ellohay! West Michigan

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…

Advertisements

‘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?

Collapsing Benchmarks?

Posted in benchmarks, potential problems, wifi by forgr on March 24, 2008

New York Times: Hopes for Wireless Cities Fade as Internet Providers Pull Out

“EarthLink announced on Feb. 7 that ‘the operations of the municipal Wi-Fi assets were no longer consistent with the company’s strategic direction.’ Philadelphia officials say they are not sure when or if the promised network will now be completed.

For Cesar DeLaRosa, 15, however, the concern is more specific. He said he was worried about his science project on global warming.

‘If we don’t have Internet, that means I’ve got to take the bus to the public library after dark, and around here, that’s not always real safe,’ Cesar said, seated in front of his family’s new computer in a gritty section of Hunting Park in North Philadelphia. His family is among the 1,000 or so low-income households that now have free or discounted Wi-Fi access through the city’s project, and many of them worry about losing access that they cannot otherwise afford.”

“Back in Philadelphia, Cesar’s older sister, Tomasa DeLaRosa, said she had faith that city officials would find a way to finish the network and keep her Internet service going.

‘Our whole house is totally different now,’ said Ms. DeLaRosa, 19, who had never had Internet access at home until last December because she could not afford it.

After signing up for a job training program and completing its course work, Ms. DeLaRosa received a free laptop, training and a year’s worth of free wireless service from Esparanza, a community group.

Greg Goldman, chief executive of Wireless Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization that was set up as part of the city’s deal with EarthLink, said that about $20 million had already been spent on the network, and only about $4 million more would be needed to cover the rest of the city.

Mr. Goldman’s organization is responsible for providing bundles that include a free laptop, Internet access, training and technical support to organizations like Esparanza so they can use them as incentives for their low-income clients like Ms. DeLaRosa to complete job training and other programs.

‘For us and a lot of people in this neighborhood,’ Ms. DeLaRosa said, ‘the Internet is like a path out of here.'”

Pilot program initial planning (stages, players, events)

So among other things, there’s quite a bit to think about for a pilot program… And yes, we’re planning on a pilot program. Talking with John Helmholdt from the public school district was inspiring. And even if that connection ends up not panning out, there a many other groups that I’m sure would be receptive to the idea. With that in mind, I write this,

Some initial thoughts on serving a small group of individuals for pilot program,

1. Prep 2. Give 3. Support

Within these stages are potentially 8 or 9 groups that we would need to bring together for this program.
• Geeks (for computer gleaning, clean up, open source os installation etc. at the geek-a-thon)
• Audience/clients (who will receive the laptops, get support, orientation, education)
• Forgr staff (will organize, manage and execute the program pieces and parts, provide orientation to all)
• Educators or existing community education organizations (teachers, professors, instructors that will teach introductory level skills to audience in a group setting and/or one-on-one)
• Tech support staff (will be available for audience to trouble shoot any extreme cases)
• Audience administration (school board, program executive directors etc. that will need to determine goals and parameters, and then accept responsibility’s for supporting program within their institution)
• Facilities (venue for geek-a-thon event, temporary education and support workshop locations)
• Piggy-back organization (existing nonprofit organization that will host our initiative, allow donors to give their laptops and equipment with a tax deductible status)
• Potentially parents and teachers of audience/clients if it’s a classroom environment (these would be extended support system and will need to understand the program’s ins and outs as much as possible)

So, with that in mind, here’s a shot at planning for the first stage of the pilot program:

1. Prep

1a.) Establish a planning committee, meet and come up with plan of action for organizing three part program pieces and parts, who what when where why how. Discuss goals, determine how event might be sponsored, how to recruit volunteers etc. Set our success model for the program.

1b.) Secure a venue for geek-a-thon portion, secure a piggy-back organization, determine rough time-line, secure deductible donation status for donors/geeks, discuss process for client group, secure sponsor.

1c.) Prepare to meet with client group leader, write up targeted business plan and executive statement for client group and/or piggy-back organization.

