BTOP Projects at Work: Informing Innovative Training Methods

In remote and underserved communities, training on computers and related technology is often critical to ensure that residents are equipped with up-to-date skills. A non-profit organization in New Mexico and Maine’s state library are using the funds from the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant to fund innovative ways to provide necessary training in such communities.

Creative and Engaging Teachers

The Fast Forward New Mexico Project, funded in part by a BTOP grant, is one such project that strives to increase access by establishing partnerships. The New Mexico State Library is the lead on the project and the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship (GCCE) is one of its three subcontractors, along with the University of New Mexico Continuing Education Campus and the University of New Mexico Los Alamos Campus.

GCCE is a non-profit organization in New Mexico with a mission to “foster an environment in which cultural entrepreneurs can successfully scale their cultural enterprises.” According to Alice Loy, co-founder of the GCCE, one of the grant’s main purposes is to offer training on Web 2.0 technologies that are aimed to increase community members’ comfort and access levels.

As part of the Fast Forward Project’s training efforts, the GCCE works with 17 public libraries. By October 2010, they had developed a curriculum and used it with approximately 300 patrons in two of the libraries they serve. GCCE plans to roll the curriculum out to nine additional libraries by late spring of 2011, and to all 17 libraries by the end of 2011. In order to truly be responsive to their communities, trainings have and will continue to be offered in English, Spanish, and Navajo.

GCCE tries to draw trainers from the local libraries, but this is sometimes difficult for various reasons. First, technical knowledge among the local librarians varies. Second, many libraries’ budgets and staff hours are decreasing. Third, some administrators do not understand the importance of broadband, which means they will not encourage or support training efforts.

Because recruiting trainers from the libraries can be challenging, GCCE works hard to find trainers from the community who have sophisticated technical expertise but also a creative, engaging teaching style that can adapt to students who have had minimal experience with computers. Trainers must also be attuned to the varying levels in the class, and make necessary adjustments. For example, Ms. Loy shared one story of a workshop on social networking in which two younger students quickly mastered the subject. Rather than let these students sit idle and bored, the trainer recruited them to help her teach the content to their struggling classmates.

Responsive Training

The Maine State Library (MSL) facilitates access to and delivery of library services and collection resources for the State of Maine. In July 2010, the MSL received a $1.36 million BTOP grant for its Maine Public Library Information Commons Project. 

The project has a goal of training 120,000 people over the course of the two-year grant. According to Janet McKenney, Public Library and MLSN (Maine School and Library Network) E-Rate Coordinator, the biggest challenge they face is “to convince people that they do have to be lifelong learners, and to think about options of retraining. A lot of our losses in jobs here has just been with particular industries dying out, and people just don’t have the skills to go on. They are hesitant to try new things.”

As part of this training goal, the MSL strives to be responsive to the unique training needs of its communities. For example, basic computer literacy classes will be developed for low-income communities who have had limited experience with technology. Training on social media will be offered to help senior citizens feel less isolated.

Legal resources are another essential training topic in the state. As Ms. McKenney explained, "60 percent of Maine residents represent themselves in court – sometimes not successfully." To address this issue, 86 librarians participated in four statewide trainings as part of the state’s participation in the nationwide Access to Justice Program, which ensures access to justice in civil and criminal matters for residents of all incomes and backgrounds, including those with special needs. The trainings teach librarians how to help patrons use the HelpMELaw website, which provides legal information for low-income people in Maine.

The MSL also works with the Maine Information Network (InforME), a portal that provides and enhances access to public information and eGovernment services. As part of the BTOP grant, the DOL partners with MSL to train librarians on particular resources offered by the website, such as electronic tax filing or vehicle registration. The librarians will, in turn, facilitate the patrons’ use of the site.

Innovation is Key

In some communities, limited resources and minimal experience with technology can make it difficult to provide training. But GCCE and MSL have found that innovative methods, including responsive, tailored classes, train the trainer models, and careful selection of engaging, dynamic teachers can lessen these challenges.