While riding public transportation or walking around town, have you ever stopped to notice who around you isn’t staring at their smartphones? I have begun to pay more attention to this after teaching digital literacy to San Franciscans through Community Technology Network (@CTNBayArea). Even here in high-tech San Francisco, we have a digital divide. According to a report from 2015, over 150,000 of our neighbors in SF lack high-speed Internet at home. Having a home computer with Internet access is important if you want to apply for jobs online, help your child with homework or find an apartment to rent.
CTN was invited to be part of the design and implementation of the digital literacy programming at the Twitter NeighborNest to address the needs of parents who lack crucial computer skills. What I learned about the clients from Compass Family Services, Hamilton Families, Raphael House, and St. Joseph’s Family Center was that they often asked their case managers for help with basic things on the computers and many didn’t have email addresses or didn’t quite know how it all worked. I also learned that many, in fact, didn’t have a home computer nor Internet connection and often relied on their smartphones for conducting housing searches or applying for jobs. It’s hard for me to imagine typing a resume and cover letter with my two thumbs! I was also deeply aware that learning a new skill can be scary and that some people think they are too stupid to learn or don’t deserve to be helped. I knew this barrier must also be broken down in order for people to thrive.
To address the needs of clients, the digital literacy classes covered the basic computer and Internet search skills needed to become independent computer users as well as more confident. The focus areas of these classes were: Using the mouse & keyboard, doing Internet searches, and using email. Through group discussions, guided practice and independent activities, the students exercised their new abilities in a welcoming and safe learning environment. What also made this possible for parents to do was that the NeighborNest provided childcare for them as they took the classes.
In our first round, we recognized everyone’s hard work with a graduation ceremony. Three people from the English class and eight from the Spanish class were awarded Certificates of Accomplishments. One of the first graduates said after the class that he gained confidence to try new things. The individual attention from Twitter volunteer class assistants made him feel like it was OK to ask for help and that has spilled over into other aspects of his life. A graduate of the Spanish class said “I recommend this class because it is a great way to connect to technology and at the same time with our children, who are the next generation.” This bond between parents and children can be strengthened through technology.
The NeighborNest is committed to continual improvement and that is why after completing the first round of digital literacy workshops, we made updates to the volunteer training and curriculum based on feedback from learners, class assistants, and staff members. For example, we noticed some learners struggled to read and write in their first language, so more training was provided on the issue of adult literacy to volunteers and I shared some tools such as Voice Dictation with the learners. For the Spanish-speakers learning English, the Google Translate app for smartphones was a big hit as well!
Another crucial skill we decided to focus on for round two was related to online job searching. We noticed that, while people could do the basics on the computer, it still didn’t mean they could navigate sites safely and efficiently. The class worked together to use various job search engines, learn how to avoid job scams, and submit resumes online. The learners found this practice useful for the type of skills they needed. A graduate of the second round of Spanish workshops said “I learned not to fear the keyboard. This also gave me more confidence to search for new things online.” Another student said they also felt more comfortable searching for housing online at the end of the classes.
At the end of round two, we awarded four Certificates of Accomplishment to the English group and eight to the Spanish group. For the final graduation, class assistants noted how important it was to invite the children in to congratulate their parents. One said, “I loved seeing our students on the computer with their kids. They felt more confident!”
The learning doesn’t stop at graduation. As a follow up to the workshop series, we are testing an initiative where graduates continue to work 1:1 with Twitter volunteers and NeighborNest staff to build on their learning and continue to strengthen their skills. By having a deeper understanding of their skills and personal goals, we can develop individualized learning plans for each graduate. We’re also gauging interest on which workshops to implement next, based on greatest need. Learners are ready to take it to the next level so we are also looking at including more intermediate workshops soon.