TiHS Episode 45: Tracey Mollins – Alphaplus, a sectoral digital support model that should be replicated

Welcome to episode 45 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this episode I chat with Tracey Mollins from AlphaPlus, an organization that provides digital support and solutions from peers in Ontario’s literacy community.

Podcast logo with text indicating episode with Tracey Mollins

Tracey is a Professional Learning Specialist – Education and Technology at Alphaplus. She has worked in adult education at community programs, school boards, colleges, universities, unions and network organizations. Her work is informed by her experience as an instructor, program worker and researcher as well as project experience developing e-learning strategies, blended or distance curricula and models for online instructional design. She is especially interested in investigations into connectivism ~ diversity, autonomy, interactivity and openness + creativity, collaboration, camaraderie, critical thinking, justice, kindness, freedom and fun ~ in digitally-mediated networks.

I’ve written that I think that the Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector needs an AlphaPlus to help support our hybrid service delivery evolution and work. I wanted to talk to Tracey to find out more about how they do their work and what we can learn from and replicate.

Some of the questions we discussed:

  • Our sector has seen an increase in awareness about how digital technology can be part of a useful and practical service intervention model, bringing along some workers and organizations that were more skeptical before the pandemic. Have you seen a similar trend in your work and sector?
  • What I’m particularly after is how the support models came about and their impact/outcomes on the literacy sector. In our research about other interesting digital literacy and inclusion models, AlphaPlus came up as something our sector could learn from and replicate.
  • As mentioned I think we could spend a nice chunk of time discussing the AlphaPlus support model focusing on your Coaching, Quick Tech Help, Educator Network, the Digital Toolbox course, Wayfinders and Community Gabfests, a well as Custom Solutions for service providers.Let’s start with the overall mission of AlphaPlus and the ways you support literacy service providers when it comes to digital strategy, implementing digital tools in their literacy work, and more.
  • The Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector also wants to “use digital technology to increase the relevance, responsiveness and reach.” You help both adult literacy educators integrate technology into teaching, as well as program managers and co-ordinators integrate technology into program administration. That seems like an important combination, getting the front line as well as agency leadership literate and involved. Can you tell me a bit about the different challenges and approaches that come with those 2 different groups?
  • Can you tell me about some success stories in that work, as well as some of the challenges you still face?
  • If we were thinking about creating some of the services and supports that you have created at AlphaPlus in our sector, what advice would you give to help get us started?

Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript of our conversation using Otter.ai. It may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.

Marco Campana 0:00
Welcome to Episode 45 of the technology and human services podcast. In this episode, I chat with Tracy Mullins from alpha plus an organization that provides digital support and solutions from peers and Ontario’s literacy community. Tracy is a professional learning specialist on education and technology at alpha plus, she’s worked in adult education, community programs, school boards, colleges, universities, unions and network organizations. I’ve written before that I think that the immigrant and refugee serving sector needs and alphaplus to help support our hybrid service delivery evolution and work. So I wanted to talk to Tracy to find out more about how they do their work and what we can learn from and replicate. Our sector has seen an increase in awareness about how digital technology can be part of a useful and practical service intervention model bringing along some workers and organizations that were more skeptical before the pandemic alphaplus has done a lot of work during had after the pandemic and before the pandemic, to move these models long to ensure that digital technology is integrated in an inclusive and equitable way. And I think you’ll find this a really useful conversation and of interest to anyone who’s thinking about what their sector any nonprofit or charitable sector might need, when it comes to supports, interventions, and an organization like alpha plus to provide them with some direction, I hope you find it a useful conversation. Welcome, Tracy to the technology and human services podcast. I wonder if you can start maybe by just telling us a little bit about yourself, your background and what brought you to the work that you’re doing now?

Tracey Mollins 1:30
Yeah, so I’m I working at alpha plus. And I work there as the Professional Learning Consultant. So my, my bailiwick at alpha plus is working with cohorts of adult instructors in the literacy and basic skills field, and mostly on on questions around blended learning, and integrating digital technology into teaching and learning. So alphaplus has a much broader

Tracey Mollins 2:02
remit for digital technology. But that’s my my area will probably talk about the other things we do a little bit later. And I started as a volunteer tutor in a literacy program in Toronto here.

