Encouraging experimentation and exploration

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Coaching Story: The Cochrane-Iroquois Falls Adult Learning Centre (Full Interview)

The gateway to confident learning comes from having access to the best means of expression for each learner. If someone has information to share, but cannot share it for whatever reason, everyone loses out. Equally important, it provides a new frontier of curiosity. When a learner knows they can solve most problems readily, they are often more likely to stretch to learn things they would not have felt comfortable inquiring about in a traditional pedagogy.

At AlphaPlus, we’re we often asked questions like, What are other programs doing? or How are programs like ours using digital technologies and devices? To help answer these frequent questions, we’re sharing how one community-based program in Cochrane Iroquois Falls embraced technology solutions across their program. 
In February 2018, technology consultant Maria Moriarty visited the Cochrane and Iroquois Falls Adult Learning Centre to deliver technology coaching and training in collaboration with the learning centre team. Maria used this opportunity to ask the learning centre’s literacy practitioners what they’re doing with technology, how they’re using digital technologies and their advice for other programs. Here’s what they had to say. 

The Cochrane-Iroquois Falls Adult Learning Centre has been in operation since 1986. The program offers a range of learning opportunities for adults 19+ in both Cochrane and Iroquois Falls, Ontario.


I had the opportunity to visit the program in February 2018 as part of the AlphaPlus IT Coaching Initiative. It was an exciting trip for me and seeing the beauty of that region in winter, the dazzling white snow and the stunning blue skies made it especially so. I spent two days with the staff of the program at their Cochrane site located in the historic Canada Post building

Over our two days together we talked about how digital technologies and devices can provide exciting learning opportunities for adult literacy students and I got the chance to pick the brains of these dedicated adult literacy practitioners to find out what they think about and how they are using digital technologies with their students.

I will let the practitioners speak for themselves. Here are the questions I asked and their responses. I hope you find them as inspiring and hopeful as I do.

Which devices do you use? (e.g. desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, peripherals)

We use a combination of devices. From most useful to least used, they are:

  • iPads (we have nine between three program sites)
  • Smartphones (we have a BYOD—Bring Your Own Device—approach to learners’ assistive devices)
  • Laptops and desktop PCs (we have a mix of both)
  • Peripherals we use include: noise cancelling headphones, a scanner that is dedicated to a Kurzweil Pro Learn Station, a Smart TV with AirPlay and Chromecast capabilities

How do you use technology in the program?

We sometimes use online assessments for learners to identify their learning style and digital technology skills. 

We introduce technology that learners may not have such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in order for them to be ready for their next step. 

We purchased iPads a few years ago, and they are being used daily now. The iPads are used to access the internet while the learners are working at their desks. The iPads are used mostly for researching information, (YouTube Math videos, Grammar, researching careers with ontariocolleges.ca, the Khan Academy, etc.). Learners also search online to look for sample documents, for examples of sample cover letters, résumés, etc.

Why do you use technology in this program?

Practitioner A

It supplements every aspect of a learner’s progress.

Want to switch to a quiet location? Take the mobile device (laptop or tablet) to a carrel and continue working from your Dropbox folder. Having trouble with one of the questions that isn’t in the answer key? Use PhotoMath to look up the steps.

People who would rather struggle with figuring stuff out on their own—or if the instructor is helping someone else—may only need one small part of the answer explained. Fast forwarding a YouTube video to the spot where they explain the “one part they forgot” gives the learner agency to succeed independently.

With a class of ten to fifteen learners with staggered starts on different goal paths and unique learning styles, a practitioner can really see the benefit of using a device that takes care of the pedantic parts. A tablet can provide much more than just access to resources; it can be a diverse teaching tool that gives more independence to the learner.

Practitioner B

A ‘variety’ of learning keeps things interesting. It

  • Provides learners with other options; listening to another instructor online with a different voice;
  • Helps with learning styles…this way not everything is paper based;
  • Keeps their learning interest and focus; and
  • Prepares them for online learning opportunities, possible employment, and further education requirements.

How do students react to using technology for learning?

Practitioner A

There are two types of use.

