deana brown

deana's research

Research and Projects

My research lies in the space of mobile, social and ubiquitious computing (ubicomp) and human-computer interaction.

PhD Thesis Work: Designing Technologies for Immigrants and Refugees

In 2015 I completed my PhD work which focused on designing technologies to support migrants and refugees.

Migration is often a strategy undergone to improve the outcomes of families. Many families—whether in pursuit of better economic opportunities or to flee persecution and other challenges of the home country—will resettle in other countries. Whatever the impetus, migration is disruptive to the family unit. In my dissertation I explored two forms of family migration—parental migration (where parents and children live apart) and refugee resettlement (resulting from forced migration). In both forms, families are embedded in support networks of individuals they rely on to minimize vulnerabilities faced post-migration and to rebuild a stable family structure. My empirical results revealed barriers—distance, language, literacy and otherwise— that render the engagement between families and their support network less than effective. Through participatory approaches, I investigated opportunities for improving the engagement between migrants in transition and their support network through scaffolding communication with systems designed for transient use. I wanted to see the potential of communication scaffolding tools in mitigating communication barriers to engagement—distance, language, literacy and otherwise—in migrant support net- works, facilitating parental competence and/or increasing the livelihood strategies of migrants undergoing disruptive life changes.


Rivrjam (2013)

This project explored the potential role of communication technologies and social networks in supporting remote and transnational parenting i.e. how technologies can help migrant parents stay connected with the caregiving network (including educators) of their left behind children during prolonged separation and migration. I developed an IVR system Rivrjam to connect geographically distant parents with their children's educators.


ABoard Abroad (2012)

I previously conducted a qualitative study to investigate how this group currently uses communication technologies to stay in touch during separation and the challenges of doing so. A recent Ubicomp conference paper details more about the result of that work. This led to the conceptualization of an online social space called 'Aboard Abroad' to allow for dialogue and exchange of information and artifacts between migrant parents, their children and the care-giving network.



water alert! (2009)

High fatality rates and poor health are major impediments to the development of a country. Every year, diarrheal diseases, mainly Water Alert! caused from drinking contaminated water, claim the lives of over 43,000 South Africans. This led to my decision to design a cell phone application to alert and report drinking water quality to South Africans for my Master’s thesis. This projects falls under the Aquatest project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and I received guidance from Dr. Gary Marsden at the University of Cape Town (UCT). A proposed solution had to be language independent (South Africa has 11 official languages), accessible to all literacy levels, and suitable for both consumers and advanced users such as nurses. Most people own or have access to mobile phones in South Africa and accessing the Internet over GPRS technology on a mobile phone is relatively cheap. My final design provided consumers with water quality alerts on their cell phones, as well as advice and purification techniques through the use of graphics and symbol-based messages. Additionally, it presented a complex water quality report in a simplified visual format which increased the understanding of water quality information by an average of 40% in all participants. My thesis is published and accessible here.

nettags (2008)

Nettags (networking + tagging) is one module of a corporate social networking tool project. It is based on the principles of folksonomy (collaborative tagging). Each user's profile consists of tags that describe them (skills, hobbies etc.), whether self-assigned or assigned by others. profile They create their own inter-company networks or 'bubble' by populating it with tags. Coworkers who are tagged with these keywords, populate the bubble and gravitate towards the center, as they have more tags in common. The goal of the tool is to improve employee relations, connect needs with skillsets and help employees to learn more about each other and their roles in the company. The tool is targeted towards mid-sized to large companies and is designed to do this without getting in the way of productivity. This was designed as part of a team project. I came up with the concept of nettags and designed the interface. We ended with an interactive prototype of the tool which also included a peoplequiz and a leaderboard which challenged employees to learn more about their colleagues.

voyager's eye (2007)

Voyager's eye is a travel site I developed for a class project primarily in PHP and mySQL. User's can read about travel, and create accounts to customize their travel pages, including RSS feeds they want to follow.


Jamaican beach Technology that empowers, is technology with a heart ... as human as it could get!
~ Deana Brown

The greatest exercise for the human heart is to reach
down and lift another up.

~ Plaque on Jon Huntsman's wall.










ABoard Abroad

Water Alert!


voyagers eye