Connect Chicago Meetup Recap: Special Needs Tech Training with Infiniteach & Motorola Mobility Foundation

Members of Chicago’s digital access and skills community come together every month to hear a presentation from a Connect Chicago Corporate Partner and a Connect Chicago featured program. Join us! Sign up at

On November 12th, the Connect Chicago network of trainers, nonprofit professionals, public servants and corporate partners convened to discuss the potential of mobile platforms, especially as they related to connecting special need populations.

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Featured guests for this Meetup included the Motorola Mobility Foundation and Infiniteach. The Motorola Mobility Foundation sits on Connect Chicago’s Technology Advisory Council. We met Infiniteach through Smart Chicago’s resident membership at Literacenter.

Motorola Mobility Foundation’s Work in Chicago

Monica Hauser, the Foundation Manager at the Motorola Mobility Foundation, overviewed the history of Motorola in Chicago. Motorola is actually a Chicago-born company.

Monica talked about Motorola’s strategic focus areas in Chicago: STEAM education, technology entrepreneurship, and tech access. Why the “A” in STEAM? Monica explained that many young girls are introduced to technology and science through the arts. Incorporating the arts helps the whole pipeline.

Given the theme of the Meetup, Monica shared the Foundation’s tech access work and resources:

Connect Chicago Meetup November 12, 2015

Connect Chicago Meetup November 12, 2015 2

One of the highlighted projects from Monica’s presentation was a mobile app developed with the  Chicago Bar Association that connects Chicagoans to free and reduced price legal services. In general, Monica emphasized how the Foundation aims to build with its partners and truly make new, in-demand programs and services for residents.


The Infiniteach team is focused on tech accessibility for autistic learners. If you haven’t heard of this social enterprise, below is a great overview of their philosophy and teaching products:

The Connect Chicago Meetup group heard from Infiniteach co-founder Christopher Flint. He explained that Infiniteach uses technology for what it’s good for – scaling, customization, and data collection. They leave student assessment to the expert, response humans.

It’s clear that a lot of user-centered thought went into this mobile learning tool. Infiniteach ipad app feeds students lessons customized to their interests. The app focuses on social learning as well as traditional educational learning. Two-player activities emphasize engagement and taking turns. All the activities have data so teachers and parents can track progress over time. A staggering fact that Infiniteach shared: 99.9% of adults with autism are not employed full time. Infiniteach is also interested in using technology to workforce development and job readiness skills for people with autism.

Lessons Learned: Leveraging the Power of Mobile in Chicago

Smart Chicago, under Connect Chicago, will soon start to work on a Mobile Toolkit. The goal of the Mobile Toolkit will be to help people leverage the power of their mobile devices. While many people don’t like the idea of relying on their mobile devices only, that is the reality for many in Chicago. How can we meet people where they are and help them navigate online banking, job applications, security, and cost savings when they rely on mobile platforms?

During the discussion portion of the Connect Chicago Meetup, participants brainstormed what a hypothetical “mobile toolkit” would train people in. Representatives from Smart Chicago, Chicago Public Library branches, Galvanize Labs, the Nonprofit Connection, Hooray for Learning, Chicago Defender Charities, the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology, and other institutions came up with a great list of potential trainings:

  • A lesson or tool on where to find free Wi-Fi in Chicago A lesson or tool on where to find free public computing in Chicago 
  • A lesson or tool on how to forward a resume and other important documents when someone switches between a mobile phone and public computing 
  • Privacy on your Mobile Device 101
  • A  lesson on Data Usage 101 – what each type of action on your phone impacts your data plan and your expenses
  • A  lesson or set of trusted tools that help people save money on their mobile phones (coupons, deals, etc.)
  • Lessons on how to use Chicago-centric mobile apps

The working idea is that all of these trainings would be mobile-friendly videos for mobile users. We also suspect that a mobile toolkit would be useful even to those with broadband in the home.

To learn more about the November 12th Meetup, see the presentation and the notes.

Listen In: Podcast Debut of “Dirty Little Secrets (Episode 1) – The Three S’s: Size, Shape, and Smell”

Smart Health Navigator, Michelle Vu, has released the debut episode of her new podcast, Dirty Little Secrets!

Dirty Little Secrets is a sex education podcast dedicated to debunking myths around sexual health, rights, identity, and reproductive justice. Sex is still a very uncomfortable and taboo topic, despite how sexualized society has become. Michelle Vu, Sexual Health Educator and Smart Health Centers-Health Corps Member, will guide listeners through a variety of difficult, interesting, sometimes embarrassing, but super helpful discussions so sex is no longer a “Dirty Little Secret.” All of the content discussed is appropriate for ages 13 and up. Younger audiences should only listen with adult supervision. Smart Chicago highly recommends this podcast as a teaching tool for educators and parents.

The first episode is entitled “The Three S’s: Size, Shape, and Smell”:
A funny and informational conversation between host, Michelle Vu, and fellow Smart Health Navigator, Ben King, around male and female genitalia.

