Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Week 3: 8/19/06 - 8/25/06

Sorry for the delay in posting. I've been on dial-up for the last wee while and it hasn't been easy to do much online. Also, because the computer I'm using has an ancient version of Internet Explorer, I can't upload pictures yet. -- (9/10) Okay, I'm back on broadband. Here are photos.

[ Clearing your mental buffer ]
This week I made the 4th+ standard Braille tutor which includes math symbols and punctuation. Although I'm not doing testing with the 4th standard students, I plan on getting qualitative feedback from them. In designing the advanced version of the tutor, I discovered something interesting about how the students interpret and internalize their use of the tutor. The fourth standard students asked me (via the teachers) if I could make a "carriage return" button on the stylus so they could start writing on a fresh line as they would on a real slate and stylus. Now I explained that you can already start on a fresh line whenever you want just by going to the head of the line -- you don't have to explicitly create a new line since its all digital anyway. Still they insisted. I then explained that I could just as well make a dummy button that says "newline!" but does absolutely nothing else. They said that would be fine, but nevertheless, could I please create it. I was reluctant to just go ahead and incorporate something that seemed so pointless to me; my confusion suggested that I was misunderstanding something fundamental about how the students used the tutor.

Long story short, I'm learning that the students really want to use the Tutor as they would a regular slate in which they "start fresh" by leaving a blank line between sentences; in a sense, this allows them to flush their mental buffer of the sentence they were previously writing. It seems that the students were unable to achieve this "fresh start" in particular because the tutor does let you start wherever you want. That is, because they know that starting at the beginning of a line does not have any effect on the tutor, they are unable to clear their mind as they otherwise would. So, I've simply created a dummy carriage return that says "Newline!" and then clears the tutor's history buffer. They love it.

[ Visitors to Mathru ]
We also had quite a few visitors at Mathru this week to see the Braille Tutor. First I meet with Rana Nanjappa, the Project Steward at Asha for Mathru, and two software engineers from Bangalore who work at Dell. I gave them an informal presentation of the Braille Tutor and we had a very lively technical discussion. Prasanth and his brother have agreed to help out with the project after I leave. I've shown them how them the code, hardware schematics, and installation procedures in case anything should break or need to be reinstalled.

They brought some toys for the children.
The blow-up dolphin was a real hit!

Also, Ranaji brought his family and friends to see the Braille Tutor. Shalini is twelve years old and blind, and she studies at the main blind school in Bangalore. I was particularly interested to have her try out the tutor. Although she was not used to using a slate and stylus since she transitioned several years ago to a Perkins Brailler, she quickly learned how to use the tutor. Her response was enthusiastic and she felt that the tutor would have been very useful and entertaining when she was just learning to write. Shalini is very talented and sang and played her recorder for the whole school during prayer time. (On a side note, some of the kids are cutely naughty. I noticed at least one fast asleep during the 45 minute prayer period, but nobody else could tell.) We also had a lot of new ideas for improvements such as having a single large braille cell for the young children to learn six dots and using different voices for the text-to-speech synthesizer that are more appealing to children.

Shalini and company.

Shalini's teacher, Maya, claps Nagesree's hands to the rhythm of the prayer.

Shalini's mother brought a tactile map of India
which she had made when Shalini was young.

Satish, front and right,
catches up on his beauty sleep during prayers.

[ Extra stuff ]
These are random photos from around the school.

A brightly colored lizard basks on the wall surrounding the school.

Food is served on a banana leaf at a local politician's open house party
to which the students were invited.

The school uses solar energy to heat the water for bathing.
They are right outside my bedroom window,
but it took me a week to figure out what they heck they were.


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