When Chier Teng first arrived in Anchorage four years ago, he didn’t know how to use a computer. The refugee from South Sudan soon discovered he had no choice but to learn.
“I had trouble because I didn’t know how to apply to get a job,” said Teng, who began learning basic computer skills—how to turn on a computer, how to type, how to open an email account—from instructor Megan Flynt at Alaska Literacy Program in Anchorage
It’s a wired world. Want a job? Paper applications aren’t accepted—apply online. Want a place to live? Check out these websites to see home listings. Taking a class? You’ll likely need to go online to do homework, and you’ll need an email account. You will definitely need to know how to turn on a computer, type, and use a mouse or trackpad.
People who don’t know how to use a computer might not know how or where to find help and don’t have the skills to seek it online—a dilemma that’s the focus of a UAA Center for Community Engagement and Learning Think Tank community brainstorming session scheduled for 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 1, in Room 307 in the UAA/APU Consortium Library.
The Anchorage Public Library will host the discussion; students, faculty, staff and community members are invited to the free event; Moose’s Tooth will provide pizza.
‘He knew he needed to learn’
Megan Flynt, in July, began teaching English and volunteering as a computer instructor at Alaska Literacy Program for Teng and other students.
Most of the people she teaches don’t have email accounts or are locked out of their accounts. Some want to learn how to perform Google searches. Almost all of them want to learn computer skills for a job-related purpose—either getting a new job or staying current with a present job.
“I’ve had one student who was an adult with some severe learning disabilities,” Flynt said. “He wanted to email his sister, which is why he came in for the class.”
Another student had retired from working on the Slope and wanted to start a business but had no computer skills at all—“Not even how to turn on a computer,” Flynt said.
Yet another had, for 20 years, worked for a company that was moving to an automated computer system to keep his time. He spoke English well, but didn’t know how to use a computer.
“He knew he needed to learn,” Flynt said. “He said, ‘They told me a long time ago computers were going to be important but I didn’t pay attention.’”
What would help clients? A place for them to practice their computer skills regularly, since many of the people she sees don’t have computers at home.
“Access to thumb drives, that way they’d have something to keep their résumés on,” Flynt continued. “And I wish we had headphones. That way, if they want to click on a video, they can access that. You could do so much with headphones, even at a public library.”
Overcoming a fear of computers
All 10 seats were filled at Loussac Adult Services librarian Stacia McGourty’s Tech Tuesday class earlier this week, which focused on Facebook (McGourty also teaches Cyber Saturday classes). Four other people listened intently from seats elsewhere in the room that weren’t equipped with computers. All but one were seniors.
Sarah Preskitt, another of the five librarians who have also taught computer literacy classes at Loussac, says most of the library patrons she sees want help accomplishing online tasks, such as creating an email account and filling out police reports and other online forms.
“Our older patrons tend to have more issues with the actual basic computer use,” Preskitt said. “If you’ve never had to use them and now you do for whatever reason, using a mouse is actually really hard. It’s a difficult concept; it’s really not something you use elsewhere in your life. Sometimes getting over that can be difficult. There’s kind of a fear of computers if you’re not used to using them.”
‘Two people can’t serve the needs of hundreds’
Fifteen percent of U.S. adults don’t use the internet, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center analysis of survey data. That number is substantially lower than the 48 percent in 2000 who weren’t going online, yet significant at a time when so many more sources of news and useful information, social services help and social connections are situated online.
Who’s most likely not to be online? Four in 10 adults who are 65 and older do not use the internet. A third of adults with less than a high school education don’t use the internet. Household income is another indicator of a person’s likelihood to be offline, a Pew Research Center article stated: “Adults from households earning less than $30,000 a year are roughly eight times more likely than the most affluent adults to not use the internet.”
Preskitt says she and McGourty are currently the only ones teaching the computer literacy classes at the library (though three other people have led classes and any of the library’s Adult Services staffers may lead a class). She hopes the Think Tank will offer potential solutions.
“Two people can’t serve the needs of hundreds of people in Anchorage that are falling into this gap,” she said, “where a lot of them don’t even recognize they don’t have the skills they need until they go to fill out that form, until they need to fill out that application. We want to find a better way to get to them, a better way to get them the skills they need and help them feel comfortable.”
Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement