MIRC Community Update: Kandiyohi

As the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) initiative winds down, demonstration communities are taking time to reflect on what has happened in their community as a result of added focus on broadband and broadband projects in the area. Each community will go through this process looking at what’s happened, lessons learned and plans for the future. One of the public benefits of federal funding for a project link this is the opportunity each community has to share what they have learned and the opportunity that other communities have to glean from their lessons. And so today I’m pleased to share notes from Kandiyohi. (Actually I have notes to share all week. I’ll add this preamble to each for historical context – but each day will be a new community.)

Kandiyohi Projects – and notes:

Somali Center

The Somali Center used PCs for People computers to set up a computer lab and classes for Somali  immigrants.  Most people attending had never used computers.  Each attendee received 6 hours curriculum. The computers are used to create resumes, apply for jobs online, find housing and communicate through email to families back home. Also attendees are able to purchase computers (at a very reduced rate) from PCs for People.  It makes for an easy transition from computer lab to home PCs for People. Here’s a summary of the things they learn:

  1. computer skills basics
  2. email – set up accounts, write email, attachments, chat
  3. Office – Open Office, Atomic Learning, word processing, excel spreadsheets,  Somali entrepreneurs use the technology
  4. Web browsing – GOOGLE!  downloading files, internet safety

In all, 17 computers found homes with Somali families and they are signing up for DSL at home. It sounds like the cross cultural opportunities opened doors as well. We learned of one promising conversation between a new computer owner and the local PC for People affiliate owner:

“Are there any other white people like you?”

“How so?

“You are kind.”

There were some lessons learned.

  • There was a  lack of funding for continuing support – PCs for People offers one hour of computer training and orientation. But that may not be enough for all recipients.
  • There was a waiting list for classes.

There were some highlights:

  • Parents are now using the school parent portal to keep track of their students.  Language barriers are present, but they make do.

(Interest in more info? Check out a video on the project from last year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX8WuhFKDNk)

Tech center is U of M gateway. 

Tim Miller – U of M spoke about the tech center, which provides access to land grant resources.

The center provides an audio video conference facility for the community. They currently offer customized training. Extension is hoping to transition from current training to move towards for-credit courses.

The tech center has been open since April and since that time more than 100 people have used the facility.

Willmar Senior Network – http://www.willmarseniornetwork.com/

The Willmar Senior Network provides senior care; MIRC was an opportunity to offer  home health care for a relatively new non-profit. A major goal is to keep folks in their homes longer.

The seniors they serve range from  65 to 96 years old.  They had lots of questions. But there were volunteers who helped the seniors and their families to use the technology.  Specifically they used the Homestream product, which offers  video conferencing and a range of other services.  Through MIRC, they were able to offer free computers, free Internet access and the free training, which got the seniors interested.  Family members liked the idea of the video conferencing and closer monitoring.


The initial goals were lofty, better health, better connection….  But when reality set in the goals were adjusted, focusing on baby steps, such as computer adoption.

The volunteers did their jobs well; they offered training, assistance, virus protection, installed necessary software, such as Open Office and one senior requested Atomic Learning options.

Now that the program is complete the seniors are now paying their own fees; and 10 of 10 now have broadband.  (Some had broadband prior to participating in the program.)

The feelings of isolation decreased in the groups due to increased connections with the families and the non-profit.

And both the seniors and the nonprofit are becoming more sophisticated in their use of technology.

Lessons Learned:

  • The Homestream solution was oversold as to its readiness for the market; subsequently the system went down for one month.
  • Team kept project on track in spite of the vendor issues – seniors just moved to Skype as the primary vehicle for video.  Seniors can learn too!  They also began using tools such as GMAIL and other standard services.
  • Locally, broadband subscription requires a yearlong contract; that was a barrier for senior customers.

Quick anecdotes:

There was a 96 year old veteran in the countryside who used his computer to connect to his daughter and great granddaughter.  His computer moved with him to long term care facility when he moved in to the care center.  His use of technology opened the ideas of the long term care facility staff.

There was another 92 year old woman who volunteered at Head Start facility. She found travel difficult in the winter – and almost had to give up her volunteer reading project with young kids but was able to keep connected and keep her volunteer shift through the computer and Skype.  It’s an idea that caught on and now another woman doing the same thing.

New London Spicer – IPADS

The initiative turned school program from pilot to expanded use. The school is working to continue use of iPads with students.

Community center – based community ed digital literacy. 

The community center has been offering digital literacy classes to people from 20 to 93 years of age.  Attendees generally had either no computer at home – or a hand-me-down computer that sat in the corner, unused because the new owner had no training. The classes were well received. The students liked the quizzes.  But they found that they could use even more Internet safety instruction. One unexpected outcome was the bonus side lessons where students learned about searching, buying and email. Those peer to peers connections where everyone shared tips that made their own use of the computer more valuable.

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