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Empowerment Through Technology: Associate Professor Vandana Singh Given 2021 CCI Faculty Research Award

Associate Professor Vandana Singh wants her research to be a catalyst for change in the real world and therefore she pursues research topics that appeal to practitioners and advance the field of research. She has published about seventy journal articles and conference proceedings and that body of research has been recognized this year with the College of Communication and Information Faculty Research Award for 2021.

Her research focus has been on three areas: meta-literature review about online learning, social justice in rural libraries, and women in open source software (OSS).

“I’m excited now to say that I’ve received the innovative technology teaching, service, and research awards at CCI, and the recognition form the school and college means a lot. Of course we do the work, but appreciation gives you fuel to keep going. Overall the theme of my research has always been empowerment through technology,” she said, noting that she is also hoping to create and teach a class for undergraduate students about gender diversity in technology.

Most recently, Singh presented on OSS diversity and gender equality for The Linux Foundation with a presentation called, “Time for Disrupting the Status Quo: Diversity in Open Source Software.” This presentation, she said, is a call to action for those who attended and for those who will continue to watch it on YouTube. The Linux Foundation is a consortium of more than a thousand organizations, so she is hopeful her message will be far-reaching.


“I think right now that’s the moment, moving beyond words, moving beyond knowledge. It is time for disrupting the status quo. We are talking about the problem and we’re writing about it, but just doing that is not working for us. It’s time to commit. Diversity is good, but what are you going to do about it?” – SIS Associate Professor Vandana Singh


Her work in this area has centered not just on the presence of women in OSS, but how women can thrive in that environment. She’s looked at creating both virtual and physical safe spaces for those women and how codes of conduct can be enforced in order to support those women.

“The overarching goal of my research in this area is to reduce barriers for participation in Open Source Software for women and other marginalized groups, and to develop social and technical solutions to create a better infrastructure for women participation in OSS. My research in this field has had an immediate impact and is been recognized at major international conferences and industry-focused publications. I am proud of the impact that this research is having, at a relatively early stage. I see myself continuing my research in this area for many years to come,” Singh said.

She’s also continuing her meta-analysis of online learning, which she started three years ago with a grant from the University of Tennessee’s Office of Research & Engagement. While plenty of studies about online learning had been done before, no one had done an extensive review of the literature about online learning. This is in part, Singh said, to online learning being dispersed across all fields of study – basically whoever was doing online teaching could publish papers about it. And one thing that became clear during her analysis is that there is a lot of confusion about the basic terminology in this area, including no agreed upon definition of online learning.

“I collected a huge corpus of articles on online learning from 1995 until now and then did a systematic literature review on a variety of topics. The first published article from this research discusses the fact that within that literature we found  46 different definitions of online learning! There were some common elements in these definitions but that’s still a really large number,” she said.

Singh’s work on this is quite timely as the COVID-19 pandemic forced an explosion of interest in online education as many schools switched to that format out of necessity – in fact, her first paper is currently being cited regularly as other researchers take interest in the topic, she said. There’s a lot of interest in what the current trends are in online learning, and that’s exactly what her next paper will address.

The technological competence of libraries in general and rural libraries, in particular, has been an impactful area of Singh’s for the last 10 years. In collaboration with Dr. Bharat Mehra, (formerly a faculty member at SIS, University of Tennessee and currently a Professor and EBSCO Endowed Chair in Social Justice at the University of Alabama) this work received three research grants funded by IMLS to work with library paraprofessionals in rural South and Central Appalachia (SCA) region. Through these grants, SIS was able to fund 29 paraprofessionals working in rural libraries to complete their master’s degree at the School of Information Science, the University of Tennessee through a synchronous distance education program. Singh continues to publish research from these projects and forge new networks to continue this work. She wants to continue her work about social justice in rural libraries and would like to develop guidance for actions in diversity and inclusion efforts that go beyond words and promises.

“I think right now that’s the moment, moving beyond words, moving beyond knowledge. It is time for disrupting the status quo. We are talking about the problem and we’re writing about it, but just doing that is not working for us. It’s time to commit. Diversity is good, but what are you going to do about it?” she said.