Happy December!

Here are some activities that you can do with learners before or after the winter break: Winter Break Activities from AlphaPlus

Plus one Christmassy activity for those who celebrate.

Winter Animals is made in Google Slides and gives learners a choice of stories or songs to listen to:

There are follow up activities in a Google Form and a Jamboard.

Winter Break is a drag-and-drop and Answer Garden conversation starter where learners can think about what they will do on the break.

Winter Poem is a poetry activity based on the poem Dust of Snow by Robert Frost. Learners can read and listen to the poem and then examine the rhyming pattern (ABAB). They can then compare that rhyming pattern with the rhyming pattern in Catch a Little Rhyme by Eve Merriam (AABB).

Christmas Songs is an advent calendar of Christmas songs. You can see the whole playlist and links to the lyrics or play the songs one by one and look them up. If you want to make your own calendar, contact Tracey.

On November 16, 2023 AlphaPlus hosted our 12th  Community Gabfest.

The theme was Games and gambits – keeping learning fun.

We used a Jamboard to guide our conversation: Wayfinders Gabfest 12 Jamboard.

The conversation starter was “What are your favourite games or community building activities to use with learners?”

This gabfest was about the games and activities learners love. We shared our ideas for keeping learners engaged by building community and having fun together.

We started by talking about the games we like and why we like them and then we played a general knowledge Kahoot! that Guylaine had made for us.

We shared some resources:

Then we asked:

What are your favourite games or community building activities to use with learners?

Favourite games and activities

  • Create and share your own story map using Google Earth (more a fun interactive tech thing than a game)
  • Timed writing (5 min warmup at beginning of class then count your words)
  • Spin the wheel, memory games, hang man, tell a tall story.
  • Jamboard games –
    • Put one letter on a sticky note to spell out a word or phrase. Learners make as many words as they can with the letters.
    • More examples here – or at Jamboard Tip Sheet and samples

Language

Crosswords & Wordsearches

Math and Science

Typing

Thank you Gabfesters for your collegiality and for sharing your knowledge and sense of fun.

What is formative assessment?

In this short presentation, you will find:

On June 15, 2023 AlphaPlus hosted our ninth Community Gabfest.

The theme was ChatGPT – delightful or scary?

This topic came from our discussion at Gabfest 8. We wanted a place to talk about what we are finding delightful about ChatGPT and “some of these things that scare the living daylights out of us. I mean, if we can’t have each other to talk about this, then we are alone in our fear and that’s not a good place to be.”

We used a Jamboard to guide our conversation: Wayfinders Gabfest 9 Jamboard.

We started with a little background on ChatGPT in particular and Artificial Intelligence in general. We shared our experiences and these resources:

ChatGPT Resources

What is ChatGPT? from AlphaPlus: a resource a a resource for teachers/instructors with explanations and ideas for how to use ChatGPT for learning and program administration in an adult literacy setting.

My Digital Companion: Making Sense of ChatGPT from Contact North: a resource for students/learners to help them use this tool safely, ethically and creatively for learning.

ChatGPT: Leveraging AI to Support Personalized Teaching and Learning in the June 2023 Adult Literacy Education Journal by Sarah Cacicio and Rachel Riggs: a resource for teachers/instructors with ideas for how to use ChatGPT for learning in an adult literacy setting.

Leveraging ChatGPT Instead of Banning from Contact North: a resource for teachers/instructors with ideas for how to use ChatGPT for learning in a college setting.

EdTechTeacher Chat GPT Tips by Tom Daccord: a resource for teachers/instructors with ideas for how to use ChatGPT for learning in a K-12 setting. You can find links to the tip sheets in our resource (they are not easy to find on the EdTechTeacher website).

People were asking about text-to-speech options and Guylaine shared this resource: Speech recognition and text to speech tools for various devices

Where we are at

We talked about where we are on the delightful to scary continuum.

We were pretty much dotted across the continuum.

  • “I am generally an optimist. I pretty much see every barrier as an opportunity to learn and that has been my approach to AI.”
  • “I’m I’m that green circle right in the very middle. It was in front of me and I was curious and I knew we were having this this meeting. I thought I’d try it. But I approach it with caution.”
  • “I live with a software tester and this whole thing makes me very nervous.”

We did not all stay in a fixed place.

As one person said at the closing of the Gabfest, “I felt like I was watching a ping pong game. I was going from one side to the other.” Many of us are in a place where we read one thing and we feel quite positive and then read another that fills us with apprehension.

Here are some of the things people have tried so far:

  • I’ve been working with it and playing with it and following teachers across the world, just to learn more about how they’re using it.
  • I tried it a little bit just before the meeting. I asked it to make up five questions for time elapsed – for example, if you left work at this hour and drove 45 minutes, what time do you get home? It was so quick so I can see it as a resource for us making up something quickly for students.
  • It popped up on my screen on Bing and I decided to start asking questions. I did it because I was stuck on something. I was putting a presentation together on values and I was looking for just a short two minute video that would make it simple, and there is nothing. So I asked it to give me a brief presentation on lining up values with motivation and employment. It gave me a five point presentation with all the resources and a bibliography at the end of it.
  • I put in some descriptions for tasks. I didn’t necessarily like what I had initially and I would ask it to rephrase it. If I didn’t like that I would ask it to rephrase it again or “regenerate” – you can ask ChatGPT to regenerate.
  • I’ve put some information in and asked ChatGPT to explain something and then explain it at a lower level, for example at a grade five level because if it’s going to be for a learner, the language has to be at a level that they’ll understand.
  • I asked it to explain what literacy is. I got the best explanation I have ever heard in my life and I’ve been in literacy for 24 years. I don’t know where they get all their information from but it was the best explanation.

Conversation starters

We asked three questions:

  • What are the best things about AI for educators and learners?
  • What are the things that worry you most about AI for educators and learners?
  • What do we want to learn next?

Literacy skills and strategies

Somebody posed the question about what happens if we stop using certain skills ourselves and turn them over to AI.

“What do people think about the things that technology can do for you as opposed to you doing it for yourself? Is that of value? Is that an asset? Is that threatening?”

What skills and abilities will we lose if we do not do our own problem-solving when we are writing?

As one participant reported from a breakout room discussion:

“You can you can use AI to write a great cover letter or a great essay but what happens when the rubber meets the road and you actually have to do something on your own. At that point, we’d call them pseudo skills to be able to solve something or write something — you just don’t have those fundamental tools. It’s the ultimate fake it till you make it. Are we are we encouraging people to to take the easy road? One of the things that came out of our discussion in our group was that we have to teach learners that this is a tool like computer is a tool, or hammer is a tool, or a screwdriver is a tool. It’s a tool, and you have to learn how to use it properly because if you use a hammer the wrong way, you end up with a very sore thumb.”

We talked about some of the ways that technology supports literacy learners who are working with emerging literacy skills and how tools such as Grammerly help literacy learners, student writers and anyone struggling to write clear sentences.

We had a conversation about how text-to-speech options support emergent writers and Guylaine shared this resource: Speech recognition and text to speech tools for various devices

We talked about the value of essay writing. In programs where learners are moving on to further education, a lot of time is spent on learning how to write essays. We talked about how this skill is something we only use in school and that many people will not need these skills once they have completed their school-based education. What other things do we learn by writing essays and are these things useful to us in our beyond school settings? We didn’t get to all the answers but the question of what we gain and what we lose when we adopt new technologies is always an interesting one.

We talked about the ways that AI will impact the work of preparing literacy learners for a world where AI exists. Some of our questions are:

  • Are our assessment tools reflecting the needs of learners in this this new reality?
  • Are we guiding learners towards staying employed or becoming employed? There are so many roles and jobs arising because of AI but many jobs that won’t exist anymore. Everything is becoming automated and that is the equivalent of job losses.
  • Is our curriculum reflective of the core needs especially as AI was released to the world?

Digital justice

We talked about how new technologies can amplify inequities. We saw some of the ways this had profound impacts on people during the pandemic. We touched on the idea of an AI bill of rights and how applications of AI beyond educational ones — such as facial recognition — can increase barriers along with gains in efficiency and convenience.

“There are always fears around new tech… It’s a good thing, it motivates us to find ethical and equitable solutions 🙂
Or maybe it’s the end of the world… Hard to say!”

What do we want to learn next?

  • To be more knowledgeable about AI in order to be able to teach it. I think that we we need to be pretty adept at using it.
  • I’d like to know more about using AI as learning tool.
  • Maybe it’s a whole new skill set that would be would be added to what is taught in literacy programs. When I think of a lot of learners I work with, they aren’t always articulate in terms of being able to speak what it is they want or would require. That’s a whole that’s a whole skill set–formulating ideas to words in order to get technology to respond. appropriately to you.
  • One of the things that came out the digital justice and equity Gabfest was teaching the language of technology. We really need something that teaches the language of technology, not teaching digital skills necessarily, but people really need to understand the language of technology.
  • I’m interested in learning about policy around this stuff (either government level or within organizations).

Thank you Gabfesters for your energy, generosity, wisdom and friendship. With your help, we won’t fall off the learning curve.

Presenters from two programs share how they are using Microsoft OneNote to organize and manage learner files. Sara King from Northern College and Christa Porter from Gateway Centre for Learning demonstrate ways OneNote helps them keep all their learner forms and files in one place making it easy to access, replicate and share with others.

Sara and Christa shared some resources with us:

ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool driven by artificial intelligence (AI) technology that allows you to have human-like conversations and much more with a chatbot. The language model can answer questions, and help you with tasks such as composing emails, essays, and code.

ChatGPT takes online writing tools such as QuillBot to the next level—or the next few levels—by leveraging the knowledge stored on the internet to respond to queries and requests.

ChatGPT is designed to simulate human-like responses to text-based communication.

It is built on an architecture that mimics the human brain called the GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) model. The GPT architecture allows ChatGPT to generate natural language text that is highly coherent and contextually appropriate.

ChatGPT uses a large database of written text, such as books, articles, and websites, that it has been pre-trained on. When a user inputs a message or question, ChatGPT uses this pre-trained knowledge to generate a response that it believes best answers the question or provides a relevant response to the message.

See some additional resources below and in the ChatGPT Gabfest summary.

