December 17, 2017

ALA, PLA, and Cox Communications Partner for Digital Literacy

Digital Learn banner logoCable and Internet service provider Cox Communications has teamed up with the American Library Association (ALA); the Public Library Association (PLA); as well as pilot libraries in Topeka, KS; Tucson, AZ; and Baton Rouge, LA, to help improve digital literacy skills in underserved communities. The collaboration includes the launch of digitallearn.org, a website offering tutorials on tasks from saving a file on a computer to creating an email account. The new site was developed in partnership with PLA, using input from librarians around the country about what digital literacy lessons would be most needed in their communities.

In the 21st century, being literate doesn’t just mean being able to read. From paying utility bills to registering for public services to taking college courses, important services are moving online. Being able to navigate digital spaces effectively is no longer a luxury—it’s a requisite.

“Community members come into libraries every day, wanting to accomplish a life task many of us take for granted, but lacking the basic computer or Internet skills to accomplish it,” said ALA president Julie Todaro. “Whether it’s finding and applying for a job online, learning more about a health condition, accessing a government service, or connecting to their grandchildren via Facebook, they often know what they want to do but are unable to do it without some assistance with basic computer skills.”

The partnership grew out of the Obama administration’s Connect2Compete program, which has helped to provide subsidized Internet access to users who qualify for programs like free school lunches or public housing. Cox Communications has been a participant in the access end of that program, offering families enrolled in Connect2Compete high speed Internet access for $9.95 per month, with free in-home Wi-Fi and free access to more than 500,000 Wi-Fi hotspots.

The company hopes that this partnership with ALA will help to ensure that once they’re online, people can make the most of that access with the help of libraries and digital literacy resources such as digitallearn.org. Cox has announced plans to support the initiative with an advertising campaign on its cross-channel cable lineup throughout its 18-state market.

Through a combination of short videos and text lessons on digitallearn.org, readers can tackle topics like job hunting online (a 22-minute course), buying a plane ticket (nine minutes), and protecting themselves from online con artists (11 minutes). In addition to these broad-based lessons, there are also tutorials showing how to navigate common computer operating systems, browsers, and software.

“Experience with computers and the Internet is necessary for competing in today’s digital world,” Cox Communications President Pat Esser said in an ALA announcement. “Through our partnership, we will ensure that the libraries never close for our families, expanding the reach of their digital collections and services, and empowering more families to experience limitless learning and full participation in the knowledge economy.”

While the lessons found at digitallearn.org can be used as standalone resources, they also can be used to supplement libraries’ existing educational efforts, said Michelle Simon, Business and Career Development Services program coordinator at Pima County Public Library, AZ, one of the initial partner libraries for the program.

“We have an introduction to computers class, which covers how to use the Internet and save files and send an email. Now, with digitallearn.org, these tutorials can help support what they’ve learned in that class,” said Simon. And since digitallearn.org is available wherever, whenever, it’s an especially flexible supplement—users can get a leg up on a course they’re preparing to attend, or they can brush up on the skills they learned months after class has been dismissed.

Being a partner in the pilot means that the tutorials from the site will not only be integrated into Pima County’s site, but the library will have access to analytics that let the staff know how those lessons are being used. A key goal of the pilot is to use that data and work with digitallearn.org and PLA to develop new tutorial modules that can then be shared with other libraries.

The current digitallearn.org offerings, then, are just the first step towards what they’ll eventually be with the help of partner libraries like Pima County; Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library, KA; and East Baton Rouge Parish Library, LA, for starters. And Simon hopes that the platform will also prove to be a stepping stone to engage new library customers.

“If they see this program and come to us to help learn to use a computer,” she told LJ, “then they’ll learn about the other resources available at the library.”

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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