Learning Design in the Pivot

What was the learning environment like? 

How did it change because of COVID?

It's self-paced learning.

Christopher Prechotko, Cambrian College Academic Upgrading

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It's self-paced learning. What that means is they study on their own and when they need me, they contact me. I contact them if I haven't heard from them in a week or two. And I'd say that about 60% of the time, they do have a question for me. They just haven't reached out for whatever reason. 

Before COVID, most of my feedback was face-to-face, orally. I would have everything marked for them the day they handed something in, for the most part, unless it was the end of the day, and I just didn't have time. Most of the time, it was immediate feedback. I’d receive an assignment, look it over, use a marking key or rubric if I had one, and give them feedback on how they could have improved. They could take notes if they wanted to, but most of them didn’t, and even when I had written comments on their assignments, most never looked at them. COVID has caused me to slow down, and I'm taking more time to mark things because I'm adding notes to the assignments, and I'll give the students a small lesson in my comments. I find the students are reading them because they don't always get that chance for me to give them the face-to-face feedback now, so they're interested. The other technique I'm using to encourage students to read my comments is placing their marks in the comments, so they are more likely to read them if they want to know their marks. 

Prior to COVID we were in a classroom environment. The students were expected to use the computers to draft assignments and so on. Handing in handwritten work wasn't acceptable to me. I felt like I should be encouraging them to use the computers because learning to use technology and being digitally literate is very important in our society. I didn't pressure them to use the learning management system—we are using Moodle—if they didn't feel comfortable with it.  ... I think many of the students who use the upgrading services, at least in this area, need interaction with other people, not just me the professor. They really need the interaction with a cohort of students and the other staff who work at the campus to really get that community feeling and to build momentum and excitement. I think it helps to put a face on education. If they get to know the people who work at the campus, they're more likely to return because they realize we're all friendly and we want to help them. And that's what our intent is. I have no other expectations of my students, except for them to hopefully one day achieve their goals on their own volition.

Then COVID hit, everything just kind of came to a stop. The students who were making progress, most of them stopped making progress. Some just disappeared; I never heard from them again despite my best efforts to reach them. Of those students who did continue to make progress, it was at a very, very slow rate. And I mean slow, like one assignment a month. When you contextualize that and think about how many courses that a student had left to do and the number of assignments and tests there are within each course, it's a very slow progression. We had to go online very quickly because that's what the college wanted, but the majority of my students did not go online—the majority of my students shied away from using the learning management system or even from using Zoom. 

I delivered to the students through a variety of methods. 

1. By the telephone—people seemed to be more comfortable over the telephone

2. I also emailed assignments to students who I could talk to over the telephone. Some of them just wanted to communicate by email, and I'd email tests and so on. 

3. There were students who didn't have any technology, and some of them didn't have access to the internet. For those students, I would drive to their houses and drop off resources and pick-up assignments as they needed me to. 

Since people have adjusted more to COVID, I have students enrolled who normally wouldn't have enrolled before because they work. Before we moved to a virtual learning environment, they were employed, and they just didn't have the time to attend class at the campus. Now employed students are progressing in this program, which I think is interesting. Even some of the students who carried over from last year, who weren't employed before COVID, now a couple of them are employed and are progressing in the program. 

It's almost as if COVID has provided opportunities for some and even improved the lives of others.  Some of the previously unemployed students, now they're employed, they're also almost done the program. They're going have a high school equivalency, and they already have a job. Their lives have improved despite the barriers that COVID has presented. Some island residents who couldn’t attend class in the past due to work and family commitments, they can pursue academic goals now—these students are taking advantage of the learning management system. Most students are not taking advantage of Zoom — we mostly connect by telephone or email. 

We kept a really good variety of classes available because the demand was there--lots of different levels, lots of different goal paths in mind. 

Elisha Stuart, Brant Skills Centre

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We kept a really good variety of classes available because the demand was there--lots of different levels, lots of different goal paths in mind. We also still maintain a really quick turnaround so if someone has requested to take something, we can get them in very quickly.

