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CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | October 2013
helps, but it's not a complete solution. Some kind of formal
technical-literacy program is also needed. Unfortunately,
many of the available programs don't always mesh with
a school's specific circumstances. The CWS has worked
with a number of programs, with mixed results.
Several years ago, the center tapped into Microsoft's free
Elevate America program, which focuses on providing tech
skills and other resources to help people find employment.
On the first go-around, the center made the mistake of pur-
suing Microsoft Word and Excel certification for its students
in a summer program. Microsoft provided free vouchers for
proctored tests so students could prove their expertise.
Because the students had so little computer experience,
however, the instructors couldn't complete the training in
time and the students failed. "It's hard to explain how to cre-
ate a new document in Word if you first need to say, 'That
means with your right hand move the mouse to the left and
select....' That was taking up a huge amount of class time,"
Regrouping from this false start, the center moved onto
Microsoft's Digital Literacy curriculum, intended to address
just this kind of roadblock. However, the center found the
program instructions too technical and complicated for the
self-study mode being used to deliver it. "There are a lot
of modules you have to navigate through," says Westfall.
Plus, the final test was not proctored, which meant students
couldn't prove they had taken the test themselves.
Ultimately, the center decided to craft its own solution
based on a Moodle platform provided by a third party. It
developed a 27-hour basic digital-literacy curriculum to
be taken in the computer lab. As Westfall describes it, the
program showed students "how you move a mouse; this
is what a directory is; this is what a keyboard is." The pro-
gram was competency based, so students could test out of
anything they already knew. Unfortunately, this initiative also
foundered, but only because of a licensing dispute with the
Even so, Westfall feels something invaluable was gained:
"We learned that in 27 hours you can get someone to the
point where they can do fine in an online adult basic educa-
But the school has also learned that what tech newbies
learn in a computer lab does not always transfer to home
use. Recently, several of the school's math and read-
ing programs were moved online to give students flex-
ibility around their work schedules. While many students
showed progress in a computer lab setting, the advance-
ment stopped when they took their work outside the lab.
Even students who had never asked for help from the
lab manager, once outside class, "didn't feel comfortable
signing on without knowing that there was someone they
could talk to," Westfall says.
An Incomplete Revolution
While the hoopla around online learning and MOOCs has
focused on their potential to democratize education, the re-
ality may be a little less optimistic. For a segment of Ameri-
cans, the digital walls of Coursera, Udacity, and edX look as
daunting as the ivy-covered towers ever did, and it's going
to take a concerted educational effort---and better broad-
band access---to bring them down.
"It's going to continue to be surprising that our students
don't have these skills," says Lampron. "It's going to contin-
ue to be a point of frustration for some people. So it is worth
trying to figure out efficient ways to help students deal with
this. And it's worth putting in the extra time in their classes
to help instructors deal with these things, because it's going
to continue to happen."
"Digital literacy, digital divide, inequality---all those
terms come and go, and funding mechanisms for them
come and go, and it's easy to get swayed by the buzz-
word of the year," adds Westfall. "But whatever you call
it, this concept is worth pursuing, because you're not
serving your students if you don't make [digital-literacy
Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor of Cam-
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