Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Using a Community Psychology Framework to Address the Digital Divide

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice
November, 2014

Brittney Cofield-Poole, North Carolina State University
Dawn X. Henderson, Winston-Salem State University

        A major goal of THEory into ACTion is to share innovations in community practice.  Nothing speaks innovation louder than advancements in technology over the past ten years (e.g., Google Glass, iPhone6, High Definition Television, etc.).  However, advancement alone is not indicative of access.  In fact, there is a digital divide across the world between individuals who have access to electronic technology (e.g., internet) and those who do not. According to Norris (2001), the digital divide encompasses three dimensions: 1) the global divide indicates disparities in Internet access between industrialized and developing countries; 2) the social divide indicates disparities between affluent and impoverished communities within these countries; and 3) the democratic divide indicates disparities between those who do and do not use digital resources to engage and participate in public life.  

        Developing countries and economically disadvantaged communities are faced with the challenge of accessing technologies and moving toward digital literacy. By improving digital literacy and resources, individuals can be empowered to access information and use technologies to address a variety of issues faced within their communities.

        For many citizens, accessing technologies and moving toward digital literacy can be challenging and difficult to navigate.  Programs that address the “digital divide” are needed, specifically those that provide technology access through outreach and education.  Responding to this need, Raleigh Digital Connectors is an initiative developed by the City of Raleigh (North Carolina) to increase youths’ digital literacy. The program is nationally renowned and provides “technology training and mentoring for youth, ages 14-21. The program offers young people a chance to expand 21st century technology skills, professional life skills, participation in open data projects, exploration of career pathways, and serve their communities” (Raleigh Digital Connectors, 2014).  Brittney Cofield-Poole, a doctoral student in Psychology in the Public Interest Program at North Carolina State University, is using her training in community psychology to drive this effort forward.  

        Cofield-Poole serves as the program’s Community Outreach Support Specialist and has been integral in working with Raleigh’s IT Department in conducting training for partnering organizations and developing and implementing evaluation. Competencies associated with empowerment, group processes, and community leadership are vital in her role and shape how she works with community partners, staff, and youth.  Not only does she develop programmatic evaluations that examine youth as civic participants, but she also designs interactive classroom activities that aim to increase students’ awareness as global citizens and engagement in service-learning projects. 

        For instance, youth are engaged in technology centered service-learning projects such as refurbishing computers for families in need and conducting digital literacy trainings in communities with limited technological capital.  She also works with youth in implementing the curriculum, which plays an important role in increasing youths’ knowledge of technology as a catalyst for promoting personal and economic success. Youth are engaged in discussions around the relationship between socio-economic status and access to technology and begin to see that there is value in technology access beyond a recreational capacity. 

        Cofield-Poole is a member of a small (three-person) IT team; however, each individual brings a unique perspective and serves as a champion for using technology in improving communities. The program manager focuses on the big picture of program sustainability, the instructor concentrates on class dynamics that promote technology relevancy, and Cofield-Poole brings a research-grounded toolkit that supports all facets of the program’s evolution.  In particular, she played an important role in developing a curriculum that was based on evidence-based models. Moreover, her previous experience in community-based participatory research and civic engagement assists the program in creating avenues that bolster youth as change agents and not simply passive recipients of afterschool services.   

        Using community psychology as a framework, Cofield-Poole embeds learning technology within concepts of ethics, the socio-ecological model, and social structure dynamics. This framework guides curriculum activities and trainings with other youth-serving departments within the city.  For example, when working with youth and other staff, a socio-ecological model is used to understand information dissemination across multiple systems.  Through discussions with youth and partners, everyone can envision how civic innovation and technology serve as useful tools in community development.  Above all, putting youth at the center of digital literacy and empowering them to go within their communities to develop projects creates a reciprocal process between youth and their contexts. 

