Social Informatics Spring 2019

I’m looking forward to teaching Social Informatics again this semester at Simmons SLIS. I have added readings from Safiya Noble, Virginia Eubanks, and Sasha Constanza-Chock and other scholars to feature additional critical theoretical perspectives to the course.

Here is the link to the syllabus for this semester.

COURSE SUMMARY
“Social Informatics” refers to the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization – including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change and the ways that the social organization of information technologies are influenced by social forces and social practices. This graduate seminar is for students interested in the influence of information technology in the human context, including cultural heritage, professional concerns, and social inequities. The course introduces some of the key concepts of social informatics and situates them into the view of varied perspectives including readers, librarians, computer professionals, authors, educators, publishers, editors, and the institutions that support them.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Describe a variety of social, political, and economic contexts that shape information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their impact on society.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of social systems and how they interact with ICTs.
  • Discuss concepts that illuminate the intersections of race, class, gender, identity, ability, and ICTs.
  • Identify a range of ethical, legal, and policy issues that impact the design and use of ICTs.

The course syllabus is available under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

New Co-Authored Book Chapter

My colleague, Dr. Bianca Reisdorf (UNC Charlotte) and I have a chapter that was just published in an edited volume, titled “Digital Inclusion: An International Comparative Analysis” (Rowman & Littlefield) by Massimo Ragnedda (Northumbria University) and Bruce Mutsvairo (University of Technology Sydney). The title of our chapter is “An Asset-Based Approach to Digital Inclusion Research in the US Context” and features some of the research findings included in my report, titled “Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives” published by the Benton Foundation in 2016.

Here is the description of the book from the publisher’s website:

“The volume examines the risks and opportunities of a digital society characterized by the increasing importance of knowledge and by the incessant rise and pervasiveness of information and communication technologies (ICTs). At a global level, the pivotal role of ICTs has made it necessary to rethink ways to avoid forms of digital exclusion or digital discrimination. This edited collection comprises of chapters written by respected scholars from a variety of countries, and brings together new scholarship addressing what the process of digital inclusion means for individuals and places in the countries analyzed. Each country has its own strategy to guarantee that people can access and enjoy the benefits of the information society. While this book does not presume to map all the countries in the world, it does shed light into these strategies, underlining what each country is doing in order to reduce digital inequalities and to guarantee that socially disadvantaged people (in terms of disabilities, availability of resources, age, geographic location, lack of education, or ethnicity) are digitally included.”

New Article by Sharon Strover on Rural Broadband

Sharon Strover (UT Austin) just published an excellent article over at The Conversation on the broadband challenges facing rural Americans. In the article, she mentions some of what we’ve learned through our research funded through a grant from the US Institute of Museum and Library Services to understand how rural libraries address the challenges of internet connectivity through wifi hotspot lending programs.

Here’s an excerpt:

In our work, we have found a lot of people on tight budgets figuring out how to use local Wi-Fi connections to download content onto their phones, so they use (and pay for) less mobile data. Public libraries, which generally have fast and free Wi-Fi, are popular options in rural areas. Many rural librarians have told us about people in their parking lots after hours simply using the library Wi-Fi. Those connections aren’t always the fastest, but are a testament to the efforts of public libraries over many years to provide their communities’ residents with computer and internet services.

Read the full article here.

Joining Boston’s Digital Equity Fund Council

The City of Boston just announced their new Digital Equity Fund. This initiative will be overseen by the Mayor’s Department of Innovation & Technology. I am honored to be joining the advisory board along with the following people: Alessandra Brown, Director, Roxbury Innovation Center; Turahn Dorsey, Chief of Education, City of Boston: Trinh Nguyen, Director of Workforce Development, City of Boston; and Sasha Costanza-Chock, Associate Professor of Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Here is a snippet from today’s press release:

“Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the creation of a $35,000 Digital Equity Fund, which will support the City’s goal of ensuring all residents have equal access to digital services. The Digital Equity Fund will provide support to community-based organizations that help Boston residents fully connect and participate in today’s media and information landscape. ‘A more connected Boston is a more equitable City, a more innovative City and a more prosperous City,’ said Mayor Walsh. ‘This grant program will allow more residents to connect digitally, and will encourage residents to grow their digital skills while increasing access to information.’

The Digital Equity Fund will explore ways to build individual and community capacity to:

  • Use the Internet, digital skills, and digital tools to pursue professional, educational, and civic endeavors;
  • Engage with the Internet safely and securely;
  • Develop needs-responsive, community driven digital skills building opportunities;
  • Increase broadband adoption among the roughly 1 in 5 Bostonians who do not subscribe to this service in the home.

In 2017, Boston will award one grant of $35,000 or up to two grants up to $17,500 each to nonprofit organizations that promote digital equity. By providing seed funding, the City hopes to identify promising strategies that can attract outside funding and further create a City where everyone has the tools and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.”

Read the full press release here.

New Article in D-Lib Magazine

My colleagues and I have a new article that was published this past week in D-Lib Magazine. The article, which is co-authored with Sharon Strover (University of Texas at Austin), Brian Whitacre (Oklahoma State University), and Alexis Schrubbe (University of Texas at Austin) presents early findings from our Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) research grant, titled “At the Edges of the National Digital Platform” (grant #RE-31-16-0014-16) which examines wireless hotspot lending programs in rural libraries in Kansas and Maine.

Here’s the abstract:

Libraries straddle the information needs of the 21st century. The wifi, computers and now mobile hotspots that some libraries provide their patrons are gateways to a broad, important, and sometimes essential information resources. The research summarized here examines how rural libraries negotiate telecommunications environments, and how mobile hotspots might extend libraries’ digital significance in marginalized and often resource-poor regions. The Internet has grown tremendously in terms of its centrality to information and entertainment resources of all sorts, but the ability to access the Internet in rural areas typically lags that experienced in urban areas. Not only are networks less available in rural areas, they also often are of lower quality and somewhat more expensive; even mobile phone-based data plans — assuming there are acceptable signals available — may be economically out of reach for people in these areas. With older, lower income and less digitally skilled populations typically living in rural areas, the role of the library and its freely available resources may be especially useful. This research examines libraries’ experiences with providing free, mobile hotspot-based access to the Internet in rural areas of Maine and Kansas.

Read the full article here.