Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program using the Mountain of Accountability Framework (2015-2016)

I’m pleased to share the assessment of Blandin’s broadband work looking at the last cohort of Blandin Broadband Communities – the Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program using the Mountain of Accountability Framework (2015-2016).

This assessment of the 2015-2016 cohort of ten Blandin Broadband Communities and associated broadband-related activities was written by staff as part of the foundation’s overall efforts to build an assessment system that answers the basic question: “What do we need to know to do better?”

The report looks at the work of Blandin (related to broadband), including the following program components include:

  • Community Broadband Resources (technical assistance)
  • Blandin Broadband Community (BBC) partnerships
  • Annual Border to Border Broadband conferences
  • Webinar series
  • Convenings
  • Broadband grants
  • Minnesota Broadband Coalition policy work
  • Blandin on Broadband blog

And goes on to look at the impacts of these efforts at the following levels:

  • Individual persons
  • Individual grants/projects/events
  • Individual businesses/organizations/institutions (schools, health care facilities, local governments, etc.)
  • Communities
  • Regions
  • Statewide
  • National

Sherburne County – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Sherburne County…

In 2014, 92 percent of Sherburne County had access to broadband as it was then defined (lower speeds back then). In 2016, when the definition of broadband was updated to take into account technological advances, only 75 percent of the county had access to broadband speeds of 25/3 (Mbps down/up), and 28 percent had access to Minnesota’s 2026 speed goals of 100/20.

Sherburne County is going the wrong direction; they have gone from well served to underserved as the definition of broadband changes. It’s therefore not surprising that as a Blandin Broadband Community, Sherburne County focused on improving broadband access and infrastructure. The strategy they adopted was to focus on educating the public, improving technology use in schools, and on smaller public access projects.

Jolene Foss, Community Development Director at the City of Princeton describes their journey to better broadband:

The City of Princeton is unique in that it sits on the line Between Mille Lacs County and Sherburne County. As I became more informed of the status of high speed, reliable and affordable internet in our community, I was shocked to find out how many residents are underserved, or completely unserved! Businesses were suffering economically due to high rates and lost opportunities. The students in our counties were struggling to complete assignments and do research from home, especially those who reside in rural locations. People couldn’t bank or take care of their online medical needs with poor internet service. Quality of life was being affected and some of the leaders of our community recognized a need for change. The Blandin Foundation has graciously awarded these communities the resources needed to take necessary steps in the right direction. As a member of the Broadband Steering Committee for Sherburne County, our group decided to start a Community Outreach Subcommittee to educate and inform residents and elected officials on the importance of affordable reliable high speed internet service. We would like to see people reach out to the elected officials and express the need for more funding to enhance partnerships between providers and other stakeholders. These partnerships will pave the way for economic viability and secure our place in this fast paced world. Our people deserve every advantage that anyone else gets. We need to stay competitive if we want to see future success.

The Steering Committee used grant dollars to hire a marketing firm to create a brand for their group – “SherBand.” They created a webpage, education materials, and promotional items, and wrote bi-weekly blog posts. The community team contacted their elected officials, created a Facebook page, produced an educational video, and participated at various community events and meetings.

Infrastructure improvement and access projects included installing Wi-Fi at Rivers Edge Park, Lake Side Park, and the Becker Athletic Complex; extending fiber to the Sherburne History Center, and installing fiber to connect Elk River City Hall to Zimmerman City Hall and fire department. Additionally, while not part of the BBC project, internet at the industrial park in Princeton was upgraded during the project period.

For a more recent look at Sherburne County – check out the county profiles I did earlier this year.

Resilient Region – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Resilient Region (Region 5 in north central Minnesota)…

The Resilient Region is a five county collaborative (Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena) working to create a sustainable and inclusive region through the disciplines of housing, transportation, natural environment, and economic development to improve the quality of life of all residents. Broadband connectivity is an critical component of the Resilient Region Plan; in fact, they found that broadband touched every edge of the other projects they were working on – positioning them well to begin their work as a Blandin Broadband Community.

