Texas A&M University-San Antonio and the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) are piloting a new technology and digital literacy initiative.

The pilot aims to improve access to technology services and support for students and their families across SAISD. The Connected Beyond the Classroom Help Desk (CBTC HD) program will improve home-based IT support for more than 25,000 students and their families while also creating a talent pipeline for careers in IT services through its Digital Inclusion Scholars Program.

In a press release, Texas A&M University-San Antonio said it hopes the pilot can become a “national model to help close the homework gap and tackle digital inclusion.” The help desk is an expansion of the already existing Connected Beyond the Classroom project, which is already in place in school districts and communities throughout San Antonio.

A key feature of the help desk is that after receiving technical support, students and eventually family members will be selected as Digital Inclusion Scholars. As part of the scholars program, students and their families will be trained and mentored by Texas A&M students and staff to deliver quality home-based, broadband Internet access, and support. The university explained that eligible university and high school students and parents will be trained in help desk, customer service, and basic computer skills necessary to solve common technology issues and enhanced problem-solving skills. The end goal is to provide the scholars the skills necessary for successful employment in the workforce, as well as to staff the help desk.

Dr. Carl Sheperis, A&M-San Antonio’s dean of the college of education and human development, said that if the pilot proves successful, future expansion of the project is expected to connect qualifying households in participating areas across Bexar County, where San Antonio is located. The pilot received initial funding in the form of a $750,000 grant from USAA and $150,000 from Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas.

In terms of measuring the effectiveness of the program, Sheperis explained that both the help desk and Connected Beyond the Classroom initiatives will measure “impact and performance on learning and improving academic performance by at least one letter grade over the academic year while increasing confidence in technology use and demonstrating a 90-percent mastery in digital literacy.”

The program will also focus on data capture and analysis are factors to aid in creating a sustainable and scalable model for the CBTC Help Desk. The Digital Inclusion Scholars Program will provide Texas A&M-San Antonio and city and county agencies data that will lead to a process model that could be replicated beyond San Antonio, according to Sheperis.

“Down the road, we’ll be able to assess data related to the impact of the CBTC Help Desk and the Digital Inclusion Scholars Program across a broad array of areas including IT infrastructure, user functionality, student learning outcomes, operational management, access, and community support,” said Sheperis.

Sheperis said that this data will help guide future investments, services, and support to mitigate the digital divide and improve student performance.

“Programs like the Connected Beyond the Classroom Help Desk and Digital Scholars Program are at the forefront of digital inclusion in our communities and establish a foundation for increasing parent engagement in the student learning process,” Pedro Martinez, superintendent of San Antonio ISD, said. “We are excited to be partnering with A&M-San Antonio and the City of San Antonio in the Connected Beyond the Classroom project as we influence the future of digital literacy and career paths.”

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