Tech Goes Home: Increasing Early Childhood Success Across the Digital Divide
Tech Goes Home offers a replicable, scalable platform to support children and families on the path to a happy, healthy and successful life.
Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)
Our idea has evolved throughout the Prize process, in no small thanks to our mentor, Dr. Robert Pianta, who helped us to clarify the scope of our proposal, as well as improve upon, particularly, the support structures for early childhood providers and professional development delivery.
It has also evolved thanks to the numerous processes and relationships the Challenge has facilitated - from throwing away some preconceived notions (thanks to earlier early childhood experiences), to approaching a single prospective partner, to building a network of partners we couldn’t have anticipated and, finally, to launching a pilot of this proposal at the beginning of February. Even the idea of adapting the platform for professional development, and the value proposition for that within a swiftly evolving field, came thanks to conversations and workshopping facilitated by the prize. Our intended pilot has also grown, from serving families with children in EC programs like Head Start to include families-to-be, through BabyU, and the families of children with more specific needs, through an Assistive Technology partnership (where the team has proceeded to run with our model and made it their own).
Name or Organization
The Enterprise Center: https://www.theenterprisectr.org/
Tech Goes Home CHA: http://www.techgoeshomecha.org/
Signal Centers, Inc.: https://www.signalcenters.org/
Office of Early Learning, City of Chattanooga: http://www.chattanooga.gov/
Baby University: https://babyuchattanooga.org/
Chattanooga and Hamilton County, Tennessee
What is your stage of development?
Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD
What is the stage of your proposal?
Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.
Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)
Tech Goes Home provides a replicable, scalable and localizable platform to support the families of young children. Leveraging training, connected devices and low-cost home internet, TGH tackles developmental outcomes directly (with educational tools and strategies in areas like literacy and math), as well as obliquely, increasing access to health, nutrition, finance, transportation and digital literacy resources - particularly for low-income families. By combating the digital divide and EC challenges simultaneously, TGH also develops the agency and resiliency necessary for continued success.
Select an Innovation Target
Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology
Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)
Tech Goes Home, a digital literacy initiative in which more than 2,700 Chattanooga and Hamilton Co. residents have participated over the past 2 years, is ripe for adaptation - and designed to be replicated and localized. We’re working with local early childhood organizations to help parents learn important skills, develop agency and build a strong foundation for their children’s future success; we’re also working directly with EC providers to support and improve educational practice across our community. While TGH uses digital literacy as a lens, its chief aim is to ensure families and providers - particularly in low-income communities - can employ 21st century infrastructure, tools and technology to not just meet challenges, but excel.
TGH offers digital literacy education, subsidized technology and low-cost home internet to ensure every child begins with equal footing on the path to a happy, healthy and successful life; highly adaptable, TGH is also being deployed as an essential professional development platform for early childhood educators. TGH Chattanooga, adapted from Boston’s successful program, uses a train-the-trainer model to hyper-localize a foundational fifteen hour course; taught through community partners (like non-profits, schools and churches), this platform provides individuals (1) digital education necessary for success in the 21st century, (2) affordable tools and (3) low-cost home internet, creating the access to give the education and device value.
What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)
Children from low-income backgrounds start life at a disadvantage - TGH seeks to rapidly shrink that gap and foster the resiliency to continue shrinking it. By working directly with families, as well as providing professional development for early childhood educators, we’re building the infrastructure to support communities in closing these gaps themselves. The digital divide is one of the exacerbating factors leaving families behind - and an opportunity to make substantive and sustained change.
Explain your idea (5000 characters)
Tech Goes Home, as a platform, has a very general framework: 15 hours of initial digital literacy training, taught by a trusted community member or organization; a subsidized device - $50 for a Chromebook, Android tablet or iPad, following completion of the course; and low-cost home internet (approximately $10/month) through one of the five low-cost providers available in Chattanooga. Eminently adaptable, the train-the-trainer model helps to solve challenges like transportation and mistrust by ensuring that local community members and organizations are the primary access point and educator for their own neighborhoods; this also facilitates specific, targeted interventions. Courses are offered in multiple languages, as are training materials, informational resources and curriculum modules.