The Region’s connectivity priorities include: improved and expanded broadband access across the region with a focus on fiber, using technology to retain businesses and encourage entrepreneurism, ensuring Internet access for all children, and identifying additional funding and service partners.

During the project period, the Resilient Region made significant progress towards improving the Internet access available to residents. A Feasibility Study commissioned by the region as part of its participation in BCBP was used to help secure a nearly $3 million DEED Border-to-Border project grant that will bring world class fiber-based Internet to Fairview Township, Fort Ripley, and a portion of northern Wadena County. Resilient Region and its Internet provider partner, Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), maximized learning from the Fort Ripley project by utilizing Blandin Foundation grant dollars to conduct a study on the Economic Impact of Broadband Infrastructure Expansion & Subscription. Key findings of the survey include:

  • Customer service and reliability of connection are more important than cost.

  • Less than 2% of older adults surveyed do not use the internet.

  • The internet plays a critical role in enabling customers to work where they live with more than half of households using their home internet for work; and 14% reporting that they “telework.”

  • Over 20% of customers have a home-based business or farm with 36% reporting that the internet reduced their overall operating costs; and nearly 9% of customers have plans to start a home-based business in the next 1-3 years.

  • Two-thirds of customers stated that the internet is very important for their family with almost 40% saying that they could not live in home without a reliable high-speed internet connection.

These study findings were shared with the Governor’s Broadband Task Force and elected officials.

Using technology to improve learning was another priority for the Steering Committee. One of the Blandin grants was used to purchase SMART boards which are enhancing educational opportunities for the youngest learners in ISD 181 Brainerd Public Schools. Eight teachers were trained on the use of the four SMART boards and projectors that were installed for the Early Childhood Family Education program.

ECFE coordinator, Tahnee Flowers relayed a story: One preschool room spent time learning the “3 little pigs” story. … They developed the props and practiced acting out the play. The teachers were able to record the students acting out the play using the iPad from the Blandin grant and email it to the parents. They also had a “movie showing” on their classroom SMART board so that the class could watch themselves acting out the play. The children and parents loved it!

Other Resilient Region BBC projects focused on healthcare, teaching young people to refurbish and redistribute computers, introducing state-of-the-art videoconferencing facilities to the community, and using technology to attract and retain businesses.

For a more recent look at Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena Counties – check out the county profiles I did earlier this year.

RS Fiber – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from RS Fiber…

RS Fiber is the name of the new, home-grown broadband cooperative serving ten cities and 17 townships in Renville and Sibley Counties in southwestern Minnesota. They are in the process of building their fiber-to-the-home network, and offer plans of up to 50 Mbsp, 100 Mbsp, and 1 Gbps symmetrical. Therefore, happily, broadband isn’t an issue for folks in the RS Fiber service area. The challenge is getting people to use it to its fullest potential, and stimulating economic growth.

The Steering Committee determined that many of the area residents were not tech savvy. They saw their challenge as not just teaching people how to use computers, but helping them see the almost limitless ways technology can improve their lives. To address the former, they offered well attended computer basics and more specialized classes and distributed 50 computers through BCBP’s partnership with PCs for People. To address the latter, they are creating a number of innovation centers with Internet hotspots in towns throughout the region. The Innovation Centers will house things like 3D printers, and one will have a drone obstacle course.

Engaging youth is another area of focus. They offered 4-H programming at the Innovation Centers being established throughout the county, established public hotspots at schools, and implemented Wi-Fi on busses. They made available low-cost devices to student riders who didn’t have their own to use and targeted bus routes that were experiencing a high number of behavioral incidences. Schools reported that the number of incidences of adverse behavior went down dramatically, and there was no longer a need for an extra adult supervisor on these routes.

For a more recent look at Renville and Sibley Counties – check out the county profiles I did earlier this year.

Red Wing – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Red Wing…

The City of Red Wing is in a unique position, as they are a rural community with Gigabit broadband and home to Redwing Ignite, an organization dedicated to encouraging broadband utilization. The focus of the Steering Committee was to inspire, encourage and enable residents to maximize the benefits available to them from the town’s world class broadband service.

Engaging Youth is one strategy they focused on – preparing young people for careers in technology – and demonstrating that tech careers are possible right in Redwing. The committee designed and implemented a “STEAM in our Schools” project that included:

  • A tech assessment of area K12 schools

  • Coding classes for 6-7 grades

  • Establishing a “Coder Dojo” club for youth, taught by volunteers, that was enthusiastically received by students, parents and the community at large

  • Bringing TechnovationMN to Redwing; a 3-month, 50-hour curriculum for young women. Participating students created an app called “College Bound,” designed to help young people make more informed college choices. The Red Wing group included both boys and girls and thus was not eligible to compete in the state competition, but they did earn an honorable mention at the Ignite Cup.

  • Piloting in the United States a program developed in Europe called “Apps for Good.” “Apps for Good” seeks to “equip students to research, design and make digital products and take them to market.” It was a huge success, and the community has found a way to continue the program beyond the grant period.

The establishment of three “tech internships” was another very successful youth-oriented initiative undertaken by the Blandin Broadband Community Steering Committee. They recruited college students to come to Redwing to help three enterprises – a local business, a non-profit and the county government – make better use of technology. The students all said they learned a lot; they were given challenging opportunities to really make a difference. The intern hosts all want more interns! One of the interns created a new e-commerce website for a local business, boosting sales significantly. Another helped prepare a local business for a large CRM migration, and a third worked with the county to create a web application to manage the county’s fleet of cars. Now employees can use the app to check out cars, track mileage, and a whole host of other features. The County fleet manager reported it has solved many headaches for all county workers who need to use county vehicles.

Marketing their town area as an area with world class broadband and a sophisticated “culture of use” tech-savvy was another important priority for the Red Wing Broadband Steering Committee. The committee worked with local partners to create http://www.RedWingInfo.com, a “one-stop shop” web portal for everything you need to know to live and work in Red Wing, 17 including a comprehensive community calendar and resources for new residents. As the “About Us” section on the site explains:

“Red Wing Ignite was awarded a Blandin Broadband Grant in 2015. A community wide vision meeting generated a lot of interest in the branding and marketing of Red Wing. This Community Landing Page demonstrates the connections within our community and provides a wide range of resources and information in one integrated place.”

For a more recent look at Red Wing – check out the Goodhue County profile I did earlier this year.

Redwood County – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Redwood County…

Redwood County struggles with broadband access issues, ranking 81 of 87 Minnesota counties when it comes to reaching the state broadband speed goal of 25 megabits download / 3 megabits upload. As a Blandin Broadband Community, Redwood County undertook a feasibility study and market survey and have used the study to inform conversations with local internet providers about what might be done to improve broadband access across the county. In the meantime, the committee is working on providing new technology training, equipment and access, as well as on projects to connect the Lower Sioux Clinic and Community Center, and to launch a new telehealth initiative at Redwood Area Hospital.

One learning from the Steering Committee was the idea that you need to give people a good experience with broadband and technology; people won’t use broadband if the experience is negative. That’s why the focus on training, equipment and access to quality programs/applications is so important. When people have good experiences and learn how broadband can positively impact their lives, they will demand it – which will make it easier to make the business case to build it.

One project was to increase the library’s ability to serve residents who lack access to computers or the internet at home. The committee purchased 20 computers and two tablets for use by patrons at the Redwood Falls Public Library. The users have been pleased, and staff has reported a reduction in noise on the part of students who now can use the computers when they come to the library. According to library director Teri Smith, “In order to have a healthy rural community, all citizens must have access to needed resources, feel connected, and have a safe place to work or play. The computers and technology provided through this grant will help the library provide the services that help our community be and stay strong and connected.”

