Nearly all our everyday experiences are mediated by, and filtered through, diverse technologies that aim to help us navigate the world. We make purchases by mobile phone, bring educational software into classrooms and connect with family and friends through social media. Yet, we are also continuously challenged by the technologies around us in terms of their usage, impact and ethical considerations. Informatics studies these phenomena to help us make informed decisions and design better technological interventions as we explore the many opportunities of living in the digital age.
Engaging our youth
Today, our social lives play out across a highly intertwined web of real- and virtual-world interactions. The implications are enormous, compelling us to reimagine our understanding of interpersonal relationships and redefine our expectations of how they unfold. Technology now occupies a prominent place in everything from crisis response to commerce, public policy to scientific discovery — and a new generation is emerging within this landscape. The Department of Informatics is keeping its finger on this pulse, offering key insights into evolving practices. Our Connected Learning Lab, for instance, explores nontraditional approaches to educating and engaging K-12 students. With support from the Samueli Foundation and the UCI Esports Arena, it has launched a high-school Esports League that leverages student interest in gaming to introduce associated curriculum in STEM domains, writing, and tech leadership. The league is but one way in which the department engages with the world around us to ensure that the next generation has the skills needed to become effective citizens in the 21st century.
Navigating smart cities
Digital technologies are providing new ways for us to not only connect with each other but also with the institutions that shape our lives, including local government. Many municipalities are excited about the possibilities offered by “smart cities.” Sensors can provide a real-time picture of life in urban space, data analytics can identify emerging trends and patterns, and social media can provide a new conduit for citizens to talk to government. But what does it take to make this work in practice? The Department of Informatics is studying how cities in Southern California deal with the pragmatics of data-driven governance. We are working in close collaboration with these cities to design technologies that increase civic engagement while simultaneously exploring how data-focused approaches can enroll or disenfranchise certain groups of citizens. Through this work, we are identifying steps that cities can take to ensure equity in opportunities as they promote positive, user-centered living experiences.