Digital and Cultural Literacy: A Window of Opportunity for New Volunteers

According to a report from 2012-14 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), one-third of adults in the U.S. lack basic digital skills. Upon closer examination of the data, this skill gap is shown to disproportionately affect people of color and individuals with limited English language abilities. As digital skills are increasingly important for even entry-level positions in the U.S.  in the wake of a global pandemic (National Skills Coalition), the need for digital literacy instruction has become increasingly essential.

One area that this digital divide has affected more intensely over the past year is volunteer work, which for many organizations is now conducted virtually. Volunteer populations, typically dominated by white, upper-middle class people, frequently serve communities of color and individuals with limited English skills. This creates significant cultural barriers, regarding which new volunteers often lack both self-awareness and skills training. Even many experienced volunteers have confronted difficulties this year, now caught serving in unfamiliar virtual environments, while organizations tend to assume their volunteers are already sufficiently digitally literate. This combination of cross-cultural volunteering with the virtual environment exacerbates opportunities for miscommunication, which presents the focus of this website.

Our website “Digital and Cultural Literacy for Volunteers” seeks to provide volunteer literacy skills by addressing issues in remote instruction and intercultural communication. These issues include teaching digital literacy skills to English language learners (ELLs), digital volunteering skills, culturally informed classroom norms, and battling implicit bias. This project fills a gap concerning the lack of digital literacy resources for volunteers, and furthermore trains volunteer teachers to adjust their lessons and teaching to the cultural backgrounds of their learner population in the virtual world.

Through meticulous research from myriad reputable sources and drawing from extensive personal experience in the realms of digital literacy and intercultural education, we developed this website with the goal of improving volunteer literacy across Minnesota. Powered by Weebly, our website has reached a scope beyond our original dreams, including resources and trainings in the areas of interculturalism, anti-racism, digital literacy, and new ESL volunteers. We also include a self-paced Book Club through which readers may engage more fully with their learning. 

Through our partnership with the Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement, and through connections to Literacy Minnesota, Metro North and Metro South Adult Basic Education, and HIRED, our website provides essential tools for volunteers across Minnesota to more effectively serve within culturally diverse communities.

Group members: Vincent Safarik, Isabel Huot-Link, Kali Lo-Ng, Nicole Yang
Community partners: Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement