Research and Outcomes
In 2004, Net Literacy hypothesized that digital inclusion would be most effectively increased by creating a digital ecosystem using both a “top down” and “bottom up” approach. In 2009, Net Literacy proposed this approach be utilized in a filing to the FCC.
The Community Connects program combines the synergy of the Computer Connects and Senior Connects programs to increase digital inclusion, digital literacy, and the availability of technology throughout Indiana (beta test state) and Indianapolis (the test urban community).
State-wide Digital Inclusion Initiative
At the request of Lt. Governor and Net Literacy Honorary Board Member Becky Skillman, Net Literacy worked to establish a state-wide digital ecosystem by providing technology so that hundreds of computer labs could be constructed or expanded throughout the state. This was especially challenging because there are few state-wide granting organizations and there was no apparent funding sources for this initiative. Also, computers drives would be required to conduct computers drives net more than 600 functional computers each year. As an all-volunteer nonprofit, Net Literacy did not have the infrastructure to provide computers to hundreds of Indiana communities. Nevertheless, Net Literacy made the commitment to provide 1500 to 2,000 computers to at least 80 of Indiana’s 93 counties during the 2010 – 2012 time period and ensure that they were placed in computer labs that could be utilized by members of the community.
Fifteen months into the project, the progress is best illustrated by a county map of Indiana:
Objective: $22.00 to $30.00 (depending upon the program) per computer and individual trained.
Result: $19.97 to $30.00 (depending upon the program) per computer and individual trained.
Summary of tactics:
1. Digital inclusion and digital literacy capacity. Net Literacy central Indiana chapters had the capacity of repurposing 10,000 computers annually, and in conjunction with other school districts outside of central Indiana, Net Literacy student volunteers easily repurposed the incremental 500 to 600 computers annually. As many as 100 Net Literacy student volunteers assisted in this initiative. Beginning in 2010, an additional 600 computers were repurposed by Net Literacy’s digital literacy corps of student volunteers. Also, computer drives were conducted throughout Indiana, realizing approximately 650 computers during the first year. The most effective computer drives were held in city and town halls with cities, towns, and counties signing proclamations encouraging residents to donate computers.
2. Prioritizing resources for schools and families with children on free or assisted lunch programs. Net Literacy conducted a two-prong approach to focus resources on its targeted market segment. A contract with the IDOE, IOT, and IOA enabled 750 computers to be distributed to 15 school districts in 2011. A partnership with the Indiana Association of United Ways was established to effectively vet agencies and nonprofits that had the capacity and commitment to absorb the computers and use them to build or expand computer labs and commit to use the labs to increase digital inclusion and digital literacy. During 2010, almost 600 computers were donated to 95 community centers. libraries, senior centers, youth centers, Section 8 apartments, preschools, and other nonprofits.
3. Creating a digital ecosystem. Net Literacy worked with United Ways in each county served to identify agencies and nonprofits that would use the computers to create computer labs and increase the availability of technology and digital inclusion classes in the community. The computers provided to school districts also helped develop local digital ecosystems.
4. State and local leadership endorsed the project. Indiana’s state leadership, including Senator Lugar and (then) Senator Bayh served as Net Literacy’s Honorary Co-Chairs, providing legitimacy and priority to this initiative. Net Literacy’s verifiable track record also helped increase the visibility of the state-wide initiative. Governor Daniels proclaimed March 1, 2011, “Net Literacy and Digital Literacy Day” for Indiana, further reinforcing credibility of the student volunteers and the importance of this initiative. The local United Way’s support of the program in each county was a significant contributor to its success. On March 1, 2011, Governor Daniels Proclaimed “Net Literacy & Digital Literacy Day for the State of Indiana.”
5. Partnership with state and the local community, Net Literacy collaborated with state agencies and corporations – including the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), the Indiana office of Administration (IOA), the Indiana Office of Technology (IOT), so that surplus state and corporate resources could be donated to nonprofits and schools. In several cases, city mayors participated in the event publicity and provided their support regarding the importance of increasing access to technology and enhancing workforce capabilities for their communities to remain competitive.
6. Corporate partnerships. Socially-minded companies, such as Intel, have made an four-year commitment of both hard and in-kind resources. As an example, Intel has enabled Net Literacy to increase computer access to thousands of individuals, increase financial literacy programs to students, and produce Internet safety 30 minute age-appropriate videos for students. The IDOE vetted the student-created content. The Indiana General Assembly passed Joint House Resolution 095, which called for all PEG channels throughout the State to carry Net Literacy’s Safe Connects and other Internet safety programming.