Our proposed early childhood program will use that same successful model to focus on improving early childhood outcomes, developed in collaboration with industry experts and community partners. The first prong of this adaptable model will pilot with families of young children, families taking part in BabyU (a city partnership supporting expectant mothers) and families with children who have needs requiring assistive technology, all from low-income communities, and provide a subsidized device, low-cost internet and specific training. We’re iterating schema and curricular modules to provide approximately:
-5 hours of fundamental digital literacy education (for example, e-mail communications, navigating the web and/or using a spreadsheet to build a budget - while developing the confidence to translate those skills elsewhere);
- 5 hours of child-centric strategies, using connectivity to directly benefit your child (online educational resources - like language acquisition and numeracy strategies - and applications designed specifically for EC education, like many of those submitted to this IDEO challenge); and
- 5 hours of training focused on improving health outcomes by developing and augmenting life-skills through technology (areas including telemedicine, nutrition and financial literacy).
The model and curricula are designed to stand alone as their own program, as well as to be deployed in conjunction with programs and initiatives early childhood organizations are currently undertaking.
We’re working with many of those same partners to develop a support model for early childhood educators - the TGH model has been used successfully with both students and teachers, K-12, and we see both a need and a fit for the diverse array of early childhood providers across our community. Using the same 15-hour framework, the curricular resources will again loosely break down into three 5-hour areas of focus:
- Fundamental digital literacy;
- Professional development for improving educational practices (advanced strategies, classroom management skills and continuing education/certification opportunities, among others), as well as on-going access and support; and
- Tools, resources and communication for directly supporting students and their parents.
Chattanooga’s Office of Early Learning identified this need - new certification requirements, as well as increased online higher ed offerings, have lead to a moment where digital intervention could have an outsized impact on the profession.
With these two courses working in tandem, we hope to improve early childhood outcomes by
(1) Empowering parents to support their children’s development and successes, academically and beyond;
(2) Ensuring all families have access to quality providers, and educators have opportunities to continually improve their practice;
(3) Building two-way communication between service organizations and the communities they serve;
(4) Creating a framework for a collaborative network of early childhood providers and educators; and
(5) Developing the infrastructure for organizations and agencies to do their essential work more effectively, providing them with an application they themselves can deploy.
Digital equity is not the primary goal; it is a means and a mode of ensuring communities pursuing their own path towards equity can meet their goals more effectively; that families and residents are empowered to make their own positive change, with access to the tools and connectivity; and that, as technology rapidly changes, we are not growing a divide between the most vulnerable members of society and their opportunity for success.
We know many factors have an impact on early childhood success - our intent is not to provide a solution for all for them, but rather offer a platform to make the work of the organizations within in this EC space more effective and a readily-adaptable tool communities can easily adopt to tackle those challenges. By focusing on infrastructure, resiliency and agency - and leveraging everyday technology - we can make an impact for families and providers struggling across the digital divide
Who benefits? (1500 characters)
Our primary beneficiaries are low-income families with young children, or who are expecting their first child; early childhood educators and child care providers; and the EC organizations and non-profits working to improve the lives of those living across an economic and digital divide. As mentioned before, some of the benefits will be direct - like education, access to technology and home connectivity - and some, through developing infrastructure, organizational capacity and community resilience, more environmental. All, however, will underscore the happiness, health and success of young children and their families.
Our organization, the Enterprise Center, has a threefold mission - research and application development around gigabit technologies; the establishment and growth of an Innovation District; and digital equity and inclusion. We depend on and actively develop multi-stakeholder, public-private partnerships in order to achieve these 21st century goals. We have extensive experience directly working with the beneficiaries of this work, and particularly through our nearly three years of success with Tech Goes Home, where we have worked with more than 50 different community sites (including schools, child care providers and early childhood organizations).
We have committed pilot sites for this next thrust and are moving forward with the next iteration of an early childhood-focused Tech Goes Home in February 2018.
What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)
While it is possible to individually attack the challenges facing economically-disadvantaged families and their children’s development, be they educational (literacy and numeracy) or physical (food desert prevalence) or financial (predatory high-interest loan availability), it can be done more effectively and efficiently by tackling underlying structural challenges - in this case, the digital divide - at the same time. This particular approach leads to long-term resiliency and sustained growth by providing the tools and connectivity for families, children and organizations to access essential resources and developing infrastructure and agency for meeting future challenges; as a platform, it can stand alone or be adapted and deployed by other service organizations.
We have seen that, once the first families go through a TGH class, they start teaching their neighbors, encouraging them to connect. It “opens worlds,” to quote one graduate, and that model is ripe for catalyzing larger change; we’ve seen organizations follow that same pattern, integrating TGH into existing services. The focus of the program is, fundamentally, structural - it’s an application that seeks to solve an immediate challenge (disconnectedness and a skills gap), build a system for meeting new challenges and growing beyond them (through digital agency and citizenship) and develop community infrastructure to accelerate that continued positive change (empowering individuals and organizations).
