Economic Sustainability: Identifying Barriers and Opportunities for Building SocioTechnical Capital in Economically Vulnerable Communities

My latest research explores ways in which Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can improve economic mobility among economically distressed communities. I take two separate approaches in this research. First, I leverage contextual inquiry and interviews consisting of design probes and user scenarios. The goal is to understand the unique barriers and opportunities for ICTs to help communities build, maintain, and use social capital to improve their economic mobility through job location.

Grant: NSF EAGER Award
PI: Tawanna Dillahunt
Students: Jashanjit Kaur, Jonathan De Heus, Benjamin Jen

Education and Economic Sustainability: Understanding Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) As a Pathway to Employment for Low-Income Populations

In this project, we explore existing data from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at the University of Michigan to understand how individuals unable to afford a formal education perform in these courses as compared to those able to afford formal education. I plan to extend the results of the quantitative data and conduct semi-structured interviews to understand if and how MOOCs are being used to increase employment opportunities.

Grant: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation MOOCs Research Initiative grant
PI: Tawanna Dillahunt
Co-PI: Stephanie Teasley
Graduate Students: Bingxin Chen, Michelle Fiesta, Brian (Zengguang) Wang, Sandy Ng, Pablo Quinones

Environmental Sustainability: Understanding Energy Use and Power Relationships in Low-Income Communities

Socioeconomic factors play an important but largely hidden role in home-energy consumption. Most studies have targeted single-family, affluent households, and as a result, energy monitoring systems do not address the needs of renters and low-income individuals. Thirty-five percent of the U.S. population rent their homes (NMHC, 2012), and 32% of households earn less than $30k per year (U.S. Census, 2012). Though median energy use for home heating and cooling is the same as that in more affluent households, low-income households must spend a greater percentage of their incomeon energy (Bin, 2002). Renters lack full autonomy over their homes due to tenancy issues, and class and poverty issues affect the autonomy of individuals with respect to energy use. Exactly how autonomy and tenants’ relationships with other stakeholders affect their use of energy was not well understood, and details about energy use in low-income households were relatively unknown in HCI. My past and current work helps to fill this open area of research.