By Lenore Balliro, Director of Programs
Mujeres Unidas Avenzando, a community-based organization supporting Latina students and their families since 1979, took digital literacy several steps beyond the basics in their First Literacy Lab project “IT Tools Tech Free-Way.”
Instructor Bonnie Rivers, whose experience working at a national tech company informed her First Literacy Lab project design, envisioned the class as a simulated IT company. Students learned how to clean, secure, and maintain computers—as well as to troubleshoot common problems—all using free software.
Ms. Rivers gave students weekly job assignments based on real tech content and had students practice IT customer service skills in role plays. She also created a “lab class” on Fridays, where students updated and repaired their own laptops, using the free software they learned about in class. As their skills levels progressed, students moved on to maintaining other computer labs at Mujeres—a practical benefit for the organization and great hands-on practice for the students.
A “techie scavenger hunt” field trip to Micro Center took students out of the classroom and into the real IT world. Students investigated computer hardware and software, using their phones to take pictures and to calculate costs, all of which was brought back to the classroom for discussion.
One of the most impressive outcomes of the project involved the restoration of some old computers that had been donated to Mujeres but were sitting unused because of various problems. Students used their newly acquired skills and free software to solve multiple issues, such as removing unknown passwords and previously installed domains. Once the computers were restored with new operating systems and loaded with appropriate software, they were donated to students without computers. As word spread about the project’s success, local corporations began to donate additional computers to Mujeres for restoration and re-use.
Ms. Rivers also commented on another positive outcome of the class. She noted, It has helped the students to see how important women are in the IT computer field and that they can do it. All of them have expressed that they now, as a direct result of the project, really enjoy working on computers. Some of the students have the goal of entering employment in the computer IT field and are working toward that goal.
Through the First Literacy Lab grant, Mujeres Unidas Avenzando was able to create a practical and fun classroom experience for women in their program. As a result of the project’s success, the program secured additional funding from another source to continue in the fall. Students have enthusiastically embraced the opportunity.
First Literacy Lab grants provide non-profit Adult Basic Education programs with the chance to try something new or to strengthen their programs in fundamental ways. If you have an idea for a First Literacy Lab project, feel free to contact Lenore Balliro, Director of Programs at First Literacy, at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your thoughts.