“I could never have completed my education or found a job without using a computer and the Internet,” says Ayon, mother of two living St. Paul.
With the majority of job searching is done on-line these days, understanding basic technology applications is a necessity for job seekers. Furthermore, employers are requiring enhanced technology literacy skills, many of which are becoming a prerequisite for even entry-level positions.
Those connected to Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs, which serve many low-income, unemployed and underemployed individuals, have long recognized the need to integrate digital literacy into their curriculum. In response, the St. Paul Community Literacy Consortium convened a community task force to develop standards around digital literacy in ABE. Just recently the task forced unveiled the Northstar Digital Literacy/Core Computer Literacy Standards.
These standards will help prepare adult learners for employment and assist learners to transition into higher education. They will also empower adults needing technology skills for daily living, such as paying bills, banking, communicating with schools, and staying connected to friends. “[It’s clear] we must not only teach basic digital literacy skills to our learners but ensure that they are comfortable applying them in both academic and work settings,” says Jen Vanek of St. Paul Public Schools and the St. Paul Community Literacy Consortium.
Over the past several years computers and the Internet have quickly becoming a standard feature in ABE settings. A recent survey done by ATLAS of over 600 ABE teachers found that 80% of practitioners are using the Internet with their learners and computer lab are in regular use in more than half of ABE classrooms.
The Northstar Digital Literacy Standards will bring consistency to technology use in ABE settings and provides standards five main areas – basic computer use, Internet, Windows Operating Systems, email and word processing using Word.
The St. Paul Community Literacy Consortium is currently developing a formal assessment tool for each of these main areas. “Once we complete the assessment tool, any organization using the standards will be able to issue a Certificate of Basic Digital Literacy Skills, which can be used with employers to substantiate basic computer technological skill mastery,” says Tom Cytron-Hysom, the convener of the community task force that developed the digital literacy standards.
Looking ahead, the group has also begun working with community partners on professional development for ABE teachers to ensure they are able to model digital literacy skills to their students.