The concept of digital inclusion is often referred to as the three-legged stool, with the legs being broadband access, computing devices and digital literacy. When one leg of the stool is missing, the stool falls. My goal as a Digital Inclusion Fellow is to always keep the stool of digital inclusion sturdy so those who endeavor to be digitally empowered don’t face the hardship of missing legs.
Many households lack adequate internet service. While teaching digital literacy classes in the Metro Atlanta area, I realized that about 75% of my students lacked internet service in the home. The other 25% had limited plans where there was more month than service.
Before my class could be successful, I needed to find that missing leg of access to broadband, devices, and support. Weekly classes only last two hours. What happens in the six days between classes? How could students practice skills? Would they be able to get their questions answered? What about internet access?
When Cupcakes Met Computers: Retail Partnerships
Learning from Digital Inclusion Fellows from last year, I knew that transportation access needed to be resolved for the Digital Literacy Program to be successful. I partnered with the Fulton County Library system, choosing two libraries that were on the MARTA bus and train lines.
For open lab time, I needed other options than the library, because they were at capacity. As I traversed the local community, my sweet tooth drew me to a local business, the Kupcakerie. Just blocks away from the library, the scent of the delightful handheld treats not only ignited my appetite, but my creativity!
I indulged in a local favorite, a chocolate cupcake called the “tall, dark, and handsome,” and an idea hit me. What if I could partner with the Kupcakerie to offer open lab hours? What would this partnership look like? Would the business be receptive to the idea of helping to solve a digital access issue? I had many questions, and luckily for me, Henry, the owner, had many answers. Already interested in the digital inclusion efforts taking place in his community, Henry was eager to host my students.
A retail and digital literacy partnership was forged. Students have used the digital access lab time at Kupcakerie to work on their digital literacy modules, create resumes and presentations, and learn more about social media, email marketing, and internet safety.
Retail Partnerships: What You Will Need
There are a few essentials to consider when vetting retail locations for digital literacy open labs.
Be sure to assess the broadband internet speed of the location as well as the quality of the connection. You will need a robust system to add several computers to the network at the retail location and not experience fatigue in service. I recommend www.speedtest.net to confirm upload and download speeds within seconds, and www.pingtest.net to confirm the quality of the internet connection. The Kupcakerie has a very robust system which lent itself well to hosting the digital literacy lab there. If the bandwidth is not adequate, have no fear! Mobile hotspots could help solve the issue.
Wi-Fi enabled devices, preferably laptops, are best for the mobile digital lab. Many corporations and individuals are willing to donate gently used laptops for your digital inclusion efforts. Don’t be shy, just ask! Also, many cities have outlets that provide refurbished computers at excellent price points.
You will need a space situated away from the general customer traffic of the retailer so as not to interrupt the flow of business. In addition, the space will need to be large enough to comfortably accommodate a minimum of six laptops stations, and a printer, if preferred. The Kupcakerie has a small meeting room with a large picnic style tables and benches that accommodate the lab perfectly.
The retail location MUST be inviting to your students. Students are often coming from work or other life obligations. A smiling face and a warm atmosphere goes a long way for student retention. The available products (in my case, cupcakes) don’t hurt either. Retailers love to see potential customers frequent their places of businesses.
Choose a time that works best for your students and the retailer. Avoid times where many others will be on the network if this compromises the internet service quality. I polled my class at the library and they voted on a weekday from noon to 2 p.m. The Kupcakerie was totally open to this time.
Go For It
The solutions to our digital access issues are often literally right around the corner. In this instance, the Kupcakerie has become a wonderful digital access partner providing labs on three separate occasions for my five-week Digital Literacy Class. As a result, many students in the community have earned nationally recognized digital literacy certificates, some actually won computers, and all found great personal reward in increasing their digital literacy skills. If you are interested in creating an open digital lab in your community, I have three words for you: GO FOR IT!