How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)
Tech Goes Home has been exclusively focused on low-income residents in Chattanooga and Hamilton County; this early childhood-centric iteration will continue that same focus, where both the digital divide and developmental outcomes disproportionately favor those with financial means. By targeting low-income families and particularly the early childhood education programs serving their communities, we intend for the program to have an outsized impact in improving educational and health outcomes for those children, as well as developing community agency and resiliency through fundamental skills, access and infrastructure.
Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)
The TGH concept is innovative by nature of its design; adaptability, and particularly the ability to localize the model, is at the heart of the platform. There are so many factors with an impact on early childhood success, and our proposal does not seek to definitely solve any of them - rather the innovation comes from taking a step back from those specific interventions and focusing instead on underlying structures. In doing so, TGH provides a platform and proven framework allowing other organizations to more efficiently and effectively tackle those challenges, utilizing 21st century infrastructure to support the essential work of their own missions - with far-reaching implications beyond them. TGH doesn’t seek to replace old models, supplant traditional organizations nor replace effective ones - but rather elevate (and/or scale) their work; it provides a way for them to harness technology adapted to their own local needs, and for their communities to develop essential internal capacity for continuous growth and improvement within a 21st century context, grounded in direct support for families and early childhood providers.
In the context of this IDEO Challenge, it’s disruptive in the sense that a majority of submissions could benefit from partnering, and vice versa. What organization wouldn't jump at away to stay in communication with parents and providers or a more efficient pathway for delivering content? (Imagine if every participant were able to respond to regular surveying, for example, and the impact of that data.) And for those that may not see immediate benefit from an ongoing communication pathway, what if their target populations had more resources at their disposal? Were healthier? Or were able to follow up and/or continue participating independently? For the app- and technology-based innovations, certainly, increased digital literacy and means and mode of access certainly increase effectiveness, as well as the market. Our challenge in selecting a target area was, of course, that TGH fits all three - without trying to solve all three challenges simultaneously, but instead providing a platform for those more targeted submissions to increase their impact (and to utilize those solutions here in Chattanooga).
It is unique because it doesn’t ask communities to make a hard choice between one potential solution or another - nor does it seek to be a prescriptive, one-size fits all panacea. Mutable, with user experiences tailored at an individual level; another weapon in the civic innovation toolbox, with long-term economic development, mobility, health and education impact - TGH provides the structures necessary to a foundation on which so much else can (and must) solidly rest. While it’s application is programmatic, it is a platform by nature; it allows for specific, targeted interventions without tying itself to them, to a strategy which may not fit for every community, not just broadly, but even within neighborhoods. It’s about developing infrastructure and fostering individual agency through digital literacy, and leveraging those uniquely 21st century capacities to support healthy, successful and resilient communities.
What makes our concept innovative? It’s simple, it’s proven and it doesn’t depend on one organization, or even one community, for it to succeed; it’s future-ready, adaptable and localizable. It’s an investment in scale. It's diffuse. It’s how to amplify the work being done in this complex and diverse EC development space, as well as a way to anticipate and deploy the next big innovation.
Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)
TGH has, in just over 2 years, reached more than 2700 residents in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, working with more than 50 partner organizations; courses are currently offered at 15 sites per quarter, with one central coordinator, one technology vendor and several low-cost internet service providers. Because the program is designed to be run by partners, at their own locations, impact is less dependent on a single organization’s capacity or network.
For scale between communities, TGH itself came to Chattanooga from Boston; it’s eminently adaptable, offering a framework and resources while staying responsive to localization and/or translation for different communities.
Subsidizing technology is one major cost; we also, for sites where the coordinator is not employed by the partner organization, offer a stipend as compensation for their preparation and class time. As organizations adopt TGH as one of their core services, however, those expenses wane. We are supported currently by funding from both our city and county, a potential model for other localities.
Because TGH can help to make service providers more efficient in their own work, it’s capacity for offsetting the costs of some practices (transportation, marketing, etc.) may also help to underwrite sustainability within organizations. Improving health, financial and educational outcomes for communities may also offset other, much larger costs, offering an argument for support from civic entities or governments.
Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)
The idea has proved feasible so far - more than a decade of success in Boston, and over two years here in Chattanooga - and, in fact, we’ve been running an early childhood-specific version of TGH for the past two years. Our goal is to use this moment - both in our community, through Chattanooga 2.0, and nationally, thanks to IDEO - to rethink and redevelop how the program can have an outsized impact for early childhood development and outcomes.
