S. Craig Watkins is the incoming Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. An internationally recognized expert in media, Watkins is the author of six books exploring young people's engagement with media and technology. His two most recent books—The Digital Edge and Don't Knock the Hustle—result from his work with the Connected Learning Research Network, a research collaborative funded by the MacArthur Foundation.
The Digital Edge explores the changing contours of Black and Latino teens media behaviors. Drawing from a nearly two-year ethnographic study, the book addresses issues like:
- the factors that contribute to the diversity crisis in STEM
- the challenges and opportunities associated with tech rich classrooms in lower-income schools
- the inventive ways Black and Latino students work around the many social, economic, and educational barriers that influence their participation in the connected world
- why schools should shift from a "work readiness" ethos to a "future readiness" ethos
Don't Knock the Hustle is Watkins' follow-up to The Digital Edge and explores how "young creatives" are using tech and social ingenuity to build a new innovation economy that disrupts sectors as varied as design, media and entertainment, education, and civic engagement. In this book, Watkins explores:
- the crafty ways young people navigate the "gig economy"
- how young media makers bring innovation to TV, film, and pop music
- how youth-driven forms of political engagement function like civic start-ups
- how young social entrepreneurs are reinventing education and exposing Black, Latino, and female students to STEM, computer science, and design thinking
Watkins is the founding director of the Institute for Media Innovation, a new boutique hub for research and design located in the Moody College of Communication. IMI brings together a unique collection of social scientists, media creatives, journalists, and designers to translate research-driven knowledge into critical and creative engagement with a media, tech, and AI-driven world that grows more influential everyday.
Watkins is the Director of UT's Good Systems Racial Justice Research Focus Area (RFA). The RFA brings together researchers, industry, and other stakeholders to explore ways that algorithmic fairness can be built into the automated decision making systems that allocate critical resources and services to citizens and consumers. This work illustrates how creators and operators of artificial intelligence systems must be intentional when it comes to eliminating racial bias through frequent audits, impact assessments, and inclusive design.
In partnership with Good Systems, the Institute for Media Innovation is exploring the implications of ethical artificial intelligence. One Good Systems supported project examines how Black and Latinx children interact with artificial intelligence. Working with researchers from the School of Information, the project considers how issues of racial and cultural difference influence how young people adopt and use artificial intelligence devices. A second project involves a collaboration with researchers from Psychology and Computer Science to design a chatbot for individuals who present with postpartum depressions symptoms. Research suggests that women of color, for example, are much less likely to have access to services.
The Institute for Media Innovation has also launched research related to COVID-19. These projects include how young adults are grappling with the economic shock of the pandemic, the future of work and coworking spaces, and the design of technology to address the rising rates of mental illness.
Watkins' work has been profiled in places as varied as theWashington Post, The Atlantic, Newsweek, TIME, ESPN, NPR, and featured at venues like SXSW, The Aspen Institute, and The New York Times Dialogue on Race.