You may be aware that YALSA is partnering with Michigan State University and Indiana University for an AI literacy program for youth in underserved communities. The libraries involved in the project include the San Diego Central Library (San Diego, CA), Carroll County Public Library (New Windsor, MD), and the Capital Area District Library (Lansing, MI). The following is an interview with Dr. Heerin Lee and Dr. Kayhun Choi who are leading the project. This will be a great resource for working with teens and AI!
Q: Please introduce yourself and briefly explain how you are partnering with YALSA.
A: Heerin: Hello! I am Heerin Lee, a Principial Investigator (PI) of a project called “AI & Co-design in public libraries: Empowering underserved youth to cultivate symbiotic relationships between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and their communities.” I am an assistant professor in the department of media and information at Michigan State University, working in the field of Human-Robot Interaction (HRI). I design and evaluate robots for social good with the aim of empowering socially marginalized groups, including people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, racial minorities, and older adults.
Kahyun: Hi, I am Kahyun Choi, a co-PI of this project. I am an assistant professor of Information and Library Science at Indiana University Bloomington. I am an expert in AI models for music digital libraries. I bring my experience of developing and teaching an introductory and intuitive machine learning course to this project. When I am not working, I love to spend time with my husband and daughter, do yoga, and listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music.
Heerin & Kahyun: YALSA as a partner will publicize our open-source education materials developed within this project to librarians all over the US. These materials will include a detailed process of how we develop our program and how we run it including a summary of each session, main takeaways, lessons learned, and suggestions for future literacy programs. YALSA will also help us develop AI literacy webinars for librarians, promote the program, and perform other marketing activities via their outlets, such as social media, weekly newsletter, e-blast and other platforms.
Q: What interests you most about AI, and what led you to it as a course of study?
A: Heerin: While AI influences many people, only a relatively small population of engineers determine how the public interacts with AI in everyday life. The public’s limited access to AI knowledge stems from the fact that it is mostly disseminated by higher education programs. In particular, these programs mostly focus on computational aspects of AI rather than on social and ethical aspects. This could reinforce a digital divide and inequity issues at a national level. Thus, I thought it is crucial to run AI literacy programs through sustainable infrastructures like public libraries where community members, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, have access to AI knowledge.
Kahyun: About 15 years ago, I got fascinated by powerful emotions coming from music. Instead of becoming a singer-songwriter, I built an AI model that could understand music emotions to some degree by capturing relationships between audio signals and emotions. Ever since, I have developed AI models that can annotate music, song lyrics, and poems with topics, emotions, and genres. While developing and offering an introductory AI course based on music applications to students without technical backgrounds, I realized the importance of intuitive and accessible AI education for the public and, particularly, underserved populations.
Q: Why did you choose public libraries to focus your research?
A: Heerin & Kahyun: As I briefly explained in my answer above, I think it is significant to disseminate AI knowledge through well-developed infrastructures so that many people have access to it regardless of their socioeconomic status. Economically underserved communities, in particular, are vulnerable to AI’s negative consequences as they are largely excluded from the decision-making process of envisioning AI technologies in society. Since the internet emerged in the mid-1990s, public libraries, as early adopters, have long played a critical role in enhancing the public’s technology literacy in the US. As we enter an era of increased AI technology in our society, libraries have tremendous potential for nurturing AI literacy.
Q: Is there anything you hope that youth will gain with AI as a result of your project?
A: The two main components of our program are 1) Module 1—Understanding core concepts of AI, and 2) Module 2—Envisioning AI for local industries. With these two modules, we hope youth not only learn core AI concepts, but also get more actively engaged with their local civic issues as AI co-designers. For example, we will introduce local media stories about AI in their communities and discuss how technological issues are closely entangled with social issues. Our program will develop critical thinking capabilities, enabling youth to understand AI-related social issues in their communities and actively participate in public discourse about AI technologies.
This project particularly adopts an asset-based approach, which is a pedagogy built upon a critical race theory that views students from socially underserved communities not as people with deficits but as people with “community cultural wealth.” We hope this process help students see themselves as people with their own knowledge and position them as people who can utilize AI knowledge. This will also help them more easily become co-designers in our participatory design sessions.
Q: What is the timeline of your project -or when people can expect to see more information?
This is a two-year project that started in Aug 2021. We are currently recruiting youths and their teachers for interviews to understand how they think about AI and their career paths. Based on findings, we will build and evaluate the two AI education modules by Aug 2022. Subsequently, we will run the AI education workshops with the materials in three public libraries one by one, the Capital Area District Library in Lansing, Michigan, the San Diego Central Library in San Diego, California, and the Carroll County Public Library in New Windsor, Maryland, until May 2023. After the workshops, we will disseminate our findings and materials through YALSA, our website, and conferences.
Q: If people want to read more about the grant, where can they find it online?
A: The grant proposal, which includes detailed project design, is available online. https://www.imls.gov/grants/awarded/lg-250059-ols-21 If you want more information, feel free to contact us at heerin-at-msu.edu.