In my research, I seek to understand, design, and implement socio-technical systems that empower individuals and groups to contribute to knowledge production and community building. Socio-technical systems are complex information systems that closely integrate social dynamics and advanced technology. Online communities such as Wikipedia, health support groups, and hyperlocal platforms are examples of socio-technical systems. Socio-technical systems are highly embedded in all aspects of our lives, changing the way we create, seek and share information, the way we seek and provide social support, the way we collaborate to solve big societal problems such as community safety and well-being. My multidisciplinary research builds upon the theoretical foundations of computation, information science, social psychology, organizational behavior, and education. I take an engineering approach, extending those theoretical foundations by conducting experiments, co-design sessions, and field studies to build processes and technologies to address societal issues and to understand how these systems can be more effectively designed and implemented. My research particularly aims to answer three fundamental questions:

  1. What contributes to the sustainability of socio-technical systems that rely heavily on the contributions of individual users?
  2. How can we work with marginalized groups to design, implement and deploy more equitable socio-technical systems and to foster social justice?

Socio-technical systems such as Wikipedia, online health support groups, and hyperlocal online platforms have been the driving force behind supporting millions of patients and their caregivers, facilitating contribution to free and open knowledge, and strengthening local communities. They play an important role in empowering individuals and communities to develop, produce, and share. With their abundant popularity and utilization, online communities influence the world.s population on a large scale. Naturally, there are challenges, shortcomings, and drawbacks to these communities, as well. My research focuses on studying these issues, from a socio-technical perspective. I am developing methods to study the complex nature of such systems and designing processes and tools to build more effective socio-technical systems.

Critical Data Literacy for Advocacy

In the past decades, cities across America's rust belt have suffered economic decline due to the exodus of manufacturing jobs and have faced a significant shift towards Information and Computational Technology industries. In many cases, the historical residents are being left behind, due to lack of job readiness and the influx of a new workforce into these industries. The goal of this line of my work is to partner with community organizations and local youths as advisors to develop technology that will engage youth in learning critical data literacy skills and apply their knowledge to analyzing neighborhood problems and learn kills that will allow youth to succeed in the new economy. The project will engage members of the community in contextually relevant learning experiences to train them as data trustees in their communities, and provide them with a pathway from data literacy to data stewardship and higher education in technology-related fields. The project targets two marginalized neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, engaging youth that have been excluded from the new labor market, and addressing neighborhood issues that arose as part of the economic decline. Teaching youth to use big data to address community problems will not only build computational skills but also foster a stronger civic identity among participants. This project is supported through the National Science Foundation Award #2016982

Fostering Hyper-local Digital Equity

The COVID-19 global pandemic has ignited lightning-fast adoption of digital tools in our communities, organizations, and systems of governance. It also inspired an unprecedented level of providing access to digital devices to communities and individuals lacking prior access. The situation and circumstances provide a unique opportunity to understand digital divides through a new lens. In this line of my work, in partnership with community organizers, we contribute a contemporaneous understanding of digital divides beyond access by qualitatively analyzing calls made to a volunteer-based community IT help desk. We highlight the intertwined network of challenges leading to ecosystem digital divides and contribute new insights into how the complex socio-technical systems of practice, and the tools to support them, must adapt to bridge digital divides more effectively. Furthemore, we explore community-engaged methods of fostering digital capital to empower marginalized communities as they respond to new challenges in a digitally-dominated world. This project is supported by the National Science Foundation Award #2034621 and the R. K. Mellon Foundation

User-Centric Sensor Designs for Assured Privacy

High-fidelity, and often privacy-invasive, sensors are now becoming pervasive in our everyday environments. At home, digital assistants can constantly listen for instructions and security cameras can be on the lookout for unusual activity. Whereas once an individual's physical actions, in their own home, were private, now networked cameras and microphones can give rise to electronic privacy concerns for one's physical behaviors. Casual conversations and encounters, once thought to be private and ephemeral, now may be captured and disseminated or archived digitally. While these sensing devices benefit the users in many different ways, hence their popularity, their users may face serious privacy violations. A major problem with current sensing devices is that it is oftentimes unclear whether an audio or video sensor is, indeed, off upon visual inspection by occupants of a space. For example, sensors that have been hacked may indeed record people without their consent, even when their interfaces (e.g., small indicator lights) claim that they are off. The goal of this project is to explore privacy-enhanced sensor designs that provide people with the knowledge and assurance of when they are being recorded and what data is being captured and disseminated. Whereas purely software mechanisms may not inspire trust, physical mechanisms (e.g., a camera's physical lens cap) can provide a more tangible privacy guarantee to people. This project explores novel, physical designs of sensors that convey a clear and definite sense of assurance to people about their physical privacy. This project is supported through the National Science Foundation Award #1814866

Black Voices in Computing

The goal of this project is to address the important challenge of race, inequalities, and injustices in computing through a novel angel: highlighting the voice of Black scholars in computing. The project aims to design and deploy an exhibit at the School of Computing and Information to highlight the presence of Black scholars in the field of computing and the important contributions they have made to the field. The exhibit will be designed as a hybrid digital-tangible format to encourage interactivity. The interactive elements of the exhibit contribute to the important goals of the project to draw attention to the contribution of Black scholars in the field of computing, and to engage the visitors most effectively to learn about Black computing scholars. This project is supported by the University of Pittsburgh Year of Data and Society Award