Coordinated marketing of the new training opportunities via print and social media proved extremely effective in increasing participation in the trainings. The committee created a Redwood Connect Facebook page, promoted Google Mapping for cities and businesses, and conducted internet usage and training surveys.

The committee also hosted social media events through a Lunch ‘n Learn technology series and community education classes, which culminated in a well-attended Social Media Rockstar event, a day-long, digital and social media marketing conference in rural Minnesota.

For a more recent look at Redwood County – check out the Redwood County profile I did earlier this year.

Nobles County – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Nobles County…

According to Nobles County Administrator and Blandin Broadband Community Steering Committee Chair Tom Johnson, the Worthington School District is the most diverse in the state. Thus, one of the goals of the Nobles County BBC Steering Committee was to use technology to implement programming for new Americans. One way they did this was through the myON Digital Library project. The myON program and tablet devices were purchased for use by Worthington schools, and utilized primarily by ECFE and ESL instructors at all grade levels. According to project implementers, the students and families who use the literacy resource are reaping great benefit. Project administrators report that both children and their parents have increased their English language skills through their participation.

Nobles County has also focused on digital literacy for other county residents, including through the creation of college credit technology classes for high school students and digital literacy programming in alternate languages including Spanish, Tigrinya, Amharic and Karen. Participating immigrant families have learned how to use the computer for connecting with relatives back home, saving a lot of money on long distance telephone charges.

Nobles County also conducted a feasibility study. Using the results of the study, the county’s provider-partner, Lismore Cooperative Telephone Co., was awarded a $2.94 million Border-toBorder Broadband grant to create a hybrid fiber and wireless network to bring high-speed internet to the entire county. During testimony before the House committee charged with broadband policy, Johnson told state legislators: “If not for our participation in the Blandin Community Broadband Program we would not have been in a position to apply for and receive this much-needed state funding.”

Other projects in Nobles County increased public access to broadband, including through the installation of new public hotspots and upgrading to world-class symmetrical fiber the broadband connection available at the county’s flagship Biotechnology Advancement Center.

For a more recent look at Nobles County – check out the Redwood County profile I did earlier this year.

Martin County – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Martin County…

Martin County went into the BBC program with high hopes for raising the level of service throughout their county. However, due to the complexity of the issue and the tough economics involved they decided to prioritize adoption projects while they built the knowledge and partnerships required to improve availability and access.

One such project was an “App Camp,” offered to 5th and 6th grade students in several of the county’s public and parochial schools. Participating students learned the basics of computer programming by building mobile apps. The camps were fully 13 enrolled and generated a lot of interest in the community, with area newspapers publishing photographs of students receiving their program completion certificates. They also enjoyed broad parental support.

Another successful project was the community calendar. The Steering Team was aware of the need of diverse organizations to collaborate better when it came to community activities. In small towns, when a spelling bee, hockey tournament and a wedding or two fall on the same weekend, amenities – particularly lodging – can be stressed! Their biggest challenge wasn’t generating support or funding from key organizations, but marketing and training to get those organizations to actually use it consistently. They learned that the marketing was well worth it, and the calendar has been a great success. They’ve already received positive reviews from visitors to the area, including a couple who learned of a kayaking club, and were able to make contact, borrow kayaks and attend an event while in town.

Martin County’s efforts came full-circle in fall 2016 when they used the results of the Robust Network Feasibility Study they conducted as part of their participation in the program to apply for a Border-to-Border Broadband Development grant from DEED’s Office of Broadband. The county was awarded $1.68 million to serve 1,784 unserved households, 51 unserved businesses and nine unserved community institutions.

For a more recent look at Martin County – check out the Redwood County profile I did earlier this year.

Chisago County – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Chisago County…

Chisago County leveraged their participation in the Blandin Broadband Communities program for a wildly successful entry in Frontier Communications’ America’s Best Communities (ABC) competition. Over the course of the competition, the Chisago Lakes Area was awarded $150,000 to implement projects to promote their region. Many of the projects were born of the broadband steering committee’s visioning work. The team made it to the final round in the national competition, and their enthusiasm to work on the projects begun under the competition’s auspices has yet to wane.

