Digital Stewards launch community wireless networks in Detroit

AMP recently completed its first full-length Digital Stewards program, a 20-week community technology training designed and implemented in partnership with the Open Technology Institute (OTI) of the New America Foundation.

The Digital Stewards program prepares teams of community organizers, people with construction skills and techies to design and deploy communications infrastructure with a commitment to the Detroit Digital Justice Principles. Through the program, Digital Stewards learned about mesh wireless technology, which allows neighbors to form their own local network and share an Internet connection.

AMP and OTI produced a pilot version of the program in the Fall of 2012, then designed a 20-week version and integrated it into the Detroit Future Media training program as one of four "focus areas" that students could select. As a result of the inaugural Digital Stewards program, three Detroit neighborhoods are now equipped to build and maintain their own wireless communications infrastructure or "mesh networks."

In a recent blog post, OTI's Digital Stewards instructors describe the purpose of mesh networks as "local communications infrastructure: they act as an intranet for community interactions, and connect to the global Internet."

They go on to explain the pedagogical approach of Digital Stewards:

Despite the ubiquity of digital technology -- and its vital role in contemporary life -- the skills necessary to govern these tools are not widespread. While formal schooling and training programs play an important role in addressing this gap between the tools we use and knowing how to fully utilize them, self-taught and peer-led models for expanding knowledge and increasing skills are also critical. To that end, OTI and AMP anchored their curriculum in the concepts of popular education

Check out this Storify produced by Digital Stewards instructor, Preston Rhea describing the colllaborative process of the Detroit Future Media curriculum-writing retreat that led to the Digital Stewards curriculum.

Learn more about the three neighborhood mesh networks that came out of Digital Stewards in this slideshow:

The impact of Digital Stewards will go far beyond Detroit. Stewards in Detroit are already discussing how to begin training other Detroit neighborhoods to build mesh networks. As OTI explains:

AMP and OTI developed the Digital Stewards training program to grow local digital resources while also creating teaching tools that can be used in other contexts, such as Brooklyn where OTI has partnered with another another community group to implement the Digital Stewards program. OTI plans to share the tools online so that any community globally can use them for a “do-it-ourselves” approach to building local wireless networks.

As the Digital Stewards curriculum continues to be applied in other contexts, the opportunities for knowledge exchange across communities are endless. We saw a glimpse of the potential for this when Digital Stewards from Detroit and Red Hook, Brooklyn met up at the 2013 Allied Media Conference. Read more about the connections between Detroit and Red Hook here and here.

Stay tuned for news on the activities of Detroit's new crew of Digital Stewards and opportunities to get involved.

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