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MN nonprofit promotes digital literacy, helps job seekers

The Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment helps people test their computer skills, leading to targeted instruction.

ST PAUL, Minnesota — After Dale Lande bought a smart phone and tablet, his first question was, "What am I going to do with these?" 

To help him answer that question, Lande joined the Minnesota Literacy Council's Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment program. 

For the past two months, Lande has been taking free classes at the Open Door Learning Center - Midway in St. Paul. The lab is inside Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota. 

Lande takes classes here twice a week. 

"It's more for myself and to be able to keep up with the rest of the world. Everything I do... 'What's your email?' and 'text that to me' or 'I'll send you a file on that'... and I go, 'No, I don't know how to do any of that.' Now I do," Lande said. 

The first step for Lande was testing his knowledge of computer skills through the Northstar assessments. 

"I learned that I was at where I thought I was at... ground zero," he said. 

Eric Nesheim, executive director of the Minnesota Literacy Council, said many years ago the library system asked them to develop a way to determine people's digital literacy. 

"Literacy has become more complicated in recent years. Years ago, literacy was... if you could write your name, you were literate. Now days, it involves digital literacy. It involves... becoming literate to get jobs and to move on to higher education," Nesheim said. 

In 2012, the Minnesota Literacy Council launched the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment program. The assessments cover everything from computer basics and the internet, to Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint. 

"They'll take an assessment and that determines what their needs are," Nesheim said. "Within a very short period of time, we realized that that was a need all over the country. Three million assessments later, in 50 states and six other countries, we're now running probably the largest digital literacy assessment in the country." 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77 percent of jobs will require some degree of technology skills within the next decade. 

"I think often literacy, or digital literacy, is thought of separately from basic literacy like reading, writing, speaking and listening. But digital literacy is just another form of learning how to navigate the world," said Danielle Brown, distance learning coordinator at the Open Door Learning Center - Midway. 

Brown teaches free classes at the center every Tuesday and Thursday. On Tuesday afternoon, she had a full class.

For one man, it was his first time using a computer mouse. Another woman said she came in because she wanted to develop more skills for her job. 

After passing an assessment, students get a certificate. Lande has earned two certificates: basic computer skills and internet basics. 

"I've really grown quite a bit," he said. 

"Then they can take the certificates back to those places that they've applied to and either vie for another interview or recently one learner was successfully able to negotiate for a pay raise using one of the certificates," Brown explained. 

Last November, the Minnesota Literacy Council rolled out upgrades to Northstar. Two new modules are also being developed: Career search skills and managing your digital footprint.

They are always looking for tutors. Brown said you don't have to be a computer expert to be a tutor at the lab. Those interested should contact Brown at dbrown@mnliteracy.org. 

The Minnesota Literacy Council is holding a benefit on April 11 from 6-9 p.m. at Aria Event Center. The Beyond Words Bash will feature headliner Dessa. All proceeds will benefit the Minnesota Literacy Center. You can find out more information on the event, here. 

For more information on the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment program and their classes, click here