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Michigan Ag Connection - 04/15/2020

Digital communication matters -- maybe now more than ever. That's why the Michigan Technological University tutors who teach folks how to clear technological obstacles are getting back to BASIC Saturdays.

BASIC, the Building Adult Skills in Computing program, is offering online sessions from 10 to 11 a.m. every Saturday this month. The program, now in its 10th year, welcomes technological newcomers as well as anyone looking to expand their digital skills.

The use of video chat and video conferencing surged recently due to the COVID-19 outbreak and Michigan's Stay Safe, Stay Home executive order; for many, the only way to safely touch base with friends, family, and co-workers is online. BASIC tutors -- both students and faculty -- are uniquely equipped to ease people into these technologies. Among several video communication options, BASIC will introduce people to a platform called Zoom, which is used extensively at Michigan Tech.

All it takes is a phone call. Here's the process for adults who want help with videoconferencing or other tasks ranging from those annoying "storage full" messages to setting up their new tablets:

1) At 10 a.m., call Zoom from your phone at 1-312-626-6799.

2) You'll be prompted to enter the meeting ID number, which is 8191378642. Then enter the # sign.

3) You'll be prompted for a participant ID. Just press the # sign.

4) Let the BASIC tutors take it from there.

Charles Wallace, associate professor of computer science, co-leads the program with Kelly Steelman, associate professor of human factors and psychology. Wallace said he'll serve as "switchboard operator" for the Saturday call-in, getting everyone assembled then directing tutors and students to their individual meetings.

Tutor and computer science graduate student Ann Ciesla said she was thrilled to hear the BASIC program would continue through spring semester. "We have a lot of people come to our sessions who are afraid to do something on their computer," she said. "Just a reminder: You will not blow up your computer. You may make some mistakes, but you can recover from them."

Researchers have found that one-on-one sessions are most effective. Normally those take place at Portage Lake District Library in Houghton.

People in a library sitting at tables with a group in the foreground with three people facing away from the camera, one has the word healthy on his shirt, and two older men facing the camera, with sun coming in through the windows and two more people at a table in the background with books on shelves.

"The library is our friend, and a trusted source for a lot of people. Even though we're not there, we feel like we are in spirit," Wallace said, adding that he initially worried that not meeting in person would be an obstacle. "I had this barrier in my head -- what if people can't get online to get in touch with us? But Kelly (Steelman) wisely said, 'Why not give it a shot?' We can still do a lot using video conferencing -- we can even share screens and see what is happening as we help people. And learning how to use Zoom is a useful skill in itself -- you can use it to stay in touch with friends and family."

Ciesla said tutors benefit from the program, too. "I really enjoy meeting with people who come in for help on Saturdays. We always have good conversation, not just about technology, but also about Houghton, Michigan Tech, the weather, or whatever else is going on at the time," she said. "It is very rewarding, since people are so excited about their newfound knowledge. We have many people who come back regularly, and it's fun to see them progress in their understanding."

She hopes both regular and new learners will take advantage of this opportunity.

"I was sad to think about the people I met with before spring break who were so excited to come back and learn more, and how we would have to put their learning on pause until next fall. Moving the program online offers people the chance to continue (or start) their learning, which is really exciting."

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