What We Are Doing

Here are some of the examples of the projects we are working on that directly or indirectly address various social issues.


Improving Access to Health and Wellness Information

Addressing Social Issues: Good Health and Well-being (SDG-3)
Lead Student: Yiwei Wang

People face a variety of difficulties when seeking information to fulfill their everyday goals. Challenges occur at every level, from finding a restaurant to looking for a house. Not locating information in a timely manner may have serious consequences. For example, a patient failing to find out if a treatment is covered by his/her insurance may end up with unaffordable medical bills, which may negatively affect his/her life financially and psychologically. We are interested in tackling the difficulties in people’s information seeking regarding these everyday issues through surveying, interviewing, and observing their information seeking activities. We aim to use these findings to help design and improve information systems and services to alleviate these barriers. Ultimately, we hope to enhance people’s health and well-being -- Goal 3 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals -- by improving access to information.


Creating Synergy with Searching and Learning

Addressing Social Issues: Good Health and Well-being (SDG-3); Education (SDG-4); Reduced Inequality (SDG-10)
Lead Student: Souvick Ghosh

This research includes using machine-learning approaches to assessing question quality. The work attempts to recognize poor quality questions and automatically modify them to satisfy the requirements of social Q&A forums. This work could be beneficial for non-native English speakers and would help them in framing good questions. This fits Goal 4 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (Quality Education), as well as Goal 10 (Reduced Inequality).

The work on Searching-as-Learning is also a step towards ensuring quality education for students searching information online. We are also working on the Detection of Fake News in Social Media. Fake news often disrupts the well-being of people consuming the information by creating a knowledge dimension that is untenable and untrue. Such knowledge could have an adverse effect on mental wellness. It could also have a negative influence people’s actions. Through proper detection of false information, we could also contribute to Goal 3 (Good Health and Well Being) of the UN’s SDGs.


Personalized Interventions and Support

Addressing Social Issues: Education (SDG-4)
Lead Student: Jiqun Liu

This research focuses on how to figure out users' needs, intentions, and problematic situations when searching for information. How to effectively deliver useful information and relevant knowledge online. This is related to Goal 4 of the UN Sustainable Goals: Quality Education, in the sense that delivering useful information and knowledge in different online contexts can help support knowledge acquisition and skills both directly and indirectly. This research can help ensure equal access to quality education and learning opportunities for different communities around the world.


Community Question-Answering

Addressing Social Issues: Education (SDG-4)
Lead Student: Manasa Rath

There is a huge amount of user-generated content on the Web, as found in Wikis, blogs, and online forums. People use such content for addressing their information needs in making everyday decisions, often without questioning the quality of the content. We lack a way to conceptualize and extract/evaluate the quality of such content, to identify the good from the bad. When it comes to an educational context, it is not good enough to identify the difference; we also need to provide students meaningful feedback about how and why content is good or bad. This research is concerned with the evaluation and assessment of the content generated by students in educational question-answering sites. Such evaluations are useful for students to make more educated judgments while using content from online spaces.

This project is relevant to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) -- Goal 4: Quality Education -- wherein policymakers ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. This research is critical for evaluating and teasing out the reasons that make content bad in educational question-answering sites, as well as providing a learning opportunity for students producing content in future, thereby preserving the quality of education present in digital spaces.


Creating Bias-Free Answers

Addressing Social Issues: Education (SDG-4)
Lead Student: Soumik Mandal

The fourth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly is Quality Education. Article 26 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, recognized that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” While the next half century saw drastic changes in the ways education is delivered, e.g., from the classroom to virtual (MOOC) settings, and from personalized to socialized (community question-answering sites to improve the reach of education to a wider population), the truth is we are way behind in achieving the quality aspect of the goal. Quality education, to this day, is scarce, accessible only to a select few, and skewed to one section of society. According to the most recent figures from the UN, more than half of the children not enrolled in school live in sub-Saharan Africa; approximately 103 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 percent of them are women. On top of that, recent phenomena, such as misinformation (e.g., fake news), and misperception in online information has put a question mark on the quality of education one can get from an online setting. This research looks at how we can eliminate doubts about online settings as a viable mode of education delivery by:

  1. Auto generating answers to questions to leverage the advantage of timeliness in online education; and
  2. Empowering the learner to make better decisions by providing more contextual information surrounding misinformation that leads to misperception in online environments.

Information technology is like a double-edged sword; wielded properly it has the potential to eliminate illiteracy, while misuse of it can damage society in a way no physical weapon can. We hope through this research we will be able to help ensure that information technology is used for the first cause, and not for the latter.


Reducing Barriers to Access Information

Addressing Social Issues: Education (SDG-4); Reduced Inequality (SDG-10)
Lead Student: Shawon Sarkar

No matter who we are, where we live or what we do, we need information of some kind almost every day to fulfill requirements in our lives. However, there are individual differences in how people seek and use information. Some people seek information that is easily accessible, and some people seek high-quality information. How information is acquired can be as important as the information itself. In a world in which computers, mobiles, and social media networks are increasingly omnipresent and embedded in our lives, the key to efficiently and successfully finding information lies not in the advances of technology but in our increased understanding of human interaction with information. Our mobile devices and fitness trackers are integral parts of our lives. These technologies have resulted in accelerating the amount, diversity, and complexity of information in virtually all aspects of human life.

We are researching how individuals need, seek, share and use information in different contexts, in all aspects of everyday personal and professional life. We are interested in what people do and/or think when they look for information. Thus, we aim to increase people's awareness and capability as they seek, use and understand information from various sources including computers, the Internet, books, family or friends. This work addresses and contributes to contemporary social issues, including access to Quality Education (Goal 4 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals) at all income levels, all races and genders, as well as the provision of technical awareness. These contributions aim to raise standards of living and to achieve environmental objectives, such as increased resource and energy-efficiency. These issues are all included in the United Nations' "17 Goals to Transform Our World."


Understanding and Helping Visually Impaired People

Addressing Social Issues: Reduced Inequality (SDG-10)
Lead Student: Shannon Tomlinson

Eleven of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN General Assembly explicitly mention disabilities or people with disabilities, and all 17 of them are relevant for ensuring that people with disabilities are included in policy and development. Information technology, specifically, is critical for people with disabilities. Technology is everywhere in our society, and having access to information has real-world consequences. For example, most job applications are online. We book flights and hotels online, go shopping, manage our bank accounts, and message our friends. Newspapers and magazines are available on our laptops and on our phones. For people who are blind or visually impaired, interacting with technology and accessing digital information is not so simple. There is software that allows them to listen to digital content, but it is not guaranteed that the information will be accessible or easy to use. This research looks at how visually impaired people interact with technology. We hope to identify patterns in the strategies people use to get the information they need and want. The goal of this research is to identify specific issues with current software and the way Web content is designed, with the long-term goal of making technology and the information it provides more accessible to visually impaired people. By focusing on this one group, we hope to contribute to the goals of the SDGs and the charge to “leave no one behind.”


Armed Conflict Analysis

Addressing Social Issues: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (SDG-16)
Lead Student: Jhanvi Virani

In a direct collaboration with the United Nations, we are creating various data analytics and data visualization models to understand how various armed conflicts around the world are taking place, the reasons behind them, and more importantly, what we can learn from them so we could prevent or mitigate such conflicts in the future. We have developed a data visualization platform that is created to revolutionize how we look at data pertaining to global armed conflict. Our clean, interactive visuals bring real-time data in formats that open the door to endless research explorations, conscientious diplomatic endeavors, and growing educational opportunities in understanding violent conflict patterns across the world.