A&M-San Antonio and SAISD to pilot innovative help desk solution to address digital literacy, tech talent pipeline, and create a national model

By University Communications

Wednesday, 06 30 2021

San Antonio – Access to technology services and support for students and their families across San Antonio Independent School District are getting a boost as Texas A&M University-San Antonio pilots a technology and digital literacy initiative with the district. The Connected Beyond the Classroom Help Desk (CBTC HD) will strengthen home-based IT support for more than 25,000 students and their families while also creating a talent pipeline for careers in IT services through its Digital Inclusion Scholars Program. The CBTC HD could become a national model to help close the homework gap and tackle digital inclusion. The help desk is part of the Connected Beyond the Classroom project already in place in school districts and communities throughout San Antonio.

A twist to staffing the help desk is that students and eventually family members, including parents, will be selected as Digital Inclusion Scholars – trained and mentored by University students and staff to deliver quality home-based, broadband Internet access and support. Eligible University and high school students and parents will be trained in help desk, customer service and basic computer skills necessary to solve common technology issues and enhanced problem-solving skills necessary for successful employment in the workforce and to staff the help desk. Future expansion of the pilot project is expected to connect qualifying households in participating areas across Bexar County, according to Sheperis.

A $750,000 grant from USAA and $150,000 from Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. are helping A&M-San Antonio launch the help desk initiative and scale capabilities to neighborhoods across San Antonio. Both the help desk and Connected Beyond the Classroom initiatives will measure impact and performance on learning and improving academic performance by at least one letter grade over the academic year while increasing confidence in technology use and demonstrating a 90-percent mastery in digital literacy, according to Dr. Carl Sheperis, A&M-San Antonio’s dean of the college of education and human development. 

“Programs like the Connected Beyond the Classroom Help Desk and Digital Scholars Program are at the forefront of digital inclusion in our communities and establish a foundation for increasing parent engagement in the student learning process,” according to Pedro Martinez, superintendent of San Antonio ISD. “We are excited to be partnering with A&M-San Antonio and the City of San Antonio in the Connected Beyond the Classroom project as we influence the future of digital literacy and career paths.”

Data capture and analysis are factors in creating a sustainable and scalable model for the CBTC Help Desk, and the Digital Inclusion Scholars Program will also provide A&M-San Antonio and city and county agencies data that will lead to a process model that could be replicated beyond San Antonio, according to Sheperis. “Down the road, we’ll be able to assess data related to the impact of the CBTC Help Desk and the Digital Inclusion Scholars Program across a broad array of areas including IT infrastructure, user functionality, student learning outcomes, operational management, access, and community support,” said Sheperis. This will guide future investments, services and support to mitigate the digital divide and improve student performance. “These programs will be necessary to addressing future scenarios, as qualifying students will also be able to receive online instruction should changes in safety and health conditions require that,” said Sheperis.

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About Connected Beyond the Classroom Initiative

Connected Beyond the Classroom is an initiative of the City of San Antonio to expand digital access for families by connecting communities with much-needed broadband services. The initiative recently received a “Smart 50” Award in recognition of its innovation and broad impact. 

Texas A&M University-San Antonio 

Established as a stand-alone university in 2009, Texas A&M University-San Antonio is a comprehensive four-year public university that reflects the culturally diverse, heritage-rich community it serves. Situated on nearly 700 acres in south San Antonio, A&M-San Antonio is a Military Embracing™ institution offering 30 undergraduate degrees and 14 graduate degrees to nearly 6,800 students. The University is home to the Henry G. Cisneros Institute for Emerging Leaders and the Cyber Engineering Technology/Cyber Security Research Center. A&M-San Antonio holds the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) designation. Military Times ranks the University No. 35 in the nation for “Best for Vets: Colleges.” Visit tamusa.edu for more information. #onamission