1d.) Meet with client group leader or board, determine hopes, goals for their group, their anticipated trouble spots, stumbling blocks, determine best course of action to proceed, set rough time line for events.

1e.) Submit any agreement documents with group (if necessary), start building community of educators or participating education facilities for education and support base for client group, discuss plan of action for geek-a-thon event.

1f.) Create program around geek-a-thon. Explore ways spread the word about the geek-a-thon, explore call to action for geeks to glean computers, event details, computer tagging strategy. Collect list of participating educators or community education partners. Finalize time line for all events and launch.

1g.) Check in on sponsor, venue, status, dates, client agreement, piggyback organization, donor. Firm up time line and event schedule for geek-a-thon with all pieces and parts, collect email addresses for all educators, geeks, and volunteers. Draft literature for all groups, client instructions, support materials, feedback forms etc.

1h.) Arrange for entertainment, food, music, tables etc. for geek-a-thon. Design email invitations, posters, signs for geek-a-thon. Make sure everything is covered, on track with all groups. Find facilitator volunteers for geek-a-thon.

1i) Send out invitations to geek-a-thon, write press release for event and contact media for event coverage. Finalize all materials for literature for all audiences.

1j) Collect RSVPs from geeks, collect feedback on idea from geeks. Meet with audience administration (weekly?) and hold pre-orientation/round table with administration, (potentially teachers, parents) on upcoming event and program ins and outs.

1k.) Venue prep for geek-a-thon event day or two ahead. Set up, event dry run with committee, hold volunteer orientation, have FAQ sheet available for volunteers. Tie up loose ends before event. Send out press releases, check back in with press to make sure they are attending (if we want them).

1l.) Hold Geek-a-thon event. Hand out kits to geeks. Get volunteers in place. Answer questions, address immediate needs. Announcements. Register laptops and run through clean up, diagnostics, set up checklists. Determine what parts are missing, needs to bring all machines up to standards. During event solicit feedback, have temporary workshop volunteer sign up sheet/email list and sign up for continuing involvement in program. Enjoy ourselves and do something good together. Collect finished machines. Thank everyone for coming and explain next steps. Collect possible donations.

1m.) Send out thank yous and confirmation to geeks and volunteers from geek-a-thon event. Prep temporary workshop space, get wireless networks set up. Tools, parts, and/or the means to gain. Set up volunteer schedule, hotline for clients, tracking system for incoming machines maintenance. Confirm introductory level education schedule. Tie up any loose ends with groups.

2. Give

2150306305_4ec432b4c8.jpg

Photo from flickr-user elemenous for use under creative common license
2a.) If necessary, hold orientation for potential teachers, parents, administrators. Explain their roles, and provide support for them as extended support team. Collect phone numbers, names addresses of their children/our clients.

2b.) Hold client orientation. Introduce program origins, cover who what when why wheres, address, explain all questions. Tell them how it will work. Have all parties sign ‘promise’ agreement and ‘care and keeping of your new computer’ sheet.

2c.) Bring clients their laptops, literature, FAQs, how tos, what ifs, explain hotline. Hold first education session, set up email accounts, provide educational outlets outside program too. Explain feedback plan. Fill sign up sheet for future classes, sessions. Collect email addresses from all clients. Collect donations?

2d.) Let them take them home, and make sure they stay connected to the program by providing feedback.

3. Support

536550986_d6704b735a.jpg

Photo from flickr-user mugley for use under creative common license

3a.) Collect feedback, hold classes, collect donations, fix broken machines, address problems. Change, adapt, support, grow, learn.

3b.) Host lessons-learned session for geek-a-thon, hardware status, determine if program is on track

3c.) Collect and synthesize incoming feedback. Solicit feedback from parents, teachers. Update program if necessary.

3d.) Hold lessons-learned for orientations, education sessions, workshops, volunteers, facility, hotline, etc.

3e.) Scout for permanent workshop location if necessary, build client database, build website, find more volunteers, find donors, send out regular newsletters. Build, grow, learn, adapt, assist, have energy.

3f.) Reach pilot program success, continue to support clients through their growth and ours.