Other Generative AI tools you might be using

Eduaide.AI – specifically for teachers
Perplexity – ChatBot and search engine
Anthropic Claude – an AI workplace assistant
Bing Chat (Microsoft chat bot and search)
ChatPDF
Google AutoDraw
Google Duet AI – for people with access to a Google Workspace account
GrammarlyGO
Microsoft Designer
Microsoft Copilot
Quizlet Q-Chat
Google Gemini

And the controversial AI image generators:

DALL-E 2
Midjourney
Canva: Text to Image or Magic Edit
Padlet: I Can’t Draw
Adobe Firefly

Resources for learning about teaching and learning with ChatBots and Generative AI

from the Ed Tech Centre @ World Education

Open Prompt Book from CampGPT at the Ed Tech Centre @ World Education: a resource for and by adult educators about how they use AI mostly as a brainstorming tool. As they report, “Over and over again in CampGPT, educators describe the use of chatbots as a great “starting point.” In fact, some find that using these tools is most effective for generating ideas rather than ready-to-use materials.” Here is a description of the Open Prompt Book: “In CampGPT, educators experimented with generative AI-enabled tools like chatbots and image generators to learn and explore together. Their work and insights have been compiled in the Open Prompt Book from CampGPT. Throughout this prompt book, you’ll learn more about generative AI, what educators use it for, and key tips and tricks.”

AI for Learning and Work from the Ed Tech Centre @ World Education: You can find the recordings of the four Generative AI EdTech Bytes that cover the applications and implications of generative AI for education (YouTube Playlist) plus a series of blog posts about the use of ChatGPT and AI in education.

ChatGPT: Leveraging AI to Support Personalized Teaching and Learning in the June 2023 Adult Literacy Education Journal by Sarah Cacicio and Rachel Riggs: a a resource for teachers/instructors with ideas for how to use ChatGPT for learning in an adult literacy setting.

from Contact North

My Digital Companion: Making Sense of ChatGPT from Contact North: a resource for students/learners to help them use ChatGPT safely, ethically and creatively for learning.

Leveraging ChatGPT Instead of Banning from Contact North: a resource for teachers/instructors with ideas for how to use ChatGPT for learning in a college setting.

10 Practical Ways Faculty and Instructors Can Use AI from Contact North

Contact North has a series of recorded webinars on the use of AI in education.

from Control Alt Achieve

Super Tutor: AI to Support all Learners from Control Alt Achieve: a 1-hour training video that explores both AI tools (ChatGPT, Google Bard – not currently available in Canada, Diffit, Eduaide, MagicSchoolAI, Brisk, Goblin Tools…) and practical uses (reading, writing, tutoring…) to help support learners. All the resources used in the video are included in a list on the page.

from EdTech Teacher

EdTech Teacher Chat GPT Tips by Tom Daccord: a resource for teachers/instructors with ideas for how to use ChatGPT for learning in a K-12 setting.

from Center for the Advancement of Teaching Excellence (CATE) at the University of Illinois

AI Writing Tools by Erin Stapleton-Corcoran, CATE Instructional Designer and Patrick Horton, CATE Instructional Designer (2023)

from Open AI

Teaching with AI: Stories of how educators are using ChatGPT and some prompts to help educators get started with the tool.

As this is an evolving technology, we’ve been updating this page with resources and things we have been learning about ChatGPT and other generative AI tools.

A note on terminology

  • Generative AI is artificial intelligence capable of generating text, images, or other media – like ChatGPT and the tools listed below. Generative AI grew out of a field of AI study and practice called machine learning.
  • Machine learning is a type of AI that uses algorithms trained on data sets to create models that enable machines to perform tasks that would otherwise only be possible for humans. When we put a bunch of these algorithms together in a way that allows them to generate new data based on what they’ve learned, we get a model or an engine tuned to generate a particular type of data. The engine that powers Chat GPT is a large language model.
  • Large language models are a type of AI algorithm that use deep learning techniques and large data sets to understand, summarize, generate and predict new content.

People often use the term AI to mean all of these things, one of these things, or something altogether different.

Some guides:

Games and tutorials that demonstrate how generative AI models are built from data

  • Akinator is a game that shows the questions machines ask to narrow down choices to pinpoint what a searcher is looking for. Think of a character (real or fictional), an animal or an object and answer the questions Akinator asks until it discovers what you are thinking of or gives up. The program sifts through all the data it contains after each response creating narrower and narrower categories until it can come up with a single guess. These are called decision trees.
  • To learn more about how data is used to train models, check out Slice of Machine Learning — an interactive tutorial that teaches you how to build a machine learning classification model using a decision tree where you can try to train a computer to identify pizza.
  • Quick Draw is a game that shows how AI learns to identify objects. Click Let’s play and try to draw the picture you are asked to draw. The program will try to guess what you are drawing as you go. Once you are finished playing, you are invited to see the ways other creators drew the items and how the program figured out – or didn’t – what you were drawing. You can see the complete data set it is using to make the guesses here: The world’s largest doodling data set. This is how we all contribute to to the AI datasets. We create things, put them on the internet, and programs are sent out to scrape our creations for the data they will use to create the next thing.

