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SPNN at the Center of Digital Inclusion Conversations

May 25, 2017

The SPNN CTEP staff and members have had a busy month and we couldn’t be more inspired and energized by the people we’ve met and the ideas we’ve discussed. We spent the last couple of weeks networking and hearing from local and national professionals working hard to achieve digital equity here and across the U.S. In the last couple weeks SPNN staff and CTEP members attended the Better Together Conference; helped plan the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s national Net Inclusion Conference; hosted the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband; and attended a very important dissertation defense.

We were a little worried that current battles to prevent federal digital inclusion policy and funding from being dismantled might dominate a lot of conversations at these events. Instead, we heard from many people across the state and the country who have been gaining momentum in hyper-local digital inclusion work. Below is a quick synopsis for the community about the weeks’ key events.

Elizabeth Lindsey, CTEP Member Michelle Andrews,
and Bill Callahan at Net Inclusion

National Digital Inclusion Alliance's #NetInclusion Conference
Last week Saint Paul Public Library hosted the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s (NDIA) 2017 Net Inclusion conference, which convened digital inclusion practitioners and policymakers from across the country to advance digital inclusion in the United States.

A small group of our CTEP AmeriCorps members got an inside scoop on planning the 200 person conference. “Putting on a national conference is easier said than done,” Director of the NDIA Angela Siefer had earlier cautioned the six CTEP members who sat on the local planning committee. The point wasn’t lost on our members, who took behind-the-scenes logistics like providing lunches and dinner, volunteer coordination, creating event maps, helped select the National Digital Inclusion Champion, and more. “It’s nice to see that this great networking and idea exchange is happening in part as a result of our work,” said Meredith Bauer, CTEP Member at Sun Ray Libraries in St. Paul. The members will be presenting about their involvement at NDIA at the CTEP Civic Engagement projects in August.

For more information about the content of the conference check out NDIA’s website or check out this thorough blog post about it from Partners Briding the Digital Divide. Highlights for us included:

-Digital inclusion guru Maya Wiley’s inspirational keynote speech on digital equity and racial justice.
-Bill Callahan on exposing internet red lining practices in Cleveland.
-The publication of the Digital Inclusion Outcomes-Base Evaluation (based in part on results from a 2016 focus group with CTEP members and supervisors).
-Lightening Round presentations by digital inclusion programs across the U.S.
-Bus tours to SPNN and five CTEP AmeriCorps partner sites. Thanks Saint Paul Public Libraries, Project for Pride In Living, PCs for People, IFP-MN, and Science Museum of Minnesota.

It was wonderful to see dozens of people in SPNN's community get involved in the Net Inclusion Conference at many levels including organizing, hosting tours, presenting, blogging, and attending the conference. We are truly unique in having such a concentration of dedicated professionals collaborating around digital inclusion in one region.

Tom Cytom-Hyson presents about Northstar upgrades
at Better Together

Better Together Conference
The Net Inclusion conference piggybacked on the Better Together Conference, which took place at SPNN the day before Net Inclusion. The local conference convenes statewide WorkForce, Adult Basic Education and Library practitioners to promote collaboration and integration of technology into educational and workforce offerings. Last year the MN Department of Education gave out a handful of WIOA inspired mini-grants meant to encourage collaboration, so this year’s conference featured project outcomes complete with lessons learned. The overriding message from the grantees’ pilot projects was: Cross sector collaboration was good, but harder than expected.

Most of our CTEP members also participated in focus group sessions about upcoming upgrades of the Northstar Assessments. Tom Cytrom-Hyson of the Minnesota Literacy Council told attendees that the MN Literacy Council will undergo a major upgrade to the assessments just as soon as they raise the funds to do so. No specific timelines to report yet.


CTEP Members and Task Force chair Margaret
Andersen-Kelliher (second from left)

Governor's Task Force on Broadband
Made up of a small and diverse group of lawyers, Internet Service Providers, librarians, policy gurus, health care professionals, digital literacy practitioners and others, the Governor’s Task Force on broadband provides policy recommendations to Governor Dayton. This can be a tricky, since people on the Task Force represent entities with some times converging and at other times competing interests.

The Task Force, chaired by Margaret Andersen-Kelliher of the MN High Tech Association, does its homework though, and seems to be increasingly going out on field trips to better understand the intricacies of internet access and literacy. They convened one of their regular meetings at SPNN a couple of weeks ago to learn more about digital literacy training in the Twin Cities.

Neighborhood House CTEP Member Madison Neece discussed the Digital Homeroom project, a tool that CTEP members have been developing to help nascent instructors better serve low-literate learners. Tom Hackbarth, our CTEP Member at SPNN, talked about the difficulty of jamming pre-existing digital literacy assessments into media literacy training. “It was like jamming a square peg in a round hole, which is why we are starting to develop portfolio based learning platforms.” And CTEP Member Michelle Andrews spoke about what digital equity really means from her perspective serving on the North side for nearly two years.

Overall CTEP underscored the importance of pairing low-cost internet and computers with digital literacy training, and the level of investment it takes to improve learners’ digital skills. Check out Ann Treacy’s blurb about the meeting on the Blandin on Broadband Blog to learn about the Task Force members’ knitting skills. (Seriously.)

Jen Vanek defending her dissertation at the U of M
School of Education

Jen Vanek defends her dissertation
Jen Vanek has been a huge supporter of digital literacy and inclusion in the Twin Cities as one of the architects of the NorthStar Digital Literacy Standards, as a trainer for digital literacy instructors, and as a mentor to many of our members, supervisors and practitioners in the local digital inclusion committee. She recently defended a dissertation at the University of Minnesota's program in Second Languages Education using “Designed Based Research” (academe-speak for community driven research) with novice technology instructors. CTEP Members Madison Neece, Sarah Olander and Evan Davis have been working with Jen to implement a replicable website for computer instructors working with low-literate learners. Congratulations Jen! You give community embedded researchers a good name.




Written by Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva, Director of Training and Education at the CTEP AmeriCorps program at the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network.