Chisago County’s “Got Internet” survey yielded some striking results: of the 876 respondents, 35% said they would telecommute if they had better broadband; 45% would use it for schoolwork; 31% would open a business; and 94% would subscribe to better broadband if it was available. One respondent commented: “My son says he will never move back to Chisago County from college – not with the current broadband.” Another: “I am a realtor – people do not buy in this area because the broadband is not sufficient.”

Chisago County broadband advocates have used these results to inform the state-wide debate over public funding for un- and under-served rural communities. Steering Committee chair and HRA/EDA Director Nancy Hoffman used the survey results in testimony before the Governor’s Broadband Task Force and House and Senate committees.

Chisago’s BBC and ABC Competition activities leaned heavily toward leveraging the capacity of the Internet to market their area, including tourism, arts and culture. These efforts include the creation of an integrated, collaborative website where cities, attractions and other agencies can now list their events in a “no-wrong-door” portal to the region; support for the Old Hwy 61 Coalition, a group of businesses and community boosters which works to preserve and promote the old thoroughfare including through the use of GIS-enabled map applications, and through extensive promotion of utilizing Google Maps to promote area businesses.

For a more recent look at Chisago County – check out the county profiles I did earlier this year.

Carlton County – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Carlton County…

Carlton County focused on getting people using devices. One of their particularly innovative ideas was a Community Education class that invited attendees to come in with their new devices (post-Christmas) to work with students and others to ask questions and learn on a one-to-one basis.

Another area of focus was to improve broadband access in the rural countryside, outside of towns. One of the interim solutions they put into place was to acquire for the library a number of Internet hotspots that library patrons can check out for use at home (this project has since been duplicated by other BBCs).

The county also chose to explore a more comprehensive solution to the poor access experienced by many of its residents by commissioning a feasibility study as part of its participation in BCBP. The feasibility concluded that it would cost approximately $70 million to bring fiber to the home across the county. It noted: “Carlton County is in a challenging position. With its geographic proximity to the Duluth/Superior area, many businesses and residents find it hard to believe how drastically the level of speeds diminishes within such a short distance from these population centers.”

The county board and broadband champions will use the report recommendations to determine a strategy for pursuing their goal of better broadband their residents.

For a more recent look at Carlton County – check out the county profile I did earlier this year.

A look back (assessment) at Blandin Broadband Community work in 2015-2016

Sometimes it feels good to look back, see the road we’ve traveled and progress we’ve made. So while the task is arduous, we always enjoy the assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program, which includes work of the BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) cohort, annual conference and other meetings, webinars, the Blandin on Broadband blog and other broadband-focuses efforts supported by Blandin.

I’d like to thank and recognize our 2015-2016 BBC Partners:

  1. Carlton County
  2. Central Woodlands (east central Minnesota)
  3. Chisago County
  4. Martin County
  5. Nobles County
  6. Redwood County
  7. Red Wing
  8. RS Fiber (Renville & Sibley Counties)
  9. Resilient Region (Region 5 in north central Minnesota)
  10. Sherburne County

We’ll share their stories from the report on the blog in the next week or two. The stories have been told here but the recaps are valuable too. (I would like to point out the table of grants awarded that start on page 28. It’s an inspiring list of community projects that have helped spur local broadband adoption. If you have looking for activities to try in your own community – this is a good starter list.)

But the work doesn’t stop with the BBC partners. Blandin supported technical assistance with 11 communities, hosted or supported a number of events from local hackfest to the annual broadband conference, maintained the blog, which is read by practitioners, community leaders and policy makers in Minnesota and beyond and supported efforts to lift up broadband as a tool to expand opportunities in Minnesota and make it possible to commit (re-commit) to rural areas.

