According to Rob Kling, “Social informatics refers to the interdisciplinary study of the design, uses, and consequences of ICTs (Information and Communications Technology) that takes into account their interaction with institutional and cultural contexts.” (p. 6) It’s characterization is by the examined problems as opposed to theories or methods used in research studies. Social informatics research is broken up into a few segments.
Normative Orientation – refers to research aimed at recommending alternatives for those who design, implement, use or make policy about ICT’s. In earlier stages, research showed information systems were effectively utilized when those who worked with them regularly had a say in the design.
Analytical Orientation – refers to studies that develop theories about ICTs in institutional and cultural contexts or to empirical studies that are organized to contribute to this framework. With this area of research, comparisons were made using public schools in both university towns and cities. Public schools in university towns have access to technically skilled undergraduates and can use them for support through part-time jobs, internships or independent study courses. Using the same ICTs, they may be unworkable for public schools in cities where they may use inexpensive technical talent. The analytical approach to this problem is to provide resources for training, consulting and maintaining ICTs.
Critical Orientation – refers to examining ICTs from perspectives that do not automatically and uncritically accept the goals and beliefs of the groups that commission, design or implement specific ICTs. Examples of studies using critical orientation seem to come in the form of evaluating systems. One example explained was a law firm looking to automate coding of legal documents. Because the coding was more complex and needed human decision, the social informatician recommended designing information systems to help clerks with their jobs as opposed to replacing them. Another example used was creating a scheduling system for a surgical room. This system created conflicts with the scheduling of doctors and nurses when exceptions needed to be made.
Thinking through the divisions of research and study, in my simplest thoughts – shopping for a computer, it seems like ordering items off a menu. How much RAM, GB, what internal organs does this piece of equipment need? Set it up at home/in the office and we expect it to do everything we wanted it to do, and then some. Make things easier for us, create a system so bing, bang, boom, it does what we want it to. But from the first step of ordering the computer, did we understand what we wanted it to do in the first place? I think of the work I do in my office with graphics. If I didn’t have a say in the decisions to purchase my computer I could have ended up with a slow running computer that would take forever to run graphic programs. It is possible for someone to buy more of a computer than they need, or sometimes, not enough.
Why is it important? I believe when we accept the purpose of ICTs and not think they are the means to the end, maybe more of a connection tool. What purpose does it serve? How does it serve the needs of the organization or the individual. I look at myself and the experiences I am having as a student at Empire State College, Center for Distance Learning. Currently, I am taking 3 online courses and one course in the classroom at RPI. ESC is a perfect venue for my busy schedule. I am able to take courses online, which though some may snub their nose and think it’s not a true learning environment – think again! It is actually a bit harder. While it has many, many advantages, it also has some disadvantages. I’ll compare two art courses, one that I am taking at RPI, one that I took through ESC. The course that I took through ESC, was great, but how a downside as well. When doing a class presentation of a project or working in a group project, we rely on comments, feedback and contributions of others at their convenience during the select time frame. The course I’m taking at RPI, we sit in class together to go over the presentation, talk it out. When presenting, we have comments, critiques and suggestions that are much easier to work through. Balancing out the pros and cons, in my particular case, the pros far outweigh the cons in distance learning.
Kling, R., Rosenbaum, H., Sawyer, S. Understanding & Communicating Social Informatics: A Framework for Studying and Teaching the Human Contexts of Information and Communication Technologies. 2005. New Jersey: Information Today.