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Communication Faculty Highlight: Dr. Zachary McDowell

1. Describe your teaching values. What specific teaching strategies, beliefs, or resources do you draw on to create a learning environment that is inclusive, diverse, and accessible to all students? 

I believe strongly in the importance of embodied practice, and I try to engage students in projects and reflections that engage with their lived experiences. UIC is incredibly diverse, and creating a space for them to explore new ideas and ways to understand their lives in an equitable and accessible manner is paramount for success. Our students live through technologies and witness inequity constantly, so shifting their focus towards metacognitive (thinking about how they think about things) moments where they can reflect on technology and equity helps ground readings and teachings with lived experience. Furthermore, when the learnings “mean something” to them it increases feelings of self-efficacy – allowing them to see themselves as successful in an academic environment. Fostering this type of critical thinking about their lived experience with information and technology offers an accessible space for students to learn about the topics at hand and also feel like they can apply it in their own way, which offers something for everyone.


2.Tell us about your research interests! Feel free to share any relevant links to websites or CVs if you have them.

On a very basic level I am interested in how we create information and how we utilize it, how we understand it, and how we create culture and understand reality through it. On a practical level, I study a variety of aspects of information, including policy, Internet history, literacies, intellectual property, Wikipedia, and artificial intelligence. Understanding complex technologically mediated systems and how they shape the way we understand and utilize information remains imperative to some of the major concerns of today.

My CV is located here, or my website is


3.Any recent conferences attended? Any publications you’d like to shout out?

I travel throughout the year to many different conferences. In the last year I attended the International Communication Association in Toronto, Association of Internet Researchers in Philadelphia, Wiki Conference North America in Toronto. I will also be attenting 4S in Amsterdam this Summer as well as Wikimania in Poland.

My most recent work has focused on the data that powers AI systems and how that shapes our relationship with our labor. You can find it on my CV or website. I believe that knowledge generated at Public Institutions should be freely available, so the vast majority of everything I have published is Open Access (which means that anyone can freely find and download it without prohibitive paywalls).


4.What are you excited for in the future regarding Communication at UIC?

Communication is a vibrant and ever-changing field and I am really excited and happy to be a part of a department that not only recognizes that but embraces it and celebrates it. We have so much to be thinking about, from ethical use of data, to information literacies, to information and data security and privacy. The rise of AI tools is both fascinating and frightening for many people, and folks that study Communication (especially here) are at the forefront of researching and understanding these and many other related topics.