Digital Literacy
May 27, 2024

The Illinois Connected Summit of 2024

During the pandemic, the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) heard from community members about the technological needs of families as well as a lack of resources and technical knowledge to get by in their day to day lives. This included issues such as being unable to help with their children’s school work and check their grades or navigate emails and bill paying. To combat this, SWOP began to offer digital literacy classes that allowed parents to sign up for lessons and earn certification in different digital fields.

Briana Washington and Imaltzin Astorga, dedicated Digital Equity Organizers for SWOP, were deeply committed to bridging the digital divide in the community. Their tireless work has made significant strides in increasing digital literacy and technology access in the Southwest Side of Chicago. Through their connection with the Chicago Digital Equity Coalition, Briana and Imaltzin learned of the Illinois Connected Summit of 2024, an annual gathering designed to bring together researchers, students, and many different organizations working in the field of digital literacy and digital equity. The summit is a platform for networking, sharing experiences, and discussing the latest developments and strategies in digital equity work. Briana and Imaltzin knew this was an unmissable chance to connect with like-minded individuals and organizations, and to showcase SWOP's impactful initiatives.

The venue buzzed with energy as representatives from various organizations mingled, exchanging stories and strategies about their work. It was a melting pot of ideas and experiences, with each participant bringing a unique perspective to the table. The discussions ranged from innovative teaching methods to new technological tools, all aimed at enhancing digital literacy and accessibility.

Briana was particularly excited about her presentation on SWOP's digital literacy initiatives as she felt this was an opportunity for someone doing the work in the community to talk about the effort at the ground level. Feeling a mixture of nerves and exhilaration, Briana began by outlining SWOP's mission and the crucial role digital literacy played in empowering SWOP’s community. She shared stories of individuals who had transformed their lives through the digital literacy classes and certifications provided by SWOP. These programs, she explained, were designed to equip people with essential tech skills, from basic computer usage to navigating Microsoft and Google Suites with ease. Briana highlighted how SWOP’s classes were tailored to meet the needs of those who were often left behind in the digital age – seniors, immigrants, as well as perpetrators and victims of violence looking to make a change in their lives. She spoke about how these certifications opened doors to employment opportunities and helped bridge the gap between the digital haves and have-nots.

During the summit there were also panels and breakout sessions for attendees. Having conversations about building trust in the community when it comes to digital equity allowed for a steady back and forth for groups to bounce ideas off one another. Attendees also discussed the state of some cities where the infrastructure doesn’t allow for Wi-Fi to reach those that need or could make use of the technology.

When asked about her takeaway from the event, Briana had this to share. “Going to this summit really energized me in thinking about our work. Making sure we continue to offer our digital literacy classes to those that need it, but it also made me consider how best we can reach those that are overlooked when we have these conversations about digital equity and falling behind in understanding basic computer skills. I want to start building conversations around these technological disparities at SWOP and see what I can do to tackle the issue of those being left behind.”

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