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Big Data in Environment and Human Health  

Lora Fleming, Niccolò Tempini, Harriet Gordon-Brown, Gordon L. Nichols, Christophe Sarran, Paolo Vineis, Giovanni Leonardi, Brian Golding, Andy Haines, Anthony Kessel, Virginia Murray, Michael Depledge, and Sabina Leonelli

Big data refers to large, complex, potentially linkable data from diverse sources, ranging from the genome and social media, to individual health information and the contributions of citizen science monitoring, to large-scale long-term oceanographic and climate modeling and its processing in innovative and integrated “data mashups.” Over the past few decades, thanks to the rapid expansion of computer technology, there has been a growing appreciation for the potential of big data in environment and human health research. The promise of big data mashups in environment and human health includes the ability to truly explore and understand the “wicked environment and health problems” of the 21st century, from tracking the global spread of the Zika and Ebola virus epidemics to modeling future climate change impacts and adaptation at the city or national level. Other opportunities include the possibility of identifying environment and health hot spots (i.e., locations where people and/or places are at particular risk), where innovative interventions can be designed and evaluated to prevent or adapt to climate and other environmental change over the long term with potential (co-) benefits for health; and of locating and filling gaps in existing knowledge of relevant linkages between environmental change and human health. There is the potential for the increasing control of personal data (both access to and generation of these data), benefits to health and the environment (e.g., from smart homes and cities), and opportunities to contribute via citizen science research and share information locally and globally. At the same time, there are challenges inherent with big data and data mashups, particularly in the environment and human health arena. Environment and health represent very diverse scientific areas with different research cultures, ethos, languages, and expertise. Equally diverse are the types of data involved (including time and spatial scales, and different types of modeled data), often with no standardization of the data to allow easy linkage beyond time and space variables, as data types are mostly shaped by the needs of the communities where they originated and have been used. Furthermore, these “secondary data” (i.e., data re-used in research) are often not even originated for this purpose, a particularly relevant distinction in the context of routine health data re-use. And the ways in which the research communities in health and environmental sciences approach data analysis and synthesis, as well as statistical and mathematical modeling, are widely different. There is a lack of trained personnel who can span these interdisciplinary divides or who have the necessary expertise in the techniques that make adequate bridging possible, such as software development, big data management and storage, and data analyses. Moreover, health data have unique challenges due to the need to maintain confidentiality and data privacy for the individuals or groups being studied, to evaluate the implications of shared information for the communities affected by research and big data, and to resolve the long-standing issues of intellectual property and data ownership occurring throughout the environment and health fields. As with other areas of big data, the new “digital data divide” is growing, where some researchers and research groups, or corporations and governments, have the access to data and computing resources while others do not, even as citizen participation in research initiatives is increasing. Finally with the exception of some business-related activities, funding, especially with the aim of encouraging the sustainability and accessibility of big data resources (from personnel to hardware), is currently inadequate; there is widespread disagreement over what business models can support long-term maintenance of data infrastructures, and those that exist now are often unable to deal with the complexity and resource-intensive nature of maintaining and updating these tools. Nevertheless, researchers, policy makers, funders, governments, the media, and members of the general public are increasingly recognizing the innovation and creativity potential of big data in environment and health and many other areas. This can be seen in how the relatively new and powerful movement of Open Data is being crystalized into science policy and funding guidelines. Some of the challenges and opportunities, as well as some salient examples, of the potential of big data and big data mashup applications to environment and human health research are discussed.

Article

Social Justice Leadership, Equity, and the Digital Divide  

Anthony H. Normore and Antonia Issa Lahera

To commit to Brown v. Board of Education’s legacy of advancing social justice and democracy, it is necessary to look at practices (i.e., the types of discourse, experiences, processes, and structures) that promote the development and support of school leaders committed to social justice, equity, access, and diversity. Leadership preparation programs need to provide the knowledge base for aspiring school leaders to understand how they ought to respond to the changing political, moral, and social landscapes in which they live and work. Of equal importance is the curricular focus on interrelating social justice, democracy, equity, and diversity so that aspiring school leaders can identify practices that explicitly and implicitly deter social progress. Furthermore, these school leaders ought to be able to develop a knowledge base on how to respond to these injustices in their school leadership practices. As leadership development and preparation program personnel prepare new leaders, the discourse of social justice and marginalization is an important objective in the curriculum of preparation programs. Personnel in leadership programs have an opportunity to take part in discourse about how to shape the quality of leaders they produce for the good of society. To this end, researchers offer critical insights into the types of discourse, experiences, processes, and structures that promote the development and support of contemporary principals committed to social justice and democratic principles. Included in the research discussion are the tenets of social justice leadership, democracy, diversity and the digital divide, digital access, and digital equity.