How to write prompts for ChatBots and Generative AI

Open Prompt Book from CampGPT at the Ed Tech Centre @ World Education: a resource for and by adult educators about how they use AI mostly as a brainstorming tool. As they report, “Over and over again in CampGPT, educators describe the use of chatbots as a great “starting point.” In fact, some find that using these tools is most effective for generating ideas rather than ready-to-use materials.” Here is a description of the Open Prompt Book: “In CampGPT, educators experimented with generative AI-enabled tools like chatbots and image generators to learn and explore together. Their work and insights have been compiled in the Open Prompt Book from CampGPT. Throughout this prompt book, you’ll learn more about generative AI, what educators use it for, and key tips and tricks.”

AI 101 for Teachers – Large Language Model Prompting Guide (slide deck)

ChatGPT Prompts for Teachers: Unlocking the Potential of AI in Education from LearnPrompt.org

GenAI Chatbot Prompt Library for Educators from AI for Education

The Ultimate Prompt Engineering Guide for Text Generation – This site offers a spreadsheet of several hundred prompt examples.

The Prompt Index – a community of prompt engineers is developing an AI prompt database full of prompts for ChatGPT, Bard, Claude 2, Llama, Midjourney, Dalle and Stable Diffusion!

Updates on Generative AI and the use of copyrighted content

Artists are asking for an ethical AI that respects the three Cs: consent, control and compensation. We are all content creators in the age of AI.

Art and AI Regulation : Implications for arts and culture by Valentine Godard (September 2023)

Recommendations that have been submitted to the Quebec Innovation Council, and to the AI Advisory Council of Canada’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

‘Impossible’ to create AI tools like ChatGPT without copyrighted material, OpenAI says by Dan Milmo at The Guardian (January 2024)

AI companies’ defence of using copyrighted material tends to lean on the legal doctrine of ‘fair use’, which allows use of content in certain circumstances without seeking the owner’s permission. In its submission, OpenAI said it believed that ‘legally, copyright law does not forbid training’.

‘New York Times’ sues ChatGPT creator OpenAI, Microsoft, for copyright infringement by Bobby Allyn at National Public Radio (December 2023)

The ‘Times’ is the first major media organization to drag OpenAI to court over the thorny and still-unresolved question of whether artificial intelligence companies broke intellectual property law by training AI models with copyrighted material.

Courts have said fair use of a copyrighted work must generate something new that is “transformative,” or comments on or refers back to an original work — something the Times argues does not apply to how OpenAI reproduces the paper’s original reporting.

‘There is nothing ‘transformative’ about using The Times’s content without payment to create products that substitute for The Times and steal audiences away from it,’ Times lawyers wrote in the suit on Wednesday.

OpenAI offers to pay for ChatGPT customers’ copyright lawsuits by Blake Montgomery at The Guardian (November 2023)

The compensation offer, which OpenAI is calling Copyright Shield, applies to users of the business tier, ChatGPT Enterprise, and to developers using ChatGPT’s application programming interface. Users of the free version of ChatGPT or ChatGPT+ were not included.

Updates on AI bias and ethics

Updates on the bias risks of AI

Some people say that using an LLM – large language model – like ChatGPT is like using a calculator but calculators do not show us content that is racist, sexist or homophobic. We can work on our critical thinking skills to adapt to a AI world but what is the benefit of being exposed to this type of content?

These Women Tried to Warn Us About AI by Lorena O’Neil at Rolling Stone Magazine (August 2023)

Researchers — including many women of color — have been saying for years that these systems interact differently with people of color and that the societal effects could be disastrous: that they’re a fun-house-style distorted mirror magnifying biases and stripping out the context from which their information comes; that they’re tested on those without the choice to opt out; and will wipe out the jobs of some marginalized communities.”

What ChatGPT Tells Us about Gender: A Cautionary Tale about Performativity and Gender Biases in AI by Nicole Gross (June 2023)

This paper’s central argument is that large language models work performatively, which means that they perpetuate and perhaps even amplify old and non-inclusive understandings of gender. Examples from ChatGPT are used here to illustrate some gender biases in AI. However, this paper also puts forward that AI can work to mitigate biases and act to ‘undo gender’.”

The Pear, You & AI by Valentine Godard

The Pear, You and AI is a women-led collaborative annotation initiative, designed as part of a larger project on Algorithmic Art to Counter Gender Bias in AI. In this initial phase, we are undergoing data collection based on your words and perceptions associated with words like women, beauty, imperfection.

A People’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence by Mimi Onuoha and Diana Nucera a.k.a. Mother Cyborg via Allied Media Projects (PDF)

  1. What does fairness look like when computers shape decision-making?
  2. Who is creating the future, and how can we ensure that these creators reflect diverse communities and complex social dynamics?

This zine, published in August 2018, explores these questions through a series of explanatory text and whimsically illustrated pages that takes the reader on a journey that demystifies the often opaque world of artificial intelligence.

5 Ethical Implications of AI in Education: A Guideline for Responsible Classroom Implementation
by Luis Pardo (June 2023)

A responsible AI implementation in a school context begins with careful planning and consideration of all stakeholders’ needs. This involves ensuring that AI tools are accessible and designed to accommodate diverse learning needs, including those of students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Schools must ensure all students have access to the necessary technology to prevent the widening of the digital divide. The AI tools should be trained on diverse data sets to minimize algorithmic bias and should be designed to offer personalized learning experiences, considering each student’s unique learning pace and style.”

