UC Berkeley's Virtual Development Center


UC Berkeley Joins Virtual Development Center

Becomes 8th university site in innovative IWT program

Palo Alto, CA, 2001 - The Institute for Women and Technology (IWT) announced the addition of the University of California at Berkeley to its Virtual Development Center. UC Berkeley, under the aegis of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and in cooperation with the Berkeley Institute for Design (BID - a new interdisciplinary research and teaching center spanning engineering, anthropology, architecture, business, and art practice) and the EECS Department, will initiate a Virtual Development Center site for undergraduate and graduate students. CITRIS will apply state-of-the-art information technology to tackle and solve some of today's most crucial societal problems, including energy, health care, education, transportation, and the environment.

VDC, CITRIS, and BID research themes overlap well with the focus on creating technology to serve the interests of women and families. Studies point out that framing Computer Science in its social context and involving women students early in applications are effective ways to retain women in engineering. "Some of the projects in my undergraduate user interface design, prototyping, and evaluation course (CS 160), will look at designing appropriate computer technology for women with disabilities," says UC Berkeley Professor John Landay. "This is an experiment in conjunction with the Virtual Development Center." Students will be using "contextual inquiry methods" to gain information directly from disabled women in Berkeley, a community renowned for its pioneering work in access for the disabled, concerning the products they feel would assist them. Professor Shankar Sastry, EECS Chairman, commented on the synergy represented by the new VDC center: 'With computational devices being ubiquitously embedded in the environment around us, the interface design and usability are increasingly critical --hence, the synergy between and among the Virtual Development Center, CITRIS, and the Berkeley Institute for Design.'

In January 2002 IWT will host an Innovation Workshop with community representatives, faculty and students. "An important method of understanding users' needs is through participatory design," says UC Berkeley Professor John Canny. "The VDC will give us an opportunity to give students hands-on experience with the process." After the IWT Innovation Workshop students will participate regularly with the local community throughout the lifetime of the project.

Launched in 1999, the VDC is a collaborative network of eight geographically distributed university development centers (VDC Sites) where design solutions and prototypes are developed based on imput from women who are traditionally not represented. Current VDC Sites are, Purdue, Santa Clara University, Texas A&M, Smith College, the University of Arizona, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University of Washington. A Hewlett-Packard Corporation $4.0 million equipment grant makes the implementation of student projects at VDC sites possible.

The IWT mission - to increase the impact of women on all aspects of technology and the increase the positive impact of technology on the lives of the world's women - is carried out through the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, systems online community, Senior Women's Summit, and the VDC.