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SC&I Faculty Expand COVID-19-Related Research and Community Support
SC&I faculty members are committed to addressing many of the problems COVID-19 has caused or revealed by conducting new research and providing expert advice and technological support both locally and globally.
SC&I Faculty Expand COVID-19-Related Research and Community Support

Many SC&I faculty are engaged in cutting-edge research that is contributing to Rutgers University’s combined research driven to find solutions and alleviate the effects of COVID-19 on our state, country, and world. Our faculty are also committed to sharing their expertise with community members facing their own challenges as a result of the pandemic.

Associate Dean for Research at SC&I, Mark Aakhus, said, “Our faculty immediately adapted all of their ongoing research projects for COVID-19 safety and social distancing measures while also managing the change-over to remote teaching. This was a tremendous effort."  

Through their research, SC&I faculty members are focusing on many of the most significant issues the pandemic has either created or revealed more clearly. These include issues pertaining to access to digital technology, algorithmic bias, data science and technology, deployment of educational technology, emergency transitions to remote online education in K-12 and higher education, healthcare communication, higher education leadership, information needs, labor, media, mental health services, misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 public health crisis, public policy, privacy, sociotechnical systems research, telehealth, as well as many other critical areas.

"Our faculty are already very attentive to the implications of media, information, and communication for health and wellness, and so have developed new research and revised ongoing research to address the challenging COVID-19 circumstances and to alleviate its impacts," Aakhus said.

COVID-19 related SC&I faculty work includes the following:

Research Projects Underway

Lauren Feldman and Matthew Matsaganis
Feldman is Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies
Matsaganis is Associate Professor of Communication

We are collaborating with our Rutgers colleague Greg Porumbescu, who is a professor at Rutgers—Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration on a project with the working title: Addressing the Information Needs of N.J. Communities during the Coronavirus Pandemic and Recovery. We are interested in assessing the critical information needs around the COVID-19 crisis within communities in which Rutgers has a strong presence (i.e., Newark, New Brunswick, and Camden), and revealing existing communication resources and developing new ones to better serve them. We are currently exploring collaboration opportunities with community partners, partnerships with other research units, and funding opportunities that we will pursue in the next few months.

Amy Jordan and Vikki Katz
Jordan is Professor of Journalism and Media Studies
Katz is Associate Professor of Communication

Like professors across the world, we were thrust into remote teaching when Rutgers closed its campus in mid-March. And like many, we have been concerned about whether and how disparities in access to technology and stable WiFi have affected our students' abilities to participate meaningfully in their remote coursework. We moved quickly to develop an (IRB-approved) online survey of undergraduates about these issues. We reached out to colleagues at SC&I and around the country, in nearly all 50 states, to ask them to share our online survey with their students. Our request has been met with enthusiasm. We all feel that this is an important moment to understand media use in college students' lives, and we all urgently need this information if remote instruction continues through the fall.

Our project has multiple aims. First, we will assess students’ access to digital technologies that may be required for remote learning. Second, we hope to determine the demographic factors, such as family income and year in school, that shape students' access to digital technology. Third, we will examine the correlation between access to digital technology and students' experience with remote learning. Here we will assess students’ self-report of how positive or negative remote learning has felt for them and whether they believe it's worthwhile to stay enrolled if the university goes remote for another semester. Finally, we will seek to identify socio-emotional and health-related factors, such as anxiety, depression, and family pressures, that are associated with students' experiences with remote learning.

Katya Ognyanova
Assistant Professor of Communication

I am working on a collaborative research project that involves me at Rutgers, David Lazer at Northeastern University, and Matthew Baum at Harvard University. We are collecting multi-wave massive survey data that tracks the prevalence and spread of COVID-19, the economic and social consequences of the current crisis, the health information and misinformation that people use. It should collect about 120,000 responses over 2 months. We are also linking that information to Twitter data to see how social media can be used for prediction of key coronavirus-related outcomes. My team already has some data from a related project we launched which has about 28K participants at this point. The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage  actually published a piece on April 29, 2020 titled “ These three governors are reopening their states faster than their voters want” that deals with the public response to the premature re-opening of several states including Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida.

Project description: The COVID-19 pandemic presents daily challenges to individuals and communities, as well as to federal, state, and local governments. Facts on the ground change rapidly and our measures of the disease prevalence, affected populations, and individual compliance with government guidelines become outdated in a matter of days. Having reliable current information is crucial when we assess the available courses of action and remedies in response to this national public health crisis.

This project seeks to improve national response to the COVID-19 pandemic by launching large-scale data collection through a rolling national survey linked to individual social media data. We will generate information useful to policymakers and local authorities and offer near-real-time state-by-state disease tracking. Our data will allow officials to understand where the virus is currently spreading, facilitating improved allocation of resources. We will also evaluate the networked nature of the disease and track its flow based on the reported social relationships of the survey participants. The project will capture patterns of citizen compliance with government recommendations, stay-at-home orders, and enforced lockdowns, and assess their impact on suppressing the spread of the virus among diverse populations. Our second objective is to evaluate how well the information and communication needs of Americans are met during this crisis. Our questionnaire will identify the major social barriers to obtaining timely and reliable information during the COVID-19 outbreak. We will also record the sources of information used by respondents, their knowledge of critical health guidelines, and their exposure to online misinformation. For more robust results, we will combine self-reported data with analysis of social media content posted by survey respondents who volunteer to let us examine their publicly shared online posts.  We will also seek to understand the differential effects of and responses to the COVID crisis among minority communities through surveys directly targeting such communities.