Local media covers Chisholm’s Broadband Strut your Stuff Tour

Last week I wrote about our fun bus tour of Chisolm to visit their Blandin-funded broadband-related project. This week the Hibbing Daily Tribune  posted an article on the tour. It’s great to see the tour getting attention in a local media, which will help local residents learn about what’s happening with broadband in the community…

Chisholm City Administrator Katie Bobich and Tom Whiteside, a representative from Rep. Rick Nolan’s office, were tour guides. The two also engaged tour participants in a round of trivia on broadband.

They wrote about projects funded by Blandin…

A $75,000 matching grant awarded to the Chisholm Development Economic Development Authority (EDA) by the Blandin Foundation was used to cover the cost of a feasibility study of the project area. That area includes: Chisholm, Balkan Township, Hibbing, French Township, Cherry Township, Mountain Iron, Buhl, Kinney and Great Scott Township.

A $31,500 grant from the Blandin Foundation along with a $10,500 match from the Chisholm Community Foundation was used to cover projects being implemented this spring.

The school bus used for the tour was one example of these grant dollars at work. It’s one of two in the Chisholm School District’s fleet that are now equipped with WiFi, accessible for students to do their homework.

At a school board meeting this spring, Chisholm High School Principal Rich Aldrich talked about the benefit of having WiFi available to students traveling for sports or other school events. One of the buses equipped with the WiFi, it was noted on the tour, hauls students from a lengthy rural route.

A portion of the funds awarded this spring will also be used to build a common web portal for the chamber, school and city, and to update the current website of each of these three entities. …

In effort to bridge the gap and make high speed internet more readily available, grant monies received this spring will be used to create community hot spots at the Chisholm Public Library, Balkan Community Center and at the pocket park being constructed on Lake Street in Chisholm. The library will also be starting up a hot spot checkout program, where patrons may check out a hot spot for a specified period of time.

They also took a look at future projects…

The Blandin Broadband Committee is also looking ahead, identifying potential projects. They are seeking $43,500 from the Blandin Foundation to be paired with $14,500 from other sources, said Rice.

Some of the ideas being considered for fall, should they be awarded these funds, include adding a strong WiFi connection at Minnesota Discovery Center and adding a hot spot at Kiwanis Park. An e-training session for businesses and technology training for community members is also being considered.

Another idea being proposed is a technology center launch pad.

Mayor Todd Scaia on Thursday suggested exploring the possibility of getting a designated testing site, should the technology center come to fruition. Scaia and others on the bus tour talked about the distances professionals and students now travel for testing.

Bobich also talked about creating a Skype booth. This concept would involve a London style phone booth from which patrons could Skype without their conversations disrupting other patrons.

36 rural Minnesota communities with concerted broadband adoption efforts – thanks to Blandin Foundation

I realized there wasn’t a good list of Blandin Broadband Communities; communities that have received support from Blandin to increase broadband adoption. Support means funding but it also means help getting a group of community leaders together to create and deploy plans that strategically address broadband adoption, broadband access and digital inclusion. Below is an alphabetical list of communities with links to more info – generally blog posts on their progress:

  1. Aitkin County
  2. Benton County
  3. Carlton County
  4. Central Woodlands
  5. Chisago County
  6. Chisholm
  7. Cook County
  8. Ely
  9. Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  10. Grizzlies
  11. Hibbing
  12. Itasca County
  13. Itasca County
  14. Kanabec Broadband Initiative
  15. Kandiyohi County
  16. Lac qui Parle Valley Schools
  17. Lake County
  18. Lake of the Woods County
  19. Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
  20. Martin County
  21. Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
  22. Mille Lacs County
  23. Mt. Iron-Buhl
  24. Nobles County
  25. Red Wing
  26. Redwood County
  27. Resilient Region
  28. RS Fiber
  29. Sherburne County
  30. Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services
  31. Stevens County
  32. Thief River Falls
  33. Upper Minnesota Valley RDC
  34. Windom
  35. Winona
  36. Worthington

You can also check out a matrix of specific broadband adoption projects from the 2013-2014 cohort and 2015-2016 cohort.

