Good morning, and welcome to our Q&A conversation on the Digital Equity Podcast. Today and tomorrow, November 5-6, we will be talking about the first SkillRise podcast produced as part of ISTE's Upskill with Edtech project. Joining us are representatives from two of the organizations highlighted in the podcast, who are working to remove barriers to access and promote equity within digital spaces. We invite you to listen to the 25 minute podcast here if you haven't yet had a chance, and join us in this conversation.
Norma Fernandez is the Chief Executive Officer of EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit that creates social and economic opportunity by connecting everyone to the internet (https://www.everyoneon.org/), Norma sets the vision for and manages the organization's national and regional initiatives focused on creating digital equity through broadband adoption activities and digital and tech literacy trainings, focused on engaging and impacting low-income underrepresented communities.
Frank Martin leads World Possible's U.S. Justice Chapter, which supports installations of RACHEL for U.S. Justice at youth correctional facilities and adult prisons. Frank was an early advocate for bringing Open Educational Resources and Creative Commons-licensed technologies to correctional facilities during his work with the Oregon Youth Authority. RACHEL for U.S. Justice has a wealth of courses and research materials, mostly aimed at high school, college and vocational students. In addition, RACHEL for U.S. Justice features FairShake Reentry Resources with information and support for incarcerated individuals, plus a curated version of Wikipedia that meets the requirements of U.S. prisons.
We are also joined by LINCS moderator, David J. Rosen, who moderates the Integrating Technology Group. For over three decades, David has been the Director of the Adult Literacy Resource Institute sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Boston and President of Newsome Associates.
To begin, I'd like to ask our panelists to reflect on the scale of digital inequity in the U.S. In the podcast, Chike Aguh, former CEO of Everyone On, highlights research that states, 1 in 4 Americans - or 62 million individuals – do not have access to the internet in their homes. 12 million of these individuals live in rural areas, and another 50 million in urban areas. (Listen at 6m 50s)
How have these figures motivated your work? This podcast was released on November 6, 2018, one year ago tomorrow. What changes have you seen in the digital equity landscape in the year since this podcast was first shared?
Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator
Hi everyone! Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this dialogue about this very important issue.
In response to the first question: These daunting statistics are what fuel our work everyday at EveryoneOn. We were founded specifically to address this challenge of the digital divide, which we consider to be one of the biggest social issues of our time. We cannot address educational, economic, and social inequities without without addressing the digital divide. Lack of internet access and low digital literacy skills can prevent people, in particular those with limited resources, from fully participating and thriving in our digital society.
Certainly there have been improvements in broadband access and affordability, with the exception of rural parts of the country where progress has been a lot slower due to the lack of infrastructure to provide service and willingness to build out the necessary infrastructure. When I joined EveryoneOn in late 2013, household broadband adoption in California (I’m based in Los Angeles) was at 75-80%. Today, it’s at 85-87%. That being said, it is important to emphasize that there are pockets in urban areas of California where the adoption rate is only at 63%. These pockets also happen to be populated by low-income communities of color. It is no secret who the digital divide impacts the most: low-income communities made up of senior citizens, immigrants, and those of diverse backgrounds. The Pew Research is an excellent source of information to understand this issue. Here is one article that is helpful: Digital divide persists even as lower-income Americans make gains in tech adoption https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/07/digital-divide-persists-even-as-lower-income-americans-make-gains-in-tech-adoption/
As we think about our current workforce needs as well as the future of work, the ability to navigate the internet and use computers and software with comfort and easy (digital literacy) becomes increasingly salient. This is why EveryoneOn is focused on increasing broadband adoption and designing and delivering digital skills trainings. Our trainings target senior citizens, young people, and adults and equip them with the skills needed to fully participate in our digital society and economy.
Thanks for joining this discussion. I have a question about broadband access data. Recently a colleague mentioned a report he heard on NPR radio that suggested that the Broadband access data provided by Internet Service Providers might be overestimating the number of people who have access, that the digital divide might be greater than the current data suggest. I wonder if you are familiar with that report and, if so, if you could comment on it. This of course, refers to "access" as literally access to the Internet, not necessarily reliable daily access that comes from having a personal digital device whose ISP payment is up to date. The percent of those who have reliable access, particularly in poor communities, I believe would be lower.
