Digital Equity Ecosystems

Digital Equity EcosystemsRecently, in our Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University we have started a new research project to investigate what we are calling Digital Equity Ecosystems. This project builds on the excellent work of researchers and practitioners in the Digital Equity Lab at The New School, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Detroit Community Technology Project, and others. We define digital equity ecosystems as the following:

Digital Equity Ecosystems are interactions between individuals, populations, communities, and their larger sociotechnical environments that all play a role in shaping the digital inclusion work in local communities to promote more equitable access to technology and social and racial justice.

Our research in this area seeks to understand the impact of COVID-19 on individuals and families without household internet access and how digital inclusion coalitions across the nation have responded in turn. The goal of the study is to provide data and evidence to help local, state, and federal policymakers in the U.S. develop more effective digital equity strategies nationwide.

Findings from the study will also be useful for key stakeholders working to promote economic and racial justice in communities struggling with poverty during COVID-19 and after the pandemic ends. This is because, as we know from scholars such as Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Chris Gilliard, Virginia Eubanks, and many others who have noted that, the digital divide is rooted in systemic injustices and structural inequalities in our society. Therefore, we are keenly focused on the social, rather than the technological, solutions to digital inequality. We believe that a social ecological approach using participatory methods rooted in community knowledge and expertise is the pathway forward in this approach.

The publication of the first phase of our research to be published in 2020 is supported by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

Broadband Workarounds

In our new article, titled “The Ability of Pay for Broadband” in the journal Communication Research and Practice, my co-authors Dr. Bianca Reisdorf, Madison Bishop, and I introduce a term that we are calling broadband workarounds based on the findings from our research. The concept builds on research by the late Les Gasser who I had the privilege of working with during my doctoral program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Here is an excerpt from our article, which is freely available online for the next four weeks:

“Despite significant barriers to broadband access, there is evidence that low-income individuals and families, as well as the community-based organisations who serve them, will go to great lengths to access broadband. These factors indicate that individuals and families in low-income areas understand the value of broadband but simply cannot afford it – a sentiment that was reflected in interviews, focus groups, and the survey. Participants described what we are calling broadband workarounds, which are broadband-related activities such as splitting the cost of broadband with neighbours, using a friend’s home internet connection, and relying on public computing sites such as libraries and other community technology centres. Similar to Gasser’s notion of ‘work-arounds’ (1986) as ‘adhoc strategies to solve immediate and pressing problems’ (p. 216), we use the term broadband workarounds to describe the everyday strategies that participants described to address the cost-related barriers to broadband. Local digital inclusion organisations, including public libraries, work to alleviate the need for broadband workarounds by creating and connecting people to low-cost broadband options. A focus on these local community assets as a starting point for broadband policy can sharpen awareness of the innovative solutions that already exist in low-income areas.”

UPDATE (6/19/19): After sharing this blog post via Twitter today, John Horrigan responded in this tweet by noting that he had called “online access at the library part of a ‘workaround ecosystem'” for work he did a few years ago with Monica Anderson at the Pew Research Center, which can be found online here.

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.

LIS 421 Social Informatics

I’m excited to teach Social Informatics this semester at Simmons SLIS. I’ve built upon my colleague Dr. Lisa Hussey‘s excellent syllabus to include perspectives from the critical informatics and critical information studies literature. It was a real challenge to not include more readings. The course Moodle will include several additional suggested readings, as well. Overall, I’m quite pleased with the course, which definitely emphasizes more critical theoretical perspectives than I have previously incorporated. I believe the course will be much stronger, more timely and relevant, as a result.

Here is the link to the syllabus (v.10) 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.

 

Social Informatics @ OU Spring 2015

I’m teaching a new course next semester at the University of Oklahoma School of Library and Information Studies (OU SLIS), titled “Social Informatics.”  I had the great privilege of being able to support Professor Les Gasser as a Teaching Assistant for the past three years during my doctoral program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  I look forward to building upon the course that we offered at Illinois for our undergraduate and graduate students, here at OU.

In the video below, I introduce the topic of social informatics and talk about how theories and methods from this sub-field within Library and Information Science can help us understand — and gain more control over — our interactions with information and communication technology in our everyday lives. For more information about the course LIS 4970, please visit the description on our website at OU SLIS.