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4 Lessons From My Years of Service with SPNN's CTEP/Americorps program

April 16, 2019

By Sydney Bertun, SPNN Community Technology Empowerment Project AmeriCorps Member, CTV North Suburbs

I have been teaching various creative technologies to youth at a library and a community media site for the last two years as a CTEP member. Hands down, my favorite experience has been a brainstorming session I had with some tween girls during a video production camp. Before I could teach them camera or editing skills, we had to decide what our video would be about. My notes from our discussion read:

  • Message: people look at their phones too much!

  • Format: commercials

  • Plot: kool aid, potatoes, brogressive

  • Izzy wants to say “WUS UP”

Yes, that video is online.

Somehow this is not what I expected I would be doing when I was first applying for CTEP. Actually, I just remember reading this description on the website and thinking it sounded cool: “CTEP members teach a wide range of technology skills in schools, libraries and nonprofits across the Twin Cities”

Now almost two years into the program I have a much better understanding of what that actually means. Having worked at two different sites and visited many more, I can attest that there is a huge variety in what CTEP’s experience and learn throughout the Americorps year, but there are many commonalities too. Here are four:  

1.You know more than you think you know

The term “digital native” gets thrown around a lot when people talk about millenials, but we often underestimate just how much technology we have learned to use daily, and will continue to learn. Understanding concepts as simple as what the menu icon looks like across different software platforms is a huge asset because it gives you the power to troubleshoot even when encountering a new website, app, or piece of hardware for the first time.

You may take it for granted that you can figure out how to apply for a job through a website you have never visited before, but that is an immensely important skill. Being able to pass that knowledge on to students as a CTEP AmeriCorps member is to play some small part in their economic empowerment. The shared satisfaction when they “get it” is a great feeling.  

2. Bridging the digital divide takes many forms

There are many different ways technology education within CTEP addresses inequality. This is a reflection of the wide range of skill levels and needs students bring to the classroom, open lab or makerspace.

Some members are teaching Word and Excel for job readiness, others are teaching financial literacy with banking apps, still others are using 3D printers with youth or teaching video production and editing. Every CTEP has the opportunity to shape their programming towards topics they are knowledgeable about, and what they see as most valuable for students.  

3. Being a tech educator involves creativity

There are a ton of different ways to teach the topics CTEPs cover. All technology education to some extent requires a hands on, learn-as-you-do approach. As an educator, that really frees you from the traditional stand and lecture class format.

You can be as creative as you want in coming up with learning exercises, whether it’s using toolbar scavenger hunts to teach Powerpoint formatting, or designing mock 48 hour film festival requirements to expose your students to video production.      

4. Tech literacy is relevant to everything

Once you start to see how the need for technology education plays out at your site, you will find connections to this issue everywhere in your life. From the applications we use to move around the world each day to the policy decisions being made at local, state and national levels, tech literacy is essential in how we function and relate to each other as human beings.

The role of technology in our society goes far beyond buying new gadgets or communicating more efficiently; it is tied to our systems of commerce, defines the labor market, shapes our cultural expression and means of social power. Being aware of these connections is a useful perspective you will bring into all future endeavors as a citizen, employee, artist & human.