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. Naymar Prikhodko shares her recent work as a Fellow in Austin, Texas, working for the Skillpoint Alliance.
The Digital Inclusion in Austin report, released in 2014 by the University of Texas, suggests that over 50,000 Austinites do not use the Internet. This is due to various factors, including affordability and relevancy, among others. Two-thirds of non-users stated they cannot afford this technology, since they lack both stable employment and the security to maintain a comfortable living. Two in five of resident non-users reported a lack of interest in technology. Tens of thousands of residents have limited or no access to online government services, online banking, electronic health portals, and social media.
Connecting People with Resources
In addition to affordability and a sense of relevancy, I find that lack of skills is a major barrier in overcoming the problem. As a Digital Inclusion Fellow (DIF) working at the Skillpoint Alliance, I find that confidence, skills, and multi-platform literacy are important elements to focus on. In my role as a Fellow, I aim to create awareness about the importance of the use of technology in my community; to connect people with resources (computer literacy programs, low cost devices, affordable internet services, etc.); and to create learning material for facilitating workshops on the use of technology in order to empower non-user residents and help them enjoy the benefit of getting online.
The Empower Computer Proficiency Program (ECPP)—a program at the Skillpoint Alliance—consists of a 6-week series of computer proficiency training classes for adults covering the basics, such as using the Internet and creating an email or word document. Participants learn to master both fundamental and advanced features of Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Classes are held at Allan Elementary School and are taught in both English and Spanish. After completing the course, participants will have increased their computer literacy and gained the confidence to compete in the modern job market.
After graduating, most of our students seriously consider purchasing Internet access, because they realize how integral the Internet has become to everyday tasks, like paying bills, applying for jobs, searching for medical information, and helping with kids’ homework. In our last Empower Graduation Ceremony, we graduated almost 50 students. Since I started working at here in July 2014, we have increased our number of Spanish classes offered from 25% to 75% each quarter. We started the New Year with full classes and more people on the wait list than ever.
Accessing Public Computers
In addition to promoting the Empower series, I am working on a pilot program with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA). The Lab Apprenticeship Program (LAP) promotes technology literacy, education, professional development and training at HACA’s low-income housing properties. Simultaneously, LAP aims to provide critical support to over 1,400 low-income residents accessing public computers in three of HACA’s public housing communities: Meadowbrook, Booker T. Washington Terrace, and North Loop.
LAP aims to create a pool of individuals with solid foundation in computer proficiency and lab management. The Apprentices or Computer Lab Assistants (CLAs) at the end of the year will accumulate the necessary skills and experience to apply for full-time employment positions with organizations such as community centers, public libraries and schools. LAP includes three days of intensive training in three main areas: employee development and labor relations, basic troubleshooting tools for PCs and Windows, and basic facilitation principles appealing to most adults in the process of taking in and assimilating information.
Whether I am promoting Empower, supervising and training CLAs on how to use technology efficiently, or facilitating a workshop for parents or parents’ specialists in the use of technology for empowering people, I do my work with passion, dedication and commitment. The key factor that inspires me to work in favor of bridging the digital divide is the satisfaction of creating educational opportunities for them to benefit from the power of getting online.
The Wonder of Full Screen Mode
Deanne Q. is one of the Computer Lab Assistants (CLAs) in the LAP program. Her inner motivation to do her job professionally inspires me. Deanne is in her 70’s, a HACA resident, and the Team Lead at Booker T. Washington. Deanne needs to take three buses to get to the computer lab on time on Saturdays. Deanne does not speak Spanish, and her students speak little English. However, she manages to explain to her students the advantages of using the Internet. I asked Deanne what inspires her to sacrifice her Saturdays and fight all the odds to get to the computer lab on time. She said with a big smile, “The satisfaction of seeing my students’ delight when they realize they can use a computer with confidence. Didn’t you see, Nay, the spark in my student’s eyes when she realized she can watch YouTube videos in full screen mode?” She said her student said, “At home, I watched all my YouTube videos on a screen so tiny. I didn’t know there was such a thing as full screen mode.”
Much like Deanne, I am also motivated when my CLAs let me know that they feel more confident helping other HACA residents lose their fear in using computers. It inspires me when HACA residents tell me that, thanks to the CLAs, they are able to set up an email account and use it to communicate with family, friends, or even with their doctors.
I also feel encouraged to do my job when participants of the Basic Computer Skills for parents tell me, “I can now use Google translator to communicate with my children’s teachers, yes!” Or when these parents share their joy of being able to use Skype or Facebook to reconnect with people in their country without spending a lot of money for phone calls.
As a DIF, I intend to continue sparking people’s interest in their education so that they can contribute to the development of our community through employment and support of others who are currently lacking in technological and digital skills.