Into the GAFE

Google-Apps-vs.-Office-365-change-1024x372 One of my summer goals was to become fluent in GAFE, which, as I learned, is pronounced with a long “a” sound.  (Thus it is less of a gaffe…)  I stumbled onto some board training and managed to get one of the last spots in an all day GAFE workshop.  GAFE information is also freely available online; I started going through “GAFE” courses earlier in the summer, but got sidetracked.   My plan is still to become Level 1 GAFE certified before school starts.

One of my first challenges occurred when I set up my Google Classroom site; I needed my IT support to enable some features for me.  The site is easy enough to figure out; however, but it took some playing around before I could figure out how to add adult ESL learners.


So my guiding question was – will accessing Google Apps effectively be able to replace my Moodle site?  Moodle offers everything in one place, but students don’t have access once the course has finished.   Also, I know my Moodle site well; I’m comfortable with the design and layout, but the students often complain about getting lost in the site.  With Google Apps, the learners keep all of their tasks, sites, etc. All files/folders can be shared with the instructor, and copied for records.   And is this fundamentally better than, say, Edmodo?

Now, as you know, I tried using OneNote with my learners last year.  Personally, I love my OneNote, but it was problematic for the students.  I still plan to use OneNote but won’t lead my students down that path again this year, even though it brilliantly displayed e-portfolios.

Google Sites can be set up in much the same manner; I’ve been playing with the creation of a skeleton file for the past few weeks.  I’ve finally got a good Google Sites outline complete, and have uploaded the template so the learners can download it.  I had a brief look at Svetlana Lupasco’s Google site template a few months ago, and also came across Bonnie Jean Nicholas’ PBLA template in the world-wide gallery.

I added a Needs Assessment Google form, embedded the Language Companion and added two Calendar pages (one for Class news, one for Student).  So far, I’m happy with how it looks.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 9.14.55 PM

So, because my Google Classroom site will suit my, and my learners’ needs, I doubt I will open up an Edmodo LMS; that would be more tech than necessary.  After all, it’s not about the tech, right?  It’s what the students can do with it, how the tech can help drive their learning forward.

Thus, for the first time in about 5 years, I’m stepping outside of my Moodle comfort zone, and into the GAFE.

Edmodo- I think It’s Time


I recently attended an online Edmodo conference (#EdmodoCon16).  It was my second time.  I created an Edmodo account a couple of years ago to see what it was all about; at the time, I was juggling between two learning  management systems – Desire2Learn, and Moodle (packaged and maintained by LearnIT2Teach).  I figured that my learners’ needs could be met with either of the two that were already available to me.

I’ve written about this before; in fact, it was my impetus for starting this blog.  I ended up dropping D2L for LIT2T, and have been adequately satisfied with the results.  For a LINC ESL instructor in Canada, LIT2T sets up a Moodle platform for you, and it comes preloaded with SCORMS and activities per CLB stage.  Plus support, which is invaluable for a LINC instructor just starting out.

The SCORMs are hit and miss; they aren’t HTML5.  That’s about as technical as I can get.  Or, I could tell you, you click on the thing to do the thing, and nothing happens, or you get an error message.  I started using OneNote (regular not for education) with my adult learners in conjunction with the Moodle platform.  Because we have what’s called “Active Directory”, this meant I could access learners’ electronic files for feedback and assessment fairly easily, so long as I was at school when I was doing it.  Some learners opened a OneNote account from their homes, and were successful at being able to access their files, share, etc.  That was before OneDrive changed its amount of space available.

Learners will still be able to access their OneNote accounts while in the school lab; they may even be able to upload to a thumb drive and then work on files at home.  But they won’t be able to use OneDrive as easily as they could before, as the space available does limit what they can put in their e-portfolios.

That was the subject of my last blog.  I take ownership of not being on top of the OneDrive space decrease.  Mea copa.  So while I will still try to use OneNote in class, and personally, I’m not so sure about continuing with LIT2T.

Hence my interest in Edmodo.  The conference participants in 2015 were inspiring, as they were again this year. Indeed, I ended up following about a dozen from last year, and almost the same number this year.  I’ve got some ideas about Professional Development, and using Edmodo’s cool new features for my Adult ESL workplace course.  In particular, I was interested in how Edmodo connects with Google Apps for Education (GAFE – which to me is a bit of an unfortunate acronym, too close to the noun “gaffe” which generally means a mistake or blunder).


I am also working towards becoming “google certified”, and then eventually “edmodo certified”.   Many of the teachers who demonstrated how they use Edmodo showed brilliantly how well Edmodo plays with others.  Use Edmodo + Padlet, or with any of your classroom Google docs.


