By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Community Technology Education Center at Montana State University-Northern is celebrating being open a year - and having more than 12,000 logins at its lab recorded - with an open house Wednesday.
"We're estimating another 20,000 next year," center director Randy Bachmeier said Thursday.
Bachmeier said the center, created through a U.S. Department of Education grant to provide access to and training in modern information technology to people in economically distressed areas, is averaging 1,500 logins a month.
The center is located in the Vande Bogart Library on the university campus. It was created through one of 56 grants the Department of Education awarded across the country last year. Applications were sent in from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the District of Columbia.
"It's to bridge what's been called the digital divide," Bachmeier said. "The gap between the haves and the have-nots in computers."
Each person who signs up to use the lab is issued a card, which is swiped through a scanner to log the user in and out of the center.
Bachmeier said the center has to apply for the grant each year for continued funding, but that its success in the last year makes continued funding likely. The center also is looking for other sources of funding, he said.
The center has a lab with 24 computer stations and accessories like photo scanners, color laser printers and digital cameras. It also offers classes to teach people how to use the equipment and the software that goes with it. Bachmeier said the classes are offered regularly.
"At least once a week. There's weeks we do many," he said, adding that occasionally a series of classes lasts an entire week.
The classes cover many subjects, but most are on basics people need to learn in order to use the computers, Bachmeier said.
Typical courses are on Microsoft Word and other Microsoft Office products, the Internet and how to use e-mail, he said.
Some other topics have included photo editing and using QuickBooks accounting programs.
The lab also is offered for general use, even during the class times. The stations are divided by a curtain to allow open lab time during most classes, although some require that all of the stations are used, Bachmeier said.
The classes are tailored to different groups the center works with, like senior citizens, children, or Havre Public Schools Adult Education classes the center sometimes hosts.
The center plans to expand its classes to other communities across the state using videoconferencing equipment it recently received through a grant by the Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bachmeier said.
The equipment, which will also be used during the open house, will provide access to the center's classes to communities on the NorthNet distance learning system. The center is working to expand access to laptop computers to use at those communities, since the classes tend to be very hands-on, Bachmeier said.
The videoconferencing equipment will be used for a conference with Montana's U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns in Washington, D.C., at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
It also will be used for an introduction to next year's JASON Project theme, rainforests, at 4 p.m. The JASON Project will use videoconferencing to hold live discussions between students in classrooms and experts in rainforests. The project provides a curriculum in science or math topics from fourth through ninth grades.
The open house lasts from noon to 5 p.m. in the center, and refreshments will be served.
For more information about the Community Technology Education Center, call 265-3529.