needed, the day I needed it,” says Amanda. “As a result, I was able to provide an open, engaging, quality learning environment — and more than that, an opportunity to connect during the pandemic.”

Spark has returned to in-person program delivery, but Amanda continues to use her course website. She teaches from it and makes it available to learners who need to catch up on a missed class or review material. In the future, she would like to explore using Google Classroom for even more integration and features.

“As an instructor, you can be innovative, adventurous and role model learning — and we can help,” says Monika. “Amanda could have just made the course materials available as a PDF, but she thought about a unique use for Google Sites and was willing to learn alongside her learners.”
Carry forward the momentum of the last two years, with an AlphaPlus coach

New coaching sessions are opening in April, and the AlphaPlus coaches are excited to support a new round of instructors and program administrators. Here are just a few examples of the ideas they are ready to explore with you:

Would you like to pursue a technology idea with the support of an AlphaPlus coach?
Learn more about coaching and get on the waiting list now for the next round of sessions.

Happy December!

We made it through another year and as we reflect on 2021, we are — as always — wildly impressed with the thoughtful work of our colleagues around the province.

At AlphaPlus, we have the good fortune of hearing about all the amazing and innovative ways programs are working with literacy learners across the province. Our focus is digital technology, but our conversations with practitioners meander over many fields and we find treasures in each one. Thank you all for contributing to our knowledge and to making literacy work the best work.

One of the ways we hear about and share promising practices is through eNet.

Join Us for eNet – Winter 2022

eNet is our short name for the Educator Network — a collaborative, supportive space where literacy instructors can connect with colleagues from other programs to share new tools, resources and ways of doing things.

As an AlphaPlus eNet participant, you will:

French eNet takes place in collaboration with COFA (Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes) and is delivered within four online workshops starting December 15. Contact Guylaine to find out more about subjects, dates and registration.

English eNet will meet synchronously via Zoom and asynchronously in Moodle. Do not worry if you are not familiar with Moodle, because we will support new users.

Our tentative time for Zoom sessions is Tuesdays from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m., but we can adjust this to accommodate the schedule of the group.

DateTopic
January 18Getting Started
January 2521st Century Learners
February 1Literacy Learners
February 821st Century Learning
February 15Planning the Digital Toolbox 1 – Goals
February 22Planning the Digital Toolbox 2 – Learner Agency
March 1The Digital Toolbox
March 8Reflection and Evaluation

Contact Tracey to find out more and register.

Planning a Digital Toolbox (English)

If a self-paced version of eNet would work better for you, you can sign up for Planning a Digital Toolbox. 

Planning a Digital Toolbox is six modules for exploring digital technology tools and resources that will enhance and expand learning in your program.  You can work through the modules at your own pace starting any time after January 17, 2022. 

The program is delivered in Moodle. Do not worry if you are not familiar with Moodle because we will support new users.

Contact Tracey to find out more and register.

In 2018 a college upgrading instructor came to AlphaPlus with an idea. 

He had developed an assessment tool to determine whether learners were ready for the ways they would be using digital technology as college students. He wanted to enhance that resource and make it available to all LBS instructors.

Six other Literacy and Basic Skills college instructors joined him and worked with AlphaPlus and the College Sector Committee for Adult Upgrading to determine the digital technology skills that learners need as they enter postsecondary education.

The working group developed assessment tools that college LBS/AU programs can use to help assess their learners’ digital skills readiness for transition to post-secondary studies.

Learners can try out their skills and knowledge in a quiz and in a set of holistic assessment activities for Microsoft Word, Powerpoint and Excel. There are two versions of each of the holistic assessment activities that cover the same set of skills in different contexts and that can be used as a pre- and post-assessments.

If learners find that they need to work on a particular skill or suite of skills, we have collected learning resources to help with that: https://sites.google.com/alphaplus.ca/digitalreadiness/home

Educator Network Story: Collaborative Professional Learning

How can adult literacy instructors preserve the best elements from last year’s pivot to online teaching? The answer may lie in the AlphaPlus Educator Network (eNet).

“Right now, blended learning is top of mind because the pandemic forced many literacy educators to try new approaches and technologies,” says Guylaine Vinet from AlphaPlus. Educators who worked primarily offline before the pandemic are now thinking about how to bring some of the best elements of remote learning back with them as they return to the classroom.