Tracey Mollins 2:16
And then I worked as a as a supply instructor, and then as a link instructor at the Toronto District School Board. So that was my first full time paid position as an adult educator was in the Link program and that ESL literacy class, which was fantastic. And then oddly, I got that class closed eventually. And I started teaching in a computer lab at the at the school board, which was quite a weird experience. And, and after the school board, I went back to community based literacy, actually, in the program where I had been a volunteer, I worked there for a couple of years. And after that, a group of literacy, workers from across the country started a journal called literacy. And I became the publisher of literacies, for about six years, was funded through the National Literacy Secretariat, and was part of that movement of sort of research and practice and trying to create a pan Canadian sort of professional learning network for literacy workers, because nothing like that sort of existed. And the the purpose of literacies was to start a conversation between literacy practitioners and literacy, education, researchers create that conversation. So that was part of it that but at that time, and after that, since then, I’ve been working mostly on contracts, and different all kinds of different projects, often projects that include some element of digital technology. And I came on staff at alpha plus about five years ago.

Marco Campana 4:16
I love it. I love hearing people’s meandering kind of paths. But it’s great that you’ve also worked in the settlement sector, which is, which is kind of where this, this podcast is kind of centered. And also, I just came out of a conversation earlier this morning about building communities of practice and collaboration and things like that. And so I wonder how how, how successful was that effort because it’s so important to bring practitioners together with each other, but also with researchers and policymakers and decision makers at a broader level in the sector. And I’m curious how that contributes to the work that you do at alpha plus now just having had that experience of convening and trying to create collaboration.

Tracey Mollins 4:54
Yeah, no, I it has a powerful impact on the way I think about it. It’s, it’s a real shame that work kind of stopped when the National Literacy Secretariat was, I don’t know what you call it defunded changed. But because I first experienced it as a practitioner, I went to some the OISE here at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, they, they had some opportunities for practitioners to come in and work on small research and practice projects with a researcher from Boise. And that it was such a great experience, it was such a interesting way to learn and to understand my role as a, you know, the teacher as researcher role that you’re that you’re really always in. But it made it sort of intentional and, and because of the, because you had to do the reflective practice piece to be part of it, it made that piece of it much more intentional, as well. So I certainly saw the power of it, in terms of advancing my own practice, as an instructor, and then when when I was involved in the OISE, had a thing called the festival literacies, that was part of Ontario’s contribution to that pan Canadian network. And I was involved in a lot of projects there. And it was it, it did, it was a very powerful thing for all the people who participated in it, just in terms of being able to collaborate and to connect with each other, but also that sort of intentional examination of of their practice, always with the idea of, you know, making it more more relevant, more responsive, more engaging for learners who are coming to our program. So,

Marco Campana 6:53
I mean, yeah, that intent that intentional reflection is, it’s such a luxury I find in our sector and in so many others, but it’s so important if you can actually bake it in or build it into your work, because it just has an impact. It can shorten timelines, right? If you have time to reflect, you have time to change and iterate and maybe improve, right? Yeah,

Tracey Mollins 7:11
no, for sure. For sure. And it was a practice that I when I was working in the Link program at the school board, that was full time, or considered full time, you know, nine to three classes every day. And I tried to bake it in there. But, and I actually was fairly I did it. Okay, you know, as as, as you do, then you get busy. Sometimes it falls away. But I did keep records of what I did. And I would look back on it and think about what work. But one of the things about sort of being part of a community when you do it is listening to other people’s reflections and having feedback on what you’re doing as well. Right. So I think that piece is also also really helpful. It’s, you know, we and we don’t get those opportunities. As much as meaningly. We’d like to but yeah, I think that.

Marco Campana 8:06
Yeah, I mean, it’s, I feel like it’s become I mean, it’s always been important, but it’s, I feel like it’s become even more important. In particular, over the last couple of years, right, we’ve seen a huge increase in awareness during the pandemic, because everybody had to pivot to online and remote, but in awareness about how digital technology can be a really useful part, but also a practical part of service interventions. And in our sector, it’s brought along some workers as well as organizations and leadership that were really more skeptical before the pandemic. And I’ve heard this conversation and other sectors as well. I’m wondering if you’ve seen a similar trend in the literacy sector, with with people who are realizing the usefulness and the place, right, the appropriate place of technology in their work?

Tracey Mollins 8:50
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don’t know if I would always characterize them as being skeptical. I think people could see the value of it, but I think it was lower down on their list of priorities in some ways, right? Because people were, they had curricular materials and activities and lessons that worked. They were sort of kitchen tested, they were and learners were engaged and, and learning what they wanted to learn. And so and so because of that, and because of this sort of time issue that always exists. It was something that a lot of people were doing sort of off the side of their desk, in a way, right? Oh, well think about it. And people did tell us they say oh, you know, I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, but it keeps slipping down the to do list because of so many other things that are happening. So I think people sort of had an idea of the value of it but

Tracey Mollins 9:51
not as a priority meeting. Right. So. So definitely with the pivot we were talking about That was, in another meeting, we were talking about a level setting