Our digital equity team currently has three committed team members, and our organization has a track record of success launching and scaling projects like these. We’re working with a number of community partners; our mentor; and experts in the field of early childhood education with, collectively, hundreds of years of experience, to ensure that not only does the program run smoothly and meet the digital and civic needs of participants, but also that is highly relevant and effective with regard to early childhood outcomes. We recently began a pilot implementing the new strategies outlined above through one of our partner sites, Signal Centers, Inc., and have the funding to make that pilot class, follow up and some degree of scale happen; our plan is to proceed with this iterative-redesign (begun in January 2018), co-developing the model with subject-matter experts and the end users themselves.
Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)
Boston’s decade of success, and our nearly three years of sustainability and growth, are strong indicators of the Tech Goes Home’s viability. We, for example, are currently funded through both the City of Chattanooga and the Hamilton County governments, but there are numerous other funding mechanisms available - grants, of course, but that model need not be entirely traditional. TGH has been designed and implemented as a support structure for other initiatives, in addition to being its own standalone program, meaning it rarely requires independent funding; instead, it can nest within other requests or applications, or simply be adopted as part of a non-profit, tech-focused business or other community partner’s own business model. Indeed, many of the trainers who teach TGH classes are employees of the organizations who run the course. This allows for a relatively lean, distributed and high-impact program.
In some ways, our business model is also intimately tied to Chattanooga’s other successes as a city; we don’t think of TGH as an add-on in the innovation economy or in a Smarty City context, but as an essential component of 21st century economic development and infrastructure. As other communities look towards ours as a model - particularly with investment in fiber, broadband and 5G technologies on the rise - we hope our success will continue to argue for widespread adoption, as these other communities come online, as a central growth strategy.
Our model, as it were, also focuses more on sustainability than profitability; the platform and resources are not something we intend to license or otherwise monetize. Instead, should we be awarded funding through the Challenge, we’d devote resources to more rapidly iterate and scale within our own community, in order to serve more residents than our current funding would allow, but particularly to build out the resources necessary for other communities to adopt the platform, and to offer them openly. The Enterprise Center exists to facilitate innovation, not own it; we work with a diverse array of partners for precisely that reason - we’re impact driven, and are particularly happy when someone else picks up the torch and runs with it.
HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)
The Chattanooga 2.0 Initiative, launched last year, has coalesced our community around turning our city into the “Smartest Community in the South,” with early childhood education one of their chief areas of focus following numerous community listening, conversation, inspiration and design sessions. It has been a catalyzing moment for our our early childhood community, with nearly every related organization adopting one of their first recommendations - the Chattanooga Basics, five evidence-based parenting and caregiving principles that can benefit children from all backgrounds. We are capitalizing on this momentum to redevelop our own early childhood program and provide Chattanooga - and any other interested community - with a replicable, adaptable and localizable model to improve outcomes today and develop resilience for facing challenges tomorrow.
Throughout the Prize process, we have engaged with community stakeholders in designing this new iteration of Tech Goes Home - while the idea itself was born out of a Bloomberg ideation session, subsequent meetings with organizational leaders, EC educators and other invested parties. We have also used extensive surveying from past cohorts of TGH participants, as well as a rapid feedback loop from current pilot instructors and participants, to influence our design.
Following this pilot, our intent is to take lessons-learned, as well as the prototypes outlined in this proposal, to a wider array of potential partners and participants for a series of community design sessions, with a particular focus on user and facilitator experiences.
Tell us more about you (3000 characters)
(1) Thanks to the community focus on early childhood education, as well as data gathered from our TGH courses, we saw an opportunity to take a program we realized could be more effective and ask experts, practitioners and participants, “Does this model seem like something which could have additional impact? And if it could, how would you use it?” A series of experiences shaped the program’s redesign - a fortuitous, but unrelated, workshop which brought members of the early childhood and education communities together; brainstorming with the City’s Office of Early Learning; an adaptive technology workshop hosted by Signal Centers; and, as a final catalyst, the release of this Early Childhood Challenge. We saw a moment where need and opportunity seem in perfect alignment - as well as a platform to connect digital inclusion to equity and opportunity in the expanded sense, illustrating how everyone in a more connected community can thrive.
