Magazine article Information Today

Technology Advances: Scary Good and Just Plain Scary

Magazine article Information Today

Technology Advances: Scary Good and Just Plain Scary

Article excerpt

If you read this column with any regularity, you probably know that while not a technophobe, I don't go overboard when it comes to new devices. I carefully watch from under the umbrella, then wade into the tech pool from the shallow end via the ladder or, better yet, the steps. This doesn't mean I don't appreciate when new technology can jump in to solve a problem, especially during a crisis, which is what one column in the January/February issue of Online Searcher discusses. However, another column looks at developments that, while having good intentions, could ultimately be used by the Dark Side.

Mobility in Crisis Mode

Data collection during natural disasters is critical. But scribbled-down notes may be hard to decipher when it's time to upload them, leading to manual errors. And the paper on which they are written can get wet, dirty, or lost, making them even harder to record. As Abby Clobridge and Eric Hinsdale point out in their column The Open Road, while survey platforms such as SurveyMonkey are a better option, they require a live internet feed to collect data. In the aftermath of an earthquake, such access may be iffy at best. Now, Clobridge and Hinsdale say, there is an alternative that lets organizations get a survey into the field in as timely a fashion as possible: KoBoToolbox. This platform was developed by a group of researchers based in Cambridge, Mass., just for the purpose of aiding those who are tasked with "[q]uickly collecting reliable information in a humanitarian crisis" and "saving the lives of the most vulnerable."

Clobridge and Hinsdale put KoBoToolbox to the test, noting that setting up an account, creating a six-question survey, downloading the collection app, and filling out two sample surveys and uploading them back to the server once the internet connection was turned on again took less than 10 minutes. Once their account was set up, all they had to do was provide some basic info, such as the name and a brief description of the survey, to begin adding questions.

A feature they particularly liked was the ability to automate certain metadata, such as start and end time, date, device ID, and username: "These device-generated elements help to encourage good data collection practices." The elements also make it harder to fake large sets of data, while allowing for auditability and internal data control practices. When you have opened the app and the survey is downloaded to your device, the survey can be filled out an infinite amount of times without needing an internet connection. Questions are easy to read and appear on the screen individually. Answers can be chosen from a list or texted.

Once the data is on the server, it is ready to analyze. Clobridge and Hinsdale report that "basic data analysis techniques are automatically performed, so you can quickly and easily get a sense of what's happening without needing to export a dataset." As soon as they logged in, they had access to mean, median, mode, and standard deviation data, along with some basic charts. For more sophisticated analysis, you can export datasets to tools such as Excel.

Clobridge and Hinsdale sum up the new resource this way: "For anyone involved in mobile data collection, particularly for surveys conducted in the field or in a disaster or crisis situation, we're full supporters of and advocates for KoBoToolbox."

New Media, New Menace?

I'm sure most of us, no matter on what side of the political pendulum we swing, have heard way too much about fake news since 2016. In her Internet Express column titled "Does New Media Generation Technology Pose an Existential Threat to Factual Information? …

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