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 are working this year on projects that include setting up basic computer skills courses, increasing home Internet usage, and volunteer recruitment and training. James Butts shares his recent work as a Fellow in Raleigh, NC working for the Triangle Literacy Council.
Recently, I had the opportunity to teach some seniors in our community my vast knowledge of digital literacy with my grand desire to expand their vastly limited cyber world. Much to my surprise, however, a large amount of the time was spent learning how to use the computer mouse. Here, I learned, was a very obvious and undeniable group of individuals left behind in the technical advancement in our society. Here I also learned that my main objective was not to reach my goals, but to meet the needs of my students where they are and to assist them to get to a level where they want to be, no matter how long it takes. Once I understood this, we both relaxed and had lots of fun.
It was enlightening to see how our “clear” explanations seem very strange to the new digital student. We laughed when I told the class to take their mouse and move the arrow on the desktop to the top of the screen. Following this command, some of the students picked up their mouse and waved them in the air. Some were frustrated, but most were enthusiastically determined to learn more. By the end of the session, they all were excited about what they had achieved and were saddened that the class ended.
Through this experience, I even thought of a new approach when training someone with the mouse. I put two small round stickers, of different colors, on the left and right side of the mouse. This helped not only with where to place your fingers on the mouse, but also which side to click. This was my first of many classes as a Digital Inclusion Fellow scheduled for the next few months.
The Raleigh/Durham area is very aware of the need of digital literacy and is excited to have someone actually come to them to teach the class. My organization, the Triangle Literacy Council, created a mobile computer lab for this reason. Most of the sites that I plan to use as class venues have a few computers, and even WiFi. Yet, most lack the staff and resources to have computer training. The directors of some sites have revealed that their clients often come by to ask for assistance with their laptops, tablets, and cell phones that family members leave for them to use. Obviously, without the proper training, and a large dose of patience, they are digitally “left in the dark.”
Here is where the real impact of what I am doing is manifested. After the classes, the student will become more liberated as they are able to contact family members and reconnect with friends. They will have access to more information and even gets medical results instantly. I am reminded that my wife went for a checkup recently and was sent results the next day via email. I also have scheduled classes at two local homeless shelters. The directors at these two facilities teach and model personal responsibility. When a client responds to this, they are given the opportunity to stay longer. These directors and I agreed that this would be a marvelous time for these individuals to take advantage of the Triangle Literacy Council’s computer classes. This will greatly increase their job skills and future success.
One main goal I hope to accomplish is to help my community not only with computer training, but also with Internet access and a device. I recently was in a workshop where these three components were illustrated as a three-legged stool. If you take one leg away, the stool would not be effective. My organization is working with two groups to help bring this to fruition—ConnectHome and the Kramden Institute.
Hopefully, we will see a community soon that will have the necessary components to cross that elusive digital divide. I was recently reminded of the importance of technology: the electricity in our office was completely out for several hours due to a blown transformer. Not only were the lights out, there was no Internet. It clearly demonstrated how much we rely on technology, and how lost we are without it. I started by sharing my experience with seniors at the Treyburn Senior Center. We didn’t get very far in the class, but I made a promise to them that I would return soon and continue what we started. Indeed, by the look on their faces, they will be watching and waiting.