Learn to Code – a kids program in Winona working through Project FINE

I’m delighted to share details on an initiative from Project FINE and supported by the Blandin Foundation. It’s a great sample of what you can do with a kids coding class, if you have a college nearby…

Learn To Code program activities began in August 2016 with the summer camp.  In our grant proposal, we planned to host two camps: one in Winona and one in St. Charles.  During the camp planning phase, we worked closely with the College of Business at Winona State University and they generously allowed us to access technology and space on-campus to host a combined camp for youth from Winona & St. Charles.  This was a great benefit for the students, because we had a wonderful technology setup, with laptops, ipads, dual monitors for instruction and plenty of classroom space.  It also gave the youth a chance to visit the Winona State University campus and become familiar with a college classroom setting.

We were fortunate to have a local instructor to teach coding to youth at the summer camp.   He works in the technical support field and had previously taught coding classes for a local charter school.  Our camp sessions were held over 2 weeks from 4-8pm each weekday.  We originally planned to host the camp for 2 hours each day, but our instructor suggested we expand the camp time to allow the kids more hands-on experience, and the timeframe worked out very well.  16 youth participated in the camp, and they learned basic coding principles and how to use XCode to modify existing apps for games.  They worked together to modify and develop games and learned how to use a test mode to simulate the app use on a computer.  They also learned how to access their apps on an ipad, check for bugs, identify coding errors and make simple adjustments.

Following the coding camp, after-school sessions were held in both Winona and St. Charles during the 2016-17 school year.  Based on our experience with the app camp, we chose to host the Winona sessions in the fall of the year and the St. Charles sessions in the spring.  This allowed our volunteers and staff to focus on assisting one group at a time and gave more continuity for the youth.  50 students participated in the after-school sessions and they each learned to create multiple apps.  During the summer camp, we gained a greater understanding of the difficulty of creating apps or games and the challenges of writing code.  For the after-school programming, we decided to use a simpler block method of coding and used “Scratch” curriculum and activities developed by MIT.  This was a good choice, as the after-school sessions were shorter and less intense than the camp and the simpler coding format allowed youth to jump right in and begin creating code.

Throughout the after-school sessions, we had a group of 10 volunteers who served as mentors for the youth. They were a wonderful addition to the program, allowing for more individual assistance for youth and providing technical knowledge that was beyond our staff capacity.  The majority of the volunteers were college students studying in technology- or computer-related fields, and a few were young professionals already working in a career in technology.

One of our additional goals for the project was to provide information about STEM-related careers and increase interest through visits to tech companies or educational institutions.  The volunteers helped with this goal throughout the project, serving as role models for the youth and sharing their educational and work experiences.  We also toured the Winona State University campus during the summer camp and visited Minnesota State College Southeast in April 2017.  At Minnesota State College Southeast, the Dean of Trade and Technology gave the youth a tour of their various technology classrooms and lab spaces and shared the many technology-related opportunities they offer.  We also visited Benchmark Electronics, which is an international electronics company that engineers and manufactures a wide variety of technology products that are used in health care, manufacturing, transportation and other areas.  The youth learned about some of the products they design and manufacture, and saw various stages of production from concept drawings to computer boards to assembly and completed parts.  It was a great tie-in to our Minnesota State College Southeast visit, as our tour guide was an alumnus who has worked at the company for many years and now holds an upper-level management position.  The youth were very surprised to learn about all the different products, the type of coding and technology used to created them, and the many technology career options in the Winona area.

Strut Your Stuff Broadband Tour in Ely: Community portal, feasibility, PCs for People

Three broadband visits in one day! We met with the Ely Thursday night. I didn’t record most of the introductions but I wanted to include the comment from one attendee talking about what brought her to the meeting and the broadband effort…

Ely is known for being divisive but broadband is an issue that we can all agree on. We need it. We need it now! It’s nice to be pushing in the same direction to get broadband – even with folks with whom we don’t always agree.

And my notes… Continue reading