It is 8:45 AM. I’m writing this post as the team sits in the living room and waits for the driver to show up. Aditya is reading Saturday’s newspaper, Poornima playing a game on her smartphone and it is making strange sounds, Madeleine is trying to read a book while simultaneously trying to read the news over Aditya’s shoulder. Aveed is waiting. Vivek just came home from spending his weekend in Kerala.  Anti-itch cream is being passed from one Madelyn to the other Madeleine.

It’s Monday. This is the beginning of our fifth week working with Mathru Educational Trust. The last four weeks have been pretty intensive. The eight of us have been divided up into two teams. One team works mostly on user testing, needs assessment and observation and the other on enhancements on the two devices we’ve brought to the field- the Braille Writing Tutor (BWT) and the Stand Alone Braille Tutor (SABT). We will all sit down together this week and figure out a new project that we can implement over the next half of the internship.

This is probably the first time I’ve written about the work I’m doing here at the internship. As the Needs Assessment team lead I ensure that everyone is happy and on track for the goals that they have to achieve by the end of the summer. I also over look marketing for the iSTEP team, ensure we have newsletters going out to our family and friends, make sure that our social media channels are all functioning. I also keep the communication channels between the partners and team open. A whole of communicating! I happened to have the advantage of being a local. It helps me communicate easily with our users and the administrative staff at the school. Although everybody speaks English, Indian and American accents can be difficult to understand. Another interesting thing I’ve notices are the differences in locally spoken English. As researchers we have be sensitive to these subtle differences.

My experience over the last four weeks has taught me a lot about how to communicate efficiently in a language that is actually my third language (I studied it in school till I was 13). Kannada, the local language spoke in Bangalore is one of the languages I learnt to speak when I was young as well. Indians usually learn to speak one or two languages in addition to English. My mother speaks two local languages Kannada and Tulu (a dialect spoken by a small community of costal people); my dad only speaks Kannada (These are languages they speak in addition to English). Growing up I learnt Kannada and Tulu and spoke to different member of my very large extended family in different languages and even so, in my 24 years, I have not spoken as much Kannada as I have in the last four week. I have had to summon every Kannada lesson I ever studied for words I need to express what I can very easily in English. Though Hindi is my second language (as defined by school curriculum. The language I studied till the 10th grade) I am not very fluent in it but if I am put in a situation where I need to conduct user testing with students who only speak in Hindi, I’m sure all my ICSE Hindi vocabulary will reveal itself to me.

In addition to communicating with staff and students at Mathru the team has to keep in touch with the research group that runs the iSTEP internship- TechBridgeWorld. This has been difficult without the internet. Not only do we have to find an appropriate time (because of the time difference between Pittsburgh and Bangalore) but also network coverage for the 3G internet sticks we bought (which are almost useless in the place we stay). Global collaboration has been possible because of tools like Google Drive and Skype (this is not an advertisement. The team is extremely glad to have these tools. Our work would be so much harder without it). The needs assessment team relies heavily on these tools. We share our plans and findings with the team in Pittsburgh and get immediate feedback. Things can get very frustrating when nothing loads for two hours in the morning. I never thought that not having internet can be so annoying (it messes with my need to be efficient!)


SABT user testing


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