Research Overview

Over the course in my time at GSLIS I've worked on a variety of projects and with a wide range of faculty. The journey has been a wonderfully diverse, challenging and exciting experience. My interests lie mainly in social and community informatics, and are necessarily oriented by my background in sociology, which I find relates to nearly everything I encounter. My identity is distinctly that of a social scientist, yet I often get along well with engineers because I conceptualize social problems as solvable (and feel it is imperative we do) and like to create and play with tools that can aid us in tasks that produce discernable, measurable social goods.

During 2009-2010 I helped to teach in the Informatics Minor, TA-ing the class "Social Aspects of Information Technology." I occasionally lectured but most of my time was spent doing lesson planning and instruction for two weekly sections of 20-25 students. I have been blessed with a great deal of freedom and most of the curriculum is of my own design! I hope to continue teaching this sort of class in the future.

For the 2008-2009 academic year I worked with the Community Informatics Initiative as a research assistant under an IMLS grant. Much of my work related to evaluation of the CI program but also included curricular support, technologies development and running the community informatics club.

Research Projects

Click on a project for details.

So far I've worked with the following faculty and staff at GSLIS:


Detailed Project Listing

eBlack Illinois: African American Communities and Library Resources in Illinois (Spring & Summer 2008)

This was a semester-to-summer project conducted with Abdul Alkalimat as part of his class on Technology and the Black Experience.  One of the new forms of CTC’s are community organizations who integrate technologies into their daily operations, like libraries.  The digital divide, however, is more than simple access, but really a myriad of issues relating to social power and construction of information.  With this project I explored the capacity rural and small town libraries in Illinois have to facilitate what I termed at the time as “Digital Consciousness,” which is really in many ways simply a combination of Cyberpower and digital literacy.  In essence I created a special sample of libraries from five counties that were predominantly or significantly African American and that were rural or small town.  I called each library and surveyed them for information about their available technologies, personnel, tech policies and hardware and software specifically related to multimedia and web content production.  The dataset was then summarized and reported in a large paper, available for download at http://communityinformaticsprojects.com/DigitalDivide2. I would like to follow up on this project in the future, if it meets with future research objectives. The description here does not really do it justice, read the abstract at the above URL to really understand the full scope of theory and research involved.  I was able to develop my own understanding of theory in regards to the digital divide and contemporary internet with this project, as well as explore metrics for institutional ability to aid in digital literacy.

Community Informatics Multimedia Archive (Summer 2008)

One of my first projects with CI.  Substantively it was actually a combination of two learning activities: learning a great deal about the history and programs/projects of CI at UIUC through processing and collecting multimedia and also an investigation into archival techniques and use of open source technologies for archival management.  The archive includes a vibrant (but currently small) collection of pictures, video, audio, presentations, and posters related to CI.  It’s organized into an easy-to-use website with a database backend.  From a perspective of learning and research, this project helped me to understand some of the social and historical contexts of CI as well as employ technology to solve a problem (somewhat on behalf of community groups).  The full archive is currently located at http://communityinformaticsprojects.com/CIMA_bak/ and will be fully transferred to University servers by the end of the year.

Community Engagement, the mini documentary (Fall 2008)

During Ann’s CE class I was able to actually pursue two projects, each with its own benefits.  As part of my role as a TA for the class as well as a student I made a mini-documentary (30 min) capturing some of the different community engagement projects happening that semester.  I was able to meet a number of community members through doing this and also think a lot about creative presentation of information in a new format, video.  I’m actually really happy with the result, and if I had better voice audio (it was a tiny little digital camera) I’d call it professional. The entire documentary can be seen at http://communityinformaticsprojects.com/490CE.html in sequence or in sections on CIMA.  Each organization was given a copy of the video for their own use, too.

The Rantoul Public Library: History and Storytelling in [Stop] Motion (Fall 2008 through Spring 2009)

What started with a simple site observation of a local library CTC for Kate Williams CI concepts class led to an entire paper and my current array of research.  I initially visited and observed the site and interviewed a librarian, but found it held a lot of promise for research in the future.  I decided to further the relationship by helping the library out with a simple need: better understanding their own history.  I wrote a short exposition on the history of Rantoul Public Library and their relation to the digital divide, entitled “The Rantoul Public Library: Hard Times, Innovative Strategies and Community Informatics.”  What this also allowed me to do was establish relationships with the local community members.  Besides interviewing two of the older librarians I was able to learn about many of the aspects of the town and programs the library runs.  Eventually what evolved out of our conversations and efforts together were ideas for new programs at the library, including a stop-motion digital literacy workshop.

Pairienet2: Technology Training Reborn (Fall 2008 through Spring 2009)

As Prairienet transitioned out of its former service role as an ISP and community network a small team of researchers was tasked with designing, implementing and evaluating new programs that could aid in its future development (potentially as a community media lab). I had begun work on revamping the Pnet technology training (educational material used in Prairienet classes, which was moved online into a wiki and updated) the previous semester and so this naturally extended into an independent study for this class. I also included the investigation of alternative face-to-face digital literacy programs that Prairienet might provide the curriculum for, as well as the feasibility of using Wordpress to provide nonprofits with websites they could manage easily themselves. Most of this research and outreach was captured in a concept demonstration, available online: http://communityinformaticsprojects.com/prairienet2/

The São Tomé Map Project (Fall 2009 through Spring 2010)

The São Tomé Map Project is the extension of one of four research initiatives established in the Summer of 2009 as part of the ongoing collaboration between the country of São Tomé and CII. Its goal is to ensure the people of São Tomé have access to and ownership of relevant local spatial data so they can better make informed decisions about development of their land and resources.

The project is still in progress, so I won't write about it in detail here. Instead, check out the website: http://communityinformaticsprojects.com/saotome