In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Susan Reaves to give us an update on her work with the Nashville Public Library.
What is an important moment that will stay with you well past your Fellowship year?
In one of the first classes that I led for ConnectHome, a young woman was struggling to use the training laptop. She asked for assistance with almost everything. How do you find the wifi connection? Where/what is the USB port? How does the battery charge? She said she had left her glasses at home and couldn’t read.
During the break, she went to her public housing unit and came back wearing a pair of pink glasses. She continued to persist in class, and we encouraged her as she learned how to open a Microsoft document. Finally, near the end of class, she raised her hand and asked, “Ma’am? Do you think I can get my GED online?” To see the hope in her eyes, to know that she would soon be receiving a laptop and internet access for a year, and to be able to direct her to the resources of the Adult Literacy Services of the Nashville Public Library—where she would be able to improve her education with new technology resources—was amazing, and a moment that will stay with me well past my Fellowship year.
Where do you want the digital conversation in Nashville, TN to go in the next 5 years?
In the next five years, I would like more nonprofits to get into the digital literacy arena in Nashville —providing training for participants, devices for use and labs. I would like there to be a digital literacy/inclusion alliance that would provide digital literacy trainers for residents of public housing & other participants in Nashville. I would like more universities like Vanderbilt to take up this digital equity/social justice challenge and provide volunteers for initiatives. I believe that in the course of five years, many families and individuals in Nashville could be educated and the percent of homes with digital adoption rate could increase significantly, especially as city government continues to become more involved with digital inclusion.
What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?
Communication is key with this Fellowship. Collaborate with your host organization to understand the scope of work and best ways to implement. Come up with great ideas for projects and present them to your host. Be organized—use a system where you will be able to measure outputs/outcomes of your work. Do research on the state of digital inclusion in your community—what are the agencies now involved in this mission? What is the state of broadband adoption where you live?
When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are your most proud of?
I am most proud of the digital inclusion public/private partnerships that have gotten off the ground with pilot programs this year in Nashville.
One example of this is ConnectHome: Nashville, which is led by: the Metropolitan Government of Nashville/Davidson County, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, Community Foundation of Tennessee, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Martha O’Bryan Center, Nashville Public Library, Nashville Public Television, and Nashville Technology Council.
Another digital inclusion program that is completing a pilot this year, Anytime Access for All, exists within Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Many of the same partners work together for this program, including: the Nashville Public Library, Metropolitan Government of Nashville/Davidson County, Community Foundation of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University, Dell, and Nashville Technology Council. This project seeks to provide laptops, internet access, and digital skills training to the over 40% of MNPS students who do not have these resources at home. The Nashville Public Library has developed digital literacy curriculum for both programs and has helped lead instruction.
What were you surprised by in your digital inclusion work?
I was surprised by the number of people who were unaware of the need for digital inclusion in our community. Many people felt that if people have access to smartphones, then they should be able to be true digital citizens. I learned in this Fellowship that there was a need to show relevancy for internet use, spread awareness for the initiatives, to teach digital skills, and also educate the community at large about the mission of digital inclusion. Although many people have access to the internet via smartphones, students are not able to complete homework assignments, people cannot complete a job application, and many websites do not provide mobile access for smartphone access.
About the Photo: This picture was taken at an Anytime Access for All Training at Hunters Lane High School in Nashville, TN. This grandmother and grandson were so happy to come to the basic skills training held at the school and then to receive a laptop. The grandson will be able to use the laptop for his IB (International Baccalaureate) courses at school. He had no way to complete his homework before completing this program. Now, he will have a path to be successful in high school and potentially, college.