Laura approached Reality Gives to research for the development of a Mobile English Learning program for underprivileged communities. After coming for one month last year already (see blog post here) she started a new period of research with the current YEP batch by beginning of January. At the moment she is back in UK but will come back to Mumbai in a few weeks to finish this research period. In the following article about her experience she gives a good insight into the opportunities Dharavi can offer for social development experiments:
After a productive exploratory month with Reality Gives’ Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) last June, I came back to Dharavi to continue my research into the use of mobile phones to support English language learning.
The aim of the project is to provide current students of YEP with a resource on their mobile phones that they can use to reinforce and extend the language skills they learn in the classroom. The YEP’s classroom curriculum is primarily designed to support speaking skills, essential for students who wish to access employment or continue on to further education. However, many students also struggle with spelling, grammar, reading and listening, and need extra support to improve their pronunciation. Using native features of the mobile phone such as audio player, microphone and text entry via a system developed by Anspear Ltd (www.anspear.com), I have put together an interactive resource for the students to trial over the next few months.
So far, I have been making sure all students have access to the learning resource. The mobile landscape in Dharavi has changed a great deal in six months. There has been a rapid decline in the availability of Nokia and Blackberry handsets. Mobile store owners remark tell me that the instability of Nokia and Blackberry companies means they can’t be sure of their margins on each device - a reminder of how closely Dharavi is connected to the global marketplace. Instead, there has been a huge influx of ‘China phone’ copies. New, cheaper Android devices from brands like Micromax and Lava are growing in popularity and available for as little as Rs. 3000. I couldn’t find an Android device in Dharavi for less than Rs. 6000 last time I was here.
Sure enough, a few of the students already possessed Android smartphones. I installed the Android version of the learning resource on one of these devices and, before I knew it, the software had been shared across the classroom using Bluetooth. Easy.
I have also worked with Anspear to produce a Java version of the learning resource, which can be loaded onto micro SD cards and installed on a range of feature phones. Although this has not been 100% compatible with all of the students’ phones, I have been able to successfully load the program directly onto some students’ handsets. Where students do not have their own mobiles, or where the program has not been compatible, I have provided them with handsets for the duration of the YEP (until the end of April).
Now all 28 students are using the mobile learning resources. The software works independently of any network connection, so there is no associated charge to the students, and they can use the resources as they choose. I spend my time observing their use of the software, logging any reported problems and working out ways to make sure these problems don’t happen again. It’s great to see that the English language teachers are able to refer students to particular activities on the phones to reinforce what they’ve been learning in the classroom.
In the next few weeks, I will be collecting data from the students’ phones that will tell me when and how the students have been using the mobile resources, and how successfully they are completing the various activities. I will also be seeking student feedback on how they feel the resources can be improved.
I will use this feedback to make changes to the resources, in time to introduce them to the next YEP student batches. With these next batches, I hope to have ironed out some of the technical problems, and pass on some of the technical support capacity to the teachers. In this way, I hope to improve the chances that this mobile resource can be a sustainable source of support for students in Dharavi.
This research is being conducted in partnership with Reality Gives, with Anspear Ltd. (www.anspear.com) and as part of a doctoral research program at the University of Oxford’s Department of Education. I am very grateful for the support of Anspear, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Kellogg College Centre for Research into Assistive Learning Technologies.