Spring-Summer 2005

OCCN: Ten Years On

As the Ohio Community Computing Network (OCCN) celebrates its 10-year anniversary, I often find myself reminiscing about how far we have come and the significance of our journey. During our recent strategic planning retreat I recalled how difficult it had been in 1995 to find organizations with the right balance of technology skills, sustainability, experience in social services and education, and the ability to write a grant proposal to establish and operate a community computing center. We succeeded in finding and supporting fourteen centers awarding each $150,000 over a three year time frame. Our mission was to “bridge the digital divide” between the “haves and have-nots.” The jargon has changed but the effort and, sadly, the need still exist. Each of our original fourteen centers had a unique perspective and experience serving their disadvantaged communities. When the three-year period of funding came to an end, some centers flourished, others were absorbed into larger social service agencies, and unfortunately over the next few years some just faded away.

In our ten years we have helped financially support 52 centers (see current members), held yearly conferences and trainings, provided resources and information, networked organizations, and overseen an Americorps*VISTA program placing full time members to help develop programs and outreach in CTCs throughout Ohio.

Looking toward the future of OCCN requires reflection but for reasons far more important than looking at how far we've come or all the things we've done in ten years. We look back to see if our work has really changed communities and people's lives. It's not enough simply to know someone completed a program; the real question is what changes took place in their lives after the program. To know this we need to keep track of people, share stories about their experiences, and analyze which programs work, when, and why. Ohio CTCs have served thousands of disadvantaged people and, yet, still so many people lack skills necessary to thrive in our technology-dependent society. Community access to technology and training issues evolve just as technology has over the past ten years.

State and federal education requirements for children and teens have increased dramatically. These requirements are the proverbial double-edged sword for school districts. On the one hand, we all want all children to reach their full potential but, on the other, when schools lack adequate funding, programs, and highly qualified teachers, it becomes a matter of increasingly doing more with less. CTCs provide that vital link to school success when they work with local educators to improve student learning opportunities and keep teens in school and on the path to graduation.

For adults, it's not enough to only teach basic computer skills if our goal is to move people from surviving to thriving. Basic computer skills enable people to survive in entry-level jobs. To empower people and communities to thrive we need to help get them on (and keep them on) the path for life-long learning and change. This path will lead individuals to better jobs and foster economic development within communities. In Ohio we have seen positive movement in this direction with partnerships between centers, libraries, schools, and community colleges. These partnerships provide the next step up to certifications and college credit. Moving in this direction does not require stopping services to those lacking basic skills. There will always be a need to help people get on that first step of the ladder.

I once heard the Golden Gate Bridge painting crew starts at one end and by the time they get to the other end they need to start over in an endless repetitive loop. I don't know if it's true, but anyone raising a family or running a household knows it's necessary to achieve a balance between providing the daily basics and working toward improving our homes, transportation, meals, and time with family and friends. With Ohio 's CTCs, we are working toward achieving that balance, but like that painting crew, we often find ourselves repeating our efforts. And yet, every now and then, it's nice to take a step back and look at that beautiful bridge and take pride in the work.

 Marsha McDevitt-Stredney Marsha McDevitt-Stredney holds a Ph.D. from the Ohio State University in the field of technology in the arts and arts education. She has worked for the Ohio Community Computing Network (OCCN) for over eight years.


Comment on this article.