Britt Paris and Khadijah Costley White
Paris is Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science
White is Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies

With the Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness housed in the Rutgers Institute for Quantitative Biomedicine (IBQ), we are working to build an interdisciplinary working group to respond to issues of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 public health crisis. This working group is concerned with ensuring we are leveraging resources, expertise, and research at Rutgers in a way that honors the university’s mission to serve and support the public. This necessarily requires we attend to power dynamics and structural inequalities in our local, state, and regional communities as we organize, connect, and consolidate our expertise and resources to provide useful evidence-based information, and where applicable, push for meaningful structural change. Khadijah and I are co-leads as is Shuchi Dutta from the IQB. The working group will invite guest speakers, and the first will be SC&I Professor of Communication and Chair of the SC&I Health and Wellness Cluster Itzhak Yanovitzky, who will speak to the group about existing and ongoing efforts to address COVID-19 misinformation and suggesting productive venues for interventions. A major aim of the group is to find opportunities for research collaboration as well as address and evaluate the communication and information needs of New Jersey residents.

Rebecca Reynolds
Associate Professor of Library and Information Science

Research project: Nationwide, schools have complied with state requirements on short notice in providing emergency preparedness plans for remote teaching and learning to meet the mandated number of teaching days and hours of instruction required to complete a school year. It is unclear how schools have provided equitable access and managed digital skills differentials, at district, teacher, family, and student levels, nor how they have approached the need for evidence-based rigor in educational technology design and development quality of experience and learning outcomes. We now have a rare occasion to explore the processes, outcomes, successes and failures of e-learning solutions (innovative or otherwise) as they have been applied by schools in Spring 2020. This project aims to research the rapid deployment of educational technology, applications and their uses by New Jersey school districts in the four-month timeframe of March-June. We will conduct systematic and rigorous analysis of extant planning documentation that has been generated at multiple levels (district, school, and teacher).  This study will yield scholarly contributions to sociotechnical systems research, information and learning sciences, educational technology infrastructural studies, design-based educational technology research, and digital divide research, along with baseline reporting on the remote teaching and learning of Spring 2020 to a range of New Jersey constituents including education policy makers, school leaders, and teaching practitioners, towards ongoing emergency preparedness planning in education statewide.

Journal editorial leadership of a Special Issue of Information and Learning Sciences: "Evidence-based and Pragmatic Online Teaching and Learning Approaches: A Response to Emergency Transitions to Remote Online Education in K-12 and Higher Education." Given the mandates over rapid adaptation and transition to remote online and distance forms of education now required in many settings, and to assist our fellow educators and the research community, the editors have initiated a fast-turnaround special issue to be made available in July 2020 to the public, free of the payment barrier. The issue received over 80 initial submissions from top researchers in the field of information and learning sciences; the publisher then agreed to publish 40 articles of 3000 words. We will publish two collections (K-12, and Higher Education of ~20 articles each). We aim for these collections to serve a constructive, pragmatic role for instructional designers, educators and researchers; timed to benefit those who may have need to extend our contingency planning in remote education into Fall 2020 and beyond. Topics include evidence-based and pragmatic approaches to online teaching and learning and remote education instruction delivery, discussed and written in such a way to directly provide support to today’s educators and teaching and learning research communities.

Vivek Singh
Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science

I am working on two COVID-19 related projects. In one project, I am studying algorithmic bias in COVID-19 related information presented online. In a second project, I am studying privacy attitudes of individuals when they engage with COVID-19 symptom-trackers

Projects Building on Existing Work

Matthew Matsaganis
Associate Professor of Communication

I’ve been engaged in research for over a year and a half now in Greece. One of the projects I have been working on is about mapping and analyzing health communication campaigns developed and implemented by a variety of organizations (public sector, nonprofits, etc.). In parallel, we started over the past winter a project to monitor media coverage of a strong anti-tobacco campaign. As the latest public health crisis broke, that project suddenly became less relevant. But we leveraged the work we had already done and turned our efforts to investigating how media (legacy media, traditional and newer forms of media) in Greece are covering the COVID-19 crisis (a primarily health-related crisis, no doubt, but with very significant economic effects and other types of social impact); what this coverage reveals about media production and dissemination at times of complex crises; how misinformation/disinformation is managed by the media; and the relationship between policymakers’ agenda, the agenda of the media and public opinion. The title of this project, for now, is: “Media, Politics, and the COVID-19 Crisis: Lessons Learned from Greece.” My collaborators include faculty and graduate students from the Department of Communication and Media Studies of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens—Greece.

The second project I am working on and that is related to COVID-19 is the result of the collaboration with other faculty from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece, the Greek National Center for Social Research, and Linköping University in Sweden. We are still in the early phases of this work, which essentially is an investigation into how healthcare system characteristics, demography, and culture have shaped countries’ policy responses to the COVID-19 outbreak. For now, we are focusing on the cases of Greece, Sweden, and the U.S.

