Comm Welcomes Two New Faculty

Seyram Avle and Devon Greyson

The Department of Communication is pleased to expand its academic reach into the study of the field with two new dynamic faculty, who will bring diverse research and expertise to our curriculum. Seyram Avle studies digital technology cultures and innovation in the global south; and Devon Greyson investigates information and its relation to health and social equity.

 

Seyram Avle, Ph.D. joins the department as an assistant professor of Global Digital Media from the University of Michigan School of Information where she was a Research Fellow. She studies how people in places we typically think of as being on the periphery of technological innovation, produce and use digital technologies. Her research has taken her to Ghana, Ethiopia, and China where she’s interviewed and observed people who work in startups, innovation hubs, and makerspaces.

Dr. Avle says a lot of the work in those countries is similar to what folks in the United States may be familiar with, but there are some key differences, particularly in the kinds of products made, their target markets, and the speed at which designs take shape. There’s a lot of emphasis on designing for ‘the rest’, which she explains means the people Silicon Valley does not typically have in mind when designing products.

“Much of what I found challenges some of the taken-for-granted ideas about what innovation looks like, or should look like, and it’s been enlightening to follow some of these technology production practices over the long-term,” said Avle.

Avle is also interested in different facets of transnational tech collaborations, whether it’s how a Ghanaian maker finds and connects with Chinese suppliers over WeChat and WhatsApp, an American moving to Ghana to establish a startup, or a Chinese company becoming the number one mobile phone company in Africa. Avle says there’s a complex transnational circuit around digital technologies, both hardware and software, and it’s important to understand not just how people use new technologies but also where and how they are built.

Her other research has looked at how radio, still one of the most highly used media in places like Africa, interfaces with digital technologies. This includes ways that radio stations use Twitter and WhatsApp in their operations, and the role that mobile phones play more generally alongside radio public culture.

“I look forward to continuing all of this work at UMass and exploring new ideas with the wonderful colleagues and students here,” added Avle.

Avle’s undergraduate courses this fall will be Global Media Flows (COMM 397GM) and Digital Labor and Technology Work (COMM 497DL).

 

Devon Greyson, Ph.D. joins the department as assistant professor of Health Communication. Cross-trained in information science and public health, Greyson uses qualitative and mixed methods to understand the ways people and health systems use information, and when this matters for health and social equity.

Dr. Greyson’s recent projects have included a longitudinal ethnographic exploration of the information worlds of young parents, and ethnographic and survey-based inquiries into the complex and context-sensitive nature of vaccine hesitancy and confidence among pregnant individuals, parents, and health care providers. Methodologically, Greyson leads research into arts-based methods and knowledge translation and exchange.

“In public health, information interventions such as communication and surveillance are often thought of as non-invasive and ethically uncomplicated. However, in reality the ways we use information—both in everyday life and as professional practices—have profound impacts on both the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities,” said Greyson.

Coming to UMass from a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Children’s Hospital Research Institute in Vancouver, Canada, Greyson is also former faculty in the gender studies department at Capilano University.

“I am looking forward to engaging with UMass Communication students, both undergraduate and graduate, in studying the ways information practices affect individuals and communities,” said Greyson. “The rich history at UMass of intellectual commitment to social justice studies is an exciting foundation upon which to build.”

Greyson’s undergraduate courses this fall will be Health Communication (COMM 319) and Gender and Interpersonal Communication (COMM 397GC).