With technology becoming a vital part of our day-to-day lives, it is easy to take basic tech skills for granted.
Earlier this year, students in Missouri State University’s College of Business identified the need for basic technology skills and access for women who were recently out of situations of domestic abuse.
Now, Annice McLean and Dr. Ching-wen Chang, faculty in Missouri State’s department of reading, foundations and technology (RFT) in the College of Education, are volunteering their time to help women gain the skills they need to get back on their feet.
Acknowledging a need
The project began as an assignment for MGT 440, leadership and development skills: identify a need in the community and offer a solution.
The students focused their problem-solving skills on safe houses, or places women find shelter and support after leaving a domestic abuse situation.
“What this project determined is that there was a gap in access to and use of technology,” McLean said. “This can be a hindrance to women finding gainful employment and pursuing further education.”
Van Oswald, one of the students on the project, reached out to the RFT department, hoping they could volunteer their time to provide technology education to women in need.
McLean and Chang were some of the first faculty members who became aware of this project.
As they met with the safe house coordinator, they realized the necessity to limit the number of people involved to maintain confidentiality for the women in the safe house.
“We were excited about it and thought it was definitely a need. So, we volunteered to be part of the project,” McLean said.
A unique curriculum
The course that McLean and Chang are offering to the women is different from your typical introductory computer course.
“The goal was to design a course that meets the needs and goals of individuals,” McLean said.
The two teachers started with a list of basic information they thought would be relevant to anyone new to computers.
As they began meeting, they gained a better understanding of the specific needs of each woman.
“It could be anything from email, how to do a Zoom meeting, how to online shop or lessons on security,” McLean said. “It could even be about using online games to help reduce stress or accessing homework sites to help kids with online learning.”
The best thing they could do was create a flexible plan that could help each woman reach her goals.
“They just want something relevant to them – they need to find a job, finish school or manage their online banking,” Chang said. “So, we change the curriculum to help them do what they want to do.”
Teaching and learning
McLean and Chang use technology quite frequently in their work, but they could still relate with the struggle of learning new technology. “I think back to the first time I was going to have a Zoom meeting,” McLean said. “I was fearful it wasn’t going to work.”
Having worked with the women several times throughout the semester, McLean and Chang felt everyone took something away from the lessons.
“I felt like we helped the ladies. I also felt like I gained something from them as well – an appreciation of their attitudes and positivity,” McLean said.
McLean and Chang hope that what they have started won’t end here.
“I think our ultimate goal is to make it more seamless for the ladies – more convenient for them and their schedules,” McLean said.
In the future, they hope to be able to provide more permanent access to computers and the internet. So far, they have been borrowing Chromebooks from the university for each session.
“When we finish the class, we leave with the Chromebooks,” Chang said. “But hopefully, if this goes on, we may be able to work on a grant to buy some.”
They also hope that their work will bring more awareness to others who may be struggling with access to technology or technological skills.
“Maybe if other people hear about this, they will contact us, and we could set up some other opportunities for something similar,” McLean said.