        The values of community psychology and training also engender the use of multiple perspectives and strong research skills that incorporate both quantitative and qualitative methods in designing evaluation. To examine impact, the evaluation plan includes pre/post programmatic surveys and a mid-program focus group with youth.  Data collection is implemented at various phases of the project to examine the impact of participation on an individual level as well as to receive feedback [from stakeholders] to improve learning modules, program structure, and community integration.  

        There are challenges associated with transitioning from graduate training to the real world. Coursework and hypothetically-focused research papers do not provide the proper hands-on learning experience that tangible community work can give.   Cofield-Poole, for instance, faces the challenge of translating theory into practice and balancing community psychology principles and values within a government setting.  Often administrative structures can create barriers that make program expansion difficult to achieve.  For one example, engaging in systems change with bureaucratic limitations and in socio-political contexts requires a unique skill set and savvy to navigate. There are also tensions when one has to justify why community-oriented initiatives are worth the investment. By designing and implementing evaluation, Cofield-Poole aims to produce evidence that demonstrates the program is working. Through the evaluation plan, feedback loops have been created and have illustrated youth gains from participation in Raleigh Digital Connectors across a variety of outcomes.  

        The inclusion of a community psychology framework enhances the ways in which the program integrates youth, their experiences, and that of their contexts. Accordingly, empowering youth, strengthening community connections, and having a solid foundation in methodology are important in the program’s efforts in promoting digital literacy and addressing the digital divide.  

Works Cited:

Norris, P. (2001). Digital divide: Civic engagement, information poverty, and the Internet worldwide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press

This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Advances in Psychological Research on ME/CFS: Turning Theory into Action

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice 
October, 2014

Taylor Thorpe and Kelly O’Connor
Center for Community Research
DePaul University

        Turning theory into action is essential within the field of Community Psychology. For those of us focused on macro-level empowerment and social change, demonstrating the practical effectiveness of research findings in the field is crucial. Under the direction of Dr. Leonard Jason, DePaul University’s Center for Community Research currently hosts a number of projects exemplifying theory in action. One research focus of the Center is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS).
        ME/CFS is currently a hot topic among researchers and physicians. The name “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” has led to many negative connotations, and in turn research suffered due to lack of funding and disbelief in the reality of the illness. Patients assert, and research supports, that fatigue is only one of many debilitating symptoms associated with this illness. Post-exertional malaise (feeling worse after exertion), memory and attention problems, sleep dysfunction, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and sore throat are all symptoms uniquely characteristic to ME/CFS. Further, the name “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” gives the impression that this illness is not to be taken seriously, making way for the colloquial reference to this condition as the “yuppie-flu” by some medical professionals – that is, everyone gets fatigued at some point or another, so what makes this patient group different from others? Currently, many efforts are being put forth to change the name so as to avoid downplaying and insulting the everyday reality of the patient community.
        The cause of the illness is not yet definitively known. Research suggests that mold may be one of the possible pathways to developing ME/CFS. Other research suggests viral infections lead to the development of this illness. At the Center for Community Research, one of our current NIH-funded studies, A Prospective Health Study of CFS Following Infectious Mononucleosis in College Students, aims to identify possible risk factors and biomarkers that predispose college students to develop CFS.
        Previous studies have assessed the prevalence of ME/CFS following infectious mononucleosis (IM), finding that 12% of those who contracted IM develop ME/CFS at 6 months. The current study aims to expand on these findings by comparing baseline data to data collected from students after the development of IM and ME/CFS at 6 and 12 months. Results from this study will provide information on the risk factors (psychological and physiological) and development of ME/CFS in college students.
        This study is an excellent example of theory in action in that the results hold implications for ME/CFS prevention and treatment.  Committing time to exploring possible physiological causes and trajectories of ME/CFS first validates the experiences and testimony of patients. It also contributes to the case definition of ME/CFS, which thereby debunks myths and negative connotations associated with the illness (i.e., that it is not a real or serious illness). By assessing biomarkers, symptoms, possible risk factors, and causes associated with ME/CFS, the legitimacy of the illness is established and steps towards awareness, prevention and treatment are made.
        Additionally, ME/CFS research has traditionally gathered data from patients within clinics or physician-referred patients, samples of which have been predominantly white, middle-class women. This sampling bias has further encouraged the stigma towards ME/CFS and the use of the nickname “yuppie flu.” In the 1990’s, Dr. Jason and his colleagues conducted a study to determine the prevalence of ME/CFS among adults using a community-based sample and found that despite common misconceptions of the patient population, ME/CFS actually occurs more frequently among minority populations. Other ME/CFS research using community-based samples has yielded similar results. Under-served populations are less likely to have access to or seek out adequate health care, which may explain why they have been under-represented in previous research on physician or clinic-referred samples of patients with ME/CFS. Evidence provided by previous research suggests community-based samples are critical for obtaining unbiased results with higher external validity and may shed light on the needs of underserved populations.

Putting this theory into action, Pediatric Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in a Community-Based Sample, another NIH-funded study being conducted at the Center for Community Research, aims to determine the prevalence of ME/CFS in youth ages 5-17 from a demographically diverse, unbiased sample of community members. This is the first pediatric ME/CFS study to utilize community-based sampling methods.
        Another unique aspect of this study is that it is multi-dimensional, gathering information on children’s mental and physical health from assessments by psychologists, physicians, the parent/guardian, and the child, as well as from objective data obtained from an actigraph monitor that measures their activity level over a period of 24-hours. A common misconception about ME/CFS is that its origin is psychological. Patient communities often express their distaste towards this assumption, explaining it makes them feel like their illness is being discounted or that people don’t believe their illness is real – that if they really wanted to be more active, they could be if they just went to therapy. By incorporating a psychological assessment into participant assessment, we are able to show that the existence of pediatric ME/CFS is not concurrent with psychological disorders.
        This study is a collaboration with Lurie Children’s Hospital, which allows for a full physical exam to be conducted on the child by a physician. This part of the study includes a blood draw, urine collection, a saliva test, and a heart rate and blood pressure procedure that measures orthostatic intolerance. The blood, urine, and saliva samples are analyzed to determine whether there are any issues with their thyroid, iron level, organ health, blood sugar, and other common health issues that may cause symptoms similar to ME/CFS. This in-depth examination of a child’s physical health further adds to this study’s uniqueness because it rules out any exclusionary health conditions.
        In a research area that has been cluttered with biased sampling methods, stigma towards patients and the illness itself, confusion among doctors and researchers due to the use of multiple case definitions, and a longstanding chasm between patients and doctors on the origin and treatment of ME/CFS, the studies conducted at the Center for Community Research aim to be unbiased, methodologically sound, and to produce valid and reliable results that continuously exemplify theory into action.

    This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and inquiries are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Our Experience Transforming THEory into ACTion as early-career community psychologists

by Yolonda Williams, Ph.D. and Rachel L. Jantke, M.A.

Following text by Yolonda Williams, Ph.D.

      When you ask most community psychologist about their research areas or topics of interest, many of them can share in great details about a specific topic(s) that they are most passionate about. Their research interests are usually varied across an assortment of disciplines such as financial literacy, PTSD among veterans, education reforms, health disparities within marginalized communities or disadvantage populations, etc. The point is most community psychologist will always maintain their research interest of choice. However, I believe that I differ in that perspective due to my lack of commitment to one specific research area. Instead, my over-arching goal is to create positive change within various forms of capacity (i.e., communities, workplace environments, nonprofit organizations, school, etc.).
  During my doctoral studies at National Louis University, I learned how to apply collaborative research and action into various theoretical frameworks in an effort to create positive change. Since graduating in 2012 with my PhD in community psychology, I have developed a sincere appreciation of the versatility that community psychology offers students. This field provides a framework that allows me to develop and enhance various skills such as consulting, program evaluation, and community organizing in a broader sense. My skill sets are not only applicable in communities’ settings, but in organizations, government agencies and school settings as well. In addition, community psychology also empowers me to embrace my lack of interest to one specific area and appreciate my desire to create positive change in an array of capacities even more.
  Currently, I work at DePaul University’s Center for Community Research as a Project Director, under the direction of Dr. Leonard A. Jason. My duties include managing a large scale NIH-funded longitudinal prospective study examining chronic fatigue syndrome following infectious mononucleosis in college students. This prospective study is the first of its kind because it follows the trajectory of subjects from a baseline healthy status and is also designed to collect pre-illness data to examine the psychological and biological factors that would cause college students to develop chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) following an onset of mono. The pathophysiological underpinnings of the development of chronic fatigue syndrome are poorly understood. Therefore, identifying risk factors that predispose patients to develop CFS may help uncover the underlying mechanisms.
      Several studies have examined the relationship between infectious mononucleosis (IM) and the development of CFS. However, it is unclear which psychological and biological variables are potential risks factors contributing to the development of CFS following IM because few prospective studies have collected baseline data before the onset of IM.