Article

The Preservation of African Websites as Historical Sources  

Marion Frank-Wilson

The advent of the World Wide Web has changed traditional ways of communicating research and has increased opportunities for authors from the global South to disseminate knowledge, thus bypassing the “gate-keeping” system in the traditional peer-reviewed journal literature of the global North. Increasingly, content from and about Africa is produced and disseminated on the web. Content is all-encompassing and ranges from cultural and artistic creations to political as well as economic information and government publications and statistics. The web makes it possible not only to produce knowledge but also to provide public access to and increase interaction with information and historical sources. While the potential of the web to democratize knowledge production was recognized by librarians, archivists, and researchers on Africa early on, there is also an awareness that the web as medium for historical research may in fact deepen the digital divide and perpetuate longstanding inequalities, linking it to debates about the politics of archiving and related questions of cultural imperialism. With the average age of a website estimated at seventy-five days, there is agreement among researchers and archivists that important web content is disappearing every day, and that future historical research depends on efforts to preserve and archive websites now. Nevertheless, while analyses and discussions about the importance of preserving African web content have emerged in the literature since the early 2000s, actual efforts to preserve and archive African web contents as historical resources have been relatively few and sporadic. Rather than relying on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which automatically preserves websites through a web crawler but that cannot be depended on to archive every hyperlink or even every subpage or new version of existing pages, libraries and archives use the Internet Archive’s subscription-based tool Archive-It as a way to capture web content at a selective, deep, subpage level. Creating such curated, archived digital collections, however, connects web archiving with concerns and issues raised in the scholarly literature about the politics of archiving and who ultimately has the right to decide which websites will be preserved as part of a country’s digital history. Moreover, specific characteristics of the web as a medium pose additional, more practical challenges for its use in historical research. Issues related to funding, scalability, availability of metadata, and archival documentation, which would include information about functionality, website versions, dead links, provenance, as well as contextual information, are all factors that have yet to be addressed when creating web archives. The need to develop practices, policies, and documentation to guide web archiving has therefore been stressed by both archivists and historians. Ultimately, the preservation of African websites for historical research can best be accomplished collaboratively, with the involvement of both archivists and historians as well as library and professional associations and, most importantly, strong partnerships with stakeholders from the African continent.

Article

Social Media and Elections in Africa  

Iginio Gagliardone

The analysis of the diffusion of social media in Africa and its relevance for politics has been caught in a paradox. On the one hand, social media have been saluted for their newness and for their ability, especially in connection with increasingly accessible portable tools such as mobile phones, to offer a level playing field for individuals to participate in politics and speak to power. On the other hand, this very enthusiasm has evoked relatively tired tropes used to frame the advent of other “new” technologies in the past, stressing what they could do to Africa, rather than exploring what they are doing in Africa. Early research on the relationship between social media and elections in Africa has tended to adopt normative frameworks adapted from the analysis of electoral contests in the Global North, presupposing unfettered citizens using social media to root for their leaders or demand accountability. A more recent wave of empirically grounded studies has embraced a greater conceptual and methodological pluralism, offering more space to analyze the contradictions in how social media are used and abused: how humor can be turned into a powerful tool to contest a type of power that appears overwhelming; or how armies of professional users have exploited people’s credulity of new media as “freer” from power to actually support partisan agenda. Interestingly, this latter approach has brought to light phenomena that have only recently caught global attention, such as the role of “fake news” and misinformation in electoral contests, but have played a determinant role in African politics for at least a decade.

Article

Adopting the Internet in Urban China  

Jianbin Jin, Xiaoxiao Cheng, Jing Yang, and Hui Wang

This century is marked by a burgeoning information society around the globe; accordingly, the adoption and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in general and the Internet in particular have been one of the most fruitful domains in the broader field of communication sciences. The observed persistent academic interest can, to a large extent, be attributed to the polymorphic nature of ICTs of various modalities, functioning as ICTs technology clusters and/or meta operating systems that accommodate numerous technologies, functions and applications. Beyond that, ICTs or Internet adoption is reflective of a social process of development, during which the informational mode of development is interwoven with other social systems and varies across diverse social settings. Most existing empirical research and theoretical approaches have overwhelmingly focused on the Internet adoption in developed economies, but in-depth investigations on the developing economies such as China are scarce, if any. Compared to most developed countries, China’s informatization-urbanization model marks a unique path of modernization, which further provides a huge opportunity to build momentum for the rapid and large-scale Internet adoption in urban China. In order to present a whole-range holistic portrait of China’s Internet development, the intrinsic logics and social outcomes of China’s informatization-urbanization model necessitate in-depth investigations.

Article

Technology: Overview  

Dick Schoech

Information technology (IT), which encompasses tools and prescribed actions, has begun to substantially impact social work, given 50 years of impressive developments. This entry looks at IT trends and their impact on society and social work. The trends covered concern rapid IT development, connectivity, globalization and outsourcing, intelligent applications and devices, centralization and distribution of power and control, and distance education. Issues and challenges for social work are also discussed.

Article

Technology in Macro Social Work Practice  

John G. McNutt and Lauri Goldkind

Information and communication technology has become a major force in society, the social welfare system, and the social work profession. This entry examines the growth of technology and its application to social work and society. It looks at the role of technology and places an emphasis on administrative/organizational, community, and policy practice. It also considers the larger context of the global information society. It additionally explores the impact of technology on the profession and professional education.