Donna Johnston: Did you say digital literacy?

Donna Johnston is an Americorps* VISTA with the Family Literacy Academy of Immokalee. Learn about her process to develop a computer lab for her community. 

Donna Johnston

What is digital literacy? A good question, especially since the trend seems to be to add “literacy” to just about anything from health to finance to digits. I think digital literacy is a positive way of saying we are addressing the digital divide through some form of education. Sound good? Further, we do this by creating internet access and computer training opportunities for targeted populations, who otherwise would be left behind.

In providing this access to populations who do not have access, we are obliged to not only open the door, but to keep it open. Pulling together a beginners’ computer class, though a challenge, is actually only the beginning. Partner with your local library or church or community center that has a computer technology center (CTC) and find a volunteer who will teach a beginner’s class once a week. There are lesson plans all over the country that are free and easily accessed on the web. I’ve listed a few at the end of this blog.

Now the part about opening the door and keeping it open; and by this I mean empowering the people whom you are serving. This is what we at the Family Literacy Academy (FLA) of Immokalee have done on the road to building a sustainable digital literacy program at Farm Worker Village in Immokalee Florida.

From surveys that are completed by the families in the Family Literacy Academy, we know that the families we serve, with one or two exceptions, do not have access to computers; that most of them have a cell phone but very few use the text feature – bottom line we are dealing with a population that is digitally challenged.

We need a computer center that the Village residents can call their own. We have two programs moving in this direction: one is the Family Literacy Academy and the second is building a CTC for the whole of Farm Worker Village.

First the Family Literacy Academy: at the end of the last two academic years, the FLA has scraped any left over money together and bought laptop computers to the tune of 6 laptops for adult instruction. This past summer the goal was to raise enough money to buy 6 tablets for the 3, 4 and 5 year olds. We identified 39 “friends” of the FLA and did a mailing. The letter gave an update of fundraising activities and how the Academy had leveraged the funds to increase grant moneys and how this ‘friend’ has helped in building a stronger program that serves more families, and so on, concluding with a big, personal “thank you”. We proceeded to identify the digital challenge our 3, 4, and 5 year olds face when they enter the public school system. The ask for $200 to buy one Nexus 7 tablet followed. In the same envelope we included a brochure we had created for the FLA, and a self-addressed envelope. Though we did not raise enough to buy 6 Nexus 7 tablets, we did raise enough to buy 5 Archos Child Pads. We added a little extra and made it 6.

We now have the base for a digital literacy program for the Family Literacy Academy. Beginning classes on the laptops for the Moms started last week. Beginning classes on the tablets for the children will start either this week or next – just as soon as we have a good understanding of them. Alright – as soon as we are done playing with them we will share them with the children.

Now the second challenge: open a Community Technology Center for the Village; a CTC that will be managed and run by the residents. First, resident volunteers to serve on the CTC committee. I found more than enough eager to serve by asking in the ESOL – Healthy Living class. Actually, every one of the adult students volunteered! Second, computers and printers. We put the word out and one donation came our way that consisted of 4 laptops; 1 CPU with a flat screen, keyboard and mouse; 3 printers; 1 large computer desk; and a box full of software, cords and cables. Putting the word out also connected us with a volunteer instructor and a volunteer tech person. We are now planning our first Committee meeting for next week, where we will all come together to evaluate or learn to evaluate the donations and start to set up the Farm Worker Village CTC.

The CTC is what I mean by keeping the door open. Just offering the classes does not help if there is no place to practice and further develop basic skills into mediocre then expert skill levels. The CTC will be managed and run by the residents’ committee. By the time I leave there will be a train-the-trainer program in place and functioning well; a group of residents who are running things; and possibly the start of a recycling business that will bring some cash into the mix.

One stumbling block: we are working to get free internet from Comcast (don’t laugh). I will keep you posted.

As promised, website links to digital literacy sites:

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[…] Literacy Academy of Immokalee- Grand Opening of the Community Technology Center Donna Johnston from the Family Literacy Academy of Immokalee is coordinating the grand opening of the community’s new technology center. FLAI is […]

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