After 12 weeks of everything from the basics to online banking, the 36 members of the very first Connect @ Home class graduated from the program. Community Tech Network, Family Eldercare, and local resident staff came together over coffee and donuts to celebrate the graduates. It was an opportunity for us to reflect on the program and what we each had learned.
Most students were eager to share stories about their personal experiences with the program. For some of them, technology had been frightening and foreign before they started learning on their tablets. They had felt ashamed to seem behind the times, and forgotten. In many ways, the digital divide the learners faced was echoed in their social lives, as friends and family moved away or became distant. This group doesn’t like to dwell on problems, however. “Just because we’re here doesn’t mean we aren’t alive,” learner Ruthie Clayton shared with her Oak Springs classmates. “And these tablets are going to keep us up to date.”
Each week, learners at every residence worked on something new. They started by getting familiar with the tablet and its controls. Later, they worked on emailing each other, internet safety, and downloading apps from the Google Play Store. One of the most memorable lessons was the Google Hangouts video call app. For the first time in their lives, the learners at North Loop chatted face-to-face with someone on the other side of the world. I was on a personal vacation, but I was able to make time to contact the group across thousands of miles instantaneously. Bessie Hawkins remembers it clearly: “That was a real powerful moment. I felt like I was well and truly in the future.”
I closed out each celebration with the same message to my learners: This program is just the beginning. The amazing part of technology is the way it empowers individuals to reshape their lives. They find new interests and new friends to share them with. The internet connects us to people we never thought we’d be able to see again, and those we always wish we’d see more of. Most importantly, every learner now has a device to go farther and learn even more. I can’t wait to hear about all the amazing things these graduates go on to do with their devices.