David J. Rosen
I'm not familiar with that report, however, organizations in the digital inclusion space are concerned about the lack of limited and inaccurate broadband access information. The Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration tract this data, some of it gathered from the Census, and release it to the public. Here's a bit more on broadband maps that attempt to capture access: https://www.ntia.doc.gov/category/national-broadband-map. I agree with you the actual number of people that have access is probably lower than reported.
I wonder if this is the story your colleague was referring to, David? Inside The Movement To Improve Access To High-Speed Internet In Rural Areas . It's a very interesting 4 - minute listen.
Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator
Hi Mike, Norma, Frank and others,
I checked back with LINCS CoP Program Management group member, Greg Smith, who had mentioned the NPR piece I referred to earlier, and he sent this link to an article in ARS Technica, "The FCC has no idea how many people don’t have broadband access: The FCC likely counts millions of unserved homes as having broadband." He said it provides some of the same information as the NPR piece. https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/08/the-fcc-has-no-idea-how-many-people-dont-have-broadband-access/ I would like to get panelists' and others' thoughts about this article. It seems to me to be a persuasive case for the 2019 Digital Equity Act that is now in both the House and Senate.
Incidentally, since I hadn't heard of Ars Technical before, I checked its NewsGuard rating. It adheres to all nine Newsguard standards of credibility and transparency.
David J. Rosen, Moderatoir
LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group
Hello All: I have been under the impression that access to wifi is much easier with a smart phone. I remember reading an article about people in Africa using smart phones to access the internet in remote areas. Is this true?
One aspect that serves as a brake to the use of technology is the reluctance among educators to acknowledge its importance. Actually I was once told that the director of an adult ed program was against using technology in certain cases because it led to students studying more at home instead of in class- - so attendance fell and classes were cancelled. We need to do more education and promotion among the educators!!
I try to implement technology and encourage it, but time and lack of strong facilitating skills can be a hindrance.
By including access to the internet as a civil right and focusing on the lack of access in some areas, it is implicitly implied that this right is being denied to people, presumable by people in power. I believe that the Native Americans in some areas face this kind of discrimination more than others. In any case, it then becomes a legal matter requiring the passing of legislation. That is - we may discuss it in detail but without some form of political effort, nothing will be accomplished. Or - is there any effort being made in the legal/political arena?
I'm glad you raise the question about legislation, Paul. The 2019 Digital Equity Act was introduced in the Senate last April. It aims to address access gaps by promoting an array of digital inclusion projects at the state and local level. These projects may range from providing digital literacy and digital skills education to low-income populations, improving the online accessibility of social services for individuals with disabilities, or measuring broadband access and adoption in rural communities to reflect the lived reality of rural residents.
I'd like to ask our panelists to share how the proposed legislation aligns with the work being done by your organizations?
Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator
Michael, thanks for the information concerning legislation. I am curious to know if each community or state could act to implement access, such as through a tax. If the power companies want more money, maybe it can be raised.
At the same time and from another angle, we need to discuss the concept of expanding the content of educational programs that can be offered to those whose first language is not English.
I'm glad you raised this question. The 2019 Digital Equity Act (DEA), if is passes and it is funded, will support EveryoneOn's broadband adoption and digital literacy programs. Funding specifically for digital inclusion work is very limited, so, federal and state grants to diverse organizations (i.e. libraries, schools, nonprofits) focused on this issue will be very helpful and welcomed. A few years ago, BTOP (Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program) grants, administered under NTIA, funded much needed computer labs across the country, digital literacy trainings in diverse communities, and broadband adoption work in un-connected and under-connected regions. When these funds dried up, it left a void. We are very excited about the new opportunities DEA will provide.
I have seen several states assess and deploy internet connectivity for their education programing. This includes GED to higher education. In addition, there are additional offline resources that aid in research and academic studies. Most of the offline resources include Creative Commons and OER - Open Education Resources.