Lisa Mikesell
Associate Professor of Communication

I am working to build a collaborative team of researchers and practitioners across Rutgers and beyond to examine the experiences and impacts of telehealth, particularly around the delivery of mental health services. Collectively, we are interested in exploring providers' and patients’ experiences with telehealth, particularly in the delivery of evidence-based therapies, and how the format of telehealth (re)shapes therapeutic communication. This work is an extension of some work I've done with colleagues at the Center for Health Services and Society at UCLA in which we examined the implementation of a mobile health intervention (developed by our team led by Dr. Bonnie Zima) for medication titration in pediatric psychiatry. We found that mHealth interventions can significantly reshape the structure of the clinical interview, which pressed us to more carefully weigh the tradeoffs. Extending this work to telehealth with a focus on COVID-19-related concerns is a natural next step.

Brent Ruben and Ralph Gigliotti, Ph.D. ‘17
Ruben is Senior Leadership Fellow, Rutgers Center for Organized Leadership; Faculty Advisor to the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Distinguished Professor of Communication.
Gigliotti is Director, Rutgers Center for Organizational Leadership and a part-time lecturer at SC&I, and a SC&I alumnus, He earned his doctorate in communication from SC&I in 2017.

We are engaged in several research efforts related to the COVID-19 crisis:
Brent is working on the redesign of the Baldrige-informed Excellence in Higher Education content to assist units and departments in ways of resetting priorities as a result of the crisis. Ralph received IRB approval for two studies focused on the impact of the crisis on higher education leadership. The first study is centered on issues of campus preparedness and crisis leadership competencies associated with COVID-19, and the second involves a survey of department chairs at Big Ten institutions to better understand the impact of the crisis on department chair leadership practices and perceptions of reinvention in higher education. Finally, along with others in our Center for Organizational Leadership, we are engaged in ongoing book projects on leadership in higher education and leadership in academic health care – both of which will integrate content related to the COVID-19 crisis.

Charles Senteio
Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science

I am incorporating COVID-related topics into my funded research, and I am currently leveraging my collaborative relationships with other equity researchers for COVID-19 data reporting and anticipating barriers to care.

For my current investigation of the health information needs of the Latinx community in New Brunswick, I have modified focus group discussions to include COVID-19 topics such as access to information and experiences with attempts to access healthcare. Also, I am conducting my focus groups for this community-based project using Webex.

I am working with other equity researchers to confirm COVID-19 reporting by race (i.e., tests, confirmed cases, deaths). This data is not tracked at the federal level, and 40 states have released data by race. (New Jersey is not among them, but it does release confirmed cases and deaths).  I am also in the early stages of work to understand how medical mistrust and vaccine misinformation may present barriers to vaccination and treatment, once they become available.


Alexa Hepburn
Research Professor of Communication

I advised Jessica Israel, who is Senior Vice President in Geriatrics and Palliative Care, and Corporate Director, The James and Sharon Maida Geriatrics Institute for RWJ Barnabas Health, and right now she is heading up the new triage team for COVID19.  She wanted a quick guide to breaking bad news over the telephone or virtually for the new N.J. hotline (clinicians’ version). I’ve produced a document for her that clinicians can use to help them make these difficult calls.>

Itzhak Yanovitzky
Professor of Communication and Chair of the SC&I Health and Wellness Cluster

As response to COVID-19 is disrupting the ability of patients to access and receive care and support, my ASPEN Project research team and I are redirecting our efforts to support our community partner, NAMI NJ, to transition many crucial functions online. This includes compiling evidence-based resources regarding the delivery of mental health services via telehealth and virtual support groups as well as identifying and responding to urgent needs and challenges experienced by diverse groups of mental health patients and their families. The team is also documenting different aspects of response from the mental health services community at this time that can inform short and long-term efforts to improve preparedness. Given the considerable challenge of communicating effectively with the public about response to COVID-19, I am also collaborating with colleagues at Rutgers, the CDC, and the National Academies of Science to suggest guidelines and resources to policymakers, community organizations, and journalists.

SC&I COVID-19 Related Events

SC&I faculty are also focusing their efforts on research-based events that bring attention to and explore solutions to critical issues that have emerged due to COVID-19, such as the ways the pandemic has intensified existing disparities within our society.

Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Chenjerai Kumanyika and Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Todd Wolfson have organized, through the Media, Inequality & Change Center (MIC), which is co-directed by Wolfson, an event titled “Working through the Crisis: A New Townhall Series.”

According to the event website, “Working through the Crisis” is a series of public discussions the Media, Inequality & Change Center will host to examining how the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified and intensified both problems and resistance at the intersection of labor, digital platforms, exploitation and social control, and public health. The series is designed to be worker-centered, allowing workers to build connections and share insights and experiences with each other, advocates, scholars and the broader public.

The first event in the series, “Our Lives Before Your Profits: Amazon Workers Organizing on the Front Lines,” was held on April 22.

More information about research at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information is available on the website.


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