Tune in here:
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Explore the full Smart Health Centers podcast playlist here:

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Read more about the Smart Health Centers news and the Podcast project here.

Recap of the Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards at #NLC15

Smart Chicago was at  the National League of Cities 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville, TN to help distribute the first annual Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards. The awards were created by Next Century Cities and the National League of Cities in partnership with Google Fiber to recognize municipalities that have made major strides and investments in closing their digital divides.

Chatt pic for blog

I assisted with the planning and judging of these awards. As a Program Analyst for Smart Chicago working for the Connect Chicago Initiative, I have have had the privilege to be part of this cross-city, cross-sector community of practitioners who think about the digital divide everyday.

Over 30 city governments applied for the awards. From mobile tech vans to matching technology grant programs, these city-supported programs have helped helped get more residents online.

Here are the winners:

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You can read cases about the winners and each winning program here!

How to Get More Residents Online

At the Congress of Cities, I moderated a Solutions Session with two of the Digital Inclusion Leadership Award winners: Austin, TX and Davidson, NC. The cities were invited to describe their winning programs and give concrete, specific recommendations to other municipalities seeking to replicate their work.

Screen Shot Panel

I found both of these cases to be compelling. Austin’s Digital Assessment survey work (conducted every three years) is a great model for institutionalizing the regular collection of essential Internet access and use data across neighborhoods. Davidson’s Eliminate the Digital Divide Program featured the clever “Squeeze Out the Digital Divide” – a part fundraiser, part youth-driven community awareness campaign that uses lemonade stand revenue to fund devices for school-age children.

Here is the full presentation from the Solution Session:

Lessons for Chicago

Back in 2009, the American Reinvestment & Recovery Act infused Broadband Technology Opportunity Fund grant money into many cities to help close the digital divide. Cities like Chicago and the ones above are all experimenting with ways to institutionalize digital inclusion work in the aftermath of that grant funding – whether it’s device lending and refurbishment, public computing labs, awareness campaigns, Internet access survey work, and digital training programs.

This is why Connect Chicago is so important. We’re working with partners all over the city – both public and private – to coordinate Chicago’s digital access and skills ecosystem and support the trainers on the front lines of digital inclusion work.

One thing I noticed was that almost every winning city from the Digital Inclusion Leadership Award had a City Hall Champion in the form of a mayor, an agency head, or a department. Connect Chicago benefits from both the Mayor’s office and the Chicago Department of Innovation & Technology being on its Steering Committee. This involvement sends a clear message: the digital life of every Chicagoan matters.

Despite the great work being done in the field, there are untapped opportunities for  innovation and experimentation. At Smart Chicago, we want to understand how to increase and strengthen the network of digital access and skills resources across the City. Specifically we’re thinking about:

  • How to create referral systems for training across decentralized, but complementary services
  • How to track digital access and skills outcomes. Though we can collect data on participation and certification
  • How to engage with residents about their desire to learn new digital and technical skills. How do they want to learn? What do they want to learn? What are the obstacles in the way of learning those things?

We know we are not alone in asking these questions. Now, through the Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards and the community of applicants, winners, and best practices that it’s assembled across the country, we have a peer network of organizations to collaborate with.

To become a member of the Digital Inclusion Learning Network, fill out this form

Sonja Marziano CUTGroup remarks at Open Indy Meetup

Sonja Marziano presents at Open Indy MeetupOn November 19, I was invited to present about CUTGroup by the Open Indy Brigade as part of a meetup devoted to speaking about user experience (UX). Open Indy also launched their Civic UX project this evening, which is “dedicated to making the apps and websites of local governments across Central Indiana more user-friendly for all citizens.”

During this presentation, I focused on the importance of our CUTGroup work in helping to change and create better technology using specific examples. I wanted to explain why CUTGroup is an important part of the work we do at Smart Chicago, but also give examples of specific tests where we tested technology that reached a large amount of residents. Some examples included the Chicago Public Schools website or the Ventra app.

CUTGroup Open Indy Slide 4

Overall, this was a great event focused on incorporating the user experience when building new technology and I was glad to be a part of it to share our experiences.

Here is my presentation:
[slideshare id=56528155&doc=cutgroup-presentation-openindybrigade-11-151229171722]

Design Thinking Raises Patients’ Profile to Rehab Health Care Access

At BarnRaise 2015, Mark King collaborates with the Thresholds mental-health agency on outreach to teens.

At BarnRaise 2015, Mark King collaborates with the Thresholds agency on outreach to teens.

When Chicago technologists diagnose health issues, they turn their attention to how patients and practitioners make decisions.

“It’s always important to understand the domain,” says ThoughtWorks user experience designer Bridget Sheerin. “The classic example is, you try not to build something for which there isn’t a problem.” A less obvious trap, she says, is building great technology that can’t or won’t get used in the field.

The Illinois Institute of Technology’s design institute focused health and tech teams on patient interactions in two days of brainstorming Oct. 13 and 14 at its BarnRaise 2015 “maker-conference.” Teams presented their solutions to a health technology crowd at Matter, the Merchandise Mart health-care incubator.

“I was amazed at how effective the conference was at bringing people up to speed about something they knew nothing about,” said Ronald Grais, director of the Thresholds mental health agency. Consultant Mark King of Toad & Tadpole suggested ways Thresholds could encourage peer interventions for troubled teens. Grais plans to test them immediately in schools and community programs.

The 13 teams addressed process and strategy issues as well. Smart Chicago Collaborative anchored one team, working with the Design Concepts agency to build patients’ health and computer literacy.

BarnRaise 2015 partners present their work at the Matter health-care incubator.

BarnRaise 2015 partners present their work at the Matter health-care incubator.

IIT matched software developer ThoughtWorks with Janus Choice and its Virtual Liaison app, which refers hospital patients to long-term care providers. Janus chief technology officer Daryl Palmer says ThoughtWorks brought experience in coaching technologies that complemented Janus’ development talent.

“We wanted to make sure we were looking at the social and cultural mindsets of users at final discharge,” Palmer says. “Patients can’t go home, they have to go to a skilled nursing facility, and we have to explain where they are in the process.”

Janus wanted a better handoff for accident victims, for whom the diagnosis is still sinking in. “We tried through a design process to understand what that experience is like for a patient and a nurse,” says Sheerin. “It’s not about building a prettier interface but understanding the entire journey they go through.”

The team interviewed nurses on how they used the iPad app to locate intensive rehab or continuous care resources. “The nurses are under extreme time pressure to get patients out of the hospital. They need patients to comfortable with the choices they’re making. The device makes the narrowing-down process a lot faster for the patients, which cuts cuts down on the time pressure on the nurses.”

More often it’s nurses or family members using the tablet app to find follow-up care, not the patients themselves. The result has to please all parties, including the hospitals paying for the app. They expect a payoff in better use of their own beds and lower readmission rates.

ThoughtWorks suggested video and other tools to connect nurse recommendations with doctors’ orders, and updates on patients’ rehab progress to keep nurses engaged.

The YMCA of the USA approached rehab from a different angle. It worked with Rêve Consulting to structure pilot programs bringing joint replacement patients into local gyms and swimming pools to shape up before surgery, as well as to recuperate afterward.

Chicago health providers facing widespread issues used BarnRaise partners to plan a local response. The American Medical Women’s Association and the Mad*Pow agency worked to spread stroke awareness.

The BarnRaise collaborators decided they must spread the word about about stroke symptoms to a younger audience, who could act quickly if a family member is stricken.

“Trust is an issue,” says Heather Beckstrom, stroke program coordinator for Mount Sinai Hospital Medical Center. Immigrants fear deportation, while minorities expect a struggle to get the immediate care that can save stroke victims’ lives. “How do you get into a community where there is distrust?”

The solution was to build on relationships with community activists and organizations like the Chicago Housing Authority. “It gives us a different strategy and outlets to tap into,” Beckstrom says.

Taken Charge: Apply for a Free Educational Game for Youth!

How do teachers and trainers get youth digitally skilled, tech literate and job ready? While “coding” might be the first solution that comes to mind, learning to code isn’t the logical starting place for every young person. As Smart Chicago learned from this summer’s Youth-Led Tech program, successfully teaching technology to young people means balancing  foundational concepts and making learning fun.

The new browser-based game Taken Charge has a solution to this dilemma. The game covers a wide array of topics in addition to coding concepts – everything from the parts of a computer, how the Internet works,  and cyberbullying. As they learn new things, gamers earn badges marking their progress. All you need to get started is an Internet connection, and computer, and a 3rd grade reading level.

Read more about Taken Charge in Built in Chicago and see the demo below:

What sets this game apart? Taken Charge has an ISTE Seal of Alignment for Readiness. This means students who play Taken Charge are learning a foundational set of certified standards and skills. According to the ISTE website:

Reviewers determined that this resource helps build foundational technology skills needed to support the ISTE Standards for Students and helps teach students the basics of technology in a fun and motivational way. Players gain valuable knowledge on important technology concepts such as the basics of hardware, essential elements of search engines and websites, fundamentals of networks, appropriate online communication skills, and cyberbullying.

Apply to Get Free Access to the Taken Charge Game

Connect Chicago just purchased student accounts for the Taken Charge game. If you run a youth or digital training program in Chicago and know one or several students who want their own game accounts, please fill out this form!

Please note that a 3rd grade reading level is required to get the most out of Taken Charge. Also note that anyone is eligible to apply for the student accounts. We’re interested in seeing how this game can be used across different neighborhoods, students, and training environments.

We’re excited to learn more about Taken Charge and how gaming can promote STEM learning across Chicago. Apply for free student accounts at this link!