MIRC Community Update: Benton 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 Benton County. (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.)

MIRC Coordinator Angie Boecker welcomed the group and recognized their hard work.  She noted the absence of Nancy Hoffman who has moved on to a new job.tom

Project Updates

Independent Lifestyles, A center of Independent Living

This non-profit organization has had 100 people taking digital literacy classes and over 900 people have used the computer lab.  This newly created computer lab is open to clients and the general public. They have handicapped accessibility computers.

They were surprised at the number people who do not know about computers initially, but not any more!  This area needs attention.

The technology center provides a permanent resource for the organization and the general public.  The computer lab brings people into the facility and increases interaction between the clients and the community.

What’s up in Foley?

The goal was to increase the exposure to the community’s events, information and opportunities.  The community has lots of web sites doing their own thing, but there was no linkage between sites, with many gaps.  This site also provides a web presence for those organizations without a web site.  It serves as the community portal.

They have done lots of work with non-profits – the non-profits use it as a tool for fundraising and a place to find volunteers.  They have volunteer opportunity listings.  A great success story – Foley Fun Days promotion.  5700 page views during the festival – fun run registration, parade information etc.  Accessed from multiple devices.  Challenges – “teaching old dogs new tricks” – but once people see the benefits, they are more enthusiastic.  Sustainability – $50 annual fee for business, no charge for non-profits, moving towards FACEBOOK.

LA HOME CARE – Smart Home Technologies – Grand Care

Tom Ardolf

The project was about Tele-health and tele-wellness.  It required combined health care and technology expertise.  Goal – keep seniors in the homes.  Benefits – the cost savings are significant, plus seniors want to stay in their homes.  How do you assist seniors and care givers?

They monitor daily living and ease access to the Internet.

The technology uses sensors to monitor behavior, prescriptions, movement monitor, etc.  and provide video conferencing.

Success story – During the home to a 90 year old woman with dementia, she received a video call from her granddaughter in Hawaii who just had a baby.  Greatgrandma got to see the baby rather than just a picture.  Though she does not understand the technology, she knows that when the computer beeps, she will soon have a visitor on the screen.  Using Skype for the video conferencing.  Family locally was not real supportive of the use of technology; family farther away love it.    Broadband is so important; crummy broadband does not support the technology.  Three systems provided by funding.  Ten clients assisted.


The goal is to increase knowledge, accessibility and training.

They created a new city web site, purchased computers and IPAD for library and provided training at library.   The web site used for the hiring of new police officer, pool news, Foley Fun Days info.  It provides 7 x 24 availability of information.  The project solved the ongoing shortage of computers in the library.  The library delivers ad hoc training to users.  The availability of wireless within the library allows people to bring their own devices.

Senior training class with 5 participants.  They begin at the beginning with mouse, etc.  Success – one of the five seniors has purchased their own computer and caught fire.  Lesson learned – PEOPLE WANT TO LEARN!  Email, Skype, searching basics.    Only a few people with no interest.  There is a waiting list for classes.  They are hoping to partner with community ed for additional training.

28,000 hits on new web site.  Use quadrupled over old site.  Analytics drive content and seasonal web changes.


They increased the access to their computer lab, tutoring, and classes.  They are making use of online learning for all kinds of learning – foreign languages, lego robotics, computers, etc.

They have one memorable story of a displaced worker who came to community ed and learned how to use a computer for his job search.

The project has provided lots of good learning for community ed about what people are seeking and their receptiveness to online learning.  They are using the lab for Gifted Students.  With more hours, there is lots of lab use in the morning before school.  The STEM programs benefitted from more access.

Community Ed also hosted the U of M business training.


Foley Schools installed wireless access routers for open access for all those within the schools.  The network is completely wireless and open to all devices.  Football and track fields too!  They are now streaming sports events online.  They believe that their best success story is yet to come.  They are moving to IPADs for lots of kids for mobile learning around the school and campus.

We are opening up the world to our kids.  Kids can use their own devices on the school network.  We expect to see more student achievement as a result.

Sauk Rapids Community Ed.

Their project purpose was to increase use of broadband; they increased   computer lab time for students and community.  They provided skills training, including the U of M business training.  They purchased 12 IPADS to use in classes and training sessions.  MIRC funding made all of the training very affordable for attendees which was great.

They educated parents about the parent portal web site for payments and other information.  The open computer labs for middle school kids was very successful; less success offering open labs to the community.

One of their classes targeted the senior citizens and included information about  “How to buy a wedding gift online”. This was a great success.

They targeted classes at people 50 + who do not use computers; they need to know this stuff to participate in the world.

They shared the purchased IPADS with ABE Students.  Students feel very comfortable with the IPADS.

Offered over 50 classes with 400 + participants.  Participation was higher than we expected – low price spurred interest.  Ongoing, they will have to charge a bit more tuition.

They now plan to create joint events – one activity for youth, one for the parents.  Parent conferences are an opportunity.

The project had a positive impact on community ed by participating on the steering committee and sharing across community organizations.


They are now providing Ipads for use by building tenants.  Sartell students are serving as teachers for senior citizens. Tenants and families feel more connected.  Now tenants are purchasing their own computers and/or IPADS.  Learning: patience is critical for trainers.  Open access wireless network has been well received.


They created a FFA web site.    They are using technology to connect the students to the agricultural community, including GPS and mapping software.  They are testing local wells.  This has had a positive impact on student learning – real life learning.  Collecting 64 water samples.  Health Department helped test the water, then the data and GIS data uploaded.   People were very interested in getting the web site data.  3 of 64 wells were discovered to be bad.

Water testing will be ongoing.  The database of information is growing and becoming more valuable.  Google maps are used to plot wells and data.  The teacher learned lots!!


This is a project to implement the business website assistance program with six Benton Co. Businesses.  It is slow going on this project.


They created a telecom provider brochure.  They are marketing Benton Co. with this new web site.  They have a new logo.  The business posters have been very effective at promoting the 13 new public access hot spots across the county.

They really worked the roadside marketing class.  57 businesses now claim their Google places; the goal is 75

They are embarking on Community Asset mapping.


  • To continue education efforts around seniors, adults and school age kids.  All groups.
  • Organize user groups around specific topics – cooperative learning and networking.
  • Creation of checklists and help hotline.
  • Encouraging 1:1 initiative with schools so that every kid has access to a device to connect to school.  Side benefit of family access
  • Mapping assets and businesses.
  • Attract Lower cost Internet provider
  • To increase the available places for public access.  Market these locations.
  • Share success stories
  • Help small businesses more ably use the Internet
  • Social media breakfast

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s