California Connects

Increasing Digital Literacy in Underserved California Communities

Students in a CA Connects computer class

CA Connects program draws to a close

Most of us can no longer imagine our lives without access to a computer and the Internet. Our society has become dependent on the Internet as a cost-effective way to communicate and do business.  As a result, digital literacy has emerged as a vital life skill required to access information, education, social services and jobs. This has resulted in a “digital divide” – an inequality between those who have access to and knowledge of technology and those who donot, a gap that is often divided along socioeconomic lines and is sometimes defined by lack of broadband connectedness in rural communities.

California Connects, which began in 2011 and completed on June 30, 2013, sought to increase digital literacy and assist in bridging the digital divide through two programs.  The Great Valley Center program, funded by a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant to the Foundation for California Community Colleges, provided basic digital literacy training for low income Spanish speaking adults in 18 counties in the Central Valley.

CA Connects Fast Facts:

Counties: 18
Community Partnerships: 72
Individuals trained: 3,720
Hours of training provided: 35,542
New Internet users: 1,284

Digital literacy training changed lives for the better

The focus of California Connects was to reach populations for whom computer and Internet use was still a challenge yet necessary to enhance lifelong learning ability, improve economic status and advance quality of life. For some participants this was the first time they had touched a computer.  “This training took away my fear of using a computer,” commented trainee Alicia Candelas.

California Connects trainers provided hands-on instruction, primarily in Spanish, in small-group, computer-lab settings, teaching trainees how to use the Internet for essential tasks such as securing gainful employment, exploring higher education opportunities, accessing health information and finance resources, utilizing social networks, and more. The experience was life-changing for many trainees.

“Using a computer makes life easier,” explained Carlos Velasquez. “This new tool is like having a teacher in my house to answer all my questions.”

Trainees learned basic computer use, how to search the Internet for jobs and websites to learn English, and how to set-up and use email to connect with family, friends, and their children’s schools and teachers.

“The computer class had a great impact on my life,” reported student Johanna Izquierdo. “I learned to send email messages and can now communicate with family out of the country.”

Community partnerships with schools, libraries and community agencies played an integral role in CA Connects success, providing free use of computer labs for the trainings and promoting the classes to their constituents.  Some organizations provided multiple training sites in the San Joaquin Valley.  One such community partner was Self-Help Enterprises, which allowed CA Connects trainers to use computer labs and community centers at 10 apartment complexes.

“Our goal is to continue to help bridge the digital divide, and California Connects’ trainings worked toward achieving this,” explained Roberto Garcia, Resident Services Coordinator for Self-Help Enterprises. “The program was a real game changer for our families.”

Community trainers reflect on program’s impact

The CA Connects community trainers witnessed firsthand how the training opened a whole new world for many of the participants. They watched as grandparents were able to see their grandchildren in Mexico for the first time in several years as they communicated via Skype. They heard stories from parents who were now able to use the Internet to help their children with homework.

“One lady was most thankful because she was able to communicate with her daughter’s teacher via email, and this changed her life because she was able to learn about her daughter’s academic standing and was able to help her, more efficiently, to raise her grades,” shared Diego Villafana, CA Connects trainer for Kern County.

California Connects Video

To hear trainers share their experiences and perspectives watch this CA Connects video.

Background

California Connects worked to break down barriers to access by increasing the awareness of public computing centers, educating new users about affordable broadband options, providing training in multiple languages, and educating users about how the internet affects their lives.  This program was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration for Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and administered by the Foundation for California Community Colleges in partnership with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and the Great Valley Center.

GVC led the Central Valley component of California Connects and was responsible for the implementation of community trainers on the ground in 18 counties: Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Nevada, Placer, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tulare, Tuolumne and Yuba.  Community trainers conducted outreach and provided digital literacy training for Central Valley residents, with an emphasis on reaching the low-income Spanish speaking population. Trainers provided hands-on training in small-group,computer-lab settings, teaching trainees how to use the Internet for essential tasks such as securing gainful employment, exploring higher education opportunities, accessing health and finance resources, utilizing social networks, and more.

Our success was largely due to the support of our partnerships with community agencies, educational institutions and governmental organizations who provided a location with computers for holding trainings and helped us publicize the digital literacy training opportunities.