MIRC Community Update: Worthington

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 Worthington (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 notes from Worthington (The Worthington Globe also covered the meeting!) …

Worthington had an excellent meeting with representatives of the schools, the city government, economic development, the chamber of commerce, the college and the newspaper.

Here are their project results.

Worthington Schools Project

The schools acquired wireless access and 40 IPADS.  IPADs are distributed across the various school buildings.  The Alternative Learning Center is the leading user.  There are not enough to go around!  In addition to using them for learning, they are also finding applied learning opportunities, such as the student group using them for manage their concessions sales and inventory.  There are now several hundred applications on the elementary school IPADs.

The new wireless access provides great flexibility for students and teachers. It expands the opportunity for online learning.  As classroom space gets tighter, online learning will become even more important.  They are moving towards the adoption of Moodle or other online learning framework.  They are working collaboratively with the regional education district.  They are creating and supporting professional learning networks across districts and doing more video conferencing.  They know that leadership is critical to maintain and increase tech support.

PCs for People

Community Education and the Chamber of Commerce collected two trailer loads of computers.  40 have been distributed and there is a waiting list of people needing computers.  Businesses are interested in donating computers; community education wants to distribute them.  A team is in place to work on this.

WGTN public access TV channel.

Budgets are limited due to community size, etc. so they wanted to extend their reach to the rural portions of the community.  They are now using streaming video to broadcast over the Internet.  They have also archived all city council meetings, etc.  Lessons learned include that this is more complex than they expected.  There was a learning curve for local vendor as this was a first time technology for them as well in terms of web hosting challenges.    The organization will be able to maintain this system through the general budget.  They are using Vimeo as a product.  They are using the system to broadcast many school events.  This is very popular with grandparents and others outside of the community.

Community Education – Nobles County Integrative Collaborative

Using MIRC funds, they were able to create a small computer lab which is open to the public and for classes.  They also created a portable laptop lab which expands their training capacity.  They have offered classes in digital literacy.  Seven classes were held with a focus on non-English speakers. 11 Karen, 60 Spanish, 2 Tigrinya and 1 English – 74 total participants.  The lab is open during the workday and evenings and weekends.  They have Rosetta Stone for ESL.    Students use the lab for homework;  career exploration, FAFSA, college applications, citizenship study and practice tests, Homebuyer and rental education.  Students used the lab computers to create community presentations for MLK day and teenage anti-violence.  79 ESL users, 204 other users.

Digital technology for cultural integration

This project focused on the use of video camera to record cultural events, teach video skills, and sharing video content via web site and social networking site.  They are making progress, but have a ways to go to be where we want.  They are also trying to capture info and stories for the historical society.

They also supported the knowledge worker classes, including classes in Spanish with 19 participants in two sessions.  Also offered twice in English.

Saint Mary’s School received a grant to purchase a smart board.

Internal to the school, there was early resistance to the concept.  Grant funds were used to purchase one system; now indicators of technology and broadband acceptance confirmed with a purchase of three more.

WREDC received a couple different grants – a mobile computer lab – 20 laptops on a cart within the training center.  This makes the building more attractive for training and events.  The first company, Bioverse Inc. is now moving into the incubator building and the education lab is now a priority.  Worthington kept them from moving to South Dakota from Luverne.  Access to the training center will be part of the incentive.  Remotely located owners can video conference in for corporate meetings.

The LightSpeed grant was to install videoconference equipment in two rooms.  Their application for NSF was not funded, but the application process tied local partners together around the project.  They are re-figuring grant for re-submission.  The U of M Extension has been a terrific partner with their strong ties to the ag producer community.

Interpreter training has been a strong focus, including onsite and online learning components – top of the certification is court approved interpreter certification.

Through MES, WREDC hired an intern to work on the WREDC web site.   Modeled after the Redwood County site.  It is designed to be business friendly – business plans info, loan applications, etc.  Links to community assets – city, school district, college, etc.  Links are the key function as community connector.

There is an emerging partnership of Redwood County, MVTV Wireless, Agstar, southern MN Chamber, others to continue social media training.  They want to make this an important thing for local businesses to do.  Drives people to the workshop.  Good success so far with their first two workshops.

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