Tracey Mollins 10:05
activity. And I was thinking about that pandemic, in terms of being a level setting activity or event, right, where everybody sort of had to all the things they already knew, and all the things they didn’t know, yet, they sort of had to put all that into practice and kind of rise to the occasion. You know, so and, you know, it was an awful time, and a lot of people were being hurt in a lot of ways. And one of the outcomes for education, I think, across all jurisdictions of education with that it pushed us sort of rapidly along this road, that we’d been kind of ambling it down quite slowly. Before that, right. So I, you know, I mean, I think in some ways we were ambling we were sort of taking time to explore and evaluate and analyze. And, you know, how can this work, and we were doing it very, very slowly. But certainly, the pivot to remote learning during the pandemic kind of pushed us all into a similar place. So at the same time, which is unusual, right, in these times, right, everybody would be working from a similar place at the same time, so that afforded us a lot of interesting opportunities for professional learning, right, because there, there was a large group of people who wanted to learn the same thing at the same time. So that was kind of we actually worked with the Metro Toronto movement for literacy on something. Somebody who works at the charter school board started it. Her name’s Susan, the FAB, and she called it the Silver Linings cafe. Because it that was sort of the silver lining of it was that it did put us in this place where we could all learn the same thing at the same time.

Marco Campana 11:57
For sure, and the things that you were learning and working on the for alpha plus predated the pandemic predated the silver lining, if you will, because this is kind of the work that are parts of it, at least in terms of some of the services and the the help and the support that alpha plus provides. The literacy sector. Really, my sense is that, or I guess the question is, were you able to kind of hit the ground running with some of this stuff and just scale it up? Because it’s something that you were already working on?

Tracey Mollins 12:24
Yeah, no, we had? Yeah, for sure. We were in that position. Where we were, we had a sort of a bank of knowledge, a bank of resources, a way that we had learned how to work with practitioners. That’s quite that works quite well. So. So yeah, I mean, are first of all, like, everybody, right at the beginning to be at these meetings are like, wow, there’s just so much to do. And, and, and what what is the best thing to do so but as, as per usual, we kind of took our, our guidance was, what people were asking for, and what people were telling us. And, you know, some things really stood out in the beginning, of course, everybody had to learn how to use Zoom, and not just on their own computer, but how to help everybody get on zoom in on all kinds of different devices and in different configuration. So, you know, there were some basic things that really jumped out at us. But But yeah, and and I think also, I mean, I think one of the things is that there was a apple plus over the years had sort of laid some groundwork, right, so that people were in a place where even if they weren’t using digital technology, and all the ways that they ended up using it during that pivot, they they had been exposed to a lot of ideas, and they had sort of been thinking about a lot of things. So implementing it was a challenge, but the thinking behind it was sort of already percolating. And then, and we have obviously, different programs were in different places around that, but yeah,

Marco Campana 14:14
right. I mean, yeah, I’ve always looked to alpha plus as a sort of a role model organization, because you’re unique, at least in our sector, and in a research that we’ve been doing during the pandemic alpha plus kept coming up as something, you know, around digital literacy around digital inclusion, the you know, the research, the advocacy, the creation of resources, but certainly the support services as kind of a model that I see sectors like ours could could learn from sort of this central hub where this is the conversation. This is the expertise and people can come and know that they can learn from this place, but they can also get different kinds of help and support. I wonder if you’ve noticed yourselves as a unique entity in that way and and is it a wrap applicable model, I guess in other places?

Tracey Mollins 15:03
Yeah, I mean, I think so. I mean, we there’s an Oregon like, I don’t really know as much about them as possibly I should there’s an organization in California that’s similar, but on a much larger scale. I mean, California being a much larger place called Oh, 10. And I can’t remember what those initials stand for. But they they do similar work to us in some ways, and they’ve become sort of a hub for that. But I mean, I think so I think it’s, it’s taken a while, I think for alpha plus to get to this place in the field, and it steps slowly, in terms of the leadership role, and, and advancing that piece right around how sort of how that conversation between alpha plus and the field app. And that sort of evolved over the years, I feel when I came on. Five years ago, there was a project that was sort of waiting for me when I arrived, which was working on the paper, our alpha plus his position on blended learning. And I think that was a very interesting piece to do around saying what do we mean by blended learning, and not to say it in a prescriptive way, like everybody should be doing blended learning the way we think it is, but this is, these are the things that we that we think blended learning is, and this is, this is the way we think we can support the field to get to this place. And I think that was a really interesting exercise for us to go through. And, and now we have that paper that kind of grounds, our work and helps us decide what to do and what not to do right around our supporting people.

