Students Become Teachers in Tech Starters Class

Beth PhillipsDigital Inclusion

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Even the most technologically savvy person can learn something new each time they use a computer and connect to the Internet.

At the graduation of the second Tech Starters cohort at Meadowbrook Apartments this week, Google Fiber Austin Community Impact Manager Parisa Fatehi-Weeks shared she recently learned how she could use Google Docs to help her mother, whose first language is Farsi, write and edit an important letter in English.

“For years, I’ve been helping her write letters, but I’d just type them for her,” Fatehi-Weeks said. “She was able to go on to Google Docs from her house, and I was able to come on from my house, and I was showing her how I was making some corrections … and it was the first time I got to show her how to use this new technology. It was really helpful.”

Robin Medina, an instructor with Austin Free-Net who teaches the Austin Pathways Tech Starters classes, said although she is usually at the front of the classroom, she frequently finds herself learning new computer skills – like how to convert files – as a result of her students’ enthusiasm.

“I had no idea that people were going to ask me how to convert a DVD to something else,” Medina said. “This is my chance to learn something also. I feel like I ended up in that place too – of a student and a learner.”

That’s the beauty of Tech Starters, said Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) resident Sheryse Simmons – students are allowed to work at their own pace and are given a chance to tackle technological questions unique to their own lives – whether that means learning about malware and spyware, creating a PowerPoint presentation, or setting up an email address or social media page.

“I really appreciate that y’all meet us where we’re at and help us learn from there, rather than the class following along as a whole,” Simmons said. “I think that some people needed it to be slower, and I think some people needed it to be at their own pace. I think it would have been a bit grueling for me if I would have had to go with the entire class rather than at your own pace. I just really enjoyed this class, and I’m grateful for it.”

Tech Starters is part of Unlocking the Connection, an Austin Pathways initiative to bring affordable Internet access, computers and training to HACA families. Since the six-week classes began in January, more than 30 public housing residents have graduated from the program, and more continue to sign up for additional cohorts at other properties. Residents who complete the class earn a free refurbished device.