Community Informatics Students Working to Bridge Digital Divide in Champaign Schools

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, Sept. 16, 2013 — Graduate students and parents of elementary-school children are coming together to learn about technology as part of a new initiative at Kenwood Elementary.

Led by Martin Wolske, Senior Research Scientist at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science’s newly-formed Center for Digital Inclusion, the “Demystifying the Computer” workshop series will help bridge the home-school technology gap by helping parents reassemble a computer, learn about software and ultimately take home a personal computer, LCD monitor, keyboard and mouse — all free of charge. The workshop series is scheduled from 9-11 a.m. from Monday, Sept. 23- Friday, Sept. 27 and is open to all Kenwood Elementary parents and guardians.

Graduate students in Wolske’s Introduction to Networked Systems (LIS 451) and Community Informatics Studio (LIS490ST) classes will work on projects at Kenwood Elementary throughout the semester.

“Students in LIS 451 are expanding their understanding of newly-learned skills by serving as mentors and personal instructors to parents and guardians,” said Wolske. “Community Informatics Studio students have an opportunity to see a popular technology workshop in action, practice newly-developing community engagement skills, and build relationships and gather insights that will inform their semester projects.”

Wolske also said his students are hoping to use this pilot project as a model for other similar workshops that they will lead individually at other community sites.

“The ‘Demystifying Computers’ workshop is just one program that Community Informatics students will be involved with at Kenwood this Fall,” said Wolske. “In addition, some students are already exploring the eToys computer programming software, helping to develop video screencast instructions on its use, organizing by topic the available tutorials and providing support for the use of this learning tool.”

eToys allows children to use a paint program to create objects, and then to create scripts to animate those objects. As students learn about the properties of objects and how to manipulate those properties, they also begin to learn various subject-specific lessons related to math, science, and technology.

Fostering relationships with school administrators and librarians has been essential to the technology partnership.

“We offered this program at the Urbana Free Library through an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Eliminate the Digital Divide grant last Spring and it was well-received,” Wolske said. “Since Kenwood administrators have adopted a new school mission for the year- Technology and Literacy for the Community- replicating the program for parents of elementary children seemed like a natural fit.”

“We are looking for ways to infuse technology into the classroom, but we also know that access at home is imperative to our students’ digital literacy,” said Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand in a press release distributed by Champaign Unit 4 School District. “This collaboration with the University of Illinois and Kenwood is one way that we’re looking to build that capacity for students at the elementary school level. Connecting the experts in our community with students and families is a recipe for our collective success in the future.”

To learn more about the Demystifying Computers project and Wolske’s community informatics classes, email



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