It is important to develop digital skill sets for the incarcerated students. In this day and age - it is vital to gain proper computer skills and access the internet safely for information, goods and services. These skills can be developed online or offline. Too many of our prisons lack any substantial digital access - whether if it is on or offline. Building a digital citizen is important for employment and life in the community.
The Digital Equity Act can be a catalyst to help expand coding, computer repair, and network skills to rural areas and correctional programs. I have seen young men in rural correctional facilities develop programing skills with the aid of internet access to online and offline resources. These young people have gained employment after their release and are utilizing their technology skills. It is important to support rural and isolated communities with technology but also with guidance for technology based education / employment. Alignment and creation of coding apprenticeship programs would be - value added.
I agree, Frank, but how can we support it? How do we "lobby"?
Thanks for your question, Paul. I'd say the first step is being informed about the proposed legislation. You can read more about it here. A next step is to have a conversation with your elected officials to share your perspective as an adult educator working in your state and locality.
Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator
Mike...thanks...I will read up on the issue. But one point - I think that having conversations with various legislators is good, but it takes time and we never know the results. But letters to the editor of local papers and speaking at PTAs, city council and school board meetings may get better results.
Thanks for joining us, Frank. In the Digital Equity Podcast, we meet Steven Kaplan, who was once part of the currently 2 million persons estimated to be incarcerated in the U.S. (Listen at 9m 18s). Kaplan was the first person to access online networks for educational/vocational education in 2010, and finished his HS diploma, as well as earned an Associate’s degree at Portland Community College and Bachelor’s in Management degree from Portland State University while in prison. The podcast talks about the ‘administrative rule’ that was used to help secure this possibility for Kaplan, and many others since him.
What can you tell us about that rule, and how it was applied to support increasing educational access for inmates?
Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator
The Oregon Youth Authority has had internet access for several years for incarcerated youth. The internet access is highly supervised and email is closely tracked. As an agency - we set forward an OAR Oregon Administrative Rule 416-040-0005 that set forth in place internet access for education and employment use for youth. The internet is for online assessments, courses, CLEP testing and Community College courses - to name a few. We also use state and federal dollars for college courses. Youth often use Pell dollars for education.
We wanted a broad reach for youth to gain academic achievement and also being a responsible digital citizen. We demonstrated that internet access could reduce education costs with a positive outcome of raising the number of youth to have exposure to higher education and other programs. We also put forward several offline access points for digital education resources - RACHEL servers and Endless OS Offline laptops. We took a layered approach to address digital equity and access - offline and online.
Lots of great discussion here! I've seen some comments that are exploring how the meaning of digital access...which begs a broader question of digital equity.
Interesting findings from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance about <affordability> as a key component of access = https://www.digitalinclusion.org/blog/2019/08/02/new-ndia-infographic-who-doesnt-have-internet/
And this is a great article from WorldEd that explores the brute access issue, as well as questions about the skills people need to use mobile devices in a way that can motivate substantial life improvements and whether or not app developers are building tools for adults with lower digital skills = https://edtech.worlded.org/digital-divide-gaps-opportunities/
So, equity is a complex issue...
I direct ISTE's SkillRise initiative, the project that authored this podcast. I am inspired by all the discussion here! Some of us are also looking at workforce edtech issues in this LinkedIn group. I'm excited to learn more from the discussion here in LINCS today and tomorrow - thanks so much for hosting it!
Hello, Brandon, I'm glad you're able to join us for this follow-up conversation to the Digital Equity Podcast. As you point out, equity is a complex issue. I wonder if you'd share with us the origins of ISTE's SkillRise initiative, and what plans ISTE has for continuing to address digital inequities experienced by many adult learners? In the podcast, Chike Aguh talks about the three legs of digital literacy, and their connectedness to securing true digital inclusion. (Listen at 17m 05s).
I'd like to ask Norma, Frank or Brandon to explain these three legs, and for each of you to give us a context for what they look like specifically in your work within communities?
Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator
Thanks for facilitating the conversation, Michael.
Chike cites affordability, quality hardware, and digital literacy as key components for digital inclusion. Being able to afford the connection (which is something I cited in my initial post) is one thing. My belief is that economic incentive structures can work wonders for getting more people online. But affording the phone or computer is another thing. Have you ever tried using an under-powered computer? Load 10 tabs and you're maxed out, sitting there in front of a spinning wheel onscreen.