Guylaine and her colleague Tracey Mollins facilitate the AlphaPlus Educator Network, a community of practice for adult literacy instructors integrating blended learning. They have noticed that the pandemic has bridged gaps between how learners do things in their daily lives and what happens in a literacy program. “For example, even if learners weren’t previously asked to use smartphones in a program, many were using them in everyday life,” says Tracey. “A smartphone can be a valuable learning resource and some literacy programs started using them more during the pandemic.”

Explore blended learning with your peers in the AlphaPlus Educator Network

Blended learning is central to the work of AlphaPlus; our position paper outlines its value and the reasons we advocate for its adoption in the literacy and basic skills (LBS) sector. The position paper describes a blended learning approach that is an enhancement and extension of the application of adult learning principles: Blended learning is learner-centred, activities are relevant and useful, and with a strong teaching presence, learners build digital skills while learning a core topic.

The approach is the foundation of many AlphaPlus services and is the focus of the Educator Network — a collaborative, supportive space where literacy instructors connect with colleagues from other programs to share new tools, materials and ways of doing things.

Expand your learning network and co-create curriculum

As an Educator Network participant, you will have access to the knowledge and experience of AlphaPlus facilitators as well as a group of colleagues who are working through similar questions and solutions.

A significant benefit of blended learning is the opportunity for instructors to co-create the curriculum with learners. Together, instructors and learners bring a world of information and knowledge into the classroom in accessible formats, such as engaging plain-language text, videos and graphics. AlphaPlus’s Educator Network offers participants the opportunity to both explore and experience these curriculum co-creation practices.

Transform your practice and engage learners differently

Former Educator Network participant Shirley Gosselin, an instructor at the Centre de formation de Hearst, describes the transformational experience of adopting a blended learning approach:

After teaching various courses for more than 20 years and more, I’ve noticed that I’m not changing my way of doing things too much. However, after learning about blended learning as an Educator Network participant, I now think a lot more before creating modules and teaching the course. I invite learners to participate in helping improve the content and the way the course is delivered. They feel involved, and we work much more as a group. What a difference it made with a few classes!

As Guylaine says, “Over the last year, programs may have realized that they could be preparing learners differently. Learners are getting used to and expecting an online component, and we can prepare them for the online aspect of any future learning. The good news is you don’t have to flip the whole classroom at once. You can start as small — or as big — as you want.”

“We’re here to provide support: answering your questions, helping you to think through your ideas to make the best decisions and experiment in ways that work for you,” adds Tracey.

Are you ready to join the next cohort of AlphaPlus’s Educator Network? Registration is now open.

Contact Tracey or Guylaine to find out more.

Learn more about the Educator Network

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Educator Network Story: Toronto District School Board

In 2020-2021 we interviewed literacy workers in Ontario about blended learning and the pivot to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s one of the things that Shelley Lynch from Toronto District School Board told us about adapting to remote learning, the power of collaborative learning, how Educator Network (eNet) helped and her approach to professional learning.

Interaction and support

One reason I like being at TDSB is that I like the interaction. I like the energy of sharing ideas and resources. For those of us who want to help one another and are willing, and who are brave enough to say—I think sometimes some people, they’re very independent and solitary, or they don’t want to say they need help—so the people who are willing, are getting together.

If someone helps you, I think then you’re more willing to pass it on and help other people.

I think the teachers who manage their time best multitask, but that’s not me. If I’m teaching students, then I’m teaching students, I’m not doing computer stuff. What I would do is stay after class and do all my computer work because I could not go back and forth and do either thing properly. I used to envy the other teachers who manage that better, but I just know it’s not me.

Training: the good, the bad and the beautiful

I would say you’ve got to give people more training at the beginning, not just drop them in the deep end and let them sink or swim because that’s not fair to the instructor and it’s not fair to the learners. One thing that sort of frustrates me a bit with my school, is everyone’s just supposed to magically do the job all on their own with without any sort of training or sharing much. If I had a problem like if my computer wasn’t working or whatever I would go to [the coordinator] but she didn’t have the time or knowledge and skills to give me what I needed—she was swamped herself and I knew that. We desperately needed some technical support and the MTML Silver Linings Cafés stepped into the breach.