Obviously, the intake and assessment portion of things has changed dramatically. I can't sit with a learner and chat with them about what they need. It's over the phone, or it's a Zoom call. And then the assessments are done on Moodle, so I have them set up to mark the best they can and then I level them from there. And that's very different from them coming and sitting and doing them in person.

We use lots of different courses depending on level and interest and all those things. I’ve got them all uploaded in Moodle and I enroll the person in only the one that's appropriate. We have set up the courses so that the person cannot move forward with the course content until they've done the assessment. And then I've marked it.  That way, if their level comes back too low or too high for that particular course, we'll have a conversation about maybe this isn't the right fit, we'll put you in something different.

For example, if someone wants to take Excel—most people's goal path is employment—we know we need to look at the numeracy and the digital skills. I have that anybody who's taking that course do the same assessment but if their level is coming back to low, I might say, “Hey, let's back it up and actually take this intro workshop first, before you take the advanced Excel.” We used to have the assessments in separate courses, as actual courses in Moodle, but we found it slowed things down because they would get confused when I needed to enroll them to something else.

Then I'll put their learning plan in there, make sure that that's accepted in there as well. And everything is printable for their file. So I mean, it's a little different, but it's still fulfills what we need that way and that they know what to expect from the course.

In terms of like the approach to learning, it's very similar. We look at lots of different resources, we still create custom learning plans for everybody and we still make sure that it's paced for the individual. We have a few targeted courses that are more set to a schedule, but we do understand with life and kids and work that things take longer sometimes or someone might want to move faster and we allow that if they need to do that.

We have a couple of courses that are fully just Moodle, and we have created instructional videos that are embedded into the Moodle course. Those courses are great for people who maybe are working full time or they've got childcare issues—they can just work at their own pace. And then what they do is book time with their instructor when they want to, and they'll go over a lesson if they need help. Our other courses are a bit more blended. They will actually have scheduled live lessons alongside with assigned modules in Moodle. Those ones are the best attended, and we find they work the best.

Why do you think that is? People like the blended rather than the independent learning ones better?

If I had to guess, there's always been the feedback that people like the in-person learning, they like to have their hands in it. I think when they get that live element, they're seeing what needs to be done. They're understanding, they're meeting the instructor a little bit more. And in general, they are more engaged with the content we find. And they're completing more quickly, they ask more questions, it just seems like they get more out of it.

It sounds like it's working really well.

We really miss people in person but the upside of it is we can actually serve more people concurrently than we could previously because our physical office space is very small. We only have one computer lab and one small group class, meaning we can only really serve 10 to 15 people at the same time, just because of space, whereas now with three full time instructors, we can actually have them all teaching classes at the same time, because we have multiple Zoom licenses.

Did you have any of it in Moodle before? Did you just do that for this?

Nothing was on Moodle. It was a goal of ours before, but we always prioritized the in-person and we never got around to it. One of our instructors—she's been around for about 10 years with the team—is also our curriculum developer. She rapidly took all of our course offerings—we write our own workbooks—and she immediately converted those into Moodle courses and made sure that we have learning activities available and adapted so that we could deliver milestones securely. That took us, I'm going to say, eight weeks or so. Into the end of April, we were already really serving a good number of people and then I would say into the summertime, we were like fully running everything online. And as a team, although our developer uploaded most of it to Moodle, we work together to audit the courses—make sure they are accessible and not too complicated to work through—and that every learner understood how to navigate Moodle. We've got a brief introduction to Moodle when someone's enrolled.

It's amazing.

I was so I was so surprised. I was off. I was on maternity leave. I returned April 1. We had been closed at this point about two weeks and my team was kind of like, “Okay, get ready. It's gonna be weird when you come back.” I started right from my basement. I never went to work at the office. The way they were able to adapt so quickly in those couple of weeks—we were really surprised. Thankfully we did the infrastructure then because it doesn't seem like it's ending.