SkillRise was founded on two ideas = that learning is for a lifetime, and that digital tools are an essential component of learning today and in the future. The theory of action is that if we improve the digital literacy and edtech awareness of adult educators, they will in turn use digital tools to provide learners the best possible learning experience. This is basically honing the ISTE mission for adult educators (ISTE’s vision is that all educators are empowered to harness technology to accelerate innovation in teaching and learning, and inspire learners to reach their greatest potential). So digital literacy is a linchpin of this theory of action. Through SkillRise, we are trying to upskill the educators around the power of edtech. You know that feeling when technology solves a problem for you way significantly better than you could in an analog fashion, thus unlocking new possibilities? That's what we're after.
ISTE is working with a sister collaborative initiative called Digital US (http://joindigitalus.org/) that is really focused on targeting that digital literacy gap. We're concerned that, unless we explicitly address that gap, technology will exacerbate other gaps (income, skills, networks, etc.) between those who are digital savvy and those who are not.
At EveryoneOn, we use this term often to describe the interconnectedness of connectivity, devices, and digital literacy. The foundation of our current and future global economy is technology--every innovation, transaction, interaction, and every educational and economic opportunity and success requires not only access to the internet and computers but the ability to leverage and master them. If these tools and trainings that prepare people with critical tech skills are not readily available, and in particular to low-income underrepresented populations, how can we ensure digital equity in our society and build inclusive educational and employment ecosystems?
The reality is that tens of thousands of low-income people do not having access to these foundational tools, which hinders their ability to fully participate and succeed in today’s workforce and economy. EveryoneOn wants to change this reality, which is why we are focused on 1) driving broadband adoption and 2) designing and delivering digital skills trainings.
1) Through partnerships with diverse ISPs and diverse organizations, including schools and public housing authorities, we drive awareness of low-cost internet service offers and provide one-on-one application assistance. We host enrollment events and people are invited to learn more and apply if interested. Because we know a connection is meaningless with a computing device, we donate laptops to eligible families to ensure they are able to enjoy and leverage the internet once their connection is activated. In addition to enrollment events, people and organizations, can utilize our offer locator tool on www.everyoneon.org to find low-cost internet and computer solutions. I encourage you to check it out and share this resource with your students!
2) EveryoneOn also designs and delivers digital skills trainings to diverse populations, like senior citizens, immigrant adults, and others with low digital literacy levels. The community-specific trainings introduce participants to various digital tools that will foster new learning and strengthen skills in job searching, digital communication (email), research and analysis, financial literacy, and coding, just to name a few. We utilize educational content by our partners such as Grow with Google and GitHub to introduce training participants to various learning tools and coding via use of their open source repositories.
I should add: our national initiative with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), ConnectHomeUSA, is a good example of how the three legs come together to form the "digital inclusion" stool. ConnectHomeUSA works with 87 public housing authorities to bridge the tech divide by providing connectivity, computers, and digital literacy trainings to families. Although this is an un-funded program, the cross-sector partnerships, commitments by the private sector (in the form of free to low-cost products and services), and the vested interest by all to help families thrive is what drives this very important work. Let me know if you'd like to learn more about ConnectHomeUSA!
Thanks for having this wonderful discussion! I'm wondering how efforts like the Digital Literacy Act will assist existing education programs with increasing their ability to teach digital literacy in context. I think there is a disconnect between equity effort from computer skills/digital literacy programs and programs trying to include and integrate digital literacy instruction into their existing programs. Career-specific training programs, GED, and English as-a-second language programs I believe often struggle to find resources for increasing their ability to teach digital literacy and yet these types of programs may be best suited to upskill and train adults on digital literacy skills that would be most useful. For example, Arlington, VA is an urban area, a hub for technology. Every child in Arlington Public Schools from grade 3 is sent home with some sort of digital device. We have computer skills training programs in libraries, employment centers, and non-profits like Computer Core that offer digital skills training. Yet the ESL program I work for that serves limited English speaking adults struggles to find resources to increase our ability to teach digital skills. It's not clear to me why the standard for improving digital literacy is often standalone.
