ellohay! West Michigan

A Conversation with the Macatawa Media Center

Posted in benchmarks, conversations, players, research, sustainability by forgr on December 13, 2008

I hadn’t forgotten about my conversation with Barb Pyle from the Macatawa Media Center, honestly. I met with her back in early May in their office on E 19th Street in Holland. We discussed their current computer refurbishing program, their television and production programs, and outreach programs.

Barb was very interested in what we are starting here in the Grand Rapids area, and wanted to know how we planned on cultivating and maintaining a genuinely sustainable “business”.

If by sustainable, she’s asking if we might have the capacity to preserve a complex set of programs (earn-a-laptop, digital literacy, technical support) indefinitely, then we’re on the right path.

If being sustainable means promoting stable and healthy communities, restoring environmental quality, and increasing long-term profitability, then yes we’re pointed in the right direction.

We have a lot of planning to do, but if we at least if know what we want and what’s important to us, that brings us closer to determining how we plan on getting it, and knowing once we have it.

Thank you Barb.

Article: Was EarthLink’s failed citywide Wi-Fi a blessing in disguise?

Posted in benchmarks, potential problems, wifi by forgr on September 7, 2008

A recent article from Tirana Magazine on Philadelphia’s wi-fi network, the Wireless Philadelphia organization and doing a really solid job on…

Defining the digital divide

There’s been a lot of chatter over the years about the digital divide or the idea that there is a great chasm between people who have access to technology such as computers and the Internet, and those who do not. While some 68 percent of the U.S. population has access to the Internet via broadband or dial-up connections, there are still millions of people across the country who do not have any access at all.

Overwhelmingly, these unconnected individuals tend to be minorities and people with low education levels. A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that only 57 percent of African Americans and 37 percent of Hispanics have Internet access. And only 29 percent of people who have not graduated from high school are connected to the Internet.

It’s difficult to gauge what the impact of this exclusion means. In the past, Internet access was viewed as an unnecessary luxury, a tool used to send e-mail and casually surf Web sites. But increasingly, the Internet has become an important tool for getting information about and access to just about everything from health care to social services. It’s used as a tool to engage parents in their children’s education. And as newspapers shed their classified listings, it’s become an important tool for looking for jobs.

“Digital inclusion has traditionally been seen as a charity initiative,” The Knight Foundation’s Perry said. “But that is rapidly changing. Increasingly, cities of all types–urban, suburban, and rural–are linking universal digital access to economic development imperatives.”

From the beginning, Wireless Philadelphia’s goal has been to provide broadband service to families who have never owned a computer and have little or no online experience. The group believes that getting these families online will increase their access to educational, employment, and life opportunities.

But it will also have big benefits for the city, such as reducing crime and unemployment, improving public health and social service efficiency, and increasing educational excellence.

“It’s nearly impossible to apply for an entry-level job today without having basic digital skills and Internet access,” Greg Goldman, CEO of Wireless Philadelphia said. “And there have been studies that show patients who access information online about HIV AIDS, hypertension, or diabetes have better health outcomes.”

We’ll find out what happens next quite soon…

A Conversation with Andy Wolber

Last week I had the pleasure of talking with Andy Wolber from NPower Michigan. Andy is the Executive Director of NPower Michigan. Their mission:

We provide technology services to nonprofits in Michigan, ensuring that all organizations have access to the best technology resources and know-how and can apply these tools to help create healthy, vibrant, thriving communities

We talked for about 45 minutes. High level notes:

• Team up with Macatawa Media Center in Holland, they have a earn-a-laptop program (CARE) and would definitely be a good source of information

• Check out One Economy (I did, very interesting indeed)

• Make the Community Media Center in Grand Rapids a fiduciary parent

• Take a cue from the United Way, they work with many non-profit organizations, they are a good model

• Call NuSoft Solutions, they should be interested in teaming up in some way

• Engage college students with the project

• Work with job skill training centers

He was a great source of knowledge, and has been a very generous individual. He’s also emailed be several reports, introduced me to Barb Pyle at Macatawa Media Center, and has been kind enough to allow me to write about him here in our blog.

Thank you for your contacts, advice and contributions Andy. I hope to talk to you again soon.

‘Laptops for Sixth Graders?’

This is a great article to come across while surfing… I’m actually glad that it was written. I need to hear this kind of stuff.

Take a minute to read an excerpt from this article written back in 2004 titled ‘Laptops for Sixth Graders?’ about a grant offered through Michigan’s Freedom to Learn initiative (FTL), which allocates $68 million for school districts to lease laptops to kids for up to four years:

Placing computers in classrooms is, of course, only the latest educational fad, designed to divert our attention from the real issue, which is what our children actually know once they leave school. Sure, technology is important and students will have to be able to work with computers to be successful in the workforces of today and tomorrow.

But computer skills can be learned without handing out personal computers. They are skills a good percentage of children already know and use on home computers by the time they are in the sixth grade. Bringing any child up to speed who has no computer at home should be a matter of selective targeting, maybe even by giving out a small number of personal computers.

But this should never be confused with measures aimed at improving student academic achievement, particularly when studies have failed to reveal any such relationship. This appears to be another program where money is being spent, simply “because we can.”

