One month teaching in India

A south Indian thali.
My first south Indian thali


The Idea: From Vienna to Andhra Pradesh

I study business informatics at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology). For my bachelor thesis with the working title “Enhancing the Resilience of Software Engineering Courses by Implementing Continuous Education using Smartphones exemplified by rural India” I created and taught a course for software engineering at a rural college in Andhra Pradesh, India in 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the safety measures – like college closures – the whole setting for the course was entirely remote.

So I was sitting at home in Vienna while the students joined from their homes in (mostly) Andhra Pradesh. The main challenge was to include all students as only half of them own a personal device like a laptop or desktop computer. Out of those, half had to share their devices with family members or friends. The rest of the students had only a smartphone available for learning, practising, and joining classes.

The goal to include everyone required the software engineering course to be created in a way that also the participants with only a smartphone can join in all activities like learning, practising, attending classes, and reviewing submissions.

Course overview: Modules and used Tools

The software engineering course currently consists of four modules for each year: We designed module 1 for students of the first year, the second for students of the second year and so on. They begin with learning how to use the keyboard properly using TypingClub and about concepts of computer programming using Scratch.

In the second module students start with basic concepts of Java programming using practical assignments, where they for example also have to solve tasks of the Java course on Sololearn. During the third module, they will