‘Civic Computing’ workshop leads an unlikely group of youth to help advance metro city’s vision

Defining community in the digital age is often a nuanced exercise that involves looking at social connections far beyond where one works and lives. But even in an age of tweets, texts, and video chats, young people are willing to use their voice to support and shape the communities in which they live. 

One such group of College Park students—who are completing their high school credits at The Bridge Academy—recently participated in the Georgia Tech design[ED] Lab workshop where they reviewed College Park’s 20-year Comprehensive Plan (2011 – 2031) to identify community issues and create computing technology solutions that could enhance community engagement and increase career opportunities for young people. The students chose to address three key issues from the city’s policy guide: perception of crime, decreasing standardized test scores, and impact of crime on youth.

“For six weeks, the students were exposed to a design-thinking process and tools for creating user-focused technology that gave them an understanding of how to frame and tackle challenges within their community,” says Monet Spells, graduate student in the Master of Science in Human-Computer Interaction program and workshop organizer.

Students in the program brainstormed solutions, iterated on the prototypes, and critiqued their peers’ work to come up with three viable technology concepts. These concepts were displayed in February at a special event open to the public at the Museum of Design Atlanta. 

“Giving students an authentic opportunity to present their work—such as at the MODA public exhibit—acts as a motivation for students to engage with learning, take ownership of their projects, and to see their efforts pay off,” says Betsy DiSalvo, assistant professor in Interactive Computing and Spells’ advisor. 

Results included: 

  • A physical prototype and supporting mobile application wireframe to change the perception of crime for the benefit of College Park citizens and businesses by highlighting positive things happening in the community.
  • A customized test preparation system, using hip-hop music to motivate and prepare students to increase standardized test scores, which could otherwise limit post-secondary and future opportunities.
  • A social network to address the impact of crime on College Park youth, by providing tips for resisting peer pressure, sharing community events, and facilitating a healthy relationship with law enforcement.

“It was very important that the students' solutions addressed practical and verified problems in the community,” says Spells. “The College Park Comprehensive Plan allowed us to pursue validated, researched, high-level problem spaces that the community’s elected officials are seeking to address over the next 20 years.”

Spells says the lab also aimed to expose underrepresented minorities to design-thinking as a method to solve important problems and empower young people with the tools to make a difference and inspire change. For example, some students on their own accord are learning the technical skills required to pursue their ideas beyond the workshop by refining their designs and apps.

“The public exhibit brought the work of these young people and their insights about the city to the attention of city council members, who have invited the students to present their ideas in other public forums,” says DiSalvo.

Spells, who will graduate in May, is part of the Culture and Technology Lab at Georgia Tech, directed by DiSalvo, which aims to understand how culture impacts people’s practices with technology and designing new learning interventions with these understandings. Spells was also named the GVU Center’s inaugural Distinguished Master’s Student this academic year for her work with underrepresented minorities and women in technology-enhanced dance performance.

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  • College Park students at MODA with MS HCI student Monet Spells

  • Monet Spells (MS HCI sudent)

  • Betsy DiSalvo - Compressed

For More Information Contact

Joshua Preston
GVU Center and College of Computing