Read the entire article posted here on Apr. 6, 2004 by Jeff Steinport

Jeff Steinport is a computer network administrator for Advantage Sales & Marketing of Walker, Mich. and treasurer for the Grand Rapids Board of Education. Jeff is also a member of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority board.


Alright, so the challenge is to do what? Make sure that when we design this project, that it’s genuinely good, advantageous to be involved with, different. It shouldn’t stink up the place with poor planning, ill informed recommendations, or inappropriate goals.

The frustration is palpable in this article. It would be a terrible thing to evoke similar sentiments in our future clients.

I’m going to speculate (this is only a guess) of the potential downfalls of this program at this time:

• Potentially, the computers were leased, not donated
• Potentially, there was no curriculum in place to integrate the computer as an effective tool
• Potentially, there was no infrastructure for tech support
• Potentially, the training sessions for teachers, students, parents were not in depth enough, or of limited use
• Potentially, there were no clear goals for the introduction of these tools into this environment
• Potentially, students weren’t using them appropriately
• Potentially, they were intrusive in the classroom

If we’re going to do this right, we need to do some serious homework. We need to know needs, desires, concerns from all parties involved. Our goal should be to make this program as seamless as possible, useful, accessible, sustainable, measurable.

Here’s another article titled “Giving Laptops to Sixth Graders Won’t Improve Their Education

Here’s an article discussing why the “State laptop program [was] erased

And last, but not least, the infamous Freedom to Learn website

What other kinds of things would make a program like ours go sour? What could we go so wrong in our plan so far, that would make you as a potential client feel as frustrated as Jeff was?

Have Your Say for the Future of Philly WiFi, via NTEN

Posted in benchmarks, bookmarks, feedback, wifi by forgr on May 6, 2008

If you live or work in the Philadelphia area, set aside some time on the evening of June 3 for a public forum on the future of wifi in that city.

“The promise of a city where everyone has the potential to be connected, opens new doors for economic, social and political participation.”

Read the full NTEN article here.

A Conversation with Patrick Shaffner, 826 CHI Outreach Coordinator

Posted in benchmarks, conversations, physical presence, planning by forgr on March 30, 2008

I spent the weekend in Chicago with some friends (taking a break from writing, but not from thinking). I dragged all five of my friends into “The Boring Store” which is a store front for the nonprofit writing workshop 826 CHI. You guessed it, it’s part of the 826 network of workshops started by Dave Eggers and friends.

The front is a spy supply store (disguises, gadgets) and the back is the one on one tutoring and writing workshop.

I was fortunate enough to catch Patrick, the Outreach Coordinator for the local 826 CHI program. He gave me, and my educator friend Wendy, a tour of the store, the writing workshop, and the back offices.

There are four full time employees, and over 600 volunteers. They offer a suite of programs to the community youth, you can find out more about them here.

I actually called Patrick about a month ago, asked him to tell me a little more about the program’s day to day workings and organization, and told him about the project that we were starting here in Grand Rapids. He remembered us when I mentioned the digital inclusion project and jumped up and down.

He said, “No, don’t start it in Grand Rapids, move here and start it here in Chicago!” I laughed, but he meant it, he said computer literacy is a huge issue in Chicago schools, and in the community at large. We agreed that it’s really a big problem across the nation, there’s no real way to get the guided tour through the whole experience.

There are those who:
know what a computer can do
know what they want to do with it
know what questions to ask at a store
can afford the computer
can get one-on-one attention to learn new tools
can get the computer fixed if it breaks
know how to get the right upgrades, new software
can excel on their own terms with the right tools
can expand their reach

And then there are those who have limited access, are behind the curve, under-served, poor, embarrassed, limited, left behind, scared or intimidated. We should serve that second set of individuals.

Talking with Patrick (who works with a similar set of children) made me realize that there is a large set of individuals who actually want to be served. There is a thirst and it can be quenched.

In 826’s experience 35 to 40 hours a year of one-on-one attention, can raise student’s grades up one level.

Dave Eggers talks about starting 826 Valencia in this TED video.

Initially they started the workshop and pirate supply store and no one came in. An obvious trust issue. So they talked with a teacher friend and make her the executive director, and started going directly into the schools and talking with teachers about their needs.

The program was then a success, now they serve in classrooms and in the workshop. They are an anchor in their community. They have volunteers and employees who have flexible hours available during the school day and just after. They created their network of volunteers out of graduate students, writers, educators, and thinkers. All of these people are able to give just a few hours a month, and make a huge difference being able to shine a light on a child and their work.

So, brilliant. Yes. I got a serious boost from talking with Patrick. And now I know, we need to keep up the conversation with teachers, we’re headed in the right direction.

Wendy, my educator friend who toured with me yesterday, wants to volunteer there now. She’s got the Summer off and wants to do something other than graduate school, and beach lounging. 826 CHI will also help her students next semester too. She’s pumped about it.

Patrick, the Outreach Coordinator, wants to be kept up to date on when our program is coming to Chicago :-)

It’s great having existing programs nearby, and being able to visit and talk with them is absolutely wonderful. Thank you Patrick for your time and encouragement.