Norman Makoto Su, an assistant professor of informatics at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has earned a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to develop the theories and designs needed to inform the development of data-driven technologies to support and share the knowledge and values of rural America.
Su’s research centers on understanding the intersection of subcultures and technology, and how subcultures deny or adopt technologies to support their identities and ways of living. When Su arrived at IU in 2014, he noticed the blend of rural communities surrounding the more urban setting of Bloomington and how the two vibrant subcultures interacted with one another. He believed that the rural and urban settings provided opportunities for technology that would allow a meaningful exchange of knowledge and cultural values.
“I’m very excited and honored to receive the CAREER award from the NSF,” Su said. “We often take an impoverished view of rural areas—declining employment, isolation, lack of broadband access—but rural areas have plenty of entrepreneurship, innovation, and expertise that urban areas depend on. They are also rich in terms of cultural history and traditions that many of us feel sympathy toward (e.g., sustainability, local communities). My research will develop design frameworks that support the voices of rural users and also destroy misconceptions about rural communities.”
Su’s project will focus on identifying the expertise and values of rural populations through ethnographic studies of small farmer and outdoor recreationalist subcultures. It will then use the results of those studies to employ participatory design activities for technology with rural and non-rural members of the subcultures to create data-driven designs. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a theoretical framework that will offer guidelines on designing technologies for rural populations.
“Many of the apps and systems we use come from technology hubs like Silicon Valley whose target users live in urban or suburban areas. But, we need to make sure rural users are part of the design process,” Su said. “I enjoy having face-to-face access to subcultures, to really engage and see their challenges and innovations. Broadly speaking, I want to play a part in going beyond the rural-urban divide rhetoric that has become increasingly politicized.”
With collaborators in his Authentic User Experience Lab, Su plans on engaging with organizations such as the IU Rural Center for Engagement, the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to conduct fieldwork examining how small farmer and outdoor recreationalists use data to support their values and practices.
“Norman’s novel approach to this interesting area of study certainly will make an impact on real lives,” said Raj Acharya, dean of SICE. “Our faculty play an important role in exploring the boundaries of how technology changes the way people live, and Norman’s CAREER grant is another tangible signal that SICE is leading the way in the ever-expanding world of human-computer interaction.”