Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

TECH TALK: University of Maryland-Based Trio Program Tackles Digital Divide

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

TECH TALK: University of Maryland-Based Trio Program Tackles Digital Divide

Article excerpt

Traditionally, programs falling under the TRIO umbrella of federally funded college prep initiatives for disadvantaged students have not been known to focus on the digital divide. Nevertheless, an initiative based at the University of Maryland at College Park titled ProjectLINKS may signal a new day for TRIO as a bridge across the digital divide.

Last month, Maryland state officials unveiled ProjectLINKS (Linking Information Networks and Knowledge to Students) before an audience of local K-12 county school representatives, college students, university faculty members and local middle school students. Officials treated audience members to a demonstration of ProjectLINKS, which is a Web-based software program that facilitates tutoring between a student and a tutor based in separate locations. The custom-designed program, aimed at middle schoolers, helps students strengthen both their academic skills and computer know-how.

"Human interaction really sets this program apart from others. The students and mentors form a personal connection as they work on skills directly tied to the students' actual schoolwork," says Shirley Morman, principal investigator for ProjectLINKS and director of the Educational Talent Search, which is the longtime TRIO program based on the College Park campus.

Morman says the idea for ProjectLINKS was conceived after the U.S. Department of Education requested proposals for new TRIO initiatives that could serve students not in schools already affiliated with TRIO. She explains that the online approach resulted from an interest to expand the reach of Educational Talent Search's Saturday Scholars program. Since 1991, the Saturday Scholars initiative has attracted middle and high school students to Maryland for academic enrichment that included instruction in one of the university's computer-equipped classrooms. Nonetheless, the program has had limitations in that it has largely accommodated students whose families can provide transportation, according to Morman.

"With ProjectLINKS there are no such barriers. We can reach the students who are most in need; those who have access to the fewest resources to prepare themselves for success in a competitive world," Morman says.

University of Maryland officials are optimistic that the ProjectLINKS program can become a national model since most online tutoring programs have been developed in the private sector. They also see it as a program that could help enhance the national stature of TRIO.

"(ProjectLINKS) is within the framework and mission of what TRIO is all about. …

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