Back in June, I shared the news that AlphaPlus was about to embark on a Skills for Success funded project that would bring together a group of literacy and basic skills (LBS) practitioners to co-create a suite of resources conceived through the pedagogical lens of lesson planning and technology integration. As the project lead, I’m delighted to announce that we’ve assembled a dynamic working group of adult educators from across the sectors in the anglophone stream and that we’re already in full collaboration mode!
This motivated group of adult educators brings their pedagogical expertise, teacher wisdom and seasoned frontline experiences to the co-creation arena, setting the stage for a bottom-up collaborative process that will formalize their collective professional insights and knowledge into a product that can benefit both educators and learners in the field. It is indeed action research — research rooted in practice and in problem-solving around the challenges and opportunities of lesson planning for blended learning.
The core working group members are:
The secondary working group members (due to professional or time constraints) are:
Our working group has been meeting monthly since late July and is committed to co-developing a suite of resources through collaborative action research whereby, together, the practitioner group members interrogate how they plan their lessons and how they meaningfully integrate technology into their activities and lessons. They’re looking at “the how” of lesson planning and “the why” of activity choices and tech tool choices that serve to enhance blended learning — online or face to face — with a contextualized sensibility to the readiness and the needs of their LBS learners.
For now, we’ve taken, quite fondly, to calling ourselves the PAL working group. (Yes, “Planning a Lesson” does transform handily into a catchy acronym — educators love their wordplay.) Ultimately, the PAL suite of resources will encourage and showcase the power of a well-thought-out lesson flow — a flow that organically strengthens foundational and soft skills by virtue of engaging teaching practices and active learning opportunities.
Stay tuned for future updates. If you have any questions or comments about this project, please email me at email@example.com.
This year, I’ve been reaching out to literacy and basic skills (LBS) educators to gather front-line perspectives on technology integration, mainly through the lens of lesson planning and teaching practices. It’s clear that the field has shifted from emergency remote delivery and is now steeped in fresh insights, approaches, lessons learned and a desire to collaborate — that’s where our new Skills for Success project and the opportunity to co-create planning tools and curricular supports comes in! We’ve given you glimpses of this project in Alan’s January message and when the team introduced me in March. Today, as we wrap up the consultation phase of this work and get ready to move into the next phase, I’m reporting back on some key findings and project directions.
Key themes that emerged from speaking with educators
Through focus groups and one-on-one conversations, I’ve spoken with 23 adult literacy educators and nine program administrators from local programs and school boards in Ontario. Your peers — whether they’re back in the classroom, teaching online or using a hybrid model — are looking for creative ways to incorporate meaningful technology into their sessions, based on an understanding of the engaging flow of activities that makes a good lesson and organically hones skills that adult learners bring.
We’re hearing that many of you would welcome planning routines that are pedagogically sound, thoughtful and deliberate — that consider variability in the learners, in their devices or digital access and in their needs. Educators want planning templates and routines that are modifiable, grab-and-go, easy to reuse, complement a predictable lesson flow and are focused on relevant, practical topics.
Several additional themes emerged from our conversations, including the following:
Materials to help integrate technology into a lesson flow for learning
As we move into the next phase of co-designing materials, we know that we need to consider learners’ needs, differentiated instruction principles and the variety of group dynamics within a session (online or face to face). The co-designed lesson-planning companion resources that will be created, therefore, can’t be prescriptive, but would make engagement through digital integration that enhances learning and self-direction a key focus. Curriculum in the form of workbooks, open educational resources (OER) and modules are already out there — you’ve indicated that you need resources that guide decisions about effectively planning lessons that have an impact.
We also want to highlight existing AlphaPlus supports that can meet some of the needs you’ve identified. For example:
Next step: Co-creating a blended-learning lesson-planning flow
We’re now ready to start building a new product: a blended learning flow that addresses technology integration, thinking routines, lesson planning and stages, engagement strategies, collaboration, reflection and problem-solving. We’re now assembling a small working group that will finalize our initial concept and co-create the product, drawing from their experience with what’s exciting about engaging lessons.
AlphaPlus will contribute expertise (for example, on blended learning, pedagogical models and existing research), participate in co-creation, facilitate the process in the lesson planning stage and provide an online platform for the materials that are designed. This co-creation process will be beneficial and instructive for our field — it’s an opportunity to learn from each other in thinking about our planning routines and how they strengthen blended learning.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this project so far. If you’d like more information or are interested in participating in the paid working group, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From scanning paper documents to searching for available electronic substitutes, in 2020, adult literacy instructors scrambled to digitize their teaching manuals and tools. A sector with a long history of relying upon binders and books on shelves struggled to avail itself of quality digital teaching resources, and the AlphaPlus team discovered the extent of the challenge.
“During the pandemic, we noticed instructors’ difficulties with getting content and resources to learners electronically. At the same time, we realized the potential to leverage technology to open up more equitable access to free, quality literacy and numeracy resources,” explains Christine Pinsent-Johnson, policy and research specialist in education and technology at AlphaPlus. “We started experimenting with several solutions, including creating and curating online resources through HyperDocs. However, the response told us we needed a different, more collaborative approach.”
Christine and her colleague Guylaine Vinet, organizational development specialist in education and technology, started exploring the idea of open educational resources. While well equipped for digital library building — Christine as a researcher and Guylaine as a librarian — they recognized the value of forming a working group to shape their project’s scope, approach and contents.
“We started with a basic idea and knew we needed user guidance regarding the project’s viability, format choices, how we should organize materials and the relevance and usefulness of what we were assembling,” says Guylaine. “For educators to use the resource, we needed to know what works best for them.”
Christine and Guylaine assembled a group of instructors from school boards and community groups, representing urban and rural communities across the province. Members work in program areas ranging from workforce development to academic, with diverse learner groups.
The working group first met in May 2022 and started by forming terms of reference and the optimal formats for resource curation and sharing: Google Drive and a microsite. In June, the group established criteria for resources to be included. For example, materials must:
Be free and ad-free.
With the scope defined and a full suite of parameters established, Christine and Guylaine began their search of over 100 collections and lists from Canada, the U.K. and Australia. They gathered resources that met the criteria and involved the working group in content review. One working group participant, Karin Meinzer, instructor for the West Centre at PTP Adult Learning and Employment Programs, reflects on her experience:
“As an instructor, there aren’t many day-to-day opportunities to connect directly with colleagues in the field. I always like to say yes to projects such as this because of the exposure it gives me to new ideas and things happening outside my tiny sphere!”
Open educational resource prototype now available
The result of the working group’s efforts to date is not simply another collection of resource links but a fully vetted collection of workbooks, modules and activities that address a full range of instructional topics. A prototype is now available covering the first two of 10 topics the working group identified: (1) reading instruction workbooks and modules and (2) general knowledge content. The prototype will be delivered in English, with research underway to explore a French option.
“This working group has created a good opportunity for educators to get together, talk with each other over a shared interest and produce a body of work. All educators in Ontario will soon be able to access a library of open educational resources ready to download, use and save,” says Christine. “Having input from the working group made us more confident about the end product, and the success of this experience means we will be looking for working groups in the future.”
Let us know what you think of our open educational resources prototype. Do you have suggestions for additional resources? Would you like to participate in future steps as an educator advisor? Get in touch with us.
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
Last spring, did you scramble to figure out ways for learners to access instructional materials from paper files, workbooks, readers and binders? We learned that paper packets were produced for some learners, especially those who didn’t have the right device, enough data and experience to access instructional activities on a computer. We also learned that the most commonly used mode for communication and instruction was email. This got us thinking about ways to support a transition from paper-based to digital instructional materials.
We think HyperDocs are a solution!
A HyperDoc is a carefully planned use of Google Docs or Slides to organize content and instructional activities using text, audio, video, images and, of course, hyperlinks. Think of it as an interactive and self-contained learning module. You can also use MS Word and PowerPoint, but most available HyperDocs are developed using Google applications.
That’s the other amazing thing about HyperDocs: they’re widely available online for free for anyone to use! They’re an open education resource (OER) supported by a vibrant community of K-12 teachers and a growing number of adult educators.
HyperDocs can be short, specific lessons, like introduction to fractions and their uses. They can also be more general and then applied to different topics and subjects, like the inquiry template. They can even be a comprehensive collection of learning activities, resources and ideas that you can use to develop smaller lessons or modules, like digital storytelling ideas.
It’s your choice. Two of the above examples were created with Google Docs, and one used Google Slides. After experimenting with both, we think Slides offer a few more features for LBS learners and educators and are easier to navigate. They work well on Zoom when sharing your screen or can be projected on a screen during class. You can use the speaker notes to provide additional instructions and information. And learners can use the speaker notes to record themselves and practise reading text on a slide aloud.
Whatever Google application you choose to use, you can integrate Google Forms to create quizzes and other activities, and use accessibility features and add-ons like text-to-speech or recording tools.
Once more regular in-person routines resume and you’re able to provide direct support, HyperDocs can become a way to fully integrate initial digital literacy development directly with literacy and numeracy development. In addition, with access to various modules through shared Google Drives, learners can continue using the activities if they have to miss a tutoring session or be away from class.
Yes, creating a single HyperDoc does take time and effort. But what if it’s not all up to you to do the work? What if we could build a collection — sort of a crowdsourced effort? This is something we’re currently exploring.
To start, we curated a collection of instructional materials that could be used in HyperDocs or on their own. We then built a sample HyperDoc for learners using one of the reading resources from the collection. Imagine a more comprehensive collection with different topics that you could access, modify and put to use!
Based on preliminary feedback, instructors want to learn more about HyperDocs for learners.
We’ve developed a small website called From binders to Hyperdocs, where you’ll find all of the resources we mentioned and many more, including a series of professional learning HyperDocs to help you transition from paper-based planning to digital. We’ve also included a feedback form. The work continues this year, so let us know what you’d like to see!
Are you interested in using Microsoft Teams? Will you be using the Education edition available to schools and colleges or the Business edition? Which one is right for you, and what’s the difference, anyway?
The Education edition is tailor-made for education settings and includes Classes and Class Teams as well as an additional notebook and other assignment management options not available in the Teams Business edition.
Today, many school boards and colleges are pushing for MS Teams Education to be used in classrooms. To help you learn more and break down the differences between the Education and Business editions, we’re sharing a few MS Teams resources about platform basics and how-tos.
Visit this tutorial resource page to learn more about MS Teams Business.
Check out this article to learn about the differences between MS Teams Business and MS Teams Education.
Try this quick course on transforming learning with Microsoft Teams.
MS Teams Education is available for FREE to students and educators at eligible institutions.
Visit https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/education/products/teams to find out if your organization qualifies.
To help learners and programs transition to an online-only delivery model, we reviewed our Useful Apps list to find ones that could be used offline on both Android and iOS. Learners can download and use these apps on their smartphones without using up large amounts of their data.
Literacy and basic skills apps to use offline
Learn more about these apps and others, including pros, cons, usability and fees, by reading our reviews posted on the AlphaPlus Useful Apps list.
Did you know that popular learning games like solitaire, word searches and crosswords are available offline and for free? Here are just a few available for Android and iOS.
When looking for apps to share with learners, use keywords like “free” and “offline.”
Check our list of useful app-searchingtips to learn more.
In April, we organized one-hour zoom sessions to explore, compare and get tips on various tools you might be using, or considering using, to connect with your colleagues and learners while maintaining physical distancing.
The topics, presentation slides and video recordings are included below :
Wednesday, April 15, 2020, 2 pm to 3 pm
A closer look at Zoom, Google Meet/Hangouts, Skype/MS Teams, Jitsi and more…
Wednesday, April 22, 2020, 2 pm to 3 pm
A closer look at Google Classroom, Canvas, Moodle, Brightspace (D2L) and more…
Connecting via Mobile Apps
Wednesday, April 29, 2020, 2 pm to 3 pm
A closer look at WhatsApp, Hangouts/Chat, Messenger, Viber and more…
Texting from computer
Wednesday, May 6, 2020, 2 pm to 3 pm
A closer look at RedOxygen, TextFree from Pinger and more…
View a full list of topics
Smartphones are everywhere. Restaurants, office, conferences and meeting rooms. So why do some try so hard to keep them out of the classroom? Rather than resist the smartphone phenomenon, try using activities that incorporate mobile phones and devices to create great learning experiences. And what better way to start that than by using photos to boost technology learning in the classroom? In this edition, we’re sharing two tips from the Tekhnologic article “Seven Ideas for Using Mobile Phones in the Classroom.”
Activity 1: Ask a student to introduce a photo. The students can work in pairs, in groups or as a class. One student introduces the photo and the other students ask followup questions. What? Where? When? Who? Why? How? While the students are talking, take notes of useful phrases and words for feedback afterwards.
Activity 2: Separate the students into groups of four or five and ask one student to come to the front and photograph an example dialogue. The student goes back to their group and reads the dialogue from their phone while the other members of the group write the dialogue down. The students who are listening can use checking language, for example, asking how a word is spelled. In effect, the students are introducing the conversation to themselves, giving you time to monitor and listen for any difficulties.
We’ll be sharing more tips in the next newsletter edition. Until then, reach out and let us know how you’re using mobile phones in your classroom.
We’ve heard your suggestions about our Useful Apps List. Now, we’ve put your feedback to work to enhance this resource. The updated list now includes more Android apps and gives users the option to browse the Useful Apps List by subject and Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework (OALCF) competencies.
Check out the apps recently added to the list, like MobiPOS, a point-of-sale app that can be used to familiarize learners with software used in restaurants, and Todoist, a planning and collaboration tool.
The Useful Apps List makes it easy to find quality apps that support adult literacy and numeracy teaching. Our comprehensive reviews include:
We will continue to expand the list with new apps available for both Apple and Android devices. We invite you to help us build this list by submitting your reviews. If you have an app (or apps) you would like to see added, visit the Useful Apps List and click “Add an App Review” at the top right.