Thank you, Max, for compiling and editing!
It was my last day of field work on the project. The phones are in, I uploaded the software on some just to test. It was an excellent day of testing. With the new learners, we did similar testing activities. At the end, I did a post assessment. It was really encouraging to see that most of the women knew all the letters. This is probably due to the fact that they had been doing learning activities for the past several days. Just shows how important continous and reinforced learning is. It is critical that we distribute the phones to these groups next week.
The second group of educated women also played the game. Less instructions were required and response times were faster, demonstrating that they are becoming more comfortable with using the mobile phone. We are exploring making the game shorter, or adding explosions and fireballs to increase the interest level (haha, I wish).
Afterward, I interviewed the instructor about this entire experience. She expressed that in her opinion, she can see how mobiles would be very valuable for essentially distributing education. But the women often have busy schedules, so the fact that mobiles are more personal/individual items that they can use in their free time (as opposed to a community PC) is very valuable. It would be our hope that the women can get together in groups in their free time to continue these learning activities.
Tomorrow will be one of my final adventures here in India, traveling alone to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.
So today, we were able to work with the same 2 groups from Niwari. I must say that it’s a real joy working with the women, especially the new learners. With this group, we had them interact with the letter sheets via NFC again and then followed it up with a brief quiz. You can tell that some students are dramatically improving. I then decided to let them play the game (keep in mind, the game is meant to reinforce semi-to fully-literate players). The women did amazingly well! At the end, the women expressed how they wished they had more time to interact with the tool because they felt like they learned a lot. I told them that when my teammate Claire arrives, we will discuss distribution to the villages.
With the second group of educated women, we completed a full game with no bugs. It was entertaining at the end because the woman who won jokingly remarked that she was going to boast to her husband.
Afterward, I rode with Chandra Prakash throughout Jhansi to find a bank to exchange money. None could provide this service, so I resorted to the ATM. We then went to the courier office to sign the paperwork because the PHONES HAVE FINALLY ARRIVED (after a 2 week delay)! We then waited in TARAHaat office in the downtown area of Jhansi until 7 in the evening for them to deliver. Nevermind the hassle, we finally have the handsets so that we can distribute.
Tomorrow is my last day of testing … and work on this project (at least in the field).
We visited the same groups in the Niwari villages again. For the new learner group of women, we repeated the process of having them interact with the letter sheets and viewing the tutorials on the phone. Afterwards, I decided to make things interesting and have the facilitator quiz them by asking the women to point to the characters of a letter she asked, just to observe. Amazingly, after two sessions that were both under 30 min, each of the four women were able to remember most of the letters that the facilitator asked. They pointed with the phone and checked as the NFC tag brought up the tutorial. Pretty cool stuff.
We went to the other group of educated women to test the game, but there was a family dispute, so we couldn’t do the testing. We will continue that tomorrow.
Today was our first day of official quantitative data collection with the new game software that Luis programmed. We had 2 groups of 4 women each. the first group was made up of “new learners,” or illiterate, and we had them interact with the letter sheets. We only have enough for 18 letters. I had them do a pre-assessment, which was more of a formality because they didn’t recognize any letters of the Hindi alphabet. Then the facilitator went through each of the 18 letters once. I then had the students go through some of the letters by themselves. Each of the 4 women in this group went through about 10 letters on their own (while still with the group). The session ran about 25 min.
For the 2nd group of 4 women, they had already completed the TARAakshar computer program about 6 months ago and were “educated”. The pre-assessment indicated that they knew all the letters we are using in our test and the numbers 1-10. Initially, I had them play with 4 players for 1 game, but it kept crashing. I believe some reasons why it crashed were due to the phones running out of memory from storing statistical data. I found this odd because I tested it last night and there didn’t seem to be any memory issues. Other times, it seemed that perhaps it was because the students pressed some buttons during certain points in the game and caused the game to malfunction. I then split the women into 2 groups to play two 2-player games. Initially, the 2 games also crashed due to the same reasons. Ultimately just had 2 women play 1 game, whcih was finally completed.
We will repeat the process again tomorrow with the same women. For the uneducated group, we will have them review the letters again. At the end, I’ll have the facilitator ask each student a few questions about letters and see if the students can point to the correct one. For the educated group, I initially assumed that they were all familiar with using the mobile phone and with the functions of the game due to our visits in the previous weeks, but I see it as very necessary to do a review and demo at the beginning again as a refresher. Also, I noticed that it is critical that the facilitator is available and prepared to provide guidance for any question by voicing the questions and providing any help to questions about the functions of the game or phone, at least in this initial phase.
