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Minnesota Literacy Council piloting software to help immigrants with citizenship test

There's a new resource for Twin Cities immigrants who want to become citizens.

The Minnesota Literacy Council has been developing a free online self-study program in collaboration with other organizations across the country and this week released the beta version of its practice software for the citizenship test.

The course is part of a larger project called Learner Web, a web-based software system designed to help adults accomplish specific learning objectives. The project is funded by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Service.

"A lot of adults are doing self-study," said Susan Wetenkamp-Brandt, who's in charge of the MLC software. "But they don't always have all the resources or know all the steps or where to go to get the materials."

Organizations in several cities are developing different types of programs, including GED preparation, basic computer skills and family literacy. The participating sites will share all of the final products, and eventually the package will be released to the public as open source software, meaning users can access and modify the code themselves to customize or add new features.

MLC decided to focus on citizenship preparation because "we knew we had a really good citizenship teacher," Wetenkamp-Brandt said. Ron Mazurowski — or "Teacher Ron," as his students call him — has been teaching citizenship at MLC for more than 10 years, and he was instrumental in putting together the material.

The test practice software they designed is only part of the program. The rest hasn't been released yet, but it includes links to resources on every step of the citizenship process, from determining eligibility to knowing what to expect at the oath ceremony. It also includes links to such local organizations as Centro Legal or the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota.

But Mazurowski and Wetenkamp-Brandt wrote the test preparation part from scratch.

"Most of the materials that are out there are either not up-to-date with the new test, or they're not free, or they're just too high-level, too complicated — more than an immigrant with a low reading level can handle," Wetenkamp-Brandt said. "There wasn't anything that met our needs, so we made it."

To pass the citizenship test, immigrants must answer six of 10 questions correctly in an oral exam. The 10 questions are drawn from a list of 100 questions, some of which have more than one right answer (for example, "What does the Constitution do?").

The software goes through all 100 questions, and there are links to dictionary definitions for the more complicated words, plus such source materials as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, for those who want to explore the question topics in more depth.

Mazurowski wrote the content for the software, and Wetenkamp-Brandt edited and handled the coding. She also uploaded recordings of herself reading the questions and instructions, because the test is oral. Wetenkamp-Brandt said there have been about 10 new users a day since the program went live.

MLC will pilot the full program, with help for all of the other steps to gaining citizenship, sometime in the next month.

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