We have learned that technology allows us to know more about our world.
Each wave of new technology – from telegraph to telephone to radio to television – brings about new ways to communicate. We are seeing it again today with broadband – the gateway to the Internet.
Hundreds of thousands of West Virginians have learned during the past 15 years how important broadband and the Internet can be in communicating with family members, managing personal business and discovering a world of information.
Future Generations Graduate School and Mission West Virginia – two West Virginia-based nonprofit organizations – have worked the past several years to help West Virginia families learn how to use computers and gain access to the Internet. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) provided Future Generations a grant to make computers and the Internet more accessible and useful to West Virginians in low-income and rural communities.
NTIA released a study in August 2013 that recapped how Future Generations established public computer centers in 60 rural West Virginia fire stations. The 40-page study made the following observations about the computer centers:
As students’ understanding of the Internet grew, their interest in using the computer evolved.
“Patrons learned to use the Internet for their hobbies and interests, engaging in more advanced digital objectives,” the report said. “For example, some patrons learned how to transfer pictures from digital cameras and edit photos on the computer.”
Some students learned to use the social media platform Facebook and connect with family and friends. Others learned to use e-mail.
“Some patrons visited the (public computer centers) with specific objectives, such as looking for a job or booking a vacation,” the report said. “Mentors assisted patrons in achieving these objectives, providing personalized advice and directing users to appropriate resources. Knowledge gained in the (public computer centers) influenced some patrons to purchase a computer and become active home users.”
Many West Virginians love their families and history. Some who took classes at the public computer centers learned to conduct genealogy research online.
The study found that others took advantage of online training to improve their job skills.
These public computer centers, now managed directly by the volunteer fire departments themselves, have provided a valuable lesson: Using computers to access the Internet is opening doors for tens of thousands of West Virginians each day.
A copy of the full federal case study about this project may be found online at: http://www.future.org/publications/wvbroadband
Editor’s Note — “Wild, Wonderful & Wired” is a collaboration of Mission West Virginia, Future Generations Graduate School and Frontier Communications. Mission West Virginia and Future Generations Graduate School are nonprofit organizations that have provided computer and Internet training to West Virginia residents. Readers interested in learning more about computers and using the Internet are encouraged to contact local friends, neighbors or organizations that provide training. A list of computer labs with trained mentors is available online at: www.futurewv.org/computer-centers. In addition, persons interested in receiving training or purchasing a computer through Mission West Virginia may call 304-523-0623.