DETROIT – One of the guiding principles of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) is: “Digital justice integrates media and technology into education in order to transform teaching and learning, to value multiple learning styles and to expand the process of learning beyond the classroom and across the lifespan.”
The two most recent computer labs to open within the DDJC network are fostering intergenerational knowledge exchange that puts this principle into practice.
The Kemeny Reading Corner’s Computer Center in Detroit’s 48217 neighborhood and the Hannan House Community Computer Center in the Woodward Corridor both celebrated grand openings within the last month. A primary function of both centers will be bringing seniors and youth together around technology and communication.
The Hannan House computer lab’s primary goal is to help seniors learn how to utilize the enhanced communication technologies that computer access allows. It is staffed by trained volunteer mentors and student interns, who are available to help their fellow seniors become more comfortable with use of the computers.
“Some things you can answer straight away and some things may take a little more time than that,” said Hannan CCC Mentor Lydia Gambrell. “I find that it’s not about giving them the answers that I have, it’s about sitting down and listening to them. Sometimes when I sit down and talk to them, I find that they need other resources as well. So, it’s a matter of me connecting them to the right resources in order to meet their needs.”
Bridging the Generational Divide
“That’s my whole objective,” said fellow Mentor Christine Buck. “We’ve had some training programs on basic things you need to know. Seniors want to learn the basics so they can communicate with other family members. All of the younger generation are on the computers, so they want to be able to communicate with them.”
From working with seniors and their guests at Hannan House, the mentors and interns have become familiar with a range of computer needs. Those needs include everything from job searches, business opportunities, artwork, research, writing or enjoying their favorite entertainment shows from the past. But whether at Hannan or Kemeny, a common need for seniors seems to be using the technology to keep in touch with younger family members. Where the younger generation has taken to social media as a fundamental way of communicating with each other, seniors often feel left out and are coming to understand its value in keeping in touch with their children and grandchildren.
“A lot of times I think they are intimidated by that technology,” said Sandra Padilla, a Hannan CCC intern by way of Marygrove College. “Some of the things that we give them they could easily find online if they googled it, but they have to know that technology. They have to know the right words to search up, so it’s a matter of them learning what they can do with this technology. To some of them, it is really new.”
The Kemeny Reading Corner Computer Lab, is taking a more direct approach to bridging the digital divide among generations. Dr. Delores Leonard, who established the Reading Corner inside of Kemeny last summer in order to give area youth greater access to books and other reading material, has been leading that charge. By establishing a computer lab in the same space, Leonard envisions bringing the generations closer together around learning from one another.
“There is such a generational gap and I want to do better with that,” said Leonard “Hopefully by introducing the seniors to the computers, the children will ultimately be able to help the seniors.
“Right now, we don’t have a library in our neighborhood. Our children have to take three buses to get to the nearest public library. That was an impetus for getting these books here and getting them free to our children. We want the children to appreciate what they have and what they don’t have. We want them to be able to appreciate their community.”
Expanding the educational opportunities through the use of computer technology is another primary goal for community members old and young. Where traditional institutions like the school system or media may fall short, community computer labs such as these can help fill the void.
“People don’t want to be left out and just know the news from what they see on television compared to the news you can get on the internet,” said Kemeny Director Robert Donaldson. “It’s an entirely different thing. You only get sound bites on television, but through the internet you can sometimes get the whole entire story.
“What we are trying to accomplish more than anything is to bring to the public’s attention the free access to the computers and we’d like to introduce them to a lot of the things that they can do on the computer that they don’t have access to or may not have tried.”
The preservation of history is another way both computers centers envision bringing the generations together. Hannan has a project to do so through a series of oral history interviews with its Gardening Angels Program, in conjunction with the Greener School’s Senior Engagement Program of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC).
“The next step after all of that is trying to incorporate our media and get the seniors to start telling their life stories,” Padilla said.
“It may be something where they create their own website so they can pass on their stories with the next generation. Anytime you listen to someone else’s story, you learn just as much about yourself as the other person. We haven’t gotten into that phase yet because it’s been all logistics so far, but I’m excited about moving on into that phase.”
Meanwhile at Kemeny the plan is to have youth and seniors come together to preserve their histories using photos from family albums.
“In teaching, you take people from the known to the unknown,” said Leonard, a retired educator. “I’m starting with the known, talking about family and the kinds of things we want to give to our families and our children.
“Eventually I’ll have to get them to the other equipment like the scanner by getting them to preserve their family history. A lot of community members here are in their 80’s and some of them are not accepting of new ideas but some will. Those who will may be able to help the others by bringing their pictures in and scanning them.”
This all fits into the DDJC’s goal democratizing media and technology to strengthen the fabric of local communities in the city.