I had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Association for Information Science (CAIS) 2017 Conference in Toronto this week. I attended a session entitled “Interactions with Technology” at this conference. At first glance one might think that a session with this title would be focused on technology. The three speakers in this session spoke on very different topics, but the shared theme could just as accurately be described as empowerment as technology.
The first presentation was “Why Do You Make Things?” Question Prompts as a Tool to Support Mindful Making in Library Maker Spaces for Teens by Leanne Bowler. This presentation focused on how to encourage teens to think critically about what they create in maker spaces. The researchers wanted to know how those who design and run maker spaces can help young people to think creatively, critically, metacognitively and with self-awareness about the act of making and the artifacts that they make. They encourage critical thinking through question prompts that address issues such as “Can I let myself make a mistake?” and significantly, how will what you create impact others or society at large. This kind of thinking moves maker spaces away from just skills development projects to spaces for unstructured learning where teens learn how to think critically, creatively, and to consider the impact that their creations may have on others.
The second presentation was A Preliminary Inquiry Into the Information Experiences of Canada’s Wireless Consumers by Mary Cavanagh. This presentation looked at the information needs and information seeking experiences of telecommunication consumers. Mobile phones are ubiquitous and so are the problems that consumers have experienced with the telecommunications providers. The researchers in this study looked at whether consumers are receiving the information that the need to make informed decisions and are receiving the information that telecommunications providers are required to disclose. They discussed issues of trust, consumer expectations, and consumer protections.
The third presentation was The Legal Information Needs of Women Who Experience Online Harassment by Jocelyn McKay and Victoria James. This presentation looked at when and how women experience harassment online and what they do in response to this harassment.
All of these presentations described pilot work, so as these projects continue even more insights should be made available. What these studies do reveal is that better information can help to offset imbalances in power or situations in which individuals feel their actions are restricted. Whether it is helping teens to think more critically about making – and feel more comfortable about making mistakes while creating objects; helping telecom customers get the information they need; or women get the information they need to respond to online harassment, these presentations show how information scientists are working to answer questions of relevance to society.