Marco Campana 16:58
So based on that, I mean, we’ve noticed that I would say, Well, I would say I’ve noticed that in the research that we’ve been doing in the sector is that your your approach, your the way you kind of center, work around digital literacy, digital inclusion, and blended learning was something that we really looked at as a sector as well, because it’s, it aligns really nicely with I think, the core values of our sector. And it was something that we saw as a, as a model to continue to kind of investigate. So not just the sort of the services and the support, but also just the way you approach technology. And thank you for the Oh 10 link, and now I’m on their site, I’m going to try not to look at it while we’re talking because it looks like such a rich, rich site of information, the outreach and Technical Assistance Network, and I’ll add it to the show notes, the Episode notes, so people can check it out as well. But yeah, there’s this there’s, I feel like there’s just such a possibility with things that we could learn from and, and, you know, replicate and scale, basically. So, I mean, let’s talk a little bit about that support model. You know, when I look at your site, I see things like coaching, quick tech help an educator network, a digital toolbox course, a Wayfinders, and community gabfests, as well as you know, offering custom one on one solutions for service providers. So I wonder if you can speak to what that ecosystem of supports? How is it how it’s evolved? And how it’s working?

Tracey Mollins 18:22
Yeah, sure. Um, so for everything we do? Well, maybe not. Yeah, for everything that we do. Our motto is, you know, learning first, technology second. So always behind the things that we do we learning is the first goal. We updated our our motto a little while ago to say, fun first, learning second and talk technology. Third, love it. Because we want to, because it’s important to engage people, right, and when people are engaged, and they can see, and they’re enjoying themselves, they feel like it’s a more pleasant way to go. So and it’s part of a sort of People First approach to the work, where we see ourselves, you know, more in a asset building role. And we we try to always start where people are at and help them get to where they want to go by listening to what what they have to say and and treating people well, knowing that people are the experts in their own context. So we don’t really come in with a lot of our ideas in the beginning, we do a lot of listening. I wasn’t around at alpha plus for all the conversations that evolved the coaching model, but But it’s definitely grounded in that idea that program workers and literacy practices are the experts of their own work. They know the requirements and goals of the learners they work with. And they just have a long and deep experience is supporting learning in their communities. And that there’s no one size fits all solution. And, and in our experience, you know, literacy workers are always trying to meet a lot of immediate, evolving, urgent, sometimes urgent needs in in the, in their programs and in the field. And the field is constantly changing. So coaches can help by taking on some of those change management roles. When people do want to make change in their programs, doing some of the research bringing the experience of other programs that we’ve worked with, who are trying to find similar solutions or dealing with similar challenges, or questions, we can help with planning and designing solutions. And sometimes we’re doing some training and providing some expertise in tools, and resources. And one of the roles that the coaches take on too is sort of to help projects keep moving, and not to slip down the To Do Lists too far. And so then I think you mentioned that quick tap tech help. And that’s the, the basis behind that is that a lot of programs, especially smaller programs don’t really have an IT department or IT support on site. So we’re there for that. So you can, if you’re, and you know, everybody knows what it’s like when you’re trying to do something new with technology, or you’re trying to remember something you did before and can’t remember how you did it, how frustrating it can be and how you can end up sort of scrambling down all these little rabbit holes as you’re trying to research it on the internet. So we have that service. So people can just get in touch with us and say I’m stuck in you helped me figure this piece out, right. And then that’s what we’re there. For. Sometimes people just get in touch with this kind of under that role, but and they’re just looking for a resource or something that they can’t find, or they heard somebody talking about in a webinar or something like that. So. So if either we have those answers at our fingertips, or because of our funding model, we have time to look them up. And maybe we can go down the rabbit holes a bit and find solutions for people and then bring back to them an answer that’s based on our research, right? So we can say we can look into these five things and era that advantages and, and drawbacks and each of those things? Well, and

Marco Campana 22:35
I mean, I can see the additional value, as well as that you’re not just like a tech help desk from Dell or something you actually understand. And you you had subject matter expertise in the sector. So you know, who these folks are their organizational cultures, the how they’re funded, even, which can have an implication on the kind of solutions that you might even recommend, right? And I imagine that’s incredibly valuable, to have that unique kind of approach as a as a as a, as a tech help desk, if you will.

Tracey Mollins 23:04
Yeah, no, we’re, we’re very grounded in the field, we, you know, we don’t know everything, but we do know a lot about what’s happening in the field. And, and, and what the parameters are burns. And sometimes when people are making choices, we know enough about their funding model to know, Well, you gotta go with the free choice, right? So that, again, you know, are the things right, so we don’t, we don’t sort of cloud the issue by bringing in a lot of things that are, you know, unaffordable or unattainable. So, you know, we have enough knowledge to be able to do that to sort of winnow things down. And when programs who are well funded or have maybe some project money and stuff come to us, we can, you know, we can expand the range of things that they can look at.

