The Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) project brings together Rural Development Commissions, 11 local demonstration communities and statewide partners in an effort to help Minnesota residents, businesses and schools to make good use of broadband. The project is about to celebrate a first birthday.
We are using a comprehensive framework based on the Intelligent Community Forum strategy that focuses on: broadband, digital inclusion, knowledge workers, marketing/advocacy and innovation. Within this framework each community is funding local projects to meet the local needs while statewide partners have been creating tools, such as digital inclusion curriculum, to support the local efforts. Collectively we’ve created tools to meet residents wherever they are on the digital literacy spectrum.
Statewide project partners, PCs for People have been busy refurbishing recycled computers for folks who have never had a computer in their home. Last quarter they gave out a record-breaking 809 computers to proud owners across the state. (About 300 of those computers went to homes in MIRC communities.) Some new computer owners have taken to the computers easily, some have kids to help guide them, but for folks who need a little hand holding, the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has created computer classes.
DEED began by using standards developed by the Digital Literacy Center to help determine what digital literacy skills they should strive to teach; they have developed online courses that start at the beginning (see video). They have a series of scenario-based learner-driven training modules that follows our hero Olivia as she strives to gain computer skills required to get a job and conquer other life challenges as they arise. These courses will soon be available through area Workforce Centers, community colleges, libraries and other locations. (As you watch the video you may notice the slow pacing to accommodate low English and literacy levels.)
The Minnesota Learning Commons picks up the baton from DEED with their Knowledge Workers curriculum, which includes training in career planning, entrepreneurship, research, networking, problem solving, critical thinking and innovation. The courses are computer-based but will be presented in a classroom setting so that students have a supportive environment to build skills to take future online courses. The goal is to develop a workforce that has modern technology skills required to support the 21st century company so that Minnesota communities can compete with global counterparts for attracting businesses to the area. The courses are available through the local community colleges.
Along with training residents, MIRC also supports local businesses with ecommerce and ebusiness training. The University of Minnesota Extension offers a range of classes from Doing Business Online to Using Social Media in Business. (Some classes are offered with Spanish interpreters.) In four months, they have conducted 66 workshops in 18 communities, contacting 597 businesses and more than 1,000 individuals. As local reporter, Dave Peters points out, “This is the flip side of the federal stimulus money.” Much of the stimulus funding has gone to infrastructure. The MIRC project focuses on usage and adoption. In this context, teaching local businesses how to use broadband to grow.
The Minnesota Renewable Energy Marketplace (MNREM) has also been working this local businesses – especially renewable energy businesses and businesses, such as manufacturers, who support renewable businesses. MNREM has hosted several webinars on ebusiness topics providing high level instruction to decision makers and business owners. MNREM will be working in local communities to get local ebusiness specialists to work with businesses to help them make better use of broadband.
We’re proud of the lessons we’re teaching and learning. Our hope and expectation is that the skills that beneficiaries gain through the training will outlive the project itself and that even the curriculum will live on to teach folks throughout Minnesota and beyond how to use a computer to learn, work and live. In some ways much of our work is done – then next phase is developing relationships to help spread the word and use of the tools we have created.