The Artificial Intelligence & Equality Initiative from the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

The Artificial Intelligence & Equality Initiative (AIEI) is an innovative impact-oriented community of practice seeking to understand the innumerable ways in which AI impacts equality for better or worse. We work to empower ethics in AI so that it is deployed in a just, responsible, and inclusive manner.”

AI and education: guidance for policy-makers from UNESCO (2021)

“…while AI might have the potential to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, the rapid technological developments inevitably bring multiple risks and challenges, which have so far outpaced policy debates and regulatory frameworks. And, while the main worries might involve AI overpowering human agency, more imminent concerns involve AI’s social and ethical implications – such as the misuse of personal data and the possibility that AI might actually exacerbate rather than reduce existing inequalities.”

Updates on the uptake of AI in Canada

Update on the use of AI by Canadian students and employees

One in five Canadians using generative artificial intelligence tools from KPMG (June 2023)

A survey of 5,140 Canadians found 1,052 (20 per cent) have used generative AI to help them do their jobs or schooling. The most common uses include research, generating ideas, writing essays and creating presentations. Respondents say the use of the technology has enhanced productivity and quality, created revenue and increased grades but, in the process, they are engaging in behaviour that could create risks for their employers.”

Updates on the use of AI by Canadian businesses

More than one third of Canadian businesses experimenting with ChatGPT from KPMG (April 2023)

A majority of Canadian businesses are aware of the risks of having poor quality data, with more than half (54 per cent) admitting they are very concerned their organization might be making decisions based on poorly designed AI algorithms, and yet only 44 per cent regularly retaining independent third-party experts to vet or assess their AI algorithms for errors and bias.”

Automation Nation? AI Adoption in Canadian Businesses from The Dais at the Toronto Metropolitan University (September 2023)

In all businesses with five or more employees, as of the end of 2021, only 3.7 percent of firms say they had adopted artificial intelligence in any way.”

Canada’s AI imperative – From predictions to prosperity from Deloitte (November 2018)

Press release: AI adoption among Canadian businesses stagnant: Only 16 per cent of companies use AI, which remains unchanged since 2014 – Deloitte report finds Canadian consumers and businesses don’t understand or trust AI

Truthfully, there are still many unknowns about general AI’s potential and humanity’s ability to grasp it. But regardless of whether we ever reach the point of general AI, there’s still a clear imperative for a country and its businesses to invest in AI technologies, and to shape the economic and social conditions required to foster their uptake.”

Explainer videos from CommonCraft

The CommonCraft library of videos is designed to help us introduce and explain complex subjects in about three minutes. Most come with a transcript and lesson plan. Close captioning is available.

Find the transcript for this video here: Generative AI explained by Common Craft
Download a lesson plan

Find the transcript for this video here: Large Language Models (LLMs) AI explained by Common Craft
Download a lesson plan

A HyperDoc is a digital document—such as a Google Doc—where all components of a learning cycle have been pulled together into one central hub. Within a single document, students are provided with hyperlinks to all of the resources they need to complete that learning cycle.

The Basic HyperDoc Lesson Plan Template from HyperDocs Templates for Getting Started nicely illustrates how a lesson cycle can be incorporated into a hyperdoc.

To help practitioners who are exploring the use of HyperDocs to enhance learner agency, AlphaPlus has a created a website dedicated to the creation and use of HyperDocs in adult literacy where you will find tips and examples.

On May 11, 2023 AlphaPlus hosted our eighth Community Gabfest.

The conversation starter was What is your favourite blended learning resource? And why?

We received a suggestion that the Gabfest may be a good place to share ideas for good resources, strategies and tools for blended learning— the kitchen-tested stuff that practitioners find useful and effective in a variety of settings.

We used a Jamboard to guide our conversation: Wayfinders Gabfest 8 Jamboard.

We started by brainstorming what we are looking for in resource recommendations – what elements are important to us.

We asked three questions:

  • What are your favourite blended learning (integrated digital and literacy skills) resources?
  • What are your favourite digital skills (teaching people digital skills explicitly) resources?
  • What are your favourite digital literacy (learning about ethics, privacy and safety) resources?

And here is the list we came up with:

Blended learning

Copian Library

  • Copian is the newer name of what used to be called note the National Adult Literacy Database. There was funding in the 90s and into the 2000s for a national database of all the adult literacy resources from across the country. It is now taken care of by CDEACF (Centre de documentation sur l’éducation des adultes et la condition féminine).
  • I was working with people who were considering going into the trades. I was using ABC Life Literacy’s UP Skills for Work. They had a section on confidence, but it seemed a little thin. So I went into Copian — there’s lots of writing by learners on Copian — and I found stories by learners, mostly from Atlantic Canada in the 2000s, talking about how they noticed their confidence had changed. We’re incorporating those stories into the activity. It is authentic material by people in adult learning environments. I find that finding learner writing is one of the most powerful ways, no matter what the topic is, to help people to reading or writing or even using it for digital skills.

Breaking News English

  • Free English News Lessons in 7 Levels – You can read or listen to the news and do activities at the level that works best for you. There is advertising on this site. It is mostly at the top of the page.