Marco Campana 23:53
For sure. And I mean, yeah, your connection to the sector, I’m looking at the, the virtual showcase, sessions that you’re running are and have run in the past. And you mentioned earlier that, that idea, kind of of knowledge mobilization, working within the sector, and what they know, because they’re experts in this as well. And the value of this peer to peer learning that you’re creating, where you’re bringing in people to talk about how I use tick tock to engage learners, right? Because, you know, again, people don’t have time to go down that rabbit hole, they hear, oh, you should be on YouTube, you should be on tick tock, you should be on Facebook, but But hearing the practical application in these sessions must be incredibly valuable for the for the other folks in the network as well.

Tracey Mollins 24:32
Yeah, it’s interesting, actually, because we’ve started including something in this showcases that, that field assets for because we were getting people to sort of talk about it. And, and people were saying we want to see more actual examples, right, like, of a, you know, a lesson with tic tock or something rather than just kind of talking about how we’re using it. So in the last session, which was about games and the He’s like Kahoot people used examples. And that was it was really fun. It was really interesting. And I think people really responded well to that. But yeah, for sure, I think when people can see how people are using something in their practice, in effective ways, it even if they don’t go to that particular tool, or that particular resource, it kind of opens your mind to possibilities that you might not have thought of before. And some of them can be very simple ideas. That don’t necessarily mean a lot of change, but small changes, starting around just different ideas about how to do things. And I we do here, and I think other researchers have found this, too, that sometimes people will hear about something this month, and they don’t really do, it’s just kind of in the back of their mind somewhere. And they don’t really do anything about it. And then one day, they’re working with a learner. And they all suddenly think, oh, yeah, I learned about acne. Yeah, that would really help this person, right in this situation. And they’ll go back to that, that resource, or that idea that they they heard about a long time ago. So it’s, it’s sometimes the impact can be immediate, you know, you see people like, the next day going, Oh, I tried this. And now they might write back to us and say, Oh, I tried it, and it was really fun. Or the impact that we probably it’s harder for us to quantify is how people are taking that on, and what it means for their practice in other ways, right? So how does it open up their mind to different possibilities? How does it make them think about digital technology in a more general sense, rather than around that specific tool? Right,

Marco Campana 26:50
so sometimes you can expand them down or narrow it into that tool, but sometimes it can help some expand them up into just that general sense of digital tools can be useful in different ways. And in a more kind of a generic sort of idea.

Tracey Mollins 27:05
Yeah, I think so. And I think when whenever you can get a group of practitioners together and foster conversation among them, I think the IT people really appreciate that. I know I always have, but just that learning from each other. And one thing we we hear sometimes when we when we’re talking to people, but you know, how do you like to engage in professional learning? And people will say, Oh, you know, what I really like is when I’m at a conference, and I have a hallway conversation with somebody, and they tell me something really, you know, I learned a lot there we have, I have lunch with somebody I’ve never met before. And we have a really good conversation about teaching and learning and stuff. And that’s what we tried to do with a gab fest. It’s a bit a bit weird, because we’re trying to create ad hoc conversation in a planned and scheduled manner. But but just those ideas that trying to give people opportunities just to talk to each other about whatever they want to talk about right around around their practice, especially using digital technologies, or teaching and learning.

Marco Campana 28:16
Well, it’s interesting, yeah, because it’s interesting, you say that, because I find it with digital, you’ve got to be intentional about serendipity almost, are intentional about creating those informal spaces, because they do just happen when you’re face to face at a conference or even in a workshop. And after you know, you’re walking away, you go for coffee or something like that. And we’ve heard a lot from folks in the sector that they’ve, they’ve had trouble kind of building that in without, because it doesn’t happen as naturally. Here’s your work. Here’s your webinar, here’s your q&a, and then we’re kind of done. So if they don’t build in some opportunities for breakout, or just like, here’s 20 extra minutes for everyone to stay in the virtual room and kind of, you know, mill about kind of thing. So So it’d be really interesting to see where where you get with the gab fests as potentially a model to kind of have that intentional serendipity.

Tracey Mollins 29:03
Yeah, it’s interesting, because that’s sort of what we talk about is the, in our description of it. Is that intentional serendipity? And what a weird idea that is. But, but yeah, so we Yeah, and we have people go into breakout rooms. And we give them a conversation starter, and we say if you talk about this fine, if you talk end up talking, and we don’t we’ve only done two of them. So we don’t actually even know sometimes what exactly they talk about in there. I mean, people tell us things when they come when they come back to the larger group, but we don’t really know. And I think that’s so yeah, so it’s it’s an evolving thing. We’re still trying to sort of figure it out. But yeah, just to give people some space to have those conversations that are fruitful and, and move their practice forward in unexpected ways, right.

