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Volume II, Issue 1, Jan. 1, 2003
Information technology instruction for refugees: a community program of the Adamany Undergraduate Library, Wayne State University
Ensuring that everyone in a community has the requisite skills to use information technology resources is a challenge only now being addressed by educational institutions. Hard-to-reach groups such as immigrants, non-native English speakers and refugees compose a growing portion of many of our communities. How to reach such groups who do not have ready access to this instruction through customary educational channels remains a major problem for professionals in charge of providing such programs.
Wayne State University, since the opening of its state-of-the-art computer technology facility in 1997, has made pioneering efforts in reaching members of the metro Detroit community who otherwise would have little or no access to computer technology instruction. Drop-In Sessions -- computer workshops designed to instruct the community on technology and online resources – aimed at these groups, have been taught by librarians in the Adamany Undergraduate Library. These sessions, which are free and open to the public, are designed to teach computer software applications, basic web-design and database searching. To date, Drop-In Sessions have reached community residents by advertising in local public media and have attracted a broad variety of participants ranging from incumbent workers and retirees to unemployed residents in the community. Responses and written feedback from participants has been very positive.
Because of the community response and success of this endeavor, the Adamany Undergraduate Library staff proposes, through another innovative program, to reach further into the community by targeting potential information technology users who are at a special disadvantage to receiving such training. This new program involves contacting a specific community social service organization that serves refugees. The library staff believes that this outreach initiative can be made most effective through collaboration with an organization which serves this particular group. In essence, information technology instruction, as presented in this program, will substantially help refugees to prepare for a more viable future in their employment opportunities, adjustment to a new environment, personal life and interest choices.
The purpose of this Adamany program is to offer participants the basic skills needed for independent lifelong learning. The object is to teach basic computer instruction classes that will help elevate participants’ skills to the level required for constructive participation in the already existing Drop-In Sessions. The goal for the program is to provide participants with the skills needed to use technological and online resources to attain important information such as health care and employment opportunities. Additionally, participants would be able, ultimately, to independently use the computer as a medium for communication and as a tool for digital inclusion. This program will help close a repressive gap left by the digital divide between those having access to the library and those not considered primary clientele of the library.
Freedom House, a Detroit-based human rights organization that provides temporary shelter and assistance to international refugees who are escaping persecution and violence in their home countries, will promote the Adamany project to their clients.
The library-organization contact at the Freedom House will be responsible for recruiting clients to participate in the program. The contact will also organize transportation to the Adamany Undergraduate Library, record attendance, and act as liaison for future collaboration that will be established during Phase III. Librarian/trainees whose interest and commitment to the program will assist in bridging the digital divide, which is constantly challenged by technology’s rapid advancement pace. Through the establishment of community partners, resources and instruction can be provided to hard-to-reach groups so they can be technologically updated.
Marketing and promotion
To secure groups that are interested and willing to participate, most promotion will be done through Freedom House. As well, the local media, such as WDET, The Monitor, Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, will be supplied with Public Service Announcements. Promotion will also be provided to TIP, a free community information and referral service of the Detroit Public Library that assists their library clientele with finding resources for individual needs.
A website, developed to follow the progress of this program, will include program information and class schedules. It will also serve as a portal to the participants by offering quick links to sites and information shown in class and will be updated weekly. Additionally, the site will be branded with visuals and information about both the Freedom House and the Wayne State University Library System. The program is 6-months long and will be repeated once; the website will be accessible throughout this time period to the public and other organizations who want to learn more about it, and will also be maintained after the program end for use by the public and program participants.
The information technology instruction program will consist of three phases spread over 6 months. It will then repeat, for a total program running time of one year. Participants who attend part or all of the initial 6-month period may repeat some or the entire program.
Phase I will provide basic computer literacy skills beginning at the most fundamental level. Participants will learn basic computer literacy topics such as using the keyboard and mouse, searching the Internet, and understanding computer jargon. This phase will develop participants’ skill levels that will be needed for the next phase. This two-hour class will be offered 8 times over a two-month period, and all participants can attend it once -- with the option to repeat as they feel necessary. Training sessions will be offered at different times throughout days and evenings to accommodate work and personal schedules.
Specialized topics are introduced in Phase II. The classes will focus on using technology for word processing skills, job seeking, and finding information in matters such as health. Participants will be focus on writing letters of application and resumes. They will also be provided with interviewing tips. Searches will be demonstrated, using online health information sources such as PubMED and Health Reference Gold. Participants will also be taught general research skills, such as identifying online resources and using library databases such as ACCESS. They will also focus on identifying information needs to improve other aspects of their community life and to use their computer skills to identify sources that may assist them. Phase II classes will be offered 6 times over a 3-month period, and members can chose to attend any or all of the classes.
The Phase III classes will be offered only to program trainers. These classes will focus on strategies that trainers can use to continue offering computer literacy skills to their organizations and clientele. At this point, a communication network will be established to encourage interaction between trainers and the Adamany Undergraduate Library and to also promote its use of the library’s Drop-In Sessions and Community Access Terminals that provide computer and Internet access to the public. This phase will also train the organization to reinforce the skills taught to their clientele/participants. Classes will be offered twice during the last month of the program.
At the conclusion of the information technology instruction program, participants will have the computer literacy levels necessary to attend Drop-In Sessions where they can further reinforce and expand their information skills. Project coordinators will record participant accomplishments in two ways. First, participant patronage of the library will be measured through their attendance at Drop-In Sessions. Then, participants will be asked to demonstrate their ability to use their skills to access information and other resources online. Participant computer literacy will be also evaluated through entrance and exit questionnaires.
The program will be under the supervision of Lothar Spang, a librarian at the Adamany Undergraduate Library, who has more than 30 years of experience in working with students and community outreach endeavors that serve metro Detroit residents.
The information technology instruction program promises to continue the Adamany Undergraduate Library staff’s tradition of exemplary service to the metro Detroit community in addressing special information and educational needs presented to refugees by new information technologies. This program will help guarantee that participants will receive optimal training in computer skills, providing them a ready gateway into the Information Age.