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Harnessing Technology for Social Good Lecture Series 2018-2022

The American Academy for Social Work and Social Welfare spearheaded the Grand Challenges of Social Work, representing 13 challenges focused on improving individual and family well-being, strengthening the social fabric, and helping create a more just society. Named after the grand challenge of “Harnessing Technology for Social Good”, this lecture series brought together interdisciplinary researchers to present their innovative technology research and applications for furthering the interests of disadvantaged and marginalized groups in our society.


Gay/Bisexual Men of Color and Online Discrimination
Presented by: Ryan Wade, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois, Social Work

Presentation date: 9/6/18
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Dr. Wade investigates the phenomenon of Racialized Sexual Discrimination (RSD) on gay hook-up apps/websites and the association between RSD and psychological well-being among gay/bisexual men of color. His work includes a broad focus on structural and community-level racism, the racial patterning of sexual/social networks within LGBTQ communities, and health disparities among gay/bisexual men.

Health Behavior and Health Behavior Change in the Context of Digital Communication
Dolores Albarracin, Professor, University of Illinois, Psychology

Presentation date: 10/4/18
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Dr. Albarracin investigates attitudes, behavior, and social cognition at both micro- and macro-levels of analysis (cognitive processes, culture, ethnicity). Her research has developed scientific understanding of basic social psychological processes and communication policy, especially in the area of health and how to discourage risk behavios. She directs the Social Action Lab and the Health & Social Media Group at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Harnessing Technology for Social Good: Virtual Conversation Training for Clients and Clinicians
Presented by: Matthew Smith, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, Social Work

Presentation date: 11/6/18
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Dr. Smith’s research interests focus on developing and evaluating technology-based interventions that can be delivered in high schools and community mental health centers to improve community-based outcomes for transition-age youth with educational disabilities and adults with severe mental illness and/or other disabilities. He is also interested in developing and evaluating technology-based tools to enhance the clinical education of social work students. Lastly, he is interested in studying the social neuroscience and community-based functioning of individuals with schizophrenia.

Health Care Training in a Virtual Reality Environment
Presented by: Rosalba Hernandez, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois, Social Work

Presentation date: 12/6/18
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Dr. Hernandez’s interests are in exploring the link between positive psychological well-being and cardiovascular health, particularly in underserved minority populations. She explores whether characteristics like optimism and resilience are associated with low-risk cardiovascular disease profiles, and whether interventions geared toward increasing psychological well-being can favorably impact subclinical and clinical manifestations of disease. Dr. Hernandez’s goal is to employ theories from positive psychology to help inform primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in Hispanic/Latino and African American adults.

New Frontiers in Naturalistic Observation: Electronic Tablets for In-Home Observations of Parents and Children
Presented by: William Schneider, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois, Social Work

Presentation date: 2/7/19
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Dr. Schneider’s research examines the influence of macroeconomic factors, family complexity and fatherhood, and interventions in the promotion of child well-being and the prevention of child maltreatment. This presentation stems from a collaboration with Ariel Kalil in the Behavior Insights and Parenting Lab, which designs low cost parenting interventions, uses behavioral tools to change parenting behaviors, and tests parenting interventions in primarily low-income families.

Development and Execution of Design-Led Intervention for Social Good, Operation Compass
Presented by: Lisa Mercer, Assistant Professor and Graduate Coordinator of Graphic Design, University of Illinois School of Art + Design

Presentation date: 3/7/19
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Project nGage: The Feasibility and Efficacy of a Dyadic Social Support Intervention to Retain HIV Positive Youth Black Men in HIV Primary Care
Presented by: Alida Bouris, Associate Professor, University of Chicago, School of Social Administration

Presentation date: 4/4/19
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Dr. Bouris focuses on understanding the relationship between social context and adolescent health, with a particular emphasis on how parents and families can help prevent HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unplanned pregnancies among marginalized youth aged 10-24 years old. Her goal is to develop effective interventions that capitalize on the strengths of families and other supportive persons in the lives of young people. She is Co-Director of the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination (CCHE) and of the Behavioral, Social, and Implementation Sciences Core of the Third Coast Center for AIDS Research.

