MIRC Community Update: Stevens County

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.)

Here are the highlights from Stevens County…

Hancock Public Schools

Hancock Public Schools hosted a number of classes through the MIRC program.

They hosted the following classes:

  • Digital literacy – through Community Education with lots of seniors.
  • Adult basic education
  • GED classes – GED test center moving towards computer based testing, need to have computer comfort.
  • ESL program

Community education provides wireless access.  The school provided some computers, electronic white board and projector. Mobile laptop labs are well-used throughout the building.   The school has seen improved productivity as the school district, when hiring teachers, uses Skype video for interviews to increase the candidate pool and reduce hiring costs.

There were some immediate benefits:

  • Public access for groups and individuals brought a diverse population (such as more Hispanics and seniors) into the school, making them feel more connected to the community.
  • They are also seeing an emerging tie to community service by high school students to sustain these projects.
  • Community Education is now using social media, such as Facebook, weekly news updates.

Stevens County Housing Authority (HRA)

The rental agency commission was formed to monitor rental housing quality and safety. The big question was –  How do we build productive relations with landlords, which were often adversarial? They created a portal for student renters, landlords and parents that highlights rental properties by a number of characteristics such as  property licensure and inspection results.  Landlords can list properties on the web site.  Log on and create their own listing.  They can apply for a rental license online. They are working on an educational video for both tenants and landlords. The site also outlines expectations and regulations for landlords and renters. The site has been a hit with all parties.  Inspection reports are also online so that parents can review the reports for prospective units for their kids.

Grandview public housing

Grandview public housing installed wireless on the main floor.  There is a guest code for access.  There is a website application for the housing.  Some Spanish language content.

Morris Library

Morris library added six laptops as they had run out of space for more desktops.  The laptops are used most when desktops are busy.  Also they created a projector room for presentations. They did have problems dealing with the Viking Library System bringing new computers online. And unfortunately adding the new computers is already driving need for bmore andwidth. They would like to move from 1.5 Mb to 5 Mb.  Really need the increase! Also the Library created a wiki for workforce focus.

Public access sites

There are five computers at hot spots across the county, and the MIRC initiative pays for three years of connectivity. After three years, the host gets the computer and the county hopes that the service will continues

They used free hotspot software which limits control.  Unfortunately they can’t cut off abusers.

Resources Connections

One big questions with Resources Connections – How do sustain the web sites – now under the Morris Chamber of Commerce?

History Museum

The History Museum now has a new server to maintain all the historical records.  They moved all of the cemetery records – 26 cemeteries – to an online format. Now they are working on posting more information on the website, which is now mobile compatible. They have added  Google Analytic to track traffic.

Knowledge worker class

The first problem with the Knowledge worker class was the name. It wasn’t meaningful to potential attendees and the class was not well marketed. Once the class was renamed to 21st Century Computer Skills, attendance picked up. The center where the class is hosted was able to  improve infrastructure. The MIRC grant motivated the school to up their speed from 3 to 6 Mb.  Their research showed that they had much better options and were able to move up  to 30 Mb – They used the MIRC $7000 leveraged $23,000 for infrastructure switches and hubs. They will increase capabilities in the school and are moving to use of ITV mobile unit in any room.  Their IP phone system is now usable. Added infrastructure means more than one class can be online at a time!!!  Kindles used for math and reading.

There are a few outstanding needs. First they need to increase the number of students! They are need more devices – wireless devices, Interactive white boards, increased security.

Midwest Educational Cooperative

The Midwest Educational Cooperative began an exciting program where high resolution cameras are used to do ITV speech therapy. This allows the teachers to work remotely with students. The result is more therapy hours through reduced travel and teachers report more effective therapy.

Morris Chamber of Commerce

Morris Chamber of Commerce now has more computers, improved internal marketing, better email system, increased printer capability.  Increasing and honing the public image is a constant task. But through Stevens Forward, the Chamber has seen better community information sharing with joint and unified community marketing.

Stevens Forward

MIRC has helped to connect, accelerate positive community initiatives through the Stevens Forward initiative. The project created greater local web presence, especially in the smaller communities. The online Stevens County Community Guide now includes 700 businesses.

American Legion

As part of an effort to make the legion relevant for younger veterans and other community members, they installed wireless Internet access as well as equipment for public use, specifically a projector, computer and  web cam. It’s been a nice asset for events and private parties – graduations, etc… There were some challenges making it work with volunteers.

PCs for People

There were some problems with PCs for People computers, but they got about 18 computers out. One big issue is the lack of tech support in town!

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