Citizen Literacy app (useful for learning disabilities/difficulties, uses a phonetic approach, can use the app on an Android or you can access the lessons on the website)

  • I’ve started using this with a learner who’s been in our classes over the years but continues to struggle. She might have an undiagnosed learning disability. It’s fun and uses a phonetic approach, but not in a traditional way.
  • The Citizen Literacy Learner web app* is free to use, does not require user registration, has no adverts, no in-app purchases and takes no personal information. Featuring a voice driven interface suitable for low literacy learners with two virtual teachers that provide instruction and instant personalised feedback. It keeps track of each learner’s progress anonymously to provide feedback. Importantly, the design avoids looking like a children’s learning resource – a strongly demotivating factor for older learners. There is multimedia interactivity and gameplay, together with voice and handwriting recognition. Enabling some of the first online independent learning opportunities for low literacy learners. From a standing start, by the end of lesson 2, learners are beginning to read and write simple sentences.

Diffit for Teachers

  • This is a good tool to change up your intake screening passages for reading. It finds new leveled articles and can discourage dishonesty and sharing of reading passages.

Google Applied Digital Skills

  • Google Applied Digital Skills is a free online curriculum created by Google that combines real life skills with Google tools in self-paced, video-based lessons that are perfect for independent, hybrid or remote learning. From creating stories and recipes to researching and developing a topic or managing a budget, the curriculum engages learners in problem solving, critical thinking, and hands-on opportunities to develop skills and knowledge. Applied Digital Skills lessons are similar to real world projects and tasks that learners may encounter at work, in their daily lives and in educational settings . 

Teach Online from Contact North

  • TeachOnline is a place to find resources about the latest trends, best practices, training opportunities, and teaching resources in online and distance learning under the following categories:
    • Pockets of Innovation
    • Tools and Trends
    • Training and Resources
    • Upcoming Conferences
    • Webinar Series

Linkedin Learning and Gale Learning

  • LinkedIn Learning and Gale are online learning providers. LinkedIn Learning provides video courses taught by industry experts in software, creative, and business skills. Gale eLearning solutions provide teachers, students, and adult learners with online learning resources that include 3D virtual learning; elementary, middle, and high school databases; career training; professional development opportunities; and interactive, industry-specific courses taught by world-class instructors.
  • You can access these courses and resources for free in some public libraries.

Virtual reality (e.g. Body swaps – Soft Skills simulations): through Contact North centres, literacy programs can use these tools at no cost

  • We have a forklift simulator training and hazardous response. We have access to a program called Body Swaps, which is soft skills, so interviewing, preparation, public speaking, dealing with biases. It puts the person in a virtual reality. at first they are answering questions, but then it flips it and you’re hearing your own response and seeing what your avatar is doing. We’re currently working to look to see what we can find to be able to integrate VR more with LBS providers. We have a centre in Toronto and if you are in our centres using our equipment, there is no cost. We are looking to be able to do some more partnerships with community organizations and things like that.

Maps apps (various ways to use them)

  • A learner that is in a senior’s program asked about it. We created a lesson about all the different starting points: for example, if someone sends a text with the address, you can tap on the address in the text. and it will open the maps app. I think the literacy part was helping learners understand that with digital devices there’s always more than one way to do the same thing–even though it’s a skills piece, I think the literacy part was thinking of it like a building with many doors and that you can go in in different ways to get the same information. I thought it was kind of interesting. I didn’t plan it. It just kind of happened in class.

Music streaming apps (Lyrics for reading, pronunciation and poetic writing)

  • Music is such an easy and less intimidating way for people to engage in learning. It gets away from that grammatical imposition of schooling to learn how to write. You can you can pull up the lyrics on any song you know on apps like Apple Music or Spotify. You can play with a song, look at the lyrics and then try to write one verse of a song without worrying about sentence structure–you can get your words down and then move from there to writing a sentence to writing a short paragraph. Or you can create a poem about something and then create an opinion paragraph about why you think a certain way about the topic. You can do this online, digitally, or it can be in person, paper and pencil.

Podcasts (transcripts for vocabulary development, digital skills, reading skills)

  • It is learner driven by the topics they are interested in. You can get the podcast on your phone, but by going to the websites you can get more information and some have transcripts of episodes that are good for vocabulary and pronunciation practice.

Digital skills

GCFGlobal

  • This is a program by the Goodwill Community Foundation and Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina. Everything at GCFLearnFree.org is free. There are 125 tutorials on a variety of topics. Most topics are about using digital technology. It is easy to get lost on this site – in a good way – by following links at the end of each tutorial.
  • If learners prefer to learn using a tablet, Kindle or smartphone, there are apps available at https://www.gcflearnfree.org/mobileapps.
  • There are teaching guides. Here is the technology one: https://www.gcflearnfree.org/gcfteacherguides/technology/1/ . The technology guide includes “eight learning plans you can follow and adapt for instruction in a classroom, with a small group, or with individuals.”
  • Some of the tutorial sections are text heavy and some literacy learners may find it challenging to access the information. Some have a video as well as text and some are mostly video.

Fair chance learning (Achievia – Microsoft apps training)

  • This is a a government funded program that provides certificates in Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint and QuickBooks.

North Star

  • I like North Star for assessments. Northstar Digital Literacy tests your computer skills. You can build skills in key areas, and demonstrate your knowledge by earning certificates and badges. Northstar is a program of Literacy Minnesota. You can do free assessments. Under the Build Your Skills there are some free learning modules for Basic Computer Skills; Email; and Microsoft Word.

Digital Skills Library

Media literacy

Correct the Internet

  • On this site you can see a film about how the achievements of women in sports go unrecognized in best-of-lists and elsewhere and then submit your own corrections. The project began with a girl searching the internet looking for the greatest sportswomen in the world. Her searches revealed many of the greatest male athletes in the world and all of their achievements, but very few women. She was then shocked to discover that when she did search for the achievements of the greatest sportswomen, many of them were superior to the men she was being served in her search results. It turns out, Christine Sinclair has scored more goals in international football than Cristiano Ronaldo. The Black Ferns have won more Rugby World Cups than the All Blacks. And the USA Women’s Basketball Team has won more than double the world cup titles of any men’s team. The facts say that many of the world’s greatest athletes are women, but the internet keeps saying they are men. The reason for this is simple – the algorithms our search engines use are trained on our human behaviour. And now, the internet has learnt our human bias towards men. It’s a problem we created, but one we have the power to fix.

GCFGlobal Data Tracking Video

  • Whenever you use the Internet, you leave a record of the websites you visit, along with each and every thing you click. To track this information, many websites save a small piece of data—known as a cookie—to your web browser. In addition to cookies, many websites can use your user accounts to track browsing activity. While this type of browser tracking doesn’t pose a serious risk to your online security, it’s important to understand how your online data is tracked and used.

Informable app from the News Literacy Project

  • Test your news literacy know-how with Informable from the News Literacy Project – newslit.org/newslit-nation. You can try out three levels of difficulty in four distinct modes:
    • Is it and ad or not?
    • Is it news or opinion?
    • Is this image evidence of the claim being made or not?
    • Is the information checkable or not?
  • The app is available for Android and iPhones and you can play as a guest.

CBC Gem Video – You are Soaking in It

  • I asked learners to watch and answer questions about “pressure to purchase’ and ‘context marketing’

The video is no longer available on Gem. I cannot find it online anywhere so far. Here is the documentary webpage and press kit.

More recommended resource lists:

Thank you Gabfesters for your energy, generosity, wisdom and friendship. With your help, we won’t fall off the learning curve.

We hear about the challenge of embedding digital skills in literacy learning when working with learners who have beginner literacy skills or digital skills that do not meet the requirements of an educational setting.

Visit our Computer Basics Google site to see a collection of resources you can use to to support learners who are trying to “catch up”  on digital skills.

You will find a collection of places that support learners with beginner literacy skills who want to learn more about using digital devices and leveraging connectivity for learning.

There are Lessons and Tutorials that you can use as a curriculum, build into your own curriculum or supplement a curriculum you are using as well as Lessons and Tutorials created by Ontario Literacy and Basic Skills programs.

Under the Standards tab we have collected resources to help literacy learners reflect upon and assess their computer skills.

Lots of people know about and use GCFGlobal (GCFLearnFree – edu.gcfglobal.org) resources as a place to send learners and to learn about techy stuff themselves.

Here are some other sites for getting started reviewed on this site:

You can read more about these places to learn at the AlphaPlus Computer Basics site under the Lessons and Tutorials tab.

You will find activities from these sites organized by topic at the AlphaPlus Digital Technology Readiness site Table of Contents where you will find some basics (parts of a computer, the mouse and the keyboard, etc.) under Getting Started. The rest of the topics are to help learners get ready for using digital technology for learning.

Activities from these sites are also accessible through the Digital Skills Library where they have been indexed and are searchable.

On April 13, 2023 AlphaPlus hosted our seventh Community Gabfest.

The conversation starter was Digital Inclusion / Digital Justice: what does it mean to literacy programs?

This gabfest follows upon the discussion at Calgary Learns. Susan Lefebvre from Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy (MTML) got in touch to talk about how we can bring this conversation to Ontario.

We explored

  • the difference between Digital Inclusion (making sure everyone has the devices and connectivity they need) and Digital Justice (making sure that everyone can experience connectivity the same way).
  • what our roles as literacy practitioners are, if any, in each of these domains.

We used a Jamboard to guide our conversation: Wayfinders Gabfest 7 Jamboard.

We started by brainstorming some of the ways that digital technology benefits us and/or the learners we work with. I think this is the fullest Jamboard frame I have ever seen.

We looked at Bill’s story (see below) and talked about diversity of ways we see people using technology skills and literacy skills to navigate the world. We also talked about the assumptions that are made about who uses digital technologies (why and how they use them) and how that ties in with assumptions about who has literacy skills and skills deficit approaches to education.

We talked about what digital inclusion means. We concluded that essentially it comes down to issues of affordability and that as long as the provision of internet access remains a private sector, for profit venture, affordability will continue to be an issue–especially in an era where we seem to moving to more privatization of public services.

When we tried to answer the question about the role of literacy programs in addressing the issue of digital inclusion, as one person said, there was a “startling pause.” It was felt that it though would be quite natural and for people who work in literacy programs to be part of developing inclusion strategies because of their deep knowledge of the impacts and realities of lack of access, program workers are stretched pretty much to the limit. To add on the work of trying to solve a problem that is really one of government regulation and investment, as essential as it is, is just not feasible.

We rounded out the afternoon by grappling with the notion of digital justice. We reflected on Jane’s story (see below) and how access to your data and artifacts is a human right. We talked about how when we work with learners in online spaces, we are often in private spaces. The reason we get to use them for free is because our data and our attention is a valued commodity that gets traded on a market that is largely opaque to most users. People acknowledged that this is the sea we swim in — our ability to change the sea is quite limited but, in this case, there was a lot of energy in the discussion about the role of literacy programs in the digital justice domain. There is a lot we cannot change but we can use our literacy skills, our educator skills and our finely honed critical thinking skills to make the opaque transparent for ourselves and for the learners who are swimming alongside us.

We though that perhaps we could start with language. The jargon of digital spaces and the inconsistent ways language is used in different places and by different people is disruptive to connectivity. For example, are two-factor authentication, two-step verification and multi-factor verification all the same thing or does each term mean something different? Literacy people are language people. People saw ways that they could demystify the language as part of media literacy activities and lessons.

Audrey Gardner recommended a video to us on CBC Gem called “You’re Soaking in It” as a way to make this more understandable to ourselves.

We wrapped up by talking about how to bring this information to literacy learners and how to be transparent about the digital learning environments we are taking learners to. We thought one place to start might be the Media Literacy section of the Educator Network Blended Learning Toolbox.

Tracey and Guylaine were sparking with ideas about other ways AlphaPlus can support the field in this endeavour. More on that soon.

Thank you Gabfesters for your energy, generosity, wisdom and friendship. With your help, we won’t fall off the learning curve.

The Calgary Learns Digital Justice Panel

“A digital justice approach to literacy education asks not if people can access the Internet and digital technologies but rather how different groups experience online worlds.” — S. Smythe and D. Pelan (2019) Digital literacy and digital justice

Here is the link to the video of the discussion panel.

These are the articles we were invited to read before the panel:

And these links were shared at the event:


Digital Justice Case Studies

from S. Smythe and D. Pelan (2019) Digital literacy and digital justice

Neil Selwyn (2010; 2014) asks,
“Who benefits in what ways from Internet connectivity?
How does the Internet amplify rather than disrupt existing social patterns and relations?”
(p. 96).

Welfare offices often do not provide help with the application process, nor access to the technology, and so applicants are referred to libraries and community agencies such as tech cafés for help. This requires people to share intimate details about their lives with people they may not know well, an often demoralizing and humiliating experience, and ironically one that people are warned to avoid in the interest of data privacy. The multi-step welfare application process also requires an active email address (and therefore a password and password recovery protocol) and a current digital photo uploaded with the application (requiring a camera, skills to save and upload the photos and so on). The consequence is that people often fail in their welfare applications the first time, moving into deeper precarity.

Google has redesigned its verification protocols to prevent the use of stolen devices and hacking. This is no doubt a positive development for many, but carried catastrophic consequences for Jane, a precariously housed woman who relies on public access computing and who must keep her most precious information on the cloud. Jane lives in a women’s shelter and relies heavily on her Gmail account to communicate with friends, family and work. She uses her cloud storage to keep important photos and documents safe and accessible but does not have her own device, instead relying upon one of the many public computers available in the community. Changes to Gmail’s security features led to flags of suspicious activity because she logs in to multiple computers each day. One afternoon her login attempt at a community centre was flagged as possible “hacking”, with a warning message that because she was logging in from an unknown device she would need to verify that she owned the account before she could access it. Ownership could be verified by a secure access code texted to the phone number she provided when she set up the account or, by verifying the month/year the account was created, then answering the security questions she set up at the time. Jane no longer has access to the cell number listed as the phone was recently stolen, a sadly common occurrence for citizens who stay in shelters. The account was created such a long time ago that Jane could no longer remember the exact month. Indeed, who among us could remember that? After several attempts Jane’s account was locked ‘until she could provide proof’ of ownership. But there were no other options for proving ownership and in those few moments, Jane lost access to her vital documents, contacts, phone numbers, and main method of communication with no way to retrieve them. Such experiences of disconnection are deeply disruptive and traumatizing for those with histories of personal loss and abandonment.

Bill often attends the tech cafés to learn more about how to use his laptop. He is confident and fluent in his online activities and an active participant in social media. One day, Bill brought in a paper-based form for housing and asked if we could help him find it online but unfortunately, the housing provider would only accept hard copies of the application (a rarity indeed)! This caused Bill enormous anxiety. After a brief discussion it became clear that English was Bill’s second language, he did not see himself as a good speller, and he felt that he did not have legible writing. He stated that this made him feel stupid even though he wasn’t. He preferred to do the form online as the computer would correct his spelling and sentence structure. As digital literacy educators and researchers, situations such as this lead us to question the boundaries between print and digital literacies, and linear views of skills that place people in categories of ‘who is ready’ for digital literacy and who is not. For Bill, digital technologies allowed him to overcome the barriers of print literacy, even if the design of the system still posed difficulties.