Minnesota is part of a federal multi-state Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant that will provide Adult Basic Education (ABE) digital literacy training through self-paced online classes and tutor assistance.
The program will introduce learners to computer and Internet skills, high-speed Internet resources and using the Internet for career planning.
The Minnesota Literacy Council (MLC) will serve as fiscal agent for the Minnesota portion of the grant, with management assistance from the St. Paul Community Literacy Consortium. The $5.8 M grant includes $3.3 M in federal funding and $2.5 M in matching funds (across five states), and is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2010 (ARRA).
In continuing their mission to share the power of learning through education, community building and advocacy, the Minnesota Literacy Council is ready to help low-income Minnesotans bridge the digital divide through this project.
The initiative is based on a unique online education system called Learner Web, originated and developed by Portland State University’s Dr. Stephen Reder. After taking an online assessment and orientation, learners are partnered with specially trained volunteers in a local computer lab.
“Many Minnesotans are looking for employment but don’t have the computer skills needed to find a job. Others are refugees, immigrants or low-income adults who have had little or no access to computers and the Internet,” says Jen Vanek, Minnesota Adult Basic Education Distance Learning Trainer and Online Learning Consultant. “The program covers what this audience needs for digital inclusion: access, learning content, and face-to-face support.”
The Learner Web partnership aims to train 23,000 residents over the life of the project by offering approximately 350,000 hours of teacher-led training. While advancing careers in the local digital economy, the Learner Web could prove a sustainable model for increasing broadband use among highly diverse and vulnerable populations around the world.
Tutors are currently sought to become involved for one to two hours per week at Community Technology Labs throughout six different sites — located in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Mankato or New Ulm.
“The gap between those who have computer skills and those who don’t is widening. We’re looking for tech savvy people with flexibility and patience to become tutors. Their involvement will be critical to closing the digital literacy gap,” says MLC’s Volunteer Outreach Coordinator Allison Runchey.