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.

On October 19, 2023 AlphaPlus hosted our eleventh Community Gabfest.

The theme was Engaged Learners.

We used a Jamboard to guide our conversation: Wayfinders Gabfest 11 Jamboard.

We started with these questions:

  • How do we engage learners?
    • How do we know when they are engaged?
  • How does learner engagement inform our practice?

We had planned for these questions as well but we did not get that far. Maybe we should have a Gabfest about over-prepping 🙂

  • If the learners are engaged, what do you do next?
    • If the learners are not engaged, what do you do?
  • Can technology help with learner engagement?
    • Can technology support flexibility over the pace of learning?
    • Can technology empower learner voice and choice over learning pathways?
    • Can technology support learner choice over the time and place of learning?

Before we got into the nitty gritty we warmed up by introducing ourselves in two words:

Jamboard frame with 10 sticky notes that read embarassed participant; intrigued facilitator; tired instructor; forest lover; inspired educator; weary nature lover; cookbook collector; curious learner; volunteer, cook; and Ellen Laforest, Program Assistant with ALTC Smith Falls, hoping to find tools to help our learners.

Then we thought about our own engagement. What keeps us engaged when we are learning and what can be barriers to engagement.

The things that help us stay engaged are:

Jamboard frame with the questions:  

What is the most effective way for you to stay engaged during a workshop?

What type of engagement activities have you found most enjoyable or effective in past workshops or courses?

The responses are quoted below this image.
  • Relevance, humour, topic of interest and stories.
  • Real-life applications & physical objects to work with, or movement.
  • Give participants play dough to help keep them focused, use as a fidget tool.
  • Being rested up prior to it and subject of interest to what I need.
  • Interesting topics. discussion amongst participants.
  • Breaks, activities, engaging speaker, no lecture, interest in the topic, engaged fellow participants.
  • Discussing connections and examples together.
  • Great discussion prompts; interactive polls; chance to connect with other participants.
  • Chance to create or solve a problem together.
  • Material I can use now.

Somebody asked about the playdough strategy:

  • If I have something to fidget with, it helps me actually listen better because I’m not keeping it all in trying to be still.
  • It works for me because I am a fidgety person and so if I have something to fidget with then I’m not getting antsy. I’m fiddling with something in a more constructive way.
  • I think playdough is quiet versus somebody clicking their pen clicking so the playdough is a good idea.
  • Maybe it gives people permission to play and shows that not everybody has to act the same way all the time. When they’re in the workshop, if they feel like playing with playdough and making little little sculptures or if they want to stand up or if they just need to be acting in a different way, that’s okay. As a facilitator, you’re demonstrating that there’s different ways that people can be in the room. I don’t know if that helps people stay engaged and focused and not feel out of place or that they’re doing something wrong. I feel like that concern about doing something wrong can be a big hindrance to engagement. If people are are scared that they’re going to do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing or or end up being the embarrassed participant it can be a barrier to participation.
  • I also like the idea. When you have a doodler who is drawing on sheets of paper, they are paying attention but their focus is on the paper. Somebody who’s got something in their hand is more likely to be looking at you. And there’s there’s that connection versus looking down at a piece of paper.

The barriers to engagement are:

Jamboard frame with the questions:

What is the biggest challenge you face when trying to stay engaged?

Which external distractions are most likely to affect your engagement (e.g., multitasking, noisy environment)?

The responses are quoted below this image.
  • Stress. Tiredness. Hunger.
  • Going off topic.
  • Participants that are not engaged.
  • Lack of choice (being forced to do something I’m not interested in or not comfortable doing).
  • Boredom – if there is too much repetition of something that is self evident.
  • Online background noises; tech issues that interfere with full participation.
  • External distractions: phone ringing or someone at the door.
  • External distractions: music, conversations in background, troublesome situation on one’s mind.
  • Noisy / distracting environment.
  • Lack of time to focus or fully engage.
  • Lack of time, trying to multitask.
  • It’s hard to stay engaged if enough time is not given for a group activity. Just when you start to gear up together the activity time ends.

We had a conversation about some of the points that resonated with us.

  • I really appreciate the lack of choices comment because sometimes I’ve given a task, especially in breakout rooms, and I’ve heard from learners that they got off topic. I say, “Well, then you should have taken that topic and run with it.” Maybe giving permission to people to just run with what’s really top of mind and reminding people that they can do that is important – so that that one resonated for me.
  • I think knowing what the the agenda is–the hunger one tweaked this–knowing that we’re going to break at 12 o’clock and we will have an hour or knowing that the session is two hours so I need to prepare and have something to eat before or after because that hunger, it totally disrupts people’s learning.
  • Related to that is knowing what the next topic is going to be by the facilitator; knowing where it’s going to lead to or what’s going to happen helps you direct your focus.
  • I agree with that because I am a slower thinker. I feel if the workshop animator is just throwing things at me that I have to try to react to immediately, that’s not where my best ideas come from or where my best thinking comes from. It’s when I have a little bit of time to let things sit and develop in my own mind that I can really contribute well.
  • I know a lot of teachers do this without even realizing it, but they kind of play the game where they ask a question and then require participants to “guess what’s in my head” instead of asking more open-ended, thought-provoking questions.
  • There is also the difficulty of giving enough time for people to actually think. You never want to leave a void.It is like you dread silences, but sometimes the silences are really productive. We’ve all been trained to be scared of silence instead of seeing it as a fruitful thing. It can be hard because you have people thinking and wanting to communicate at different rates, but if you if you have kind of an overall progression and you let everyone know when you’re going to come together and share things it can take some of the pressure off. It’s always trying to balance the individual needs and ways of participating with having still having some kind of group focus.

We moved into break out rooms to discuss the questions:

  • How do we engage learners?
  • How do we know when they are engaged?

And here is what the groups reported back:

Jamboard frame with the questions:

How do we engage learners?
How do we know when they are engaged?

The responses are quoted below this image.

How do we engage learners?

  • If they’re comfortable and connected, they’re going to want to speak.
  • The more options you give people the more engagement you see.
  • Suggesting different ways to do it.
  • Get students to see that goals are obtainable, point out the small wins/small steps they’re taking right now – they’re gaining success.
  • Personal motivation to be there – what is in it for me?
  • Passive vs active approach to learning – how are you going to learn that? – take responsibility for your learning – nobody is going to learn for them.
  • Modelling how we’re making connections – the more as a practitioner I can show them how and be transparent about the why of the activities – why we’re doing this.
  • Knowing the why.
  • Draft a contract – expectations for them and staff.
  • Explain stages of learning: first may feel frustrated, then if persevere will get it and move on.
  • Tracking progress as a group – give them tools to do that.
  • When you can’t predict what’s going to happen, but you try and explore, creative things happen.
  • Throw in a story that we’re all in the same boat – we’re not alone.
  • Affirmations, testimonials from previous students – sharing to encourage people and what can help in their journey.

How do we know when they are engaged?

  • They’re staying on topic – not side chatting; they show up next time.
  • Sometimes we think they might not be engaged, but later we find out how engaged they really were. They are intellectually engaged in ways that we can’t see.
  • They’re engaged when they lose track of time.
  • They’re taking notes and asking valid questions.
  • Engaged when participating and do the work and ask questions.

A variation on the question of engagement arose.

  • Our biggest issue is people sign up, we get them started and then we don’t see them. Life gets in the way–they change careers or jobs or there are family situations. We’re sending out a weekly email, “Remember, we’re here. What can we do to support you?” But it’s the life changes and the question of how do we how do we re-motivate them to come back and get the job done?
  • It’s not that so much the engagement when people in the room with you, but the continuing engagement with the program that we have questions about.

We will think about this as a future Gabfest topic.

Thank you Gabfesters for your engagement :), knowledge, and wisdom.

On September 21, 2023 AlphaPlus hosted our tenth Community Gabfest.

The theme was Emergent Curriculum

We used a Jamboard to guide our conversation: Wayfinders Gabfest 10 Jamboard.

We started with these questions:

  • What does emergent curriculum mean to you?
  • How is it practiced in adult literacy programs?
  • How does an emergent curriculum approach engage and empower teachers?
  • How does an emergent curriculum approach engage and empower learners?
  • How does technology support emergent curriculum?

You can see the responses to the first question on frame 3 of the Jamboard.

We decided to start with the question posed by a participant: Can we also talk about how we understand the word ‘curriculum’?

What is curriculum?

