Collaborative Educational Applications for Underserved Children

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Linna building, auditorium K 103, address: Kalevantie 5

Sumita Sharma

Doctoral defence of M.Sc. Sumita Sharma

Collaborative Educational Applications for Underserved Children : Experiences from India

The field of science of the dissertation is Computer Science/Interactive Technology.

The opponent is Associate Professor Payal Arora (Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands). Professor Markku Turunen acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is English.

Designing interactive and collaborative technology for underserved children in India

This research addresses Indian children’s lack of access to potentially beneficial educational technology. The lack of access can be due to a combination of various social, informational, or economic barriers within specific communities, including children with developmental disabilities and children from urban informal settlements.

First, children with developmental disabilities, including autism, Down’s syndrome, and other learning disabilities, are usually excluded from mainstream education. They, and their parents, therefore rely mostly on NGOs for social, therapeutic, and educational interventions. Furthermore, their technology access is limited due to informational and social barriers towards developmental disabilities within India. Across the developed world, it is understood that individuals with developmental disabilities benefit greatly by interventions employing interactive technologies, including those employing gestures for interaction. Therefore, this work expands on previous research by focusing on the unexplored socio-cultural challenges in an Indian context. Using a user-centered approach, gesture-based applications were designed, developed, and evaluated at two centers of an NGO in New Delhi, called Tamana. The applications focused on social and life skills, where children with little verbal skills could use hand gestures, like pointing, to participate in collaborative tasks or practice buying groceries from a local store.

Second, children living in urban informal settlements attend poorly funded public schooling and therefore supplement their educational needs through NGOs. Their access to technology is limited by the socio-economic constraints of their communities. It is understood that to be part of the global workforce in the 21st century, specific carrier oriented skills are required, including fluency in communicating in English, proficiency in computer and internet usage, and ability to work in culturally diverse teams. To enable children from low socio-economic backgrounds participation in the global workforce as adults, these skills must be catered to in school. Therefore, in this work, a method to enable cross-cultural collaboration using conversational English was studied with children from an NGO in New Delhi, called Deepalaya. The method, called the Bollywood method, created a dramatic story around the need for collaboration thereby reducing barriers towards communication, which were mainly a consequence of strict social norms and lack of technology experience.

The outcomes of this research include applications developed for children with developmental disabilities, validation of the Bollywood Method to overcome social and technology-experience barriers, and a set of guidelines for designing, developing, introducing, and evaluating technology for children in India. The research work spans over five years and provides an insight into collaborations with NGOs in India.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Dissertations in Interactive Technology, number 29, Tampere 2018. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1912, Tampere University Press 2018.

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