ExCITe Center to Help Community Members Navigate Technology Access Challenges of Working and Learning From Home as Part of City's Digital Literacy Initiative
Drexel University’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center will join a network of organizations across the city to help ensure all Philadelphians have access to the devices and internet connections they need to learn and work remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic. With support from a Philadelphia Digital Literacy Alliance initiative, Drexel will be one of three partners to provide support on accessing low cost Internet options, connecting wireless devices, and providing computers to ensure access to internet service for community members in need.
“The coronavirus pandemic has clearly put a number of social inequities into sharp relief, among them the ‘digital divide’ – the fact that many people do not have the technologies of digital connection,” said Youngmoo Kim, PhD, a professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering and director of the ExCITe Center. “Schools and businesses shifting to remote operations assumes that this divide does not exist. While initiatives like the this are necessary to address the current challenge, I know the partner organizations involved in this – and others like them -- will continue working for a solution that lasts well beyond COVID-19.”
The effort is supported by $30,000 grants to three community-support organizations who will become “Digital Navigators.” In addition to Drexel, the Community Learning Center — a nonprofit that helps economically disadvantaged adults develop academic and employment skills — and SEAMAAC — a group that supports immigrants, refugees and other marginalized communities in Philadelphia through a variety of health and social service support activities — are also partners in the initiative.
“This pandemic has made clear the importance of digital and internet access to our residents and our communities,” said Deputy Chief Information Officer for Innovation Andrew Buss. “The Digital Literacy Alliance joins other local foundations in responding to the COVID-19 crisis and seeks to directly address Philadelphia’s digital access and equity challenges. We look forward to seeing how our three grantees can develop and adapt this work to best help communities in need.”
According to the latest Census data, nearly 15,000 students throughout Philadelphia do not own a computer and some 21,500 do not have internet access. This program is the latest in the City’s ongoing efforts to address these technology access disparities.
At Drexel, the funding will enable Drexel’s Information Technology department and the ExCITe Center to collect and refurbish used computers. They will be distributed to community members through partner organizations with Drexel’s Promise Neighborhood program and experts from the ExCITe Center will be available to offer technological support and training.
It will also fund community partners who will be available to assist residents via phone and text message with general computing support, School District of Philadelphia laptops and software, and additional resources such as kindergarten registration and online learning and enrichment.
The ExCITe and Dornsife Centers have been actively working to improve access to digital technology in West Philadelphia through a number of efforts, including the Young Dragons Summer STEAM Camp, Community Business Collaborative and participation in Action for Early Learning, LRNG Philly and Digital On-Ramps initiatives.
“Becoming one of Philadelphia’s ‘Digital Navigator’ organizations is a natural continuation of Drexel effort to become one of the most civically engaged universities in the country,” Kim said. “While this isn’t a problem that will be solved in the duration of the pandemic, the momentum we’re seeing for addressing it right now is certainly inspiring and a big step in the right direction.”
For more information about the Digital Literacy Alliance’s Digital Navigator program visit: https://www.phila.gov/2020-05-28-city-announces-recipients-of-the-digital-literacy-alliances-fast-track-grant-cycle-to-promote-digital-access-during-covid-19/