The more traditional kind (formal computer application learning) is usually provided on an as-requested basis, so it’s clearly driven by a student’s desire.

The second type (holistic) is used to supplement a learner’s gaps or to provide them with some tangible benefit in their environment. This is usually mentioned early in the learner’s time with us and restated often. This helps remove the stigma surrounding the mistaken belief that the formal way is the preference in how one learns to use digital technology. The interesting thing to note is how that stigma is often present in both types of use, but how quickly it can be overcome by encouraging experimentation and exploration, while simultaneously downplaying the conceit that someone needs to know everything about how something works in order to use it effectively.

Practitioner B

Overall, they’re good with it.

Some love it, some resist a little, but with some coaxing, they will attempt the task, and then they see the value of the new tool and its ease of use, and start asking to use it daily.

Most have cellphones, so they are not as fearful of technology.

What have been some of the most important things you have learned in implementing and using technology in the program?

Practitioner A

The gateway to confident learning comes from having access to the best means of expression for each learner. If someone has information to share, but cannot share it for whatever reason, everyone loses out. If you give a speech-to-text enabled iPad to a strong orator who is also a struggling scribe, that person can share written communication as well as anyone else. Likewise, a struggling reader can reinforce their understanding of difficult text passages and proofread their own written work by having Siri read it back to them.

Equally important, it provides a new frontier of curiosity. When a learner knows they can solve most problems readily, they are often more likely to stretch to learn things they would not have felt comfortable inquiring about in a traditional pedagogy. If Google can resolve a burning question without the fear of being judged, some people are more inclined to seek out answers. 

Practitioner B

  • Students have less fear than the instructor ☺
  • As the instructor, you don’t have to be an expert to get them started.
  • Some students take more pride in their finished work now versus their handwriting where they tended to make mistakes.
  • It gives students more confidence in their abilities, which ripples to more; conversations with other students and instructors, gives them more incentive to try new things, or move ahead.
  • The ‘prompts’ for grammar and spelling especially help the visual learners; they pick up on and/or see the mistakes.  BUT, we still stress proofreading and to not just rely on the devices.
  • They self-correct a little more with programs like Word.  Foe example: when someone reverses b and d, or p and q in their writing, it’s picked up or noticed on the computer, so fewer mistakes are made and they are now more aware of it.
  • Using the aids or tricks like right-clicking for synonyms allow them to expand on their vocabulary and knowledge, which helps for more creative writing and their work is not so repetitive.
  • Using the speech-to-text feature for those who don’t have good keyboarding knowledge—or just have a fear of touching the device—allows them to see just how easy and effective these devices are.
  • It also introduces the instructors to a device that they may may not be as familiar with, so it’s beneficial for them as well.

What advice (or words of wisdom) would you give to your colleagues in LBS programs about using technology – tips and tricks?

Practitioner A

Start by putting the devices out there. Find a champion who’s willing to keep the device(s) in running order and don’t be precious with their use. If a student asks, “Can I…” respond with: “Probably. Let’s find out”.

I started by leaving the iPads on the table every morning and any time a student asked for anything (research information, a YouTube video, a way to move information easily, a magnifying glass, a proofreader) I made it my first stop.

Once you have buy-in from one student, they’ll teach each other.

Develop a couple of easy protocols (back up and update weekly, secure storage of devices and passwords) and let the other protocols evolve naturally from that. For instance, we wrote up a simple sign-out sheet for devices once we installed tracking software and restrictions. This was directly addressing a need where we had students on a tight timeline who were using the iPad in class as a text-to-speech device to cover rather dense textbook information. They were able to work during the weekends to complete their assignments on time.

Finally, if you pick one thing that you use the technology for personally, share it with the learner. I can’t tell you the exact number of converts I’ve inducted by showing them Flipp for flyer shopping and coupon clipping! If the thing is useful and fun and easy to access, it opens the learner up to the understanding that the academic application will be equally simple to grasp.

Practitioner B

Dive right in! Keep your devices charged and updated. Offer it to them every day—put them out so they’ll be used. Make the investment, it’s well worth it.

See the newsletter summary of this case study here: Using Digital Teachnology for Learning

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