Hello Micayla, Thanks for raising these important issues. What you say is on target. Digital resources for K12 education far outweigh those for adult literacy programs. That being said, access to resources varies a great deal from adult literacy program to program. Many programs still operate in church basements where wifi is still not available. Equity issues abound! We can hope that with the Digital Literacy Act things can change.
Cheers, Susan Finn Miller
Moderator, English Language Acquisition and Teaching & Learning CoPs
There are different pathways to make gains towards digital equity. While working with young people in the Oregon Youth Authority during the Great Session, we played the hand that we were dealt. A technology project was founded with students and staff to address the lack of digital resources for access. The focal point was to refurbished state surplus computers into Linux stand alone computers with quality education content and program specific use.
We leveraged open source Linux software to improve the performance of the older systems. Students gained insights about Linux software, coding, computer repair and networking skills. The students worked with staff to assess education content to be placed on the computers to help their studies and leisure interests. In the end, they shared the refurbished computers with their peers at different youth correctional sites for use. You can see some the resources that the team put together: http://rachelfriends.org/previews/rachelplus-ju/
The students were part of a civic and technology solution. Their active participation and skill development had an empowering affect on them. Digital literacy and tech studies can be taken on with limited resources. It does take mindful leadership and the cooperation of staff and students to work through the hurdles.
One area of improvement is developing apprenticeships for the incarcerated and others in rural or inner city locales. Apprenticeship programs in coding, networking and computer repair would be of great value. When communities gain the internet in remote, restricted and or underdeveloped areas - skills training for employment and experience should be packaged in for sustainability and improving the lives of those in the community.
The podcast shares the personal stories of several learners directly impacted by digital inequities. I’m sure many adult educators can relate these stories to learners in their classrooms and programs. We are introduced to Laverne Moore, in the Navajo Nation, and another learner in Chicago.
Are there significant differences between the needs for expanding digital equity in rural and more urban communities? What advice do you have for adult educators to share these stories in a way that highlights the need for greater access and inclusion within their respective environments?
Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator
Both have similar challenges. Reliable access and community infrastructure supports. America had similar challenges in the past for electricity - for example the Rural Electrification Act. The solution back in 1936, was federal loans for the installation of electrical distribution systems to serve isolated areas of the United States. We may have a similar need for our internet connectivity for rural communities. It would be good to tie in loans or grants for internet connectivity with partnerships in education / technology for a jobs training program during and after implementation.
The biggest difference I see in expanding digital equity in rural vs urban communities is the network infrastructure needed to facilitate access in rural parts of the country. That being said, the fact that investment in broadband infrastructure has been limited has pushed some communities be creative and create their own solutions, like community mesh networks. Here's an article that highlights a network being built on tribal lands in Arizona: https://news.nau.edu/digital-divide-underserved-communities/#.XcM-ekVKjOR.
As educators, you observe the value of technology access and digital literacy on a daily basis. Whether a student is taking an exam online, needs to use the internet research, or utilizes email to communicate with you - all of these activities require internet access and a specific skill set (digital literacy). You can help share stories about the need for greater access and inclusion by highlighting how your classes/curriculum rely on these tech tools to be available in order for students to participate. In addition, many employment opportunities require basic digital literacy. Here's a blog post in EdWeek that speaks to the changing environments. As educators, you are in a unique position to observe, learn, connect, and advocate!
I want to thank our panelists and members who've made this a valuable conversation around the Digital Equity podcast. It's been a great exchange of questions, concerns and ideas for pushing the needle on expanding digital access for all adult learners.
The podcast highlights all of the ways that digital equity directly impacts lives in communities across the U.S. Its role in addressing education, employment, and healthcare access, as well as civic participation, make building greater digital equity a critical issue for every adult learner. I want to end with a final question for our everyone reading this post:
What are you envisioning for your work on expanding digital inclusion in 2020? What steps do you see adult educators and program managers taking to help support that work with their learners?
Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator
Adult educators will need to partner with prisons to bring safe and secure technology to the classroom. We need their support to embrace change with patience.
