Intergenerational digital literacy classes in Alexandria


According to Pew Internet & American Life project, 78 percent of American adults are online and 59 percent of American adults send or read email every day (43 percent use a social networking site such as Facebook). So folks who aren’t online are finding themselves out of the loop.

The Alexandria Echo Press, recently interviewed someone who was out of the loop…

“I feel like an orphan,” said Alexandria’s Romayne Strand. “People ask me if I have e-mail, and when I tell them I don’t, they say, ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to send you a letter then, or give you a phone call’.”

The Alexandria Echo Press article highlights a local twist on a statewide program that has been bringing people, especially seniors, back into the loop – both by getting them online and getting them working with area high school students.

The curriculum for the class was developed by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) as part of the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) project. (You can get a glimpse of the training here.) The curriculum is available online – but as it’s designed to be used with folks on the far edge of the digital divide, so the intention is that the course is led through local trainers. Which as the Echo Press reports is how it started in Alexandria…

In January 2011, the Alexandria Area Adult Basic Education program received a grant to teach a community computer class for seniors for one year. There were about 100 participants.

Unfortunately, the funding ran out in January – but a little local innovation helped solve that problem…

“Because Community Education couldn’t continue teaching this class, we began wondering if we could get high school students to teach a class to senior citizens,” Ransom said.

After sharing her idea with JHS teacher Wendy Watts and members of the National Honor Society (NHS), Ransom was granted use of the JHS technology labs and had six student volunteers.

The computer classes, sponsored by Community Education, are held every Monday for eight weeks in the JHS technology labs. Currently, 23 senior citizens participate in the program, and there is a waiting list.

It’s a great solution – one that I think could be replicated in other areas. The digital inclusion curriculum they are using is available for public use online.