Institute for Healthy Engagement and Resilience with Technology

Mom looks at tablet with two young kids.

The Institute for Healthy Engagement and Resilience with Technology (iHeartTech) studies technologies and technology innovations with the goal of identifying and implementing technology-mediated practices that help social workers and those they serve.

Technology can be harnessed for good

Technology is a powerful tool, but innovations in technology move faster than we can study the helpfulness or harm of those innovations. For social workers, technology, used appropriately and ethically, can be a boon to effectively serving the needs of the vulnerable. We seek to develop evidence about the best ways to use technology for well-being, and how to minimize the harms or negative effects of technology so users can harness the benefits.

We are most interested in healthy engagement and risk minimization for vulnerable populations and in academic settings that train practitioners who serve vulnerable populations. Beyond testing a specific app or class assignment, we seek to understand the best ways to use technology in new human service settings and with new client populations.

We are currently involved in projects that relate to:

  • Assessing the qualities of healthy online relationships for adolescents who are in foster care or who identify as LGBTQ+.
  • Understanding how to use predictive analytics in ethical ways in child welfare practice.
  • Exploring technology-based social work class assignments to educate future social workers and improve their digital literacy.
  • Developing an app, called SWVirtual Pal, that connects social workers through social media to enable peer-based mentoring and support. 

Who we are

A headshot of Dr. Melanie Sage inside.

Dr. Melanie Sage

Melanie Sage, PhD, is the director of UB School of Social Work's iHeartTech. She researches the effects of social technologies in child welfare, including use by child welfare workers and foster youth, and how these tools can be used in ways that promote engagement and well-being. Her current research includes a study of foster youth who have aged out of the foster care system, and explores the role of social media in their supportive relationships. Sage is the chair of the Human Services Information Technology Association (husITa), an international non-profit concerned with the ethical and effective use of technology. She also serves as a co-chair of the AASWSW Grand Challenge, Harnessing Technology for Social Good. She is co-author of the book "Teaching Social Work with Digital Technology" (CSWE Press, 2019).

A headshot of Dr. Laurel Hitchcock outside.

Dr. Laurel Iverson Hitchcock

Laurel Iverson HItchcock, PhD, is co-director of iHeartTech. She is an associate professor of social work at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her research interests center around social work education, including teaching with technology, interprofessional education, and simulation. Her current research projects include an examination of simulation in social work education, the effectiveness of technology-infused assignments in social work courses, and the role of technology in social work education. In 2012, Dr. Hitchcock received the SAGE/CSWE Award for Innovative Teaching for her work incorporating social media into social work pedagogy. She is co-author of the book "Teaching Social Work with Digital Technology" (CSWE Press, 2019), and blogs at Teaching and Learning in Social Work.

Our Mission

The mission of the Institute for Healthy Engagement and Resilience with Technology (iHeartTech) is to discover and disseminate research and best practices related to healthy engagement and resilience with technology, and the productive use of technology for social good and effective delivery of social  services.

What we do

  • Research and Evaluation: Conduct research about the potential of technology to support connection and well-being among individuals and systems. Identify and advocate for practices that promote resilience in the face of digital stressors.
  • Training: Enhance the skills of social work practitioners by sharing best practices for using technology with vulnerable populations and in human service, and applying them to educational settings. 
  • Consultation: Help inform organizations and influence the development of new technology innnovations by consulting with key stakeholders across disciplines about best practices in human-centered technology.
  • Collaboration: Develop and support a network of affiliated scholars who can connect their work to concepts of healthy digital engagement and resilience.

How to reach us

cover of Teaching Social Work with Digital Technology.

Case studies, practical examples, and technology tips for social work educators.

Follow the Authors on Twitter:





Phone: 716-645-1270