Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind

Field Research, Needs Assessment, Technology for Development

Summer 2015

"How might we design and build technology that empowers sensory-impaired students and their teachers to improve educational equity in developing countries?"

For 2½ months I lived and worked in the outskirts of Bangalore, India with engineering interns Erik Pintar, Maya Lassiter, and Amal Nanavati to evaluate educational technology and to build new tools for the Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind. We were part of TechBridgeWorld's iSTEP internship program, which has been partnering with Mathru over the past 10 years. Mathru runs two schools: The School for the Blind and the Center for the Deaf and Differently-Abled. 

I was primarily responsible for launching a comparative study of two of TechBridgeWorld's braille tutor devices built with the school over the past 10 years. This involved extensive classroom observations, semi-structured interviews, trust-building, and teacher training. 

The Braille Writing Tutor: an older device created by TechBridgeWorld. Plugs into the school's computers.


The Braille Writing Tutor: an older device created by TechBridgeWorld. Plugs into the school's computers.

The Stand-Alone Braille Tutor: the newer and more popular model of the braille tutor device. Battery powered with an audio jack for external speakers.


The Stand-Alone Braille Tutor: the newer and more popular model of the braille tutor device. Battery powered with an audio jack for external speakers.



Additionally, I conducted a needs assessment and contextual inquiry with teachers and classrooms at the Mathru School for the Deaf and Differently-Abled in order to support the design of two new technology tools, built by my teammates:
1) SignBook: a local sign-language repository/dictionary
2) Speak Up!: a suite of voice-powered games to support speech therapy

This experience further developed my skills at communicating across language barriers and cultural norms, being attentive to the unspoken, and taking initiative to problem-solve in situations of uncertainty and limited resources.  

 

1. School for the Blind

I was tasked with steering the comparative study of the two braille tutor devices by understanding if, why, and how teachers chose to use the braille tutors in their classrooms. 

On a day to day basis, I was sitting in on classrooms, talking with teachers, and training teachers. Often times this meant troubleshooting hardware issues, or being a liaison to school administrators. I also managed the IRB consent form process and worked with teachers and staff to develop a system for data collection after the internship team left.

  Observing a classroom use the Stand-Alone Braille Tutor during a class. The teacher pictured above is also blind, but an incredibly strong-willed and commanding teacher.

 

Observing a classroom use the Stand-Alone Braille Tutor during a class. The teacher pictured above is also blind, but an incredibly strong-willed and commanding teacher.

 

2. Center for the Deaf and Differently-Abled

In comparison to the School for the Blind, the Center is a very young institution. We were tasked with understanding their needs and developing prototypes for new technology tools. After a few weeks of focused needs-assessments, interviews, and classroom observations, we landed on two tools. With the support of TechBridgeWorld, we were able to fundraise enough to purchase three laptops for the Center to house the projects.

1.  Speak Up!: a suite of voice-powered games to support speech therapy, led by Amal Nanavati and Maya Lassiter

A locally-hosted suite of games written in Python.

 

2. SignBook: a local sign-language repository/dictionary, led by Erik Pintar

A locally-hosted web-app written in Javascript. Read more about the project from Erik's view here, and view a demo here.