Is there a device or technology setup that can help bridge the gap between participants who want to gather in person and those who want to connect online? When Jennine Agnew-Kata was grappling with this question in April 2022, she turned to AlphaPlus for guidance.

As executive director of the Literacy Network of Durham Region, Jennine facilitates service-planning, resource support, advice, professional development and more for the region’s literacy and basic skills (LBS) programs. As Jennine started to return to in-person meetings and service delivery, she recognized that not everyone was comfortable. She began researching the right equipment to make a hybrid experience easy and satisfying for all participants.

“I brought my initial research to Alan Cherwinski, executive director of AlphaPlus, to find out whether his team had experience, thoughts or opinions about the right equipment for hybrid delivery,” says Jennine. “We worked together to explore what I was trying to accomplish, narrow down the options and consider the technical specifications and price points. By May, we had decided to try using the Logitech Connect video-conferencing camera.”

Exploring and piloting a camera for hybrid delivery

Jennine describes the Logitech Connect as a static panoramic camera that requires virtually no setup. It’s wireless, has a built-in microphone and works with almost any monitor or desktop display, laptop, overhead projector or smartboard. Because it’s portable and flexible, the camera can be taken to meetings and programs at locations with unknown setups (for example, public libraries and partner offices), capturing small groups of up to five people attending in person.

Alan and Jennine decided to explore and test the Logitech camera on behalf of others in the sector. They arranged for AlphaPlus to subsidize the device purchase for the Literacy Network of Durham Region and purchase another for a program that could use it to pilot the hybrid model in program delivery. Jennine suggested Brad Cook, executive director of Learning Essentials for Adults in Durham Region (LEADR), who had been looking at similar challenges and opportunities around the delivery of hybrid programming.

Since May, Jennine has used the device for meetings such as literacy service planning and communications meetings as well as the bibliotherapy program she runs. Brad has used the device in small groups with in-person and online participants, for enhanced one-to-one online instruction with more visual components (i.e. screen-sharing plus writing on a board), as a tool for a new math workshop and to hold board meetings and other meetings.

“More learners want virtual service delivery — with highly personalized and meaningful instruction with an instructor that can engage with them at any time — while a significant percentage only want in-person service,” explains Brad. “This pilot revealed that using the Logitech camera, we can add to the possibilities of what we can do during the instruction — in a straightforward manner without undue complication or cost. The camera has been useful for learners who lack confidence in using computers and for instructors who still rely on visuals in a classroom. We now plan to use it to increase the number of small groups using a hybrid model.”

Think of AlphaPlus as your colleagues with technical expertise

Jennine suggests contacting AlphaPlus before investing in technology: “It’s worth reaching out to AlphaPlus to get an equipment audit or learn how to use what’s available at your agency to meet your needs. Talking with someone with a sense of the bigger picture helped me know I was moving in the right direction. It’s like accessing expert colleagues who know technology.”

Did you know that if you’re an adult literacy instructor or administrator in Ontario, AlphaPlus exists to help you? Learn more about the customized support we provide to help you work through your technology challenges.

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.

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

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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.

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Educator Network Story: Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy (MTML)

Smoothing the transition to remote learning for literacy instructors

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.”

A flexible approach to professional development

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. 

Supported instructors, better remote learning experiences

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

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Coaching Story: Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy (MTML)

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.” 

Coaching MTML toward their desired outcomes

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:

Moving toward strategic, intentional use of technology

“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.

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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.

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Coaching Story: Pathways to Possibility (PTP)

In this month’s technology coaching feature, we’re talking with Pathways to Possibility (PTP) Adult Learning and Employment Programs, whose team recently worked with AlphaPlus coaches to modernize their programs with iPads in the classroom.

Why did you reach out to AlphaPlus to bring iPads into the classroom?
The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) IT funding grant in 2018 allowed us to purchase nine iPads and bring mobile technology and learning into every classroom at PTP. We already had a separate computer lab at PTP. The lab is based on personal computers, where students would have the opportunity to learn how to use technology in the workplace and office, and build general digital literacy skills. With iPads, we were planning to take technology out of the lab and into every single classroom to form technology-integrated classrooms. Our goal was to enhance learning, increase learners’ level of engagement and prepare them for the 21st century, where communications and learning occur through mobile technology.

Initially, we had some general ideas about the iPad’s potential to allow students to easily access authentic information and learning materials in each class. We also knew iPads could provide our learners with engagement and collaboration tools to use during classroom projects or to solve a problem.

But a challenge arose when we decided to implement and actualize the use of iPads in the context of school curriculum and classrooms. We realized we needed support to take full advantage of the iPad’s potential as a teaching and learning tool. We approached AlphaPlus with this question in mind: how can we get the most out of the iPad in the context of our school, teaching goals and environment? AlphaPlus offered us a mini-coach approach to meet our needs.

How did you identify and set learning goals with your technology coach?
The process began with an in-person meeting with our coaches, Maria and Tracey. We reviewed our learning curricula, goals and the iPad’s capabilities and began scheduling workshops.

AlphaPlus sent us a proposal for three workshops. Topics to be covered included:

We modified one of the workshops to include the use of the Google Classroom cloud-based learning management system for mobile learning.

Finally, we linked the proposed learning workshops to our educational goals:

  1. Personalized learning (using built-in features such as text-to-speech to improve students’ reading skills, or using apps such as Photomath for developing the learners’ math and numeracy skills).
  2. Teamwork or project-based learning (using online learning tools and services such as Quizlet, Padlet, QR code generators, surveys, Google Classroom and cloud computing).

How did your coach help the team integrate iPads into their work, and how are they being used today?
After the workshops, we had our own meeting as instructors to create some pilot lessons, materials, assignments, quizzes and resources. We also discussed how to overcome the technical challenges we face in the classroom by modelling ourselves as problem-solvers. We also decided to encourage students to use their own mobile devices and to use the school’s Wi-Fi so they could manage or balance their individual learning needs. We are still in the process of implementing mobile technology into our program.

How has the technology coaching process improved PTP’s work?
Coaching brought us together as instructors to realize the importance of technology use both for personal and collaborative learning. It facilitated the implementation and use of mobile technology classrooms and helped our team become familiar with very good learning tools and apps. Technology coaching also gave us a chance to reflect on how to implement mobile technology in our specific learning environment and how to deal with possible technical and educational issues.

How could other LBS programs benefit from coaching?
The AlphaPlus coaches have been very organized, co-operative, persuasive and insightful. There are a lot of potentials that need to be further explored for professional development using AlphaPlus coaching teams. Our busy day-to-day routine often got in the way of opportunities to explore what we need to do.

Technology is changing the dynamics of education and reshaping our way of learning. Traditional approaches to teaching and learning need to be revised to meet today’s learners’ expectations and ways of learning. We want to be a part of that.

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