Participants in the Digital Empowerment Lab at the Martha O'Bryan Center show off their certificates. Source

Digital Empowerment

As a Digital Inclusion Fellow, I have fallen in love with the art of teaching digital literacy because my job as a teacher is to envision a future for our students that includes technology as a tool for realizing their dreams. It’s an educational investment that’s worth the time: Students emerge from our program confident in their ability to use technology to be problem solvers and motivated to become lifelong learners of technology.

The Digital Empowerment program at Martha O’Bryan Center is designed to serve residents of public housing communities with an age range of 18 to 60 years old. They have a wide range of skills, abilities and experiences. The primary reason students attend class is to attain employment and succeed in the workplace.

Key aspects of our program design

Assessments & personalization

The main goals for new users are to help the student overcome their fear of using the computer, to encourage them to get comfortable using the keyboard and mouse and to show them that using computers can be joyful. New users start with a special pathway composed of mouse exercises, typing exercises, and videos.

Once students have completed the new user pathway, they progress to taking assessments, which are then used to create personalized learning pathways that specifically target skills that students need to work on within each module. Students work towards mastering one module at a time.

Real-world application

Built into the pathway are practice exercises where students apply what they have learned. For example, one activity asks students to print off a map to their favorite restaurant while another challenges them to apply to a job via email and attach their resume.

Students also have opportunities to learn about Microsoft Office, Google Drive, and the cloud. For the MS Office modules, practice activities consist of students working through a step-by-step outline where students use all of the fundamental functions within the application. For Google Drive, they learn how to organize files and access them from anywhere and how to collaborate.

Milestones & certificates

Certificates serve as a credential for employment and enable students to brag about their computer skills to employers. We offer Northstar Digital Literacy Certificates in computer basics, world wide web, Windows 7/10, email, Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and social media.

Students must pass with an 85% or better to earn the certificate. Some students may struggle to pass the tests. We remind those students that mastering the computer skills is much more important than being able to pass the tests.


Students who dedicate themselves to the program by attending a minimum of 6 classes can apply for our Advanced Digital Literacy program. In our advanced class, we do a deep dive into Google Apps for productivity and personal branding and free online classes such as MOOCs, Khan Academy, and Code Academy.

Graduates from the program are invited to be on the “Wall of Fame” in our computer lab, with their picture and words of encouragement for future learners. Additionally, all students walk away with a new Chromebook.

Continued Learning Opportunities

For more advanced students who have earned all of the Northstar certificates, instructors act as consultants to help students learn other tech skills for achieving their goals.

All of the graduates from our program can apply to be volunteer instructors in the computer lab, which enables them to continue building their professional development skills.

Content resources

Adam Strizich
Adam Strizich is an energetic community organizer and Music City enthusiast. He returns to the Digital Inclusion Fellowship with a year of experience working on a wide variety of digital inclusion projects geared towards empowering public housing residents through education, employment and fellowship. Adam is a proud alumni of Jesuit Volunteer Corp (JVC) where he spent two years living in solidarity with individuals experiencing poverty while striving to live out the core values of JVC: Community, Spirituality, Simple Living and Social Justice. Adam is a firm believer in self-care. When he is taking a break from the digital realm, you can usually find him playing tennis, sharing a home-cooked meal with friends or exploring the great outdoors.