We had so much, in my opinion, really solid curriculum already developed, it was honestly as easy as uploading it to Moodle and, and making it useful. So as much as that was a huge piece of what we did, it was one of the easier things, and we're really grateful we took the time. Because there's so many issues with copyright with material that we couldn't lean on things like Breakthrough to Math or other materials we like to use because you can't upload the whole manual—you can pull selections and stuff like that, but we couldn't do that. However, all of our manuals that we have created, we have a digital copy. So it's as easy as uploading our own creative material, images and videos that we already had and basically enrolling people into it. So yeah, that was the I think one of the easier things for us.

We've started to deliver some of the Game Changers materials. We're piloting some of them, and they have been so much fun to integrate gameplay with literacy. Those have been a lot of fun. They're meant to be done in person. But again, we've adapted them to be virtual, and they've been really well received, actually. They are actual real games that you can buy but our literacy network has actually put together materials that go with them. And they're themed, for example, teamwork is one of the themes. You play a real game, virtually with the group to practice that skill. They're very much related to soft skills. There's another one about problem solving—you defuse a fake bomb together—they're really fun.

In the summer, we opened an outdoor Learning Centre.

Evan J Hoskins, Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council and DOI2T

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Before COVID, our workspace was organic and changing all of the time, with lots of people creating and sharing ideas and with lots of travel. When COVID hit, many of our learners stopped moving about within town and between northern communities. And the other learning centres and community organizations that we had partnered with shut their doors to visitors. This made it very difficult for the DOI2T program. 

Then our Sioux Lookout Learning Centre office closed and we were working from home. Not much happened with our DOI2T program for a long time because our program is so hands-on, so dependant on face-to-face interaction.

We were able to engage with one fun and busy project during the early months of COVID. We teamed up with the tribal council IFNA to create emergency PPE. Together, we bought a bunch more 3D printers and then printer over 500 face shields that subsequently were shipped to a selection of IFNA First Nation communities. We were even able to partner up with other LBS programs in our region, other places that had 3D printers, to help speed up the complex process. It was a fun and important way to us to stay busy and relevant during the early months of the pandemic. It also helped us learn more about how we could and would adapt our program in the later months of the pandemic.

Later in the pandemic, in the summer of 2020 and 2021, we opened an outdoor Learning Centre. We ran it during the day on nice weather days. It really wasn't a full Learning Centre with classes; it was more to remind people that we're here to help with the basics if needed. We had tents outside and water battles and sometimes simple snack foods. We actually had tablets as well so people could come—instead of using our indoor computer lab—and communicate with loved ones via the internet. We also did a few sessions with the Cricut program, customizing some t-shirts. But for the most part, the outdoor Learning Centre just served to help our learners acquire their basic needs.

Specifically talking about the tablets, they were a great resource during COVID. They are closed units and therefore very easy to clean. We do have laptops but we just didn't know how safe we had to be regarding surface cleaning during the first summer of COVID, and so tablets were the safest option. We quickly learned that the vocabulary for a tablet is actually pretty different than the vocabulary for a computer. We assumed that our learners were digitally literate because they could visit our office and use a computer without our help. But that knowledge only translates so far with a tablet—it seemed to only translate as far as using a simple application like Facebook. It didn't translate into our learners knowing how to pick up a tablet, turn it on, and navigate to the actual Facebook application. And then to teach them the skills, the vocabulary was very different. A tablet is a lot more icon-based and so you have to use more adjectives in your teaching and instruction in order to help that person find what it is. And using adjectives is different with every learner! You have to assess a learner's background to understand what kind of adjectives they would know, to find a certain item. And it's a lot of extra steps that we were lucky to feel pretty confident in before.

In September 2021, we did reopen the Sioux Lookout Learning Centre, which was consistent with the other openings in our region. Saying that, our reopening had a ton of extra safety precautions in place. We don't meet with the same amount of learners and the doors are all locked. We have clear plastic safety screens up everywhere. We clean everything non-stop. We've got a doorbell now for learners to ring if they'd like to come in, and it rings all day. Our job is now, for whoever's in the office, really just going back and forth to the door. And when somebody does come in, then it's cleaning everything before and after they use it.

