When Professor Rebecca Black surveys the digital media landscape, she sees opportunity for much more than entertainment. “People are inspired to learn in many different ways, and information technology (IT) can be used to open up new and innovative possibilities for educational and social development, particularly for young people who are disenfranchised by traditional, one-size-fits-all approaches,” she says. Her work explores these possibilities, creating IT-based, research-driven interventions that can be leveraged to support children who are struggling academically, personally and socially.
Putting the IT in Writing
Together with Department of Informatics colleagues and collaborators in the Schools of Education and Humanities, Black is spearheading a project that uses IT to help students who have difficulty with reading and writing to develop their academic literacy skills. “We developed a system to support peer review and revision in academic writing,” she says. “Not only does it appear to be helping them improve their writing abilities, but it also looks like they are having fun with the system while still taking the composing part of the task seriously. I think this is especially important because we do not see enough playful learning in schools today.” Black is seeking to change this, creating online spaces that allow young people to express themselves in a variety of ways.
A Transformative Tool
Black believes IT can also be a transformative tool beyond the academic sphere. To that end, she is examining how it might serve as a resource for homeless, pregnant and parenting women and their children. She is also at work on various projects related to the potential benefits of participation in online fan communities and others focused on toys and technologies in relation to gender. There is, she notes, a thread that connects these initiatives together: an emphasis on effecting meaningful change in people’s everyday lives. “By utilizing IT to intervene productively,” she says, “we can have a positive impact on the world around us.”