Phew, so what do we think here, too optimistic, would something like this work? We really want to know, what’s missing?Why do we need your help? Because I’m sitting on my couch, at home, in my pajamas with my headphones in and it’s impossible to coordinate something like this a bubble.

If you’re interesting in jumping in, joining us, and joining the pilot planning and execution committee, email me, or call me at (616) 446-3622, (mobile phone number).

If you’re thinking about helping in other ways, we’d love you for that too. Call, email, drive over to my house, send me a letter. Make contact. We want you.

Other related notes:

Determine next steps after pilot

Meet with committee weekly on progress

Have plan for addressing negative feedback at all stages of the game

Have google group for planning committee to post happenings

Have audience discussion group online, get ichat accounts, meet regularly for required education

Provide laptop to teachers?

Hold Fund-raising events simultaneously

A Conversation with Catherine Ettinger

Usually when I get to tell someone new about this project, initially there is skepticism. Then I explain the structure and the elements built in for sustainability, there is optimism.

My conversation with Catherine, president of Foxbright (here in Grand Rapids) was a little different. She wasn’t pessimistic per se, but she wasn’t exactly beaming. I contacted her after listening to her podcasts “Inside Grand Rapids”, and read her About page that expressed great interest in learning about new and existing projects making a difference in the city.

Her studio develops websites for schools, nonprofits, social organizations and regular profit businesses too. Hospice, Goodwill, Phoenix Society among other are some of her company’s clients.

So, we met and talked downtown on Friday during lunch.

Some condensed, paraphrased, versions of her statements, questions, comments:
• Internet access is essential to this programs’ success, the wiMax program will be important
• Relying on a third party to provide internet access (which is integral to the program) is not a great thing
• Education is going to be difficult, people don’t like learning past a certain age, it’s going to be a challenge to get people to be receptive
• You can solve data loss issues with thumb drives, people use those all the time
• You won’t be able to give 24 hour support, staffing that is going to be nearly impossible
• Laptops, not desktop computers. Portable, small, strong tech devices
• Getting technology will be no problem at all
• The pilot program sounds good, kids in the same neighborhood is an optimal situation
• Eventually you’re going to need storefronts or workshops all over the city, coverage similar to the public library and their branches
• People will need to be able to walk to your locations as transportation is a major issue
• You could probably use those rooms at the public for some of the classes
• Security is going to be a big issue for people, build in a strong base in the program, because in this day and age…
In short, it was great to talk with her, she had some fantastic feedback, and comments about logistics, practices.

It was also good to hear about her perspective as a parent, she has two young boys at home who she personally wants to educate about the internet and technology herself. It sounded like she wouldn’t need the program for her kids.

She acknowledged that while she and her children have the resources and skills to harness the power of those tools, that not everyone in our community has the same advantages.

If I understood her correctly, over-all she thinks this program is a good idea and it could really work.

She expressed that she’d like to stay in the conversation as well.

Catherine, you bring a unique perspective to the table, you’re a mom, a small business owner, and a strong, intelligent voice in the community.

Thank you for the conversation, and we hope to hear from you soon (and yes, once we get this pilot program off the ground, I’d like very much to be a guest on your podcast, thank you for the invitation).

For everyone reading here, please poke holes, and keep those comments coming. Thanks and cheers.

Potential Problems

Posted in discovery stages, planning, potential problems, support by forgr on March 5, 2008

Some potential problems with our program’s assets:

Computer breaks
Computer is lost, stolen or sold
Can’t volunteer or contribute for various reasons
Abuse or inappropriate behavior
Software/OS problems
Power cables non functional, lost, stolen, sold
Damage to machine
Lost data

So what can we do? What do we need to do?:

Offer support
Have basic insurance available to purchase?
Require police report
Require signing of appropriate usage agreement
Get a lawyer or two
Use open source OS and software
Make accessories a la carte (?)
Impress upon clients the importance of the tool, make the program theirs
Make sure that clients know the possibility of lost data

What else Devil’s Advocates? Bring it on.