Eastside Community Network in Detroit offers hands-on training to bridge the digital divide. Have you ever struggled to use an app or a website? Who did you turn to for help — friends, family? Bring Your Own Device Technology Training (BYOD) provides this kind of help to residents of Detroit’s Lower East Side. BYOD was brought to the community by the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI) and longtime community development organization, Eastside Community Network (ECN). The two main spearheads of this project are Suzanne Cleage, Director of Neighborhood Growth at ECN and Kentaro Toyama, PhD, W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at UMSI. The program is also supported by Orlando Bailey Director of Community Partnerships at ECN and students from University of Michigan (U of M).

Eastside Community Network in Detroit offers hands-on training to bridge the digital divide. BYOD works to close the digital divide in Detroit’s Lower East Side neighborhoods. East Side hotspots, like West Village and Jeff-Chalmers, are experiencing rapid growth and receive lots of attention from the media and the city government. Other areas have yet to benefit from civic investment initiatives centered in areas like midtown and downtown.

Once a month, tech-savvy residents as well as graduate students and professors from U of M gather at the ECN headquarters to help residents increase their digital literacy skills. Questions can range from “How do I set up email?” to “What is the cloud and what happens when I put stuff in it?” ECN has both community members and academics to assist. This creates an inclusive environment where residents feel comfortable asking for help, while at the same time providing enough expertise so that all questions can be answered.

Technology can help people solve problems and connect, but only if people know how to use it. As technology becomes an increasingly essential part of everyday life, it is important to make sure no user is left behind. ECN uses email, mail, flyer canvassing and door-to-door outreach to let residents of the Lower Eastside know BYOD is happening. Sometimes, closing the digital divide means embracing analog, low-tech solutions that meet people where they are.

Orlando Bailey, Director of Community Partnerships at ECN, shared one of his favorite stories about BYOD. Ms. Minnie, a Lower East Side resident did not know how to use Skype to speak with her grandchildren in California. Once she learned how to register for and use the application, Ms. Minnie immediately Skyped her grandchildren and was able to see and chat with them. She plans to use Skype regularly to stay in touch with her family.

Eastside Community Network in Detroit offers hands-on training to bridge the digital divide. Civic tech often conjures images of large scale projects dealing with open data portals or fancy apps that help the cities communicate better with residents, but it’s important to remember that some of the most impactful civic tech work can be as simple as helping a neighbor set-up email for the first time. To ensure that civic tech does not exacerbate existing societal divisions, it’s important to proactively work on closing the digital divide. Programs like BYOD are a model for community-founded, community-led programs that increase digital literacy in America’s urban neighborhoods.

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