A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology: Working together to observe, question, design, prototype, and implement/reject technology in support of people's valued beings and doings


Martin Wolske
School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign


software, hardware, community informatics, Internet, computer networks, digital equity, social justice, design justice, social shaping of technology


With special contributions by Betty Bayer, Henry Grob, Sara Rasmussen, Dinesh Rathi, Stephanie Shallcross, and Vandana Singh.


“Martin Wolske’s A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology rebalances the human side in our encounters with digital technologies. It helps students to see that facility with the hardware and software of computers and networks must be embedded within a critical approach to their impact on our lives. Technologies need to be used, even redesigned in ways that serve community needs. The innovative approach of the book makes technologies less of a forbidding mystery, but it also challenges us to use them in ways that meet human needs."

Bertram (Chip) Bruce, Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois


Digital technologies old and new are not objects that can be packed inside a box. They are a seamless, indivisible combination of people, organizations, policies, economies, histories, cultures, knowledge, and material things that are continuously shaped and reshaped. Every one of us innovates-in-use our everyday technologies, we just do not always know it. Not only are we shaped by the networked information tools in our midst, but we shape them and thereby shape others. For us to advance individual agency across diverse community knowledge and cultural wealth within the fabric of communities, we need to nurture our cognitive, socio-emotional, information, and progressive community engagement skills along with, and sometimes in advance of, our technical skills which then serve as just-in-time in-fill learning. This is the call placed by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – to rapidly shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.

In support of this shift, each session of the book begins first with a social chapter with background knowledge probe, conceptual introductions, and a lesson plan for the session. A technical chapter follows with technical introductions and hands-on activities, and a concluding wrap up and comprehension check. The technical of the Orange Unit especially focuses on electronics and physical computer components; the Blue Unit highlights software through a series of introductory programming activities, with possibilities for alternate pathways for those who bring in some existing programming experience; the Rainbow Unit then brings the hardware and software together into networked systems, concluding with a final design adventure.

The general learning outcome objectives of this book are to help readers: 

  • Develop a clear hands-on working understanding of the physical and software layers of computers and networks;
  • Evolve a more holistic and nuanced understanding of the sociotechnical artifacts we use as a daily part of our professional lives;
  • Develop a critical approach to sociotechnical artifacts to counter systemic injustices related to race, class/caste, gender, and other cultural dynamics; and
  • Advance community agency in appropriating technology to achieve our individual and community development goals through a reconsidered digital literacy learning and practice.

Please cite this book using the DOI: 10.21900/wd.7


  • About This Book
  • Introduction to the Book
  • Orange Unit: A Person-Centered Launch
  • 1A: Information Systems
  • 1B: Introduction to Electronic Circuits
  • 2A: Critical Social + Technical Perspective
  • 2B: Electronic Components in Series
  • 3A: The Unknown Tech Innovators
  • 3A: Computer Building Blocks
  • 4A: Launching Our Counterstories
  • 4B: Meet the Microcomputer
  • 4C: Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi
  • 4D: Coding Electronics
  • Orange Unit Review
  • Blue Unit: Computational Tinkering
  • 1A: The Logic of Hardware and Programming
  • 1B: Essential Coding Concepts
  • 2A: The Methodological Landscape
  • 2B: Make Music with Code
  • 3A: Valued, Inclusive Information and Computing Technology Experiences
  • 3B: Build Functions for Remixable Code
  • 4A: Sharing Our Counterstories
  • 4B: Raspberry Pi Counterstory Little Free Library
  • Blue Unit Review
  • REMIX: Ideating and Iterating Code: Scratch Example
  • Rainbow Unit: Networks Big and Small
  • 1A: Programmable Electronics, Smart Technology, and the Internet of Things
  • 1B: Connecting Our Electronic 'Thing' to a Wider World
  • 2A: Digital Internets, Past and Present
  • 2B: The Infrastructure of the Internet
  • 3A: The Digitization of Divides
  • 3B: A Person-Centered Network Information System Adventure
  • 4A: Recovering Community: Designing for Social Justice
  • 4B: Community-Centered Design
  • Rainbow Unit Review
  • Back Matter
  • Introducing the Unix Command Line
  • Raspberry Pi Networking 1010
  • Network Troubleshooting
  • Security and Privacy
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Print Handout
  • Acknowledgements
Book cover featuring a group of three people collaborating with electronic hardware on top and assorted electronics wires on bottom.


August 19, 2020 — Updated on October 7, 2020

Details about the available publication format: Read Online

Read Online

ISBN-13 (15)


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Details about the available publication format: PDF


ISBN-13 (15)


Date of first publication (11)