The phones still have not arrived yet. Some improvisation in our pilot study is in the works now. Will update soon.
After 14 hours on a train, waking up at 4:30 am for a flight, a packed schedule fit into a few hours, and then a return flight later in the afternoon, I am now back from Chennai.
For the most part, the trip to IFMR went as expected. It was a packed agenda with 3 primary items. I first met with the president, Dr. Bindu Ananth. She briefly provided an overview of what IFMR does, which is heavily inspired by the work of Yunus’ Grameen Bank, inquired about NextLab projects and technologies that could be useful for their operations, and asked for advice on publicizing a sponsored challenge for MIT students to address the integration of rural villages into the national and even global economy. I saw a lot of opportunities for partnership, especially with some of the technologies and business models present in NextLab projects. There will always be a supply of technical and business expertise from us as long as there is money going in.
Next, I gave an afternoon seminar to some IFMR employees and nearby graduate students. The seminar showcased the Next Billion Network and NextLab projects. In my opinion, this was the highlight of my visit. The presentation went well and many of the attendees seemed genuinely passionate and shared similar interests. This may have been the most promising for peer and instructional exchange/collaboration programs.
One observation I had came after a discussion with an expat working at IFMR. I came to realize the importance of communication and collaboration for global projects. It is vital that all parties involved empathize and are transparent with each other in order to observe synergies. I remember when I was training to go on a short-term missions awhile back, the instructor was explaining how we need to shed our cultural lenses when living in a different country. We all have our personal mental models, and they will always be disrupted and modified. We need to realize this and try to understand other peoples’ mental models and where they come from before we jump to conclusions.
On an unrelated note, I was able to stop by a McDonald’s in Delhi. I love experiencing these chains in countries outside the U.S. Paneer salsa wrap! Deliciousness all the way. My only regret is that I didn’t get the Maharaja burger (Their version of the Big Mac, except beef replaced with chicken. I didn’t notice it because it was their last meal option rather than the first)
We visited our 11th and final group. Now, we must wait for the phones to arrive so we can begin distribution. Also, we’re waiting for more NFC tags – the NFC interaction has been received with tremendous interest.
I will be traveling to Delhi tomorrow, and then to Chennai on Friday to give a presentation about NextLab projects. That evening, I will return back to Delhi and then back to Jhansi on Saturday.
I got to experience a bit of off-road biking. We really went countryside when we rode on bumpy, wet, mud paths to reach our last village. Also, riding through a busy marketplace was a great experience (wish I could show the videos).
Wish me luck in Chennai!
We visited 2 villages today, totaling 10 groups toured to date. The first group was of current TARAakshar students, so most of them had just learned the Hindi alphabet. The second group consisted of all illiterate women. All our previous groups were somewhat familiar with mobile devices and could mostly read numbers, making the inputs much easier using a keypad. However, today’s groups, especially of the illiterate women, were very apprehensive when it came to using a mobile phone. I remember how one woman was treating the phone with so much are and was initially unfamiliar with how to hold the device. This further demonstrates the importance of using the NFC feature that Luis has been working on. This feature would allow students to tag answers on a printed sheet instead of using the keypad, although they would still have that option if they wanted.
A cool thing about this second group of women was that they pooled their money together to invest in supplies that they can use to sell, just like the women groups associated with Grameen Bank!
Oh, just remembered, today is the one week mark of my stay in India so far.
The batch of phones have not arrived yet. Maybe tomorrow.
Question: How many locations does it take to book flight tickets?
Question: How many people does it take to reserve train tickets?
Today was a bit frustrating. After being assured last week that I would have internet this past weekend, I was still left unconnected from the rest of the world. So I made an effort to get everything I needed to complete over the past couple days done this morning. Unfortunately, the internet in the head office was incredibly slow (waited almost 30 min for a page to load). We gave up and headed to the TARAhaat office in Orccha. There, the browser kept crashing. We then went to an internet café. Right when I pressed “confirm” for flight tickets, the internet was disconnected. We then headed back to the original head office and finally booked the tickets. Reserving train tickets was another story that gets me frustrated just by thinking about it. Seriously, people here need to learn how to GSD!
The only consolation was that the one village we visited today was probably the most enthusiastic about our educational tool. I especially enjoyed the reactions of some of the older women when they saw the NFC letter sheets. They absolutely loved it! There is definitely potential for some interesting research using this type of interaction in a learning environment.
Tonight, I hope to gain some connection to the outside world. Tomorrow, I hope to finally receive the phones that Nokia donated. Seriously, G. S. D.!