At the beginning, I didn’t know how to how to do things online. I started off doing what I did in the classroom and step by step, I changed and improved. I wish I’d got more of a training, not just something to read or look at—I was busy enough—an actual training session where I could talk to someone and someone could show me something. I wish I’d got more of that, because I feel like I stumbled along figuring things out for myself. Your sessions [at the MTML Silver Linings Cafés] were a lifesaver, Tracey, because we had nobody helping us or telling us what to do or how to do things—we were just dropped in the deep end. I started understanding Zoom better, but I think that during the first three months—April, May, June—I think I was too exhausted because I was doing everything myself. If I’m exhausted, I lose my creativity. I need to have some energy left to create.

Some of these other things that you’ve shown me [at Silver Linings Cafes and AlphaPlus workshops] look interesting, but I have not integrated them left to my own devices. Eventually I might stumble across one again and say, “Oh, that would be good—how can I integrate that?”

Your sessions where you throw a lot of many things at us at once are too much for me. I think some people like it but it’s too much for me. I’d be happier adding things one at a time. I would ask someone like you, “Okay, I’m doing great. Now what is the next good thing for me to add?” Don’t ask me, tell me what the next good thing is for me is to add in. I will trust you and either it will work for me, or maybe sometimes it won’t work for me, but I trust the process. I have to make things my own, but first I have to integrate them.

In September, there was the whole Canvas start-up.

[Shelley is referring to the Educator Network Planning Your Digital Toolbox series of workshops facilitated by AlphaPlus for the Toronto District School Board instructors. In these sessions, the instructors decided to learn how to use the learning management system called Canvas.]

I will say that out of that, there’s been more support within the group.

[After the Canvas training, a group of TDSB instructors, with Shelley’s leadership, created a learning circle. They met every two weeks for three or four months to share strategies and resources and to learn more about Canvas. eNet facilitator, Tracey Mollins, joined the learning circle to support a deeper dive into Canvas features and possibilities.]

Fun, learning and technology – in that order

Canvas was great once I got into it. The first two or three weeks weren’t much fun, but once I could start doing it, it got better and better. Now I’m doing laps instead of battling with it. Why? It fuels my need to learn—my highest value. I learned something and it’s brilliant. It’s allowed me to expand in a whole new way that I didn’t think of before. And it’s made it more fun. My learners love the quizzes, and they love that they get immediate marking and feedback. My courses just keep growing, I keep adding things which is brilliant for new learners, too. I don’t have enough time for all I want to add and put on there. I’m saying I have more ideas than I have time to create.

For me, when I was doing so much Zooming I was exhausted. I know when I lose my creativity it means I’m just overwhelmed and overloaded, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Canvas was a challenge but in a good way. Before, it was challenging but not in a good way—in an exhausting way that drained me. Now, I get tired at times, but I’m not losing my creativity. That is a really good sign. I think it’s a balancing act. It’s how much time do I need to create versus help the learners.

In terms of resources and material, I still have some work to do on that. I’ve always scavenged. I think that there are some more online resources that I could get into but I’m not a [Instructor A] or a [Instructor B] that dives into them all. I have to bring them on board one at a time and make them my own. I think I could do more. This week, we’re doing Kahoot again because it’s fun, and they love it. I did a Kahoot and I brought in some literacy questions—things I want them to know and remember. They love doing Kahoot so that they’re doing schoolwork but in a more fun way. Could I have more fun activities? I’m really good at teaching activities. Am I really good at fun activities? Not so much. The quizzes, for example, lightened things up and there could be other things that I could bring in, like the polls, etc.

Nothing stops me. I can get knocked down, but I always think there’s a solution—there’s always an answer, there’s always someone who knows more than you, there’s always someone who can help—it’s all about communication and helping one another and if I provided some leadership there, that’s great.

I don’t think we’re going to know anything till it happens, until we’re dropped in it. “This is what’s happening next, now make it work.” Like we’re magicians.

Are you a literacy practitioner thinking about how you can respond to the ways that digital technologies are changing how we learn, work and engage in daily life? Are you wondering about what colleagues in other programs are doing? Read more about how literacy practitioners use their skills and wisdom to adapt to changing learner needs and evolving technologies at the Wayfinders Studio: The Pivot to Remote Learning or join the next Educator Network (eNet) cohort.

Learn more about eNet

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