(2) One particularly exciting piece of working in the early childhood space comes from a reality of the TGH program - we are helping individuals and families catch up. They have been disconnected, in so many ways, from the successes and advances our community has made - and it’s hard not to think about what these talented, invested and interested individuals might have done, where our city as whole could be, had they started similarly connected. But what if they didn’t have to start behind? What if we could focus on overall growth instead? And how could we do that uniquely, leveraging the assets of a smart city like Chattanooga? That’s exactly what early childhood offers, an opportunity to stop playing catch up and get ahead. Tech Goes Home has given us the platform to make it happen, to make our city the kind of place where next-generation technology is closing, rather than widening, the digital divide.
The prospect of a program focused on growth from the get-go is exciting to us, as we know other communities (particularly those investing in fiber infrastructure) are looking to Chattanooga. When they look, we want to make sure that they see not only can you create innovative, 21st century economic opportunities for your community - you can create them for everyone. And, in fact, it works better and is more sustainable when you do. Equity isn’t just part of the model, it’s the cornerstone.
(3) Our experience is in this hybrid economic development-technology space, and particularly in facilitating public-private partnerships. Our mission is to establish Chattanooga as a hub of innovation and improve people’s lives by leveraging the city’s unique infrastructure to create, demonstrate, test and apply solutions for the 21st century - it isn’t to own work, but rather to make sure that it happens (and happens for everyone). Reimagining early childhood experience, for families, providers and children themselves, is new territory for us in some ways, but ultimately central to why we exist.
Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)
We have many of the partners we need to implement our plan - but there’s absolutely an opportunity to bring more on board. We’ve certainly been able to expand our pilot through this design process; as we’ll be delivering, exploring and implementing EC-specific content and resources, other submissions through this IDEO challenge (like KU’s upROSE or Sésamo Time Together [STT], just to name a couple) and organizations working in this space would have a natural market and partner in Chattanooga and Tech Goes Home.
As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)
Does this framework seem like something that could make a difference for your community? Could we help your organization more effectively and sustainably pursue their mission? Are you working on something you think could fit within our Tech Goes Home platform? Is there a question we’re not asking and for which you’ve got an answer? Because we want to work with you.
We’re proud of the work we’ve done and do, but not so proud we’re not always interested in getting better - nor so protective that we don’t want others to replicate and improve on it. Our goal is improved outcomes for families and their children, and we’re excited to have found out tribe of like-minded individuals and organizations.
We’re particularly interested in expertise in early childhood provider preparation and those EC outcomes (like health and nutrition) which sometimes take a backseat to education or Pre-K readiness - and particularly those with success in having that expertise translate to outcomes for low-income families. Resources, applications, programs; if you’re willing to share or advise, we want to listen.
Would you like mentoring support?
If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)
We’d love mentoring in both program design and in early childhood expertise; we saw this challenge as an opportunity to take a program we were already in the process of improving and make it even better, and we’re excited about the prospect of bringing in new voices to our process.
Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?
Yes, share my contact information
[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).
Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)
We were honored to have been paired with Dean Richard Pianta, of UVA’s Curry School of Education, as our mentor. It is not every day you get to sit at the feet of CLASS’s developer, and his feedback was (unsurprisingly) immensely helpful.
While we did not change the central thrust of our idea, Dr. Pianta did have some very specific advice - particularly around the clarity and scope of our proposal. Originally, I think, we were overly focused on the specifics of how the program has worked in the past, as well as the details of precisely how it would work for the purposes of our pilot - with the unintentional effect of missing a forest for some trees. We hope the renewed focus on the platform itself - and how that platform can be adapted in numerous ways, as well as integrate and amplify a number of other innovations - clarifies our intent: Not to solve the myriad challenges within the EC world, but rather provides communities with essential infrastructure for closing those gaps, and program participants with sufficient agency to engage in those processes, as well.
Perhaps Dr. Pianta’s most important piece of advice was in warning us of a common pitfall - the assumption that expertise with even a proven product can immediately translate to the EC development. We recognized that part of our model - relying on subject matter and community experts for that translation, rather than a prescriptive approach - was built in to our pilot, but insufficiently articulated within our proposal.
Finally, as a leader in preparing early childhood providers - as well as in helping them to evaluate their own practice - Dr. Pianta provided invaluable suggestions in our approach to both program metrics (wherein device use, and continued use and engagement is actually a fairly indicative measure) and resources for effective EC provider professional development. He was also very clear in pointing out the value of the platform as a means for providers to pursue and receive ongoing training, not only that which they will receive over the span of the 15 hours.
We sincerely, sincerely hope we’ll have further opportunities to continue working with Dr. Pianta, whether on this proposal or something of his own design.