I think that Edmodo offers the flexibility that Moodle can’t, especially since it can link with OneDrive.  I’ve already tried to link Edmodo with my OneDrive education account, but it looks like I will need to connect with my IT department as I’m still having issues…  I’m looking forward to using Edmodo with my group, and plan to write about the experience here.

Lament for OneNote

My husband is in the process of applying for the RCMP; to say that it is a rigorous and document-heavy process is an understatement.  One of the pdf forms is 21 pages long.  The pdf from the RCMP site is not fillable; print it and fill it out by hand.  Then scan. Thinking that there has got to be a fillable pdf out there somewhere, I did a quick search.  Lo and behold, a fillable pdf form was easy enough to find.  We went through the whole document, and then pressed print.  Not so fast, did I really think it would be that easy? I was directed to register and pay for the privilege of using the fillable pdf form.

At this point, I felt like a sucker.  If the organization was going to get my business, it would be under duress.  No, forget it.  I’d rather fill it out by hand and then scan it.

That leads me to OneNote.  I’ve been putting off writing about OneNote for a few weeks to gather my thoughts, and to take a breather.  My relationship with OneNote began slowly.  Over two years, I got to know its functions.  I always thought the layout was visually appealing.  When I stumbled onto its multi-user collaboration functions, that was it for me.  I had been searching for a planning tool for so long, and finally I found one that would work.

Using OneDrive to store OneNote notebooks, users can share and edit entire documents. Within my circle, I like to think I was at the helm in bringing awareness to this robust tool.  OneNote organized my work lessons. OneNote organized my Masters program. OneNote organized my committees.  OneNote organized my life.

I was the first in my school board to use OneNote with adult ESL learners as an e-portfolio. I presented no fewer than three workshops on OneNote.  I tweeted with enthusiasm about my OneNote experience.  I convinced others to explore OneNote.   OneNote, for me, was the planning, organizing, and sharing tool bar none.  Give me the purple cape.  I was firmly on board.

Then they pulled the plug.

If you want to make use of the multi-user collaboration functions, or if you need to use OneNote on several devices at different locations, you need to use OneDrive.  About two weeks ago, Microsoft decreased the space available in OneDrive by two-thirds.  Because my notebooks are so dense, this meant that I could no longer access my notebooks across devices.  The e-portfolio notebooks contain lots of data, rubrics, documents, photos, and voice-recordings.  5GB (edited – I had said MB, which is nothing; it is actually GB) is all that remains in your personal OneDrive.  Unless, of course, you want to pay.

I get that Microsoft is not a charitable organization; they are a business.  I don’t feel entitled to free stuff.  I do, however, feel entitled to know what I’m getting myself into.  I guess eventually you have to pay for the milk, or the cow walks off, bovinely, into the sunset.  Now the question is, do I commit to the OneNote/OneDrive cow?  What happens if a newer, better app is released?  (Wait – wait, oh, I didn’t see *that* one!!).

What this means for me is that my committee members won’t want to pay to use OneNote.  Thus, I can’t share and use the committee OneNote notebooks.  My adult learners can still use OneNote in the classroom, but won’t be able to share and save on the cloud because the data is too large.  I can’t ask my learners or committee members to pay for the space.  It simply won’t happen.

To be fair, after I realized that my space was gone, I did some research.  As it turns out, Microsoft had been telling users since December that they were planning to decrease the free space on OneDrive.  I’m just not that much of a techie that I would know that, or be attuned to the news until the carpet was yanked from under my feet.

You know that old adage, that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is?  I may ante up and buy more space for myself, but now I feel like I’ve been duped, and that I’ve played a part in duping colleagues about OneNote’s potential.

UPDATED: Like I said in here, sure I would consider paying for the product if it had been more apparent that this would be happening.  As for the email messages that Microsoft had sent, the only reason I have hotmail is for OneNote.  It is so full of spam and junk that it has been rendered virtually useless as email (and I have played with the junk mail filters, etc.  It just doesn’t seem to work.)

I think I also said that I’m not that much of a techie.  I have been using OneNote with OneDrive since 2014 and had no idea that it would be changing.  Sure, that’s my fault.  I also probably couldn’t tell you whether or not any other app that I use will start charging.  My point here is that the way I have been using OneNote/OneDrive in my classroom can no longer continue the same way because the files my students have created are larger than 5GB, and for the students to access their files across devices, collaborate etc, they would have to pay.  Many of my learners don’t have credit cards, so they couldn’t have access even if they wanted to.

Let me also say here that what has happened with OneDrive, and my subsequent loss of a major teaching tool in OneNote, is *exactly* why many of my colleagues are anti-tech in the classroom.  Why bother investing in a tool that will go obsolete, or will start charging for usage that was once free?  I know that when I return, these are the comments I will be hearing.

That hasn’t turned me against tech in the classroom; it is a lesson learned.  That’s it.  That’s the message of this blog post.  There is a responsibility for any teacher using tech to investigate it, and to stay on top of updates, or come up against what I have.  You can’t get too comfortable with any educational technology.  There’s always got to be a Plan B.




Adapting texts for use in the English language classroom

Nathan Hall


The other day, Jen Artan was asking me about finding authentic reading material for my class that wasn’t too difficult. The comment was from a blog post I had written about Frequency Level Checker and so I thought it might be a good time to go through my steps in adapting material for my classroom. I know there is a lot of debate about adapting authentic material for the language classroom, but I feel there is a balance here that needs to be maintained between giving texts that are too difficult for students and needing students to be exposed to authentic language in use. I don’t believe that adapting a text has to take away from the authenticity and will make it better for students.

Step one: Copying the text

There are a few options here. If you already have the text in a document, there’s nothing more to do than just…

View original post 1,855 more words

Technology & SLT (Small Busines$)

I have just started one of my favourite classes – SLT Small Business.  I began the course in 2014, and each iteration has infused appropriate and usable technology.   The adult learners in this program are interested in exploring entrepreneurship in Canada, and/or the Canadian workplace culture.

To begin with, learners need to navigate our course LMS (   Relevance to the Canadian workplace?  Definitely.  Canadian workplaces are beginning to offer staff training via LMS’s, or at least some online version of what used to be offered face-to-face, lecture style, in a classroom.  Logging and tracking workplace training is becoming the norm.  Even though I’d be the last to advocate losing the face-to-face training altogether, I know it’s coming.  Online training is more economical.

My learners, within the course, use online fillable PDF forms to apply for business licenses, permits, etc.  They access the internet, use search engines, email, and communicate with each other in group forums.  That last sentence is basic; if our learners can’t at least use the internet, email, or chat then they are at a considerable disadvantage in the workplace.

More advanced technology that the learners use in this course includes using to set up a free website, using Microsoft templates, Publisher templates for business cards, using Powtoon to create a short internet commercial,  and exploring how social media is used in the Canadian workplace to address customer service and marketing.

That said, I’ve only got my learners for 450 hours.  Above and beyond course content, I’ve now got to factor in the mandatory PBLA requirements.  I’ve decided to do my PBLA entirely online with my group.  At the very least, folders can be created to contain each element of the portfolio, and then uploaded to a flashdrive or saved to the cloud.  I’m planning to use OneNote as a save and display e-portfolio option; the entire file can then be uploaded as one massive zip, which can travel anywhere with the learner.  Also, it’s very easily backed up by the instructor in case of accidental deletion.

This won’t be my first crack using OneNote for PBLA.  Last term, I did both (used the paper and the e-portfolio version).   The paper version was essentially the e-version printed off, minus the language companion (we hadn’t yet received the binders).

How It Works

I have a skeleton OneNote folder already created, which has the tabs and language companion material already laid out (like the binders).  Students are given instructions on how to access the file, and download to their specific student drive.  Students are also shown how to export completed assignments from to their folders.

Understanding how to access an use the files, how to export, how to save to a flashdrive all takes repetition and practice.  I have access to a lab 3-4 times per week.  I have instruction sheets printed off, clearly outlining the steps.  I’ve even created a PBLA assessment task based on the instructions – with screenshots for the lower levels and without for the higher CLBs.  The “skeleton” is pictured below…

If you’re interested in more details about how to use OneNote in the classroom, join my webinar coming up in March.





To Tech, or Not to Tech…

monika and theresaI’ve been thinking a lot lately, yes, I know, that’s unusual.   Yesterday, I had my learners out on the track blindfolded, taking part in a trust activity with a partner.  No tech was involved whatsoever.  I watched this group lead each other, giving encouragement, providing instructions, (Go slowly, go right, no, no, other right…). They competed with each other to find an object with only the voice of their partner leading them on, encouraging them.

This task was a modification of a trust activity I learned while taking a post-grad HRM course, meant for managers and leaders.  Part of the idea was to reflect back on the activity.  While blindfolded, how quickly did you move forward?  Was your progress incremental because you preferred to use your stick (pointers or metre sticks) to feel your way around yourself, or did you burst forth down the path, fully confident in your partner’s protection and guidance?

The activity generated a good deal of discussion back in class.  We have just finished our “leadership” unit, and have begun AODA training.  The objectives of this task were both to reflect on one’s leadership style, and to put oneself in the shoes of someone with low to no vision.

The reason I’m adding this to my tech blog is to show that I’m not all about technology.  There are times when a non-tech teaching method works better, and is more fit for the task.  That said, I love the challenge of taking a new piece of technology and breaking it down to see how it can be applied to make either my or my students’ learning process smoother.  I’m always on the lookout for edutech that can elevate a lesson, or at least, help keep me organized!

Recycling Bin Dumpster Diving

I have to admit it: I have been known to dive into our massive recycling bins if some material or discarded resource catches my eye.  (Ooh, shiny!)  When I first started out, raiding recycling bins was a great way to gather material, and to see what the seasoned professionals used.  The fallback, though, was that I might find a great resource, but would have no idea from which grammar book it was copied.  

Our photocopiers are, shall we say, mature, and have been digesting print and copy jobs in progressively creative ways.  After I reached into the bowels of the infernal machine and retrieved the jam, I dutifully placed it in the bin.  That’s when I noticed the paper copy of TESL Ontario’s Contact magazine, Spring/Summer 1999.

Intro to the Canadian Language Benchmarks

Curious, I opened it up to see what articles, issues, etc. were relevant to the pre-2000 TESL professionals.  The front page story was “Problems and Issues in Using the Canadian Language Benchmarks to Develop Curriculum Materials” by Robert Courchene.   The majority of these problems and issues have since been addressed (listening/speaking was once considered a single skill, sociocultural considerations hadn’t been explicit). The article is fascinating.  It’s something like reverse engineering for PBLA.  Courchene’s analysis was bang on; the article is a true artifact and I’m glad I came across it.

Technology Articles – Care to Concordance with Me?

However, it wasn’t the opening article that caught my eye; it was a piece on technology in the classroom by John Allan and Judy Kelly, “ESL and Electronic Age: Data Driven Learning…” John and Judy had access to a computer program known as a “concordancer”  which would essentially allow them to analyze electronic text, make word lists, count frequencies,  with the goal “to produce data that the teacher and students use to resolve a linguistic query.” (Allan and Kelly, 1999). The idea was to use corpora in teaching, for the students and teacher to use data to show patterns and to gain insight.

Allan and Kelly wrote that some of the challenges in taking on this data-driven-learning challenge was having enough computers, training teachers and students on how to use the program, and figuring out a way to make effective use of the concordance printouts (it was the 90s, I wonder if they were still using dot printers.)

Allan and Kelly didn’t know it at the time, but they were pioneers.  Corpora in language learning and teaching is a hot topic, and a recurring one at TESL conferences.  It is growing traction in the TESL community, and there are now online concordancers that instructors can use (

Online in the 1990s

The only other technology article was a short summary of a conference presentation “ESL On-Line” by Sharon Rajabi and Joan Reynolds.  Navigating the internet for appropriate ESL material can be time-consuming.  One can spend hours just building up one’s online resources.  Rajabi and Reynolds guided instructors through a set of pre-selected websites, and introduced Clarity Tense Busters software.

Except for maybe the Clarity Tense Busters software, Rajabi and Reynold’s presentation could be done today at any TESL conference.  As for using DDL to create corpora, I can see its value, especially in academic ESL classes.  I would like to know what Allan and Kelly think about concordancing today, given that they have now had 15+ years to experiment with learners.

Technology + Language Learning

This printed issue of Contact magazine sitting here in front of me is a piece of history, an artifact.  Technology is changing the way we process information, the way we learn, teach and communicate.   Some of the questions raised in 1999 are still present today.   How do we get our learners to be more culturally competent?  How do we shift from the teacher as “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” (and avoid just being there, on the chair)?  How can we use technology to guide our learners’ language journeys and to help develop essential skills they need to be successful in Canadian post-secondary institutions and in the workplace?

I’m a PBLA Cohort II graduate.  I’ve had a chance to briefly skim a program that is being developed to help instructors design their courses, produce outlines, generate rubrics, track competencies, etc. (Quartz).  The CLB was piloted in the late 90s, and has evolved.  Critical analysis and review ultimately contributed to its improvement.  That’s how we grow.  I see PBLA and the tech to support it as being in the early stages.  I wonder what it will look like in 15 years?

It’s amazing what you can find in a recycling bin.