UC Berkeley's Virtual Development Center


Berkeley Engineering Joins Technology Venture to Benefit Women and Families

Berkeley will join forces with the Institute for Women and Technology (IWT) in a new project to foster research and involve students in developing technology designed by women specifically to serve the interests of women and families.

The College, in cooperation with the Berkeley Institute of Design (a new interdisciplinary research and teaching center that includes engineering, anthropology, architecture, business, and art) was selected by IWT to initiate a Virtual Development Center (VDC) site for undergraduate and graduate students.

Launched in 1999, the VDC program is a collaborative network of eight geographically distributed university development centers, where design prototypes are developed based on input from women and families who are underrepresented in technology development. The VDC sites are supported by a $4 million equipment grant from the Hewlett-Packard Corporation.

Berkeley will launch its participation in the VDC with an undergraduate course, taught this spring by EECS professor James Landay. Students in Landay’s class will use information taken from interviews with disabled women in the Berkeley community, then incorporate that information into design solutions and prototypes for new computer technology. “Some of the projects in my undergraduate User Interface Design, Prototyping, and Evaluation [CS160] will look at designing appropriate computer technology for women with disabilities,” said Landay. “I think it will help students to meet with the people who may directly benefit from their designs.”

EECS professor John Canny and professor Sara Beckman of Haas School of Business are co-principal investigators for the Berkeley interdisciplinary project, which involves faculty in other units across campus. In January, Berkeley will host a workshop with IWT that includes members of the disabled community, faculty, and students. “An important method of understanding users’ needs is through participatory design,” said Canny. “The VDC will give us an opportunity to give students hands-on experience with the process.” After the workshop, students will participate regularly with the local community throughout the lifetime of the project.