7. Making the case to foundations. Foundations saw the value in increasing technology – and especially to students. The Verizon Foundation and the Techpoint Foundation Foundations made a commitment to funding this initiative. The IDOE also provided funding to increase the availability of technology to 15 additional school districts. Students also applied for grants from America’s Promise Alliance to help fund this initiative.
Urban City Digital Inclusion Initiative
Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is the largest school district in Indiana, with over 30,000 students. The population of students is indicative of the residents living in the core city area. 84% of students are on free or assisted lunch programs, 70% of students live in single-parent families, and the school transfer rate is 70%. Approximately 21% of all students are enrolled in special education and approximately 22% of all 6-12 grade students attend alternative schools because of discipline problems, reflecting the harsh realities that occur in many poorer core city areas in urban environments. As an independent variable, students with a computer at home are 6-8% more like to graduate from high school. This was an important consideration when determining tactics and strategies since in 2008 when this new project commenced, IPS experienced one of the lower high school graduation rates in the country.
Objective: $15.00 per computer and individual trained
Result: $13.85 per computer and individual trained
Summary of tactics:
- Digital inclusion and digital literacy capacity. Based upon strong IPS district and school support, Net Literacy chapters of student volunteers were established in virtually every IPS high school – to provide Internet safety training, repurpose computers, teach computer and Internet skills; creating a digital literacy corps of student volunteers. Approximately 400 students served each year and learned job skills, life skills, and engaged in service learning.
- Prioritizing resources for schools and families with children on free or assisted lunch programs. During the 2008-2010 period, 7,700 computers were repurposed by the Net Literacy chapters and donated to schools. Schools used the computers to (a) provide computers in classrooms for student use, (b) create computer labs for remediation and accelerated academic programs, and (c) to provide computers for families without a computer at home whose children were on free or assisted lunch programs. Donations to families impacted approximately 10,000 students that received a computer for home use during 2008-2010.
- Creating a digital ecosystem. Since Net Literacy did not have the funding to provide every family a home computer, resources were allocated to create a digital ecosystem in the core city area, generally corresponding with the IPS district boundaries. Working with the senior centers, churches, community centers, and other nonprofits since 2003, more than 250 computer labs were constructed throughout Indianapolis. By the end of 2010, approximately 60% of those students living within IPS school boundaries had a computer lab within walking distance (average distance – 1,250 feet).
- State and local leadership endorsed the project. A Net Literacy public-private partnership was formed. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and Congressman Andre Carson of the 7th Congressional District joined Net Literacy’s Honorary board. This provided students the credibility that enabled Net Literacy to obtain support and funding from hundreds of organizations throughout the city.
- Partnership with state and city government. Net Literacy partnered with state agencies and the City – including the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), the Indiana office of Administration (IOA), the Indiana Office of Technology (IOT), and the City of Indianapolis so that surplus state and city resources could be donated to schools. Corporations made donations so that hundreds of computers could be donated to nonprofits.
- Corporate partnerships. Engaging corporation socially-minded companies, such as Bright House Networks, have made an eight-year commitment of both hard and in-kind resources. As an example, 100,000s of Indianapolis residents have viewed Internet safety video PSAs carried on cable television based upon a commitment from Bright House Networks. The IDOE, parents, principals, and law enforcement officers vetted the student-created Internet safety content.
- Making the case to foundations. Foundations saw the value in increasing technology – and especially those that focus on student success. Foundations, such as Lilly Endowment, the Clowes Fund, and the Lumina Foundation for Education, among others, made long-term commitments to make $5,000 to $10,000 multi-year commitments.
During the last three years, broadband growth has increased by 265,000 households. Net Literacy has target its campaigns to overcome the objections identified in Pew Research’s studies conducted by John Horrigan. Net Literacy believes its initiatives helped accelerate the growth of broadband in Indianapolis and Indiana.
As an example, in 2006, 200 computers were donated to the parents of high school students on free or assisted lunch programs and without a computer at home. During a survey, 73% of the 200 respondents indicated that they planned to order broadband in a survey completed as they picked up their computer. Six months later, 68 of 131 families completing a follow-up survey indicated that they had purchased and were using some form of Internet connectivity with the computer that they had received (e.g., DSL, cable broadband, or dial-up). While these responses were not verified, it suggests that computer distribution coupled with training and a digital ecosystem increases broadband adoption.
Since 2003, Net Literacy has repurposed and donated over 40,000 computers.