In the United States, 62 million people don’t have access to speedy Internet. Additionally, 16 million people live in rural areas with sparse Internet access. This adds up to almost a quarter of the US population. How can we bring connectivity and digital literacy to this group of people so the US can better compete with the rest of the world?
Life Without Internet Connectivity
What is life like when you can’t connect? Well, imagine being a kid in middle school. Then imagine you have a single mom and three siblings with zero Internet access. Your homework is online. So is your siblings’ homework. Your mother attends nursing school and her homework is online, too. Every day, you and your family race to the library, hoping you each can reserve a computer. And you’re competing with everyone else in your community. You’ve had to wait up to two hours before. Even when you get a computer, you only have 60 minutes to complete everything you have to do before your time is up.
Several existing government, nonprofit, and business programs give computers to families in low income areas. Some programs even provide families with a computer boot camp to teach them how to use their new devices. However, several issues exist with the way current programs work.
Digital Training Must Be Positive
Students in digital training need encouragement. It is scary to venture into a completely new world, which is what the Internet essentially is. Students need encouragement so that they understand what the Internet can do for them. This also gives them the courage to use these new tools. There are several ways to encourage students of all ages. For one, you can building confidence in your students’ ability to learn. This can be done by setting achievable long- and short-term goals and providing positive feedback.
Digital Training Needs To Be Continuous
Internet technology adapts and improves at a head-spinning rate. Lessons taught at a computer boot camp could be obsolete within a year. Therefore, the training needs to be ongoing. Since there’s so much to learn about computers and the Internet, training should also be progressive. The Public Library Association (PLA) developed a program called DigitalLearn.org. This program allows people to take digital literacy training courses at their own pace. The video-based tutorials run between 6 and 22 minutes long. DigitalLearn.org also constantly adds new tutorials. Current topics include Getting Started on a Computer, Intro to Email, Internet Privacy, Creating Resumes, and Microsoft Word, to name a few.
Matthew D’Ancona has a good point. If we just give people computers without teaching them how to use them, he says, “it’s a bit like be given a car without being taught to drive, isn’t it?” Simply having access to technology and the Internet is not enough, but with these points, we can start to make the improvements our society needs.
Text by Jennie Tippett