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digital equity summit

Author: Alison Harding, Jane Behre, Purva Mundlye, Mega Subramaniam

Oct 20, 2022

On Thursday, October 20, 2022, UMD College of Information Studies (INFO) and the UMD Tech Extension through the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) held a Digital Literacy Summit. Over 80 digital literacy scholars, stakeholders, and practitioners attended a day filled with panels, presentations, and a participatory design session. 

The day kicked off with welcomes from Dr. Jinhee Kim, the project lead, and the Deans of AGNR and INFO, Drs. Craig Beyrouty and Keith Marzullo. 

The first panel of the day, the keynote panel, featured Ronnie Hammond from the Office of Statewide Broadband, Andrew Coy from the Digital Harbor Foundation, and Lo Smith from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and was moderated by Dr. Mega Subramaniam from INFO. This keynote conversation featured discussion on digital literacy skills, specifically on access to devices and broadband connection, affordability, skills acquisition, and other general impacts of the digital divide. Key points of the discussion included: 

● All panelists agreed that it is not a single population that is most in need of digital literacy training, and that, while there is not a one-size fits all solution to implement across the state, there is a great opportunity to work with communities to best address their specific needs. 

● Mobile dependency is particularly prevalent in low-income households, which can make accessing vital services difficult and depending on one's location in the state can be nearly impossible given cellular data coverage. 

     ○ Smith identified that Internet Service Providers need to be held accountable for implementing wireline broadband infrastructure no matter the location, though Hammond acknowledged that ISP business models do not prioritize access for all. 

     ○ Coy mentioned that awareness and adoption of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) need to be increased as one of the ways to lessen the financial barrier to household wireline broadband internet access. 

     ○ Smith suggested a few potential solutions for this barrier in the meantime, such as making online forms more mobile friendly and making devices accessible through partnerships with libraries. 

● All panelists agreed that while there is great and innovative work to bridge the gap in both access/affordability and skills, more coordination of efforts is required – Coy wants more digital literacy curricula repositories, while Smith urged us not to reinvent the wheel when it comes to generating digital literacy curricula and materials. That is, many useful resources likely already exist and should be taken advantage of. 

● Hammond, and corroborated by other panelists, point to the necessity of community engagement and buy-in to deploy effective programming. 

● Panelists shared links to valuable documents: 

     ○ Coy shared a map of Digital Equity in Maryland 

     ○ Smith shared NDIA’s planning guide for digital skills curriculum 

     ○ Hammond shared the State’s timeline for the Maryland Digital Equity Act 

The keynote panel was followed by an update from the Digital Literacy Project team. Dr. Jinhee Kim began with an overall presentation that provided updates on the team’s progress, then INFO Ph.D. students Alison Harding and Jane Behre presented the summary of results of the team’s stakeholder needs assessment. The results of this assessment can be found in the full Executive Summary (see Executive Summary: Digital Literacy in Maryland). 

The morning session wrapped up with a participatory design session moderated by Dr. Mega Subramaniam and led by Alison Harding and Jane Behre. This design session allowed participants to discuss the manifestation of barriers to community participation in digital literacy programming that was presented in the stakeholder needs assessment. Additional support for this session was provided by HCIM students Purva Mundlye and Jared Lai. A detailed analysis of this session is provided (see Summit Design Session Summary). 

After lunch, the Summit featured two panels. The first was on Rural and Urban Challenges and Success Stories and featured Kaleema Obot from Byte Back, Mitsuko Herrera, Director of the Montgomery Connects Program, and Chris Abell from the Carroll County Technology and Innovation Council, and moderated by Mark DeMorra, a member of the Tech Extension Digital Literacy Steering Committee. A few highlights from the panel include: 

● Herrera mentioned Latinx and Black communities are about 3 times less likely to have a home computer device. 

● Abell discussed the challenges of connecting with rural communities, as it is difficult to reach out to large groups all at once due to the typically spread-out nature of rural communities. Herrera also mentioned the challenges of reaching out to people with no or limited access to the Internet. 

● The panel also discussed the importance of partnering with a trusted member of the community to give out information. Trust plays a large role in providing information through word of mouth to communities. 

● Panelists also discussed the similarities and differences of challenges rural and urban community members face. Abell noted that while everyone has the same end goal with digital access, there are widely varied paths to reaching that goal. 

● The discussion ended by emphasizing the need to ensure sustainable employment of community members. In relation to this, Obot shared Byte Back's continuous community connection model, which includes connecting alumni of their education programs to employers in the community. 

The final panel of the day highlighted Public Libraries as a Key Partner and featured Alex Houff from the Baltimore County Public Library, Angela Brown from Prince George’s County Memorial Library System, and Karen Earp from the Somerset County Library, and moderated by Dr. Mega Subramaniam from INFO. The conversation touched on the general landscape of digital skills programming within these systems, a discussion of the skills, knowledge, and support that library staff need to better serve their communities, and how to best engage with community members. Highlights included: 

● Earp gave a description of a successful youth STEM digital literacy program in Princess Anne, MD that focused on early childhood digital literacy education to help combat later digital illiteracy in adults by “getting them while they’re young.” 

● Brown discussed the implementation of a Community Connects program and a Digital Navigator style program in Prince George’s County that, while still new, have been successful in responding to community needs. 

● Houff mentioned that digital literacy is hard to pin down, what it is, what it looks like, etc, but that Baltimore County is implementing access programming, such as their physical device loaning service. The circulation data on the newly launched LTE enabled Chromebooks (Chromebooks with their own built-in wireless Internet connection) has shown that this stop gap program is necessary, but a more permanent solution to affordable internet access is needed for their patrons. 

     ○ This could be seen in an effort to ramp up Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) enrollment assistance. 

● In response to a question about what assistance public libraries need to serve the digital skills needs of patrons, all three panelists noted that additional or different training is needed for “newly minted librarians.” 

     ○ Brown and Houff both mention that library staff are stretched thin and need to be everything to everyone. In addition they need to be part social worker, which is not something they are trained for. 

     ○ Earp discusses that in smaller library systems, most employees are not formally educated as librarians, so in-service training and professional development is vital. 

● All three panelists expressed that working on outreach is vital: 

     ○ Working with community partners to discover what community members really are looking for. Outreach should not only take the form as “Learn this piece of technology” but as something that is important for their daily lives. For example, don’t push a program about how to use teleconference tools, but demonstrate the importance of such skills as “how to read a story to your grandchildren in California”, using teleconference tools. 

     ○ Integrate digital privacy and safety, and other skills that community members may not be aware that they need to learn into everyday programming. 

     ○ Outreach is hard work - if you live in a community where transportation is difficult – take the programming to the community members or they won’t attend. 

The day wrapped up with closing remarks from Dr. Jinhee Kim and Digital Literacy Project Director, Isaias Tesfalidet. This included expanding on next steps for this program, which include: 

● Continued staffing efforts for the project as a whole, with a particular focus on the Digital Navigator team. 

● The creation of an open-access, public curriculum repository of digital skills training curriculum. 

● Launching the website, which will include ways to get in touch with Digital Navigators, a statewide calendar of events and programming, self-paced digital skills training, and a curriculum repository for stakeholders across the state. 

● Launching the statewide hotline for digital skill and hardware help for Maryland residents.  

The summit was, overall, incredibly well-received by attendees. The keynote panel, in particular, got a lot of positive feedback and there was a wonderful discussion in the Zoom chat as the panelists spoke. Many audience members expressed interest in staying connected with the Digital Literacy team and partnering to work on next steps. 


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