Marco Campana 29:57
Yeah. And I mean, I guess it just creates a certain high are a level of accessibility if you can pull that off without having to require people to come physically together at a conference, which it’s just difficult for time, money, and and other resources, but, but if you can kind of replicate that in small chunks, then people, there’ll be people will continue to continue to continue to build those connections, regardless of where they are in the country. Yeah,

Tracey Mollins 30:22
no, I think so. Yeah, no, it’s true. It is, we don’t have lots of conferences, first of all, and then as you say, it’s the whole logistics and costs of getting there. So and it is something that we’ve thought about in terms of online learning is how do you create those spaces? Right? Because you do have to be more intentional about it. Right? They don’t happen by accident. So, right. So yeah, we’re trying to try to figure out that piece of like think instructors are trying to figure out that piece to write some of the ways. And some people have some interesting ideas. And I thought it was interesting, because when we went during the pivot, what during the Silver Linings cafes, you know, at the beginning, everybody was like, Oh, how do I get in touch with learners? Right? Like that was the main thing is just making contact with all the people who had been participating in programs and figuring that out? Because obviously, with some people, they had email connections and stuff, but not with everybody. And then how do I get everybody on Zoo? And then how can I find them something to learn? Right? Like, how can I get them connected to learning materials in this remote environment, but very quickly after that, people were like, Okay, now that I’ve figured out those pieces, the sort of logistical pieces how now how do I create engagement and space for learners to learn from each other and talk to each other and engage with, you know, the way they would in a classroom? It bricks and mortar classroom? Like how can I replicate those environments online, and I thought that was interesting, right? How quickly people came to around ideas around building community and sharing those kinds of ideas. So it was interesting, people shared lots of really cool, warm up ideas they were doing, and how they were kind of leveraging the fact that people were at home to talk about some different things, right? Like, bring your favorite ornament, and show it on Zoom and talk about that, you know, just doing some activities to sort of engage people differently in the online space. So it felt like a friendly and community space, just the way the bricks and mortar classroom could feel.

Marco Campana 32:46
Yeah, I mean, that creative resilience, we saw that in the settlement sector as well, people, you know, it was a big pivot, but within a week, a lot of organizations were, were just figuring it out and moving forward with their clients. Um, but what a what a difference I felt, I feel like it would have been tip have had an alpha plus to at least sort of gone to make a you know, the help desk and say, I’m freaking out, you know, can you help me at least figure out the logistics of zoom, because after that, that was the first hump. And then the second home was like, Okay, now being creative in using the tool. And because you’ve got sort of a, an ongoing community of practice, and you’re learning and sharing from what you’re hearing from others, you know, and I’m just looking at some of the past the wayfinding sessions, and just, you know, these are topics that are, that are that come up everywhere. And, and your connection to to your your community means that you could address these quickly and tell the story of how people in the sector themselves were addressing it.

Tracey Mollins 33:45
Yeah, for sure. And I think, yeah, it’s interesting, actually, one of those Wayfinders she was talking about, she participated in the Silver Linings cafes, and she was talking about how, when she, at the beginning, when she was just trying to figure out so many things, she was so exhausted, that she was finding it really hard to be creative. And she was spending hours trying to figure out how to connect with learners and doing things on email. And, you know, she said, she was just really, she, she got really tired and, and then and she said, You know, when I’m tired, I can’t be creative. And that’s why the Silver Linings cafes were why she really liked them, because she could figure out a lot of things there. And it made her less tired, so she could be more creative. And she was she was trying to figure out the other pieces of, you know, good learning, good learning environments, right, in an online in an online space. So yeah, yeah, I think it I think, having alpha I think a lot of people were happy to have alpha plus around during those days, and we were certainly busy but very happy to be busy as well. Yeah,

Marco Campana 34:58
no, I mean, that’s such a great story. I mean, it’s actually it feels like a huge success actually, in terms of the model, because for that one person, it’s like you described earlier, you know, they didn’t have to keep going down certain rabbit holes with the technology or the the engagement or the facilitation, because you were available to do that, as were others who came to those sessions. And so her ability to not be tired to be more creative to address things that maybe were more within her scope of interest or ability. She didn’t have to figure out that other stuff, because, you know, she got support from you and from from her peers. That’s a massive success in for an individual as well as the people who they’re serving.