Our current work is to provide prisons and youth correctional facilities with improved technology for secure and expanded access. We have several state prisons that are partnering with community colleges to deliver higher education content towards a degree. We are making advances on using Learning Management Systems with secure docking stations to allow updated course material for students. A great step forward are students having regular access to their laptop. States are taking the initiative to expand digital equity and provide higher education services.
It is very exciting to see some juvenile programs going to a one to one laptop model. There is a realization that greater digital access helps to normalize learning and attaining appropriate digital skills for transition.
Thank you for this opportunity.
Hello Mike, and others,
Mike, you asked, "What are you envisioning for your work on expanding digital inclusion in 2020? What steps do you see adult educators and program managers taking to help support that work with their learners?"
That's a great question. I hope we hear from others here about how they would answer it. As I have been thinking about this the last two days, three specific ways have occurred to me to address digital inclusion:
1) I am a member of the Digital Inclusion Issues Group of the Open Door Collective, a national group of adult basic skills educators, librarians, workforce development advocates and service providers, advocates for immigrants and refugees, advocates for partnerships between community health centers and adult basic skills programs, and others. The Open Door Collective's mission is to reduce poverty and income inequality in the U.S. I am hoping the ODC Digital Inclusion group will join with others such as the ODC's partner program, Digital US, and and partner organization National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), to make more progress on this issue.
2) I am interested in blended learning models (i.e. an integrated combination of in-person and online learning) and, in particular, a non-formal model called a learning circle. Learning circles are being offered in public libraries in North America, Europe and Africa. In the U.S, they are also being offered by adult English language programs and, to some extent, by a handful of adult basic skills programs, mostly in libraries. Thinking about this LINCS conversation about digital inclusion and digital equity I have been interested in how learning circles might be able to advance digital inclusion through helping small groups of adult learners learn basic digital literacy skills, or the more advanced level digital competency, comfort, and courage needed for problem solving in technology-rich environments or to succeed in post-secondary education. Sometime over the next few weeks I expect to write a blog article for teachers and program managers about what a digital skills learning circle might look like, and what free, open education resources (OERs) and other resources are available to help advance these digital inclusion learning circles.
3) I hope to moderate a panel session at the COABE 2020 conference on digital inclusion. If that session is accepted, I'll update everyone here.
Now, it's your turn, What are you envisioning for your work on expanding digital inclusion in 2020?
David J. Rosen, Moderator
LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups
Thank you to everyone who joined us in this week’s Q&A around the Digital Equity Podcast. The following summary of the event is hopefully only the beginning of longer conversations many are having around the issues of digital equity and access. Whether you missed the conversation, or were part of it, I invite you to read the summary and continue the conversation in this thread.
Q&A conversation on the Digital Equity Podcast, held on November 5-6, 2019.
Panelists were asked to comment on the three legs of digital literacy, which was introduced in the podcast. (Listen at 17m 05s). Brandon Olszewski, director of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)'s SkillRise initiative and host for the Digital Equity podcast, referenced Chike Aguh, the former executive director of Eveyone On. Brandon cited Chike's definition of affordability, quality hardware, and digital literacy as the three key components for digital inclusion. Brandon noted that SkillRise was founded on two ideas: that learning is for a lifetime, and that digital tools are an essential component of learning today and in the future. The theory of action is that if we improve the digital literacy and ed-tech awareness of adult educators, they will in turn use digital tools to provide learners the best possible learning experience.
Norma Fernandez with EveryoneOn highlighted Pew Research as an excellent source of information to understand the issue of internet broadband access in the U.S. She noted that there are pockets in urban areas of California where the adoption rate is only at 63%. These pockets also happen to be populated by low-income communities of color. It is no secret who the digital divide impacts the most: low-income communities made up of senior citizens, immigrants, and those of diverse backgrounds. Norma cited her organization’s national initiative with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), ConnectHomeUSA, as a good example of how the three legs come together to form the "digital inclusion" stool. ConnectHomeUSA works with 87 public housing authorities to bridge the tech divide by providing connectivity, computers, and digital literacy trainings to families. Although this is an unfunded program, the cross-sector partnerships, commitments by the private sector (in the form of free to low-cost products and services), and the vested interest in helping families thrive is what drives this work.
