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Website allows digital learners to go at own pace

June 26, 2017

By Evan Davis, CTEP AmeriCorps Member

It’s morning in the Riverside Plaza housing complex. The door buzzer rings through the computer lab perched above the Halal Market and overlooking the plaza of the towering apartment complexes. The next set of digital literacy learners have arrived to join Sagal and Farhia for computer class. I unlock the door to the smiling faces of Hassan, Barkhab, and Mohamed and we greet each other with big handshakes and the Somali greeting, “Iska warran?” or “What’s the news?”

Today marks the third month of these three students’ participation in Digital Foundations, a basic computer class intended to help English language learners with computer skills. The difference between today and the first class with these students, is that today they head to their respective computers and find their way to the Digital Homeroom.

The Digital Homeroom is a consolidation of online resources for learning computer skills. Beginning in the fall of 2015 I participated in the creation of the Digital Homeroom along with CTEP AmeriCorps members Madison Neece, Deshann Sanchez, Jim Osenberg and Sarah Olander. In collaboration with Jen Vanek, a longtime advocate and researcher of digital literacy instruction for English language learners, we established a website that hosts online learning tools in an accessible format. Our project’s goals were to make it easier for instructors to teach students of varied skill levels and to create a student-centered resource that gives participants agency in their learning process.

Shortly after Hassan, Barkhab, and Mohamed get started digging through the Digital Homeroom for self-guided digital literacy practice, I hear another buzz at the door.  Abase has arrived worried he’s late and missed some of class. Fortunately, the Digital Homeoroom enables me to run a rolling cohort model of digital literacy instruction in which students can come and go as they please.

Abase, reassured that he’s not too late to join in, jumps into a typing practice activity. Free from the restraints of formalized lecture-style instruction, the Digital Homeroom encourages students of all different skill levels to participate in the same class. Regardless of the students’ time of arrival, previous knowledge, or computer self-confidence we are all able to continue learning together at our own pace.

At a training for digital literacy instructors Madison Neece explained, “we wanted to make the website user-friendly and adaptable to instructor needs.” We therefore hosted the site on Weebly which uses drag-and-drop design methods. The template site includes curated resources that instructors can plug into their curriculum. However, if instructors want to add their own resources, Sarah Olander created training videos on modifying the template site to fit instructors’ design.

Back in class, Farhia takes a break from her exploration of the Digital Homeroom resources to enjoy the “Just for Fun!” section of the website. She laughs at a cheesy digital literacy joke as Abase concentrates deeply on perfecting his typing form. Meanwhile, Hassan and Barkhab practice identifying parts of the ribbon through a Microsoft Word matching activity.

Observing students learning at their own pace with the Digital Homeroom made me realize that students have more buy-in when a class offers them choice. I began to see how students’ confidence with the computer grew as they relied less on me for direction and started believing in their own ability. The Digital Homeroom is a powerful tool that eases the burden for digital literacy instructors and encourages students to gain agency and self-assurance in their learning.

Explore the Digital Homeroom at http://ctep.weebly.com

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Evan Davis is a second-year CTEP AmeriCorps member for Minnesota Computers for Schools. He works with adults and youth to teach basic computer skills and HTML game design respectively. You can contact him at edavis_at_mncfs.org or on LinkedIn.

Madison Neece is a second-year CTEP AmeriCorps member at Neighborhood House in Saint Paul. She teaches basic computer skills to adult English Language Learners and senior citizens on the West Side. You can contact her at madisonneece_at_spnn.org or on LinkedIn

Sarah Olander is a second-year CTEP AmeriCorps Member at CTV-North Suburbs in Roseville. She teaches media literacy and media production to youth. You can contact her at saraholander_at_spnn.org or on LinkedIn.