Tracey Mollins 35:42
Yeah, know, for sure. Yeah. And that I mean, that’s our, our role. I mean, when we’d like doing those things, right, like, that’s so, you know, anytime we can do something like that, that, you know, that fulfills us as workers in the field. And, and that, it gives people a space to do the work that they should be doing. Right. Not worrying about how to access the zoom from an Android phone or, you know, yeah, I think so. You know, we heard all kinds of stories or people meeting learners in parking lots during the isolation days seems crazy now, doesn’t it? But you know, so the learner could hold up their device, and they could say, Oh, see, the button is there, right. Like,

Marco Campana 36:26
yeah, but that’s that makes all the difference then, right? Yeah,

Tracey Mollins 36:31
yeah. No, for sure. Yeah. But yeah, trying to describe it over a zoom session to somebody who’s, you know, it’s just, it’s crazy making?

Marco Campana 36:40
Oh, yeah. Yeah, no, exactly. Yeah, I mean, you, you were speaking a lot about the practitioner. So yeah, the practitioners, the teachers in terms of who you support, but you also at alpha, plus, you support program managers and coordinators, just around sort of broader technology integration. I wonder how the approach or the challenges are different between those groups? Yeah,

Tracey Mollins 37:03
it’s some. I mean, one of the things that’s interesting about it is that in our sector in the smaller part, and we tend to work more with the smaller programs.

Tracey Mollins 37:11
So in literacy in basic skills, there are programs that are in colleges, in school boards, and in community based settings. So often, the colleges in terms of digital technology, they have a support system around them in their college, so we don’t work as much and little bit, but not as much with those programs. And sometimes school boards, it depends, school board programs can be quite different. So the Toronto District School Board is massive. In some school boards, it’s the literacy program is much smaller. So we tend to work with the smaller programs. And a lot of the times in those programs, people are wearing more than one app. So you know, one day we might be talking to somebody as an administrator, and next day, we might be talking to them as an instructor, they might be doing both. And a lot of people who are in administration roles in especially in the smaller programs also have done even if they’re not working as instructors anymore, they still are. They have in the past worked as instructors. So. So the division between those roles isn’t like a big line. Right? It’s, it’s there’s a lot of crossover in terms of that. But you know, that said, Would before I came on staff at at alpha plus, I used to do interviews for apoplast, like I was on contract, and do interviews for potential coaching, programs that wanted to engage in coaching, and I would do the sort of ifs kind of sort of partly needs assessment, partly just a conversation about what the starting place would be for coaching. And I did notice quite a difference in terms of like, when I talked to administrators. And when I talked to instructors, I was mostly talking to administrators. And sometimes I just noticed the difference in those conversations sometimes, especially when they were talking about, you know, what they wished teachers would be doing. And then when you would talk to the teachers, just about the realities and possibilities in their classroom, it could be quite a different conversation. But yeah, I think working in both arenas is important for the field and important for us to get you to understand the the realities of the whole scope of where people are working. And probably this is similar in in the settlement and ESL, but the administration burden can be quite like the load of work that people are, the administrative side can be quite heavy. And there’s a lot of reporting like so there’s a lot of data collect Shouldn’t about learners, for example, and a lot of reporting to the funder about who the learners are, and then what the progress is that learners are making in the program. So, so programs are always looking to streamline those kinds of processes, right. And, and anything we can do to help them do that. And digital technology is, you know, one of the ways that you can streamline some of that stuff. So any thing we can do that lessens that administrative load, can leave people open to that more creative side of creating programming, and working on that side of things. So, so I think it’s, I think it’s important that way to work with administrators, because they’re often the leaders in in programs in terms of what programming is going to happen and, and making sure that their programs are meeting the needs of all the possible learners in the community. So the less time they spend, trying to figure out their drives and where everything is, the more time they have for that kind of that sort of work.

Marco Campana 41:13
Yeah, and I imagine having both sides also helps ground you in the kind of advice and help that you might provide, because you understand some of the limitations or the structural challenges that you know, a practitioner might have, because of the administrators own challenges and, and limitations and things like that. So, like you said earlier, here’s a bunch of different tools, but you’re going to need to choose the free one, because you’re not going to you don’t have the funding infrastructure to continue this over the long term and things like that. So it just makes it so much more practical. So I wonder, I want to wrap it up a little bit, because I know I’ve made you speak for so long. But there’s such a richness in, in what you’ve been able to do. And I again, I keep coming back to Alpha pluses is a model that our sector and others can use. But imagine that there’s things you wish you could be doing. So I wonder with all of the the services, the advocacy, the research, the impact and outcomes you have, if you could wave a magic wand, what would you want to do more of? Or differently or new? Or add to what you’re doing with alpha? Plus?

Tracey Mollins 42:16
Wow, that’s a big question. You

Marco Campana 42:18
have to dream now we’re not allowed to most of the time, but you know, here’s your, here’s your chance,

Tracey Mollins 42:23
do a lot of dreaming it at alpha plus, like we really do, and then we, you know, then we have to face reality. And so and we have great leadership there that, you know, our executive director definitely lets us dream a lot. And those are often some of our more fun sessions where we kind of, you know, pretend we work in a perfect world where we can do anything. And, and one of those dreams, actually, one of those sort of dreamy sessions was led to the educator network that I’ve been working on for a couple of years. And and I’m really enjoying it and the practitioners that participate in seem to really enjoy it. And I have a lot of dreams for that project. But I also it’s around I think it’s it’s partly around what we’re doing, but it’s partly around. How do we, in Canada, let’s say just build a culture of continuous learning, where it’s valued, and it’s built in. And I feel one of our real challenges is in doing our work, is that people don’t have time. And there’s no time built into their work day. Right? Professional Learning, or, or reflection, or, you know, even if they weren’t doing it with us to do it somewhere. Right. So I feel like sometimes when we dream, we dream about system change, right. And we dream about, imagine a place where, where this was just a built in thing that it would be an expectation it would be funded, it would be supported, it would be people would have work time to do it in, they would have a time of day when they could go to things you know, that kind of thing is because I feel like that’s one of our so when we start to dream like, Oh, what if we could offer a program like this? Often the thing that makes us go Yeah, but who could come to it? Right? Like, everybody’s so busy and, you know, that would take that would take an engagement of several weeks or several hours or something. So who could who could participate in it like, and are we building things that, you know, would we be building things that nobody could have access to? You know, what’s the point about really? So I think That’s. Yeah.

Marco Campana 45:05
That’s a huge dream. I share your dream. We haven’t you know, I mean, right now we have to ground ourselves in reality. But I think like you said the importance of earlier, for example, not being too tired to be creative, because if you dream, sometimes you create something like the educator network. So I think that’s so important to continue to do that this is, you’ve just reaffirmed my love for alpha plus, and how will we have to bring you or your model to our sector, so I appreciate that. And now that’s my dream. So we’ll see if we can ground that in some reality eventually. Is there anything I’m curious that I haven’t asked you about that you want to share or you think is important to talk about when it comes to being, you know, that kind of support for, for nonprofits, for community service agencies, in this case, literacy service providers and facilitators that we should know about? Or be thinking about if we’re moving down this path as well?

Tracey Mollins 45:58
Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, when one of the things I was thinking about, when we were talking about doing this, I was thinking about, like approaches. And I was thinking, Oh, it’s interesting, because when I talked to my alpha plus colleagues, I was thinking about the words we use for the people that we work with, for example, right, like, so some people I work with talk about clients. And some people I work with, talk about customers. And my frame is always colleagues, right? Like, I always feel like I’m working with colleagues, but it could be because of this sphere, I’m working in that I work with instructors and on their professional learning, so and I was thinking, does that matter? Like, does it matter? What word we’re using the end? Does it change the way we operate? And I, I don’t really have anything, you know, firm or concrete to say about it. But it’s just a thing I’ve been sort of mulling over in my mind, like, what does it? How does that impact the work? And and do we? Are we working sometimes with people as clients, and sometimes as with people, as colleagues, and and maybe that’s how we, we can be successful, right is knowing when somebody is a client, and so we’re providing a service. And when somebody is a colleague, and we’re, you know, working together, kind of mode, right? So when, when do people just want us just to help them and just provide a service? And when do people want to be in conversation with us and, and help us learn as well, right? So about how to do the things we’re doing better? So I don’t know if that’s really anything, but I just know, I love it. I

Marco Campana 47:46
mean, I think language does matter. And I think the way we exactly I mean, we have that struggle in the sector, even when it comes to service providers to quote clients slash newcomers, slash communities. It’s a huge, it’s a huge topic. I think that keeps coming up. So I think I think that’s a great reflection, for sure to think about, as you’re building out these kinds of services and approaches, how are you? How do they want to be considered in that interaction or intervention? And how do they want to be treated differently? So that makes a lot of sense. Thank you. Listen, thank you for this conversation. Really interesting, really rich, and I appreciate it.

Tracey Mollins 48:21
Well, thank you, Marco. It’s been great chatting with you. And I hope we have lots more conversations. Not always on the podcast, but just

Marco Campana 48:32
absolutely, I look forward to it. Thanks again.

Tracey Mollins 48:34
Take care.

Marco Campana 48:39
Thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you and your work. You can find more podcast episodes, wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my site at marcopolis.org I appreciate you listening and if you have any tips, suggestions, ideas or want to be interviewed or know someone who wants to be interviewed, please drop me a line through my website, or marco@marcopolis.org Thanks again.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.