Following text by Rachel L. Jantke, M.A.

      Upon completion of my B.A. in Psychology, my intention was to advance through graduate school and become a clinical psychologist.  It was while earning my M.A. in Clinical Psychology that I realized the field of community psychology would afford the possibility of influencing macro-level change, and so I shifted my academic focus to Community Psychology doctoral programs.
  During my doctoral studies at National Louis University in Chicago, IL , I was able to apply program evaluation theories by working with two community-based non-profit organizations. The nature of this work allowed me to utilize the community psychology theories as a vehicle to write grant applications, create logic models, develop evaluation tools, and complete a comprehensive consultation for a community organization.  In addition, my dissertation is a program evaluation piece examining the impact of an in-school program on elementary school students, and relies on theories of empowerment and sense of community as contributing factors in the academic success of urban youth.  I am broadly interested in research methodology, study design, and program evaluation, which can instead be applied to a range of topic areas.
  Concurrently, I serve as a Project Director at DePaul University’s Center for Community Research in Chicago, IL, under the direction of Dr. Leonard A. Jason, where I am responsible for managing a 5-year NIH-funded epidemiological study titled Pediatric Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in a Community-Based Sample.  This study is the first of its kind to examine prevalence rates of CFS among children, and utilizes a variety of approaches to generate a stratified random sample, including community visits to involve participants.
      The first generation of adult chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) prevalence studies recruited samples from treatment settings and concluded that patients with CFS affected primarily Caucasian, middle- to- high-income groups, and this notion led to the inappropriate attribution of CFS being a Yuppie flu illness. Almost all we know about pediatric CFS is based on patients from primary and tertiary care settings, and these youth might not be representative of pediatric CFS in the general population. Biased sampling methods to identify pediatric cases of CFS have impeded efforts to understand the true prevalence of this illness as well as the nature of the condition, similar to what occurred with the first generation of adult CFS epidemiologic studies.
      The present study will determine the prevalence of pediatric CFS by studying a community based, demographically diverse sample of participants, unbiased by illness, help-seeking behaviors, or differential access to the health care system. Major strengths of this project are the diversity of the population, identification of cases from the community, and comparing these samples with community controls. This study is utilizing a community-based sample, and will determine the relative frequency of CFS among various groups (e.g., different age groups, gen-ders, racial/ethnic groups).


Sunday, November 2, 2014

2015 SCRA Biennial: Call for Proposals is Now Open!

Sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Lowell and hosted by its Graduate Program in Community Social Psychology, the 15th Biennial Conference of the Society for Community Research and Action is taking place from June 25 to 28, 2015.

The Call for Proposals is now open and closes on Monday December 15, 2014 at 11:55 p.m. EST.

From the Biennial Webpage:
The 2015 Biennial will be a landmark event, providing an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on 50 years of community psychology and to commemorate the 1965 gathering in nearby Swampscott. Accordingly, we encourage submissions that document and honor the ways in which community psychologists have advanced individual, family, community, and global well-being and thriving, and/or which consider what community psychologists can and should be doing to help address current and future challenges. 

Hope you can join us!!

If you have any questions, please e-mail: biennial@scra27.org