Kelly Steelman PI of $299.6K NSF R-D Award to Empower Digital Citizens

Kelly Steelman

Dr. Kelly Steelman (CLS, CS/ICC-HCC) is principal investigator on a new $299,617 research and development grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The project is titled “EAGER: SAI: Illuminated Devices: A Sociotechnical Approach to Empowering Digital Citizens and Strengthening Digital.”

Steelman is an affiliated associate professor in the Computer Science department. Her co-PIs on on this potential two-year project are Computer Science faculty members Brianna Bettin, Leo Ureel, and Charles Wallace, all researchers in the ICC ‘s Computing Education Center (CompEd).

Project Abstract

Strengthening American Infrastructure (SAI) is an NSF Program seeking to stimulate human-centered fundamental and potentially transformative research that strengthens America’s infrastructure. Effective infrastructure provides a strong foundation for socioeconomic vitality and broad quality of life improvement. Strong, reliable, and effective infrastructure spurs private-sector innovation, grows the economy, creates jobs, makes public-sector service provision more efficient, strengthens communities, promotes equal opportunity, protects the natural environment, enhances national security, and fuels American leadership.

To achieve these goals requires expertise from across the science and engineering disciplines. SAI focuses on how knowledge of human reasoning and decision making, governance, and social and cultural processes enables the building and maintenance of effective infrastructure that improves lives and society and builds on advances in technology and engineering. Newcomers to our nation’s digital infrastructure need training and support. Community institutions like libraries can help digital learners, but COVID showed that progress is difficult without face-to-face access. This project aims to make the benefits of a community-based digital tutoring program available anywhere by having learners connect to tutors simply and directly through their digital devices, with available support at every step.

The project will develop a lightweight digital portal that offers the learner a direct connection to human tutors that will be accessible even to those with no previous experience with digital devices. These services will improve digital knowledge and skills, increase confidence, and decrease digital anxiety. The designed system will involve a lightweight, cross-platform digital portal that offers the learner a connection to human tutors. To allow personalized help, the portal will allow the tutor to see what the person is trying to do on the device. Learners will also be able to use the camera to show a tutor what they are looking at in order to receive help with other digital devices.

For the learner, all features will be designed in a way that reduces distraction and keeps the focus on learning. While the project will concentrate on direct tutor-learner interaction via the portal, the system will be designed to allow future AI-based automated supplements to human tutoring. The project team unites researchers in human factors psychology, sociology, and computer science with library and workforce development professionals who are on the front lines of helping citizens navigate information infrastructure. Development of the Illuminated system will follow a Design-Based Research approach, where test results from real users inform and drive new changes to the system. Testing will include feedback from a number of underserved digital groups: rural residents, older adults, and Native American communities.