Community Data Science Approaches to Gang Violence Prevention
Presented by: Desmond Upton Patton, Associate Professor, Columbia University Social Work

Presentation date: 5/2/19

Dr. Patton focuses on community violence and social media, and the ways in which youth and young adults of color navigate violence in their communities and on social media platforms. His research utilizes qualitative and computational methods—e.g., interview-based studies, collaborative projects with data scientists—to examine how youth and young adults living in violent urban neighborhoods experience, navigate and respond to community violence in their neighborhood as well on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Leveraging Machine Learning Algorithms to Understand Technology Trends in Social Work (1985-2018): Analyzing 33 Years of Scholarly Text in Less than Seven Minutes
Presented by: Gaurav Sinha, PhD Student and Christopher Larrison, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Presentation date: 3/9/20

Opportunities and Challenges of Designing Socially Assistive Robots for Persons with Dementia
Presented by: Jenay M. Beer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Institute of Gerontology, College of Public Health; School of Social Work, University of Georgia

Presentation date: 11/5/20
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Declining cognitive abilities can have a tremendous impact on an older adult’s ability to age healthily and maintain a high quality of life. Cognitive training has been shown to improve neural plasticity and increase cognitive reserve, thus reducing the risk of dementia. Designing socially assistive robots (SAR) to facilitate user-tailored piano learning cognitive training presents a unique opportunity at improving access to cognitive training. This presentation will explore the feasibility and efficacy of using a SAR to provide a piano learning cognitive training intervention to older adults with mild cognitive impairment – including a discussion on considerations for design, ethics, and acceptance.

Artificial Intelligence and Social Work: Insights from Algorithms to the Field
Presented by: Eric Rice, PhD, Associate Professor and Co-Director of the USC Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society

Presentation date: 12/1/20
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Dr. Rice discusses his recent work in collaboration with computer scientists to improve HIV prevention interventions for youth experiencing homelessness. The talk discusses the interplay and co-evolution of algorithms and fieldwork over 4 years to develop and ultimately test the efficacy of a new AI-augmented intervention with more than 700 youth. Rice also discusses the complexities and opportunities of inter-disciplinary collaborations in the space of technology for social good.

How Social Workers Can Contribute to Fairness in AI
Presented by: Melanie Sage, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo School of Social Work

Presentation date: 2/2/21
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In this presentation, Dr. Sage offers an overview of her work exploring algorithm fairness regarding the use of machine learning and child welfare data. This work involves assessing which older youth in care receive which services, how services impact outcomes, and whether there are ways to use this data to improve fairness in service allocation through the use of algorithms. The National Science Foundation and Amazon jointly funded this work to identify ways to improve fairness and mitigate bias in machine learning. Dr. Sage is working with a team of computer scientists and other researchers to tackle this issue. She will discuss the ways that interdisciplinary collaborations can improve research in this area, their process for developing an ethics and values statement to guide their work, and the importance that social workers understand how algorithms work so that they know when to advocate for and against their use and assure that their agency stakeholders make informed decisions about the incorporation of machine learning in this work.

The Digital Divide and the Digital Mismatch: Reflections on the Barriers in the Use of Information Technology and to Overcome Inequality
Presented by: Dr. Jon Gant, Professor and Dean, North Carolina Central University, School of Library and Information Sciences

Presentation date: 4/15/21
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In this talk, Dr. Gant reflects on lessons learned from a research conducted at the University of Illinois Center for Digital Inclusion. Building on PrairieNet from the early 1990s, the arc of CDI’s mission from 2009 to 2018 spanned a portfolio of grants aimed to bring together faculty, students and staff from across campus to engage with communities and the public to: Build a University of Illinois led public- private partnership to build a next generation broadband network, Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B); Develop new models of digital and information literacy training in data science, digital fabrication; and, digital content production with the Illinois Extension Service; and Examine the social and economic impact of ICTs in research conducted globally. The talk provides strategies to help communities strengthen outcomes and improve the lives of everyone.

Can Marginalized Groups Use Social Media to Effect Political Change?
Presented by: Dr. Emmanuelle Richez, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Presentation date: 2/10/22
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Over the last decade, more and more marginalized groups have used social media to call attention to issues that matter to them, to gain popular support, and to establish a dialogue with political elites. Although many studies focus on how online mobilisation impacts marginalized groups, little scholarship exists that tries to measure the political change brought about by their cyber engagement. Using the Indigenous-led Idle No More movement at the federal level in Canada as a case-study, the presentation examines whether marginalized groups can use social media to effect political change. It shows that, ultimately, the Idle No More online protests increased the national salience of Indigenous issues temporarily, but without significantly influencing policy outcomes in that area.

Digitally Enabled Democracy? Challenges and Opportunities for Harnessing the Power of the Digital for Progressive Social Change and a Deeper Democracy
Presented by: Professor Cristina Flesher Fominaya, Aarhus University, Denmark

Presentation date: 3/11/22
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In this talk Dr. Fominaya provides some conceptual tools and examples to help activists think through the use of digital tools and the internet. She first discusses some of the key “divides” encountered in the digital sphere. She then discusses some of the challenges faced by activists trying to harness the power of the digital for progressive change, before providing some powerful examples of good practice and innovation.


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