  • I have a love hate relationship with the word curriculum because it’s really hard to know what it means. For most of us, we of default to the tangible like the materials—the actual things, the stuff. I’m trying to train myself to think about curriculum, more as a practice than the materials that they’re part of it. Maybe that’s why it’s hard, it’s more of a concept than a tangible thing. And I still don’t like it like I still can’t sit with it well. It’s the practice of teaching and facilitating learning. It’s paying attention to all dimensions, both the tangible the relational, what’s happening between learners between the teachers and the learners and the teachers and the teachers, the learning environment. It’s paying attention to everything that has to do with the practice of teaching and the experience and the practice of learning.
  • One of the instructors in a teaching program once said that the curriculum is everything. It’s the color of paint in the room. It’s the way the desks are arranged. Everything is curriculum. I must say it mystified me at the time and sometimes that idea that the design of the room is part of the curriculum mystifies me. I think what she meant was that all of those things signal to students something about what’s about to happen in that room. If the desks are in a circle, people think one thing and if the desks are in rows, they’ll think another thing. Everything is working together to create the approach. The thing with literacy learners is sometimes they’re not that experienced with all of that or if we work with people who come from different places different arrangements, might signal different things to them as well.
  • I think I’ve got a narrower view of it. I was thinking more in terms of content and topics and it includes how things are done taking field trips. I think more of the content and topics.
  • We work within the OALCF (Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework) and that’s a curriculum guideline. It’s not a curriculum. It’s a framework for how to shape your curriculum, but not what’s in the curriculum. It’s not prescriptive about an approach but the design of the guide will lead you in certain directions.

Where does pedagogy end and curriculum begin?

  • Some of what people have been describing is what I would think of as a pedagogical approach to education as opposed to a curricular approach and I wondered how the two fit together.
  • As much as the OALCF is flexible, the fact that it contains tests and is relatively prescribed with levels and level markers, it goes beyond simply an outline of a framework. It’s actually more than that, it has more teeth than that.
  • The curriculum framework is the curriculum, but then that’s where the pedagogy comes in is how we implement that or reach that or work with the learners to achieve what’s required in our own way using art the art and science of our practice.
  • I don’t think there’s ever an easy answer or an easy separation between pedagogy and curriculum. They must be actually blended together. Curriculum is the content which includes the material and the topics that you’re looking at. Pedagogy to me comes more from a philosophical, ideological way of thinking and believing and valuing about how learning should happen, how teaching should happen. But you can’t have one without the other. And then the word framework gets tossed in there. In many ways, frameworks can reduce everything to some structural thing, or they can open it up to be an expression of guiding principles with suggested content as well.
  • We say it’s the process that we use to reach the goal that we’re trying to reach.
  • Curriculum feels more like an ideal to strive to, and pedagogy is the nuts and bolts on the ground, what teaching and learning looks like in practice.
  • I think when we talk about emerging curriculum, it’s okay for us to have kind of differing ideas of what that means. The bottom line is we’re looking at how we practice facilitating learning, and all the stuff and the ways of thinking that are involved in doing that. I like the word practice more than most, because it makes sense to me, practice and stuff.

What does emergent curriculum mean to you?

  • I thought it was a curriculum for emerging low-level learners—a curriculum for emergent readers.
  • I love the word emergent. It sounds like the newest and greatest and things that are attention getting and we should study this more and use it and see how it works.
  • Developing the curriculum materials and teaching approach while actually teaching and that the curriculum has always been created based on learners’ engagement.
  • It’s like planning an event while the event is happening. It’s not so much paying attention to, “Oh, are you on your goal? Or have you reached your goal?” but it’s looking at what’s coming up for the learners, or how learners relate what’s happening in their life now or in the past, or what they’re learning now.
  • It’s more of an informal approach to participatory learning—going with the flow, where the conversation leads.
  • It is driven by learning goals but also who is in the “room”.
  • I imagine it as a curriculum created based on what comes up from learners.
  • Emergent curriculum is more ‘alive’ meaning it is created while the learning is occurring based mostly on learners’ engagement.
  • It’s what shows up in the classroom while you’re actually teaching, what’s emerging for you to think of the topics that are being brought up and the ways that you can introduce activities based on the ways that people are really engaging. It’s paying attention to how you’re seeing learners actually make meaning when they’re in the class with you. What I’m saying is that you are never fully planned as a teacher. The other way to look at it, you’ve always got to be adapting and trying to stay what just one step ahead. Not a whole lot. Just one is another kind of a way to think about emerging is just a good way to teach, I guess. Hope that makes sense.

We settled on the idea that emergent curriculum is based on the principle that people learn most effectively when they are actively engaged in experiences that are meaningful and relatable to their own lives—when the curriculum accounts for their interests, strengths, needs, and lived realities.

And then a participant asked, “Does emergent curriculum require experiential learning?”

  • I was wondering is how aware is the learner of the fact that the curriculum is emerging? Are they given choices? Like are they like that, to me would be experiential. If you’re not simply in the in the back of your head as a teacher reacting in secret? Is it transparent that what the learner was presenting that day is shaping what’s going to happen that day and that becomes more experiential, where they know they can influence what they’re going to be taught that day and how the day is going to go. That’s what I was wondering about, or is it simply on reading the room, I’m going to make a decision that I’m going to move on as a teacher.
  • I’ve always thought of experiential learning is more applied learning, learning where you teach them how the skills that you’re using, apply to various tasks that they have to do in real life.
  • I see it as learning by doing so. We’re always creating opportunities for learners to practice the things that we’re teaching in terms of basic digital literacy skills.
  • I think experiential learning is like the experience of going into the field when you’re on your practicum. I’m training to be a teacher and I’m doing my practicum where I’m doing the job compared to where I’m sitting in the classroom and listening to an instructor and I’m learning.
  • I think under the adult learning principles, experiential learning is critical to keeping learners engaged. I always say learners vote with their feet, if they don’t find what they’re doing relevant to what their lives are. We can teach the fundamental skills, but we have to show them how that applies. I think that if learners don’t see the relevance, experientially, it’s hard for them to stay motivated.

Does the teacher involved in emergent curriculum on a day-to-day basis think of it as an exercise of action research?

  • I can speak to that. I’m working on my second master’s right now, and I did a research methods class so now I think about everything as a research. I apply it in terms of always asking, “What’s happening here? Who am I not reaching?” and, “How can I adjust what I’m doing to be able to reach more people?” That voting with your feet thing really resonates because if it’s not relevant, and it’s not meaningful, you’re free to walk away. I like that way of thinking of it.
  • I can also speak to having done a participatory action research project. We partnered with the women’s shelter across the street. It was all about putting cameras in the hands of the participants and getting them to think critically about what it means to be a part of this community—thinking about the community in a larger scale, taking photos of it, but also thinking about themselves from that perspective. It was very experiential because they were learning new, practical skills in terms of the photography, but it was also emergent in that they were developing the research. I was a researcher, but they were also researchers. All the participants in a participatory action research project are also researchers It opened people’s minds to think about things in different ways and think about the world as a researcher.
  • After I teach I usually journal about what I could have done better. I watch how the students are responding and taking everything in. A journal is one way I can reflect upon what I could have done better. The students are responding and journaling honors that and keeps me accountable. I believe that my role is to give the students the tools that they need. The teaching doesn’t really begin until they are away from me when it’s time for them to use what they’ve learned. Journaling really helps to me be aware of what’s happening.

How does an emergent curriculum approach engage and empower teachers?

  • I find it absolutely invigorating. I would just lie down and give up if I had to teach the same thing in the same way over and over and over and over again. I just couldn’t do it. I feel like it’s that old saying of seeing yourself as a learner as well. Not the same kind of learner as the learners but I have to learn in order to be an effective teacher. I don’t know about the empowerment—teachers already come in with paychecks and status—but it certainly invigorates me to know that my effectiveness as an instructor highly depends on what I learn from the people who are in the class with me.
  • I see it as the teaching and learning is all bilateral. Let me learn from the learners and then we become better teachers. I took a course once they said everything that we that we say should appear somewhere in writing and everything that we write should be read aloud for the different learning styles but that people’s eyes wander and if they’re going to wander, they can wander to that poster on the wall where there’s something that they contributed and it’s very empowering for the learners they feel heard.
  • I can say that my greatest dread is for anyone to leave my group session thinking, “Well, that was a waste of time.” I think that’s my motivation to do is to explicitly address what their what their goals are and what they want to know. You always have lots of material ready to go so we can use that but as questions come up, they lead to discussions and learning and then we learn what to do with a new group, you can try those same things. I always put myself in that place of if I were at a workshop and the host just assumed that I didn’t know anything, I wouldn’t have a very good time. I would want them to first find out what I know. Before they tell me.
  • We haven’t talked about how working within an emergent curriculum approach helps you build rapport with learners and that when if you have good rapport with learners, and if they basically trust that you have their interests at heart and are always working towards furthering their interests, when things go awry, they’ll go with you. They’ll forgive you for the things that don’t work because you are in a co-creating space. I think it is something you have to work towards with each group. I think there’s work to be done around building the group, making your approach transparent so that they know what’s happening, and building trust. I think it’s there’s some relational pieces in there as well.

And we decided to stop there. This conversation gave us a lot to thing about and raised some questions for the next Gabfest.

  • How do we engage learners?
  • How do we know when they are engaged?
  • How does learner engagement inform our practice?

Thank you Gabfesters for your enthusiasm, knowledge, and camaraderie.

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.

The SAMR model was developed in 2010 by education researcher Ruben Puentedura and lays out four tiers of online learning, presented roughly in order of their transformative power.

SAMR is a reflection tool that can help educators think about how digital technology integration is supporting learning in specific blended learning lessons and activities.

The SAMR model gives educators a common way of communicating about technology integration. The SAMR framework can help us talk about the ways we are using technology, assess technologies to see how they will fit our context and help us plan future uses.

SAMR helps us ask and answer questions about what teachers and learners will gain from the technology before implementing it.

SAMR should not be regarded as a mountain to climb. Good technology integration isn’t about living at the top of the SAMR model; it’s about being aware of the range of options and picking the right strategy—or strategies—for each context and learning outcome.

Dr. Puentedura proposed that curriculum becomes more learner-centred and activities become more learner-driven as we move from substitution to redefinition but, teachers have to consider the capacity of the program to support inventive uses of technology and the capacity of learners to use technology in inventive ways.

When planning the integration of digital technology into activities, lessons and curriculum, teachers often start with substitution and modification. As teachers and learners become comfortable in a technologically enhanced learning environment, the last two levels of the SAMR model—modification and redefinition—can be added to the mix.

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.

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.

On March 9, 2023 AlphaPlus hosted our sixth Community Gabfest.

The conversation starter was Lori Armstrong’s video The Personal Web.

Lori is a knowledgeable and inventive literacy instructor who currently works at the Thunder Bay Literacy Group and will soon be moving to the Lakehead Adult Education Centre (part of the public school board in Thunder Bay).

In the summer of 2022, Lori participated in the AlphaPlus Wayfinders Maker Space and created a video about the Personal Learning Web – a map of how Lori works with learners to identify the ways connection, relationships and power impact the whys and hows of learning for each of us differently and specifically.

We used a Jamboard to guide our conversation: Wayfinders Gabfest 6 Jamboard.

It was a lively and engaging discussion as usual.

We started by talking about the elements that create good learning. We then watched the first part of the video — the overview of the Personal Web — and moved to breakout rooms to discuss how the web resonated with us and our practice. One group made connections to the issue of digital justice.

We watched the second part of the video and stayed together to talk about how teachers dance with chaos and navigate the web of webs. We all found that the pace and flow of Lori’s video — her calm and encouraging tone — put us into an open-minded and meditative space.

Lori finished the session by walking us through some of the ways she has been expanding the personal web concept.

Lori shared a couple of examples of how she’s been extending her Personal Web reflections lately. She showed us how she

The PDF linked below shows some concept mapping for the following:

Personal Web Additionsarrow

Thank you Lori for sparking this good conversation and for your generosity in sharing your research and insights with us.

Thank you all Gabfesters for your wisdom, experience, knowledge and, most of all, your fine collegiality.

We agree with this participant: “Brilliant!! Incredible learning, thank you so very much! Always a pleasure.”

On February 9, 2023 AlphaPlus hosted another in our series of Community Gabfests.

We started by asking people about where they like to learn best.

The conversation starter was: If there were no barriers to running a program, what program would you want to run?

We talked about

We moved into break out rooms to discuss the three questions.

Here is what the groups shared on the Jamboard.

We wrapped up by thanking each other for their contributions and generosity.

On January 12, 2023 AlphaPlus hosted another in our series of Community Gabfests.

We started by asking people to share the things that they were proud of from 2022.

The conversation starter is: New Year’s Blended Learning *Aspirations

We talked about

*not Resolutions – the things that are still in dreams, wishes and ambitions phase of planning.

We had a an amazing conversation about

It was inspiring and interesting.

We wrapped up by thanking each other for their contributions and generosity.