In the summer, we were outside. Now that we're inside, designing the learning environment means putting up barriers as much as we can—physical plastic barriers—and reducing how many people come in. Surprisingly, that has not reduced the quantity of learners. Our numbers are still very high, shockingly high. That might have to do with the low cases of COVID in our region, or some other untrackable reason. But people certainly are not scared to visit us.

In September 2020, I did go around to visit the other LBS sites in the region. It was really nice to see the other facilities, see how they were reinventing what they were going to do. I learned that if your LBS program operates from a site that is physically too small, like ours in Sioux Lookout, it's very difficult to operate. We in Sioux Lookout could barely, if at all, keep the 2-metre safety distance with just ur staff present, never mind learners. But a nice big building, like they have in Atikokan and Fort Francis, offers your LBS program the ability to do so much more, like hold live classes! Nevertheless, it was fun to see all of those different LBS sites and see and how they're all adapting.

We've always been one on one. 

Nanditta Colbear, Literacy Alliance of West Nipissing

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The huge thing for us has been that we have a revolving door, it never stops, the incoming never stops. We have a lot of traffic. We're on the main street, right in the middle of town and the agency is well known, well respected, reputable, with a beautiful space. The amount of energy in the building had was completely indescribable, but also not noticed. I never even thought about that as being a driving force in literacy and basic skills. I just never even gave it a thought. I only realized that drop in positive excitement--dynamics, energy—when we closed the door, and people were ringing a doorbell to come in—and when they come in, we are checking their temperature and sanitizing, and asking 700 questions about who they've interacted with. This is where I noticed the difference in what we were like—what we were doing—in 2019 and all the years leading up to COVID, was that drop in energy—that huge change.

The only way we could be committed to keeping us not shut down, was working closely with the Nipissing - Parry Sound District Health Unit, Stop the Spread, the government agency and our Ministry of Labour. I had a lot of incoming from them, because everybody shut down when the schools shut down. Our learners depend on us more than anywhere else. We're the only English Program in West Nipissing—the only Anglophone program—and have a huge reputation for being the place to go when nobody else will help you. The protocols were required, but that was a change in the way we do business and I think part of the reason we've seen a drop in numbers is because somebody may come in, see that the doors are closed and lose courage. They don't ring the doorbell and they keep going. In the past, they've come, they've made the commitment. they open the door and they come in. You see them in the foyer taking a deep breath, “Should I go in? Should I not go in?” but by then we're already all over them, welcoming them and offering them coffee. All of that has changed. There's no food allowed you know, there’s so many things. And I think that's the big difference. When I looked at your question seven about what's your workspace like, this is what has happened, the energy has changed because of all the protocols the masks, the physical distancing, we've got the plexiglass in, that has been a big difference.

We've always been one on one. We don't have classroom sessions; we don't do small groups. In terms of my lessons one on one, We had started already experimenting with video and Hangouts prior to COVID so that part has not changed. I use PowerPoint quite a bit. I find that if you're working with a learner, lecture doesn't work. If you have visual aids, if you have things that engage the learner, if there's music playing in the background, they do well. I don't have hours and hours of prep; I just listen to my learner. The first day we meet, we chat about stuff. My coaches are doing the same. We get to know them a bit. It's a small community—it’s one of those where you might have seen each other in a store too. Once we have a sense of their hobbies—the things they're involved in—we just take what they have to work on today and just keep relating it back, “If you were in the store, this would happen; if you were making a list, you would do this.”

It's just that now we've had to restrict the number of people we allow in the building so we are limiting in any given hour, because there are two staff for sure, possibly three, we just say, “Okay, we can only take two learners at a time, maybe three maximum,” because we have to sanitize, we have so much to do, if they go to the bathroom, the staff member has to leave everything run out, clean up, come back sanitize. And so that's what our learning environment has always been—one-on-one—we’ve never done anything different.

All of our classes are now online rather than in-person.

Ryan Pike, Labour Education Centre

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All of our classes are now online rather than in-person. We also support a handful of people through phone and mail. Most people would have not thought it possible to make such a dramatic shift to online learning so suddenly. Although some people have been left out of this transition to digital learning (such as those without, wifi, devices, etc), it has surprised me how many people HAVE made the shift to online learning, and fairly easily. 

We initially shifted many classes from continuous intake to “term” classes lasting between 2 and 4 weeks. These classes were mostly intensive (5 days/week) whereas prior to COVID our classes were all held once per week. Over time we've able to develop and modify curriculum to offer a variety of continuous intake (weekly) and term classes. This allows us to offer classes accessible to a variety of people, whether they were working, unemployed or in various stages of returning to work. 

I start every class by presenting the day's agenda via PowerPoint. I then present topics, have discussion, assign an activity, and we come back as a group to discuss the activity.   

Here are some examples of activities that I’ve done:

I am presenting topics, facilitating discussion, typing up notes to summarize discussions via shared screen (in real time), demonstrating activities on my computer (by sharing screen), assigning in-class activities and providing guidance to learners as they work on activities.

The learners are watching my presentations, videos and demonstrations, participating in discussion either verbally or in the chat window, taking notes, trying learning activities on their own digital devices, participating in small group discussions (breakout rooms), socializing (on “breaks”).

I think the most fun thing was doing multiple-choice quizzes on the last day of class using a PowerPoint presentation over Zoom. People seemed to find them fun because they are entertaining, and there’s no pressure to answer questions – it’s optional. 

I actually found it very easy and convenient to be able to demonstrate certain digital tasks on my computer, knowing that everyone was following along exactly with what they were seeing on their screen. Sometimes in a physical classroom it is difficult for people to clearly see a projector screen, and people may have difficulty looking back and forth between the instructor’s screen and their own computer in front of them. 

2020 History of Online Transition

Shelley Lynch, Toronto District School Board

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It was rough at first. March to September I was just finding my feet online. We started off in Zoom. At the beginning we were just trying anything. First of all, we were happy to be together. Then I started using the vocabulary workbook because I had used that in class and they liked it—it was something that they knew, and we could carry on. 

I improved as I went along in terms of using Adobe and Word, et cetera.

It was a bit laborious at first, because I was doing all the work, and they were sitting there. I mean, they would talk, but they weren’t hands on which was a missing piece. Then I would get them to do writing, which is great. They had to do that and send their writing in to me.

The summer break was good. I did summer school for the experience. I've never done summer school before and that actually helped because it went really well. I realized that how I teach is still a key piece—the interaction between the learners and me—because that was a huge success and I got the usual great feedback. 

In the spring, I tried doing break out rooms and it just wasn't happening. In the spring, I had a morning and afternoon class—too much! In September, I just had the morning class and I used the afternoon to meet people one-to-one. If people got something in a group, great, and if they didn't I did it one at a time, in the afternoon. Many of them needed that. 

And then I got them editing their own work. So instead of me doing the work, they shared their writing and they did the editing, and they took on much more responsibility. I sort of wish that I'd gotten there sooner, but without more help or training or direction, I did the best I could. 

By November I had Canvas up and running. Getting them to do things for themselves opened the door, and Canvas opened all the windows for them. After that it was finding good material to use online. 

The fact that everyone made more progress online with less contact hours with me was a real eye opener. Bureaucracy tends to push what they can count sometimes e.g. 5 contact hours a day. It’s not just about contact hours, its about the quality of that contact. I developed a routine where everyone had group time, and more importantly individual time with me every week which we never had in the classroom. Plus, they had homework to do when not with me. First, our group time was much more efficient e.g. I can click on the work in 5 seconds vs. take 10 minutes to get everyone organized with the right book and page in class. Second, we were all focused on the work. I got them all participating all the time e.g. reading, writing, sharing, and people paid more attention because they knew I was going to call on them. Plus, they learned from listening to and talking with one another. It’s actually easier for me to track everyone online rather than in the classroom. Finally, I have at least one “one-on-one” session with everyone every week where I focus on individual needs and giving feedback.  

2020 HISTORY of Online Transition

APRIL — We had one PD day where we were shown Zoom. Getting everyone going on Zoom was exhausting. I had a morning group, and an afternoon group to get everyone on board. Plus, I had to teach some people how to do basic things on the computer in extra individual online sessions in-between the two groups = too much ZOOMing for me. We were all grateful to be together and able to do anything online.

MAY-JUNE — Things got better as I adjusted and helped people get used to Zoom and basic online features like Chat. We had Zoom support from Alpha Plus so I could ask questions and learn how to do things which helped us make more progress.

I figured out how to lead, but I was doing ALL the work using PDFs, websites and the whiteboard. Plus, I still needed extra individual online sessions in-between the two groups to help people. I was exhausted which left little to no energy for creativity. I tried Breakout Rooms, but we weren't ready.

JULY — I taught Summer school for 4 weeks - morning and afternoon class with unknown learners. That showed me that how I led / taught was still the most important part of the equation which helped my confidence. 

AUGUST — summer break

SEPTEMBER — I just had one group for English in the morning, which was key to my using the afternoon for the one-on-one extra teaching needs: computer, Math, and English editing and marking with the learners. This helped them all bring their computer skills up to speed – without exhausting me – so I could tackle teaching them the next functions.

I wasn’t ready to tackle teaching these functions earlier; however, they pay off big time, so investing the time to get everyone up to speed really pays off.

I also had five 1 hour PD training sessions that helped with Zoom questions, and a demo of Canvas was the next key step.

OCTOBER — I continued individual PDF and screen sharing lessons, and could then start having them share with the whole group.

I taught them to use Breakout Rooms, and started having the 3 most experienced learners lead their group by sharing and editing a document in their Room — another key step to progress. The goal was to bring them all to the point where they could take the lead in a Breakout Room … and take more responsibility for their work.

I was also developing my first Canvas course module - with support from Tracey (Alpha Plus) and our PD group.

NOVEMBER — I introduced the learners to Canvas and the 1st week was a triumph as they readily took to basic use and doing quizzes, and loved it.

It took more individual session time to teach them to download PDFs, edit them and submit their homework. However, the fact that they were already using PDFs was a real help as they only had to learn the Canvas end of things + expand their computer skills.

I expanded CANVAS courses and modules rapidly as I got quicker with more use and experience. Learners have kept up with my expansion … and always feel comfortable asking questions and telling me when they need extra help. Plus they help one another, and Breakout Rooms help foster their teamwork, too.

We use CANVAS for everything now – including e-mails. It is a library of our work – including reference material.

2021 HISTORY of Online Transition

MAY – JUNE 2021 – We started using a new CANVAS feature where they can annotate in CANVAS saving all the file downloads & uploads and making tracking and marking easier. 

SEP 2021 – We started using the TO DO and RECENT FEEDBACK Lists to help learners know and track what work they had to complete better. 

OCT 2021 – We keep learning and growing …

Before the crisis, we were using two classrooms in a traditional way. 

Inoussa Pempeme, Centre de formation pour adultes de Greenstone

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Before the crisis, we were using two classrooms in a traditional way. One classroom provided access to computer devices and an interactive white board. The other classroom offered print reference tools and was not equipped with any technology. We used the more traditional classroom for presentations with some activities and one-on-one training. As for the computer classroom, it was used for training on technology related themes, we used the interactive whiteboard, desktop computers, laptops and tablets depending on the subject of the course. 

At the beginning of the close down, our traditional classroom was seldom used since we could not let people in the program. The computer classroom was used to reach learners at a distance. Eventually, our delivery changed as we adapted. We were able to let some learners come to the program while others were completely at a distance. We then taught on site and at a distance at the same time, distance learners being connected via video conference. So, we had a mixed mode of delivery for the same class.

There were many technical challenges from the start. I tried to use several platforms: Google Hangout, Google Meet and Zoom. There were constant technical glitches, I was moving forward and had to take steps back. Things finally stabilized when I decided to work only with one platform (Zoom). We also had to purchase bluetooth headsets.