Many hands make work light, and bridging the digital divide takes work beyond any single organization. Philly’s Technology Learning Collaborative (TLC) wants to make that work lighter by convening digital literacy providers and advocates.
With a focus on professional development, TLC has been run by volunteers for nearly nine years. Its 300 members come from a variety of orgs that support digital and media literacy programming, digital-focused career and educational training, and technology access. That includes the likes of nonprofits Free Library of Philadelphia, PhillyCAM and Philadelphia Works and institutions such as Drexel University.
With equitable broadband access now a focal part of discussions around President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill, TLC consultant Kate Rivera led a Black Tech Symposium session Tuesday and shared ways the organization’s work changed during the pandemic.
The pandemic made the collaborative’s work even more important.
For digital practitioners like Rivera, pandemic underscored the work that was already being done to provide more people with equitable internet access. Like many companies and organizations that quickly adapted to the pandemic, TLC shifted its in-person workshops and annual conference online.
The digital divide has become more apparent to more people over the past 18-plus months, she said.
“I’ve been doing this work for a decade and it’s been interesting to see how much this issue has come to the forefront of so many people’s minds because everything went online,” she said. “A lot of us knew about these issues for a long time but they became much more severe during the pandemic.”
Personal broadband access has become a bigger priority.
With so many people relegated to their homes during the pandemic, TLC adapted to community needs. During the pandemic, TLC has maintained a relationship to the KEYSPOT program by cohosting networking events and sharing resources. It’s also hosting monthly webinars and offering digital inclusion workshops about topics such as internet access and the Digital Navigator programs. The goal is for attendees to learn and then better support their own clients or programs.
“A lot of lower speed internet connections are OK, but if you have two kids in virtual school, suddenly that internet connection is not going to be sufficient for everyone in family to do what they need to do,” she said about the ever-increasing need for access to high-speed internet.
More eyes on the digital divide has translated to more resources to solve the issue.
Looking ahead, Rivera is looking forward to the results from the City of Philadelphia’s digital divide assessment survey and how the information can better shape TLC’s approach in providing communities with digital equity. The Household Internet Assessment was a phone call-based survey that run this summer to understand residents’ needs when it comes to affordable, accessible internet connection and digital literacy.
“The silver lining during the pandemic has been that there has been a lot more investment from the City of Philadelphia, companies and the federal government in these issues and a lot more attention to these issues.”
TLC is hosting a webinar on the results of the City’s survey next Wednesday, Oct. 26, at 2 p.m. Register here.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-