Google Fiber and United Way of Utah County joined forces for Digital Inclusion Week May 7–11 in an effort to bring greater education and skills to lesser-served populations within Provo.
“Teach-a-skill, learn-a-skill” events were held throughout the week for seniors, teens and students across the city, and the social media campaign #ProvoGotSkills rewarded individuals and schools with prizes for posting selfies after teaching a digital skill.
At the kickoff event, Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi taught a crowd of nearly 100 seniors how to navigate YouTube. She demonstrated that the video site can teach the group how to fix a faucet, how to play the piano and how to cook healthy meals on a budget. The crowd reacted with pleasure when the mayor demonstrated that YouTube also hosts music from Elvis Presley and other musicians.
Claire Warnick, United Way of Utah County’s Volunteer Center manager, said that digital skills such as these are critical in this day and age.
“Our society is getting more and more digitally interconnected. If you don’t have access to it, you can’t catch up because everything is online these days.”
Thanks to Google Fiber, which offers free internet to many areas of the city, Provo is “one of the most connected-to-the-internet cities in world,” Warnick said. “But there are still gaps we need to bridge.”
Specifically, lower-income families may not have digital devices in their homes, and other populations may not feel comfortable with their online skills. “We’ve been focusing on the second of those two problems, and that’s why we created this Digital Inclusion Week campaign,” Warnick said.
As part of the campaign, Google Fiber came to Franklin Elementary school in Provo on May 11 to demonstrate virtual reality to many students. They students got to “go” to Mars, to the middle of the ocean with sharks and to other locations made possible by Google Expeditions.
“I’ve heard of the Great Wall of China, but now I actually get to see it!” one student exclaimed.
Karen Hoffman, Franklin Elementary’s facilitator, said this experience was a unique one for most of the school’s students.
“Most of these kids come from a very low socioeconomic background and will never have the opportunity to travel the world, so we’re so grateful that Google Fiber could bring the world to our kids,” she said.
In spite of their limited at-home resources, though, the students are learning through digital means at school.
“We are very much into technology and are using it almost all day, every day,” Hoffman said. “We have Chromebooks in grades four through six and iPads through many of the lower grades, with almost a one-to-one ratio of devices to students. Interactive TVs are going in next year, and teachers are using Code.org training to use computer science in the classroom.”
At Sunrise Preschool in Provo, teachers are raising awareness of how using technology gives students a voice.
“Some students rely on the iPad to even communicate through the CoughDrop app. For example, I have a student that cannot speak,” said Sunrise teacher Kendra Todd. “And if I hold up a printed copy of their name, they are able to use the iPad to put together and say the sentence: ‘My name is … ’”
Teachers at Sunrise Preschool also have pictures of snacks on the iPad that students can choose from menu-style while learning the names of the snacks. “They’re also able to use the iPad to communicate if they’re hungry or thirsty,” Todd said. “This technology allows us to give a voice to students that otherwise wouldn’t have one.”
Warnick said not everybody in Provo is aware of the needs that digital access can fulfill.
“All job searching is online. Students look up their grades online in addition to doing their research online. Even medical records are online; everything is going digital,” she said. “Lack of access isn’t a clear need in the community. So this week was about raising awareness and teaching skills.”
For Digital Inclusion Week, United Way and Google Fiber provided $5,000 in technological supplies to Provo schools and classrooms.