LINCS moderator, David Rosen, cited the NPR story Inside The Movement To Improve Access To High-Speed Internet In Rural Areas, highlighting the suggestion that the Federal Communications Comission (FCC) likely counts millions of unserved homes as having broadband. He also highlighted this ArsTechnica report which further supports NPR’s reporting. Norma noted that the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration track this data, some of it gathered from the Census, and release it to the public. She included a link to broadband maps that attempt to capture access.
LINCS member, Paul Rogers, asked whether access to Wi-fi is easier with a smart phone, citing reports that people in remote parts of Africa are using smart phones to access the internet. Paul also brought up the question of whether access to the internet is a civil right, and noted that without some form of political effort, nothing will be accomplished.
This lead us to touch on the 2019 Digital Equity Act (DEA), which was introduced in the Senate last April. It aims to address access gaps by promoting an array of digital inclusion projects at the state and local level. These projects may range from providing digital literacy and digital skills education to low-income populations, improving the online accessibility of social services for individuals with disabilities, or measuring broadband access and adoption in rural communities to reflect the lived reality of rural residents. Norma noted that DEA would support EveryoneOn's broadband adoption and digital literacy programs. She commented that previously, BTOP (Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program) grants funded computer labs across the country, digital literacy trainings, and broadband adoption work in un-connected regions. When noted that when these funds ended, it left a void in many under-resourced communities. Frank Martin, with World Possible, commented that the DEA could be a catalyst to help expand coding, computer repair, and network skills to rural areas and correctional programs. Frank added that America had similar challenges in the past for electricity - for example the Rural Electrification Act. The solution back in 1936, was federal loans for the installation of electrical distribution systems to serve isolated areas of the United States. He believes we may have a similar need for our internet connectivity for rural communities, by tying in loans or grants for internet connectivity with partnerships in technology, education, and job training programs. Norma added that the fact that investment in broadband infrastructure has been limited pushed some communities to create their own solutions, like community mesh networks. She provided an example of such a network being built on tribal lands in Arizona.
LINCS member, Micayla Burrows, asked how efforts like the DEA will assist existing education programs with increasing their ability to teach digital literacy in context. Micayla observed that there is a disconnect between equity efforts from adult computer skills/digital literacy programs and K-12 education, and other adult education programs trying to include and integrate digital literacy instruction into their existing programs. Career-specific training programs, GED, and English as-a-second language programs I believe often struggle to find resources for increasing their ability to teach digital literacy and yet these types of programs may be best suited to upskill and train adults on digital literacy skills that would be most useful. Moderator, Susan Finn-Miller, echoed concerns that digital resources for K-12 education far outweigh those for adult literacy programs.
Frank shared World Possible's work to increase digital learning opportunities for incarcerated youth. We demonstrated that supervised internet access could reduce education costs with a positive outcome of raising the number of inmates having exposure to higher education and other programs. We also put forward several offline access points for digital education resources - RACHEL servers and Endless OS Offline laptops. We took a layered approach to address digital equity and access - offline and online. Frank added that open source Linux software was used to improve the performance of the older systems, with students gaining insights about Linux software, coding, computer repair and networking skills. You can see some the resources that the team put together.
Brandon shared some interesting findings from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance about affordability as a key component of access. He also highlighted an article from WorldEd that explores access, as well as questions about the skills people need to use mobile devices in a way that can motivate substantial life improvements, and whether or not app developers are building tools for adults with lower digital skills. ISTE is working with a sister collaborative initiative called Digital US focusing on the digital literacy gap. David referenced the Digital Inclusion Issues Group of the Open Door Collective, a national group of adult basic skills educators, librarians, workforce development professionals and service providers, which advocates for partnerships between community health centers, adult basic skills programs, and others. The Open Door Collective's mission is to reduce poverty and income inequality in the U.S. He encouraged the ODC Digital Inclusion group to join with others, such as Digital US, to make more progress on this issue.
Thank you again for joining us for this conversation. Let's keep the momentum going on this important issue.
Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator