Professional Learning

How do Wayfinders learn new things?  What do they want to learn next?

I knew that I needed to be proactive about things. 

Christopher Prechotko, Cambrian College Academic Upgrading

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I wasn't using Cambrian’s LMS system much in my daily delivery before COVID, but prior to working in the upgrading program, I used the LMS daily. When we switched to virtual learning, I had to relearn. 

Another consideration, I completed my master's degree online. For three years, I had been participating in online learning for a master's program. I was used to the environment and the expectations of my teachers, but I didn’t get the chance to build relationships with them. 

I didn't talk to most of my professors in university, and I didn't really care to get to know them at all. I was concerned about my grades and moving forward, and that's what drove me. Other people, they need a relationship. They want that interaction. They need the support. This is different than a typical or traditional post-secondary student. Due to my experience working at the satellite campus, my perspective has changed. I now think it’s important to build relationships with teachers.

I knew, as an LBS practitioner, that I had to step it up in this circumstance, the pandemic, because I am a different type of student than most of my students. I knew that I needed to make more of an effort to reach out to them and to check-in. I knew that I needed to be proactive about things

I think we'll always be exploring new tech, knowing what's coming up

Elisha Stuart, Brant Skills Centre

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We do a lot of meeting as a team to understand digital technology and the needs and concerns of our learners. 

And something maybe not as related to development as much—we spend a lot of time looking at our survey results and we really value the comments from learners. 

Our really strong understanding of the learning activities and the milestones for different levels and goal paths, knowing how to put those together really quickly has been a strong point for us.

I think we'll always be exploring new tech, knowing what's coming up. I think we make a point, if we've ever got budget, or we have any grants we can access, we're always trying to get new technology to make sure we can teach it to learners. We will always keep up with that I think too—always innovating new curriculum. Knowing what the labor market will look like in 2021, 2022, is still up in the air but we hope to continue to innovate curriculum to keep up with what employers want, and what the workforce is going to want.

We took some time to explore different online classroom options, that did take a lot of time for us. Moodle was our first choice but we have also dabbled a little bit with Adobe Connect. We weren't really a fan of it. I found it really heavy to use, and it was difficult. We've also explored Google Classroom, which has been good in some areas, but not in others. I wish we had known ahead of time which platform would have suited our needs maybe the best. We figured it out over time, but you know, it takes time and money to do that. It also took us some time to figure out the best way to complete the registration paperwork because of concerns about their security— we record their social insurance numbers, there's signatures required. We took a lot of time to figure out what platform would be appropriate for a document like that and that would also fulfill, you know, the ministry requirements. I wish I had known from the start, what to use for that as well. It's a concern for learners too. They want to know that their information is handled correctly so it's got to have a good secure feel to it, too, or they don't want to give that information of course.

I think we've all become a little bit more open to chatting with other providers. I've had a few conversations with other literacy councils and things. Also, keeping an eye on the resources that AlphaPlus has put out, the Facebook group has been useful here and there. And again, the learners and the community, in general, have all been really good resources for us. I think what we've learned, or my perspective, is that we're all really unique, and we all have something different to offer. And we [different literacy programs] all have our own community reach. I think that sharing resources or tips and tricks, or troubleshooting, it only benefits us all.

I think looking to planning for next year, we're really keen to learn about different marketing strategies to reach more people. Yeah, I think that's our main concern, because we do we reach enough people and fill our classes, but we want to, we want to continue to serve those who need our service. And so we'd like to know how to do that. What's the best way?

Right now we just use good old social media, because it's free, and it's easy to use. But we're open to other options as we move into the new year. Knowing that again, we can't have that in person referral, like we used to.

I'm very interested in how all of these different platforms will communicate up front or behind the scenes and how the digital education field will shift with them. 

Evan J Hoskins, Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council and DOI2T

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I am surprised at how people are adapting and talking about online learning considering that online learning has already been present as a ministry-funder wing of LBS for over a decade. It's surprising because I don't know if it's positive or negative and I still don't know how that shift and change is going to happen.

Here's a scenario: What do you do if you're a small two-person Learning Centre and now all of your learners are online, but you still need to register learners to secure your ministry funding? But Good Learning Anywhere (GLA) already offers everything that your learners want to study? In theory, the only reason they were going to your centre in the first place is that they didn't want to do online learning, they wanted to do face-to-face learning. Of course, these learners can register for GLA and register with the learning centre and it won't be a problem. But the little learning centre still wants to connect with their learners online too. The pandemic causes this scenario all over the LBS scene in Ontario, and I haven't yet heard a lot of discussions about solutions.

I don't know what kind of result or answer I'm personally hoping for, but being exposed to this scenario at the Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council has given me a few different perspectives to think about it from. It seems that GLA is a good tool and can offer a lot of positive options. But I'm also interested in how they, the ministry funders, answer the question: “I'm a Learning Centre. I need my learners. But GLA already offers what my learners want. What do you, the ministry, want me to do?” 

What prior knowledge, skills, or resources made the easy parts easy?

Experience with various modes of internet connectivity—being able to understand how our tablets work, understand how people learn them and use them compared to the phones and the devices they already learned, or already own. And then learning how to update tools like tablets and add the apps that people want and teach people verbally and manage the settings so that we can help people beside them and over the phone with them, or at a distance. That set of skills proved incredibly valuable. It took us years to learn these skills, and if we hadn't done so before COVID, we'd have been spending the entire pandemic learning how our own tech tools work. We wouldn't be able to use them with our learners.

What would you like to learn next?

I'd like to just stay up to date.

I'm very interested in how all of these different video meeting platforms will communicate upfront or behind the scenes and how the digital education field will shift with them. The video conferencing programs are obviously adapting and changing really fast. Just using Zoom as an example, it appears that Zoom's company had to increase staffing exponentially during those first few months of the pandemic in order to keep up with everything. That huge influx of brainpower and consumer needs will continue to evolve and it will ricochet into the education field in a lot of unique ways. I guess what I'm saying is that these companies are huge, and simply by offering a method for communication they influence education greatly, whether we like it or not. From an LBS side, I'm very interested in how they evolve and if they can solve the problems we're having with DO2IT, problems like needing to point at things in the learner's room/physical-area instead of relying solely on adjectives.

Education by itself means nothing, but when you apply it for results, it means everything.

Nanditta Colbear, Literacy Alliance of West Nipissing

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I have to say, education is very important and being entrepreneurial, being able to find a way to solve problems. Education by itself means nothing, but when you apply it for results, it means everything. I give myself a lot of credit for my lifelong learning—for my degrees, for everything I accomplished in my younger years of education in a formal university setting—but also for my application. It was over 30 years ago that I finished my education and then we didn't even have computers. If I had not kept up my learning, there would be no way I could be successful today based on what I studied then. When I think of application, I think your brain has to be entrepreneurial. You have to think like a businessperson who has their own business and say, “Okay, the climate is changing, it's changing today, it's going to change tomorrow, and five years from now, what can I do?” That's why I believe I have adapted well to LBS.

I've been working with AlphaPlus quite a bit. LBS doesn't have much for funding. However, if there are resources around, I go after them and AlphaPlus is about the only agency that provides digital coaching for agencies like us. I've reached out multiple times, so that I get coaching from AlphaPlus to understand some new platforms. 

I believe the key to our literacy and basic skills success is digital literacy—for our learners, for our staff, for our teams, for our boards, for the ministry—we need to think digital. That's the only way we're going to move forward. I think that's where we have done well. In 2018/2019—before we even knew about COVID—I had already started working on ways to deliver remotely. We’d been thinking about how to deliver remote services and how to reach people in the outlying areas. That has been something on my mind for two or three years now. The learner I described to you [in eNet in 2019/2020] had social anxiety. If we can find a way to reach learners in their own homes on their own devices and help them transition back into coming into a social environment, we have so many we would reach. This is where understanding technology and making it easy is important. 

For me, it's really been AlphaPlus and then there's an IT firm that I hooked up with last year, local from North Bay, and the owner is just beautiful. He's been so good with me. I ended up signing a monthly contract—my agency is paying his company on a monthly basis to provide us six hours of support. It's been perfect. It has made things so much easier for me. I have full access to every machine in the office from home. When I get a call from the office because one of my coaches is stuck—she’s on the online English course she can find how to get the assignment—I can just log in and take control of the mouse so she can watch what I'm doing. I do that with learners in the office when they're there. This has been the change for us—COVID gave us a chance to use these types of things in a smart way.

I am determined not to lose this momentum of online meetings. I found them to be far more efficient. In fact, let me go back. I think it was in 2018 that Monika [from AlphaPlus] worked with me so I could have online board meetings. We all are traveling from quite a distance to go to Sturgeon Falls and winter driving is just horrendous up here so the board agreed that if I could pull it off, they’d do it. Monika helped me take my board meetings online, and we've never looked back. 

I would love to find a way to break through to the team that drives literacy—the staff—how do you get them to embrace technology? How do you get them to move forward? 

And then, how do I take the intake online? Right now, I'm struggling with the intake. How do you do that remotely? How do you fill in the documents? How do you get the signature? The quality of sound isn't so good, the video isn't good. The purpose of the intake is to get to know your learner to get them to open up, build the confidence—that quality I'm finding is missing. I have been doing intake interviews where I bring them into the office, and I'm remote and we sit them in front of a computer but I I'm not I'm not getting as much as I do when I'm sitting with them in person. That's what I'd like to learn is how to improve the quality.

Going into the next fiscal year. Albeit we get funded—I’m hoping the ministry will fund everybody—I really wish to build our resources and our thinking to be able to do intakes and to be able to deliver programs with remote components. We will do our learners a great service by teaching and coaching learners on using digital technology to their benefit. We may not be able to loan devices out. If I can get them into the office and have them work like this, it's going to be worth everything. I'm not ready to give up. For me COVID has provided opportunity on opportunity on opportunity for greater efficiencies and I'm very keen to learn more and to make it happen past COVID.

The most helpful thing for me has been my ability to adapt and teach myself new software and digital tech skills quite quickly, which I do mostly by researching online.

Ryan Pike, Labour Education Centre

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In some ways the staff in our organizations work more in silos, but in other ways we work more co-operatively.  When we do have meetings either by phone or Zoom, the purpose of the meetings is more explicit, as is the work that each of us is assigned at the end of the meeting. Meetings actually feel more productive. 

Prior knowledge of Zoom was helpful (thanks AlphaPlus!). The most helpful thing for me has been my ability to adapt and teach myself new software and digital tech skills quite quickly, which I do mostly by researching online

I would love to see more software and online resources that are as accessible as Zoom. Zoom has been excellent for basic digital literacy learners because essentially they can click a link from any device and join the class. Most people with very little or no experience with digital tech can join a Zoom class with some guidance. Other online learning tools than I have seen recently (I’m thinking of Mentimeter, Padlet, etc) look like excellent tools, but are a little bit too advanced for most of the people I work with.  

I would love to see better ways to give interactive presentations – possibly even as an additional feature of Zoom. 

I like the energy of sharing ideas and resources. If someone helps you, I think then you're more willing to pass it on and help other people. 

Shelley Lynch, Toronto District School Board

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One reason I like being at TDSB is that I like the interaction. I like the energy of sharing ideas and resources. For those of us who want to help one another and are willing, and who are brave enough to say—I think sometimes some people, they're very independent and solitary, or they don't want to say they need help—so the people who are willing, are getting together.

If someone helps you, I think then you're more willing to pass it on and help other people.

I think the teachers who manage their time best multitask, but that's not me. If I'm teaching students, then I'm teaching students, I'm not doing computer stuff. What I would do is stay after class and do all my computer work because I could not go back and forth and do either thing properly. I used to envy the other teachers who manage that better, but I just know it's not me. 

I would say you’ve got to give people more training at the beginning, not just drop them in the deep end and let them sink or swim because that's not fair to the instructor and it's not fair to the learners. One thing that sort of frustrates me a bit with my school, is everyone's just supposed to magically do the job all on their own with without any sort of training or sharing much. If I had a problem like if my computer wasn't working or whatever I would go to [the coordinator] but she didn't have the time or knowledge and skills to give me what I needed—she was swamped herself and I knew that. We desperately needed some technical support and the MTML Silver Linings Cafés stepped into the breach. 

At the beginning, I didn't know how to how to do things online, let's say. I started off doing what I did in the classroom and step by step, I changed and improved, to be honest with you. I wish I'd got more of a training, not just something to read or look at—I was busy enough—an actual training session where I could talk to someone and someone could show me something. I wish I'd got more of that, because I feel like I stumbled along to be honest with you, figuring things out for myself. Your sessions [at the MTML Silver Linings Cafés] were a lifesaver, Tracey, because we had nobody helping us or telling us what to do or how to do things—we were just dropped in the deep end. I started understanding Zoom better, but I think that during the first three months—April, May, June—I think I was too exhausted because I was doing everything myself. If I'm exhausted, I lose my creativity. I need to have some energy left to create. 

Some of these other things that you've shown me  [at Silver Linings Cafes and AlphaPlus workshops] look interesting, but I have not integrated them left to my own devices. Eventually I might stumble across one again and say, “Oh, that would be good—how can I integrate that?” 

Your sessions where you throw a lot of things at us at once are too much for me. I think some people like it but it's too much for me. I'd be happier adding things one at a time. I would ask someone like you, “Okay, I'm doing great. Now what is the next good thing for me to add?” Don't ask me, tell me what the next good thing is for me is to add in. I will trust you and either it will work for me, or maybe sometimes it won’t work for me, but I trust the process. I have to make things my own, but first I have to integrate them. 

In September, there was the whole Canvas start-up.

[Shelley is referring to the Educator Network Planning Your Digital Toolbox series of workshops facilitated by AlphaPlus for the Toronto District School Board instructors. In these sessions, the instructors decided to learn how to use the learning management system called Canvas.]

I will say that out of that, there's been more support within the group. 

[After the Canvas training, a group of TDSB instructors, with Shelley's leadership, created a learning circle. They met every two weeks for three or four months to share strategies and resources and to learn more about Canvas. eNet facilitator, Tracey Mollins, joined the learning circle to support a deeper dive into Canvas features and possibilities.

Canvas was great once I got into it. The first two or three weeks weren't much fun, but once I could start doing it, it got better and better. Now I'm doing laps instead of battling with it. Why? It fuels my need to learn—my highest value. I learned something and it's brilliant. It's allowed me to expand in a whole new way that I didn't think of before. And it's made it more fun. My learners love the quizzes, and they love that they get immediate marking and feedback. My courses just keep growing, I keep adding things which is brilliant for new learners, too. I don't have enough time for all I want to add and put on there. I'm saying I have more ideas than I have time to create.

For me, when I was doing so much Zooming I was exhausted. I know when I lose my creativity, it means I'm just overwhelmed /overloaded, but I couldn't do anything about it. Canvas was a challenge but in a good way. Before, it was challenging but not in a good way—in an exhausting way that drained me. Now, I get tired at times, but I'm not losing my creativity. That is a really good sign. I think it's a balancing act. It's how much time do I need to create versus help the learners. 

In terms of resources and material, I still have some work to do on that. I've always scavenged. I think that there are some more online resources that I could get into but I'm not a [Instructor A] or a [Instructor B] that dives into them all. I have to bring them on board one at a time and make them my own. I think I could do more. This week, we're doing Kahoot again because it's fun, and they love it. I did a Kahoot and I brought in some literacy questions—things I want them to know and remember They love doing Kahoot so that they're doing schoolwork but in a more fun way. Could I have more fun activities? I'm really good at teaching activities. Am I really good at fun activities? Not so much. The quizzes, for example, lightened things up and there could be other things that I could bring in, like the polls, etc. 

Nothing stops me. I can get knocked down, but I always think there's a solution—there's always an answer, there's always someone who knows more than you, there's always someone who can help—it’s all about communication and helping one another and if I provided some leadership there, that's great.

I don't think we're going to know anything till it happens, until we're dropped in it. “This is what's happening next, now make it work.” Like we're magicians.