Monday, June 06, 2016

Mississippi State University starts center to help rural communities bridge digital divide

The Mississippi State University Extension Service has created a program to help nine rural communities "transition to, plan for, and prosper in the digital age through research and outreach," Robert Nathan Gregory reports for MSU. (MSU Service photo by Kevin Hudson: Christy King, Clarke County Extension agent, and Roberto Gallardo display items made with a 3-D printer at the Quitman Public Library)

“There is not a lot of research on the impact of broadband in rural areas,” Roberto Gallardo, associate extension professor in the Center for Technology Outreach, told Gregory. “You see a lot of it on cities, but there is little attention to rural settings. We are trying to generate that research by working with communities that want to participate.” 

The MSU Extension Intelligent Community Institute "identifies the unique digital challenges each community faces and provides local extension agents and other local champions with the tools necessary to address those needs over an 18- to 24-month, four-step process," Gregory writes. "The steps are increasing awareness; identifying assets and needs; implementing a strategy to address those weaknesses and leverage existing assets; and nominating themselves for consideration from ICF as one of 21 Intelligent Community yearly designations in the world."

For example, in the town of Quitman, Miss., "Gallardo worked with the town’s public library to purchase a three-dimensional printer for the facility," Gregory reports. "He said the library’s new tool addresses two indicators of Intelligent Communities: knowledge workforce and digital equality. Broadband connectivity, innovation, marketing, and sustainability are the other four indicators." Gallardo told Gregory, “If the kids there are reading a book with an emphasis on the Empire State Building, they can print a 3-D model of the building and develop a better understanding of the book. More than likely, they would not have seen that elsewhere. Exposing kids to STEM-related concepts at an early age can have a significant impact on their lives later on as they choose career paths.” (Read more)

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