Harnessing Technology for Social Good Lecture Series 2020-2021

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The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Social Work is holding its 2nd year-long lecture series designed to meet the profession’s grand challenge of harnessing technology for social good.

The American Academy for Social Work and Social Welfare spearheaded the Grand Challenges of Social Work, representing 12 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 is designed to present innovative applications of technology powered by science in order to expand new opportunities and collaborations for reaching more people with greater impact on society’s most vexing social problems.

This year we are holding this lecture series on Zoom. Registration is required. These events are free and open to the public.


Opportunities and Challenges of Designing Socially Assistive Robots for Persons with Dementia

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November 5th, 2020 | 12 p.m. CST

Speaker: Jenay M. Beer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Institute of Gerontology,
College of Public Health; School of Social Work, University of Georgia

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.

Dr. Jenay Beer is an assistant professor at the University of Georgia. She is a faculty member in the Institute of Gerontology, with a dual appointment in the College of Public Health and the School of Social Work. Dr. Beer is an engineering psychologist by training, with an interdisciplinary background and experience in usability, technology design, psychology, and gerontology. Her research program is a mix of social science and technology implementation to investigate technology applications that promote health and well-being for older adults, particularly those with, or at risk for, dementia. Our ever-growing older population is living in a world where technological advances are shaping healthcare management, aging-in-place, and access to cutting-edge interventions. Dr. Beer studies how these technologies must be usable, accepted, and readily adopted by the older population. With over 60 published peer-reviewed journal and proceedings manuscripts, Dr. Beer’s work focuses on human-robot interaction, telehealth, and technology acceptance/adoption. She has evaluated technology supports and interventions ranging from web-applications to advanced robotics. In 2019, Dr. Beer was selected as one of two inaugural UGA Innovation Fellows where she received tailored mentorship and NSF iCorps training to learn how to translate research projects into products on the market. In 2019, she also became the Co-Director of the Cognitive Aging Research and Education (CARE) Center, an interdisciplinary hub designated for dementia diagnosis, (tele)care, clinical research, and education for rural Georgians.

REGISTER FOR 11/5/20


Artificial Intelligence and Social Work: Insights from Algorithms to the Field

Eric Rice imageDecember 1st, 2020 | 12 p.m. CST

Speaker: Eric Rice, PhD, Associate Professor and Co-Director of the USC Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society

Dr. Rice will be discussing his recent work in collaboration with computer scientists to improve HIV prevention interventions for youth experiencing homelessness. The talk will discuss 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 will also discuss the complexities and opportunities of inter-disciplinary collaborations in the space of technology for social good.

Eric Rice is an associate professor and the founding co-director of the USC Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society, a joint venture of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Rice received a BA from the University of Chicago, and an MA and PhD in Sociology from Stanford University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined the USC faculty in 2009. He specializes in social network science and theory, as well as community-based research. His primary focus is on youth experiencing homelessness and how issues of social network influence may affect risk-taking behaviors and resilience. For several years he has been working with colleagues in computer science to merge social work science and AI, seeking novel solutions to major social problems such as homelessness and HIV. In 2018, with Milnd Tambe, he published the book, “AI and Social Work” through Cambridge University Press. Rice is the author of more than 150 peer-reviewed articles in such publications as the American Journal of Public Health, the Journal of Adolescent Health, Pediatrics, and Child Development. He is the recipient of grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the California HIV/AIDS Research Program, the Army Research Office, the Hilton Foundation and other agencies. Since 2002 he has worked closely with homeless youth providers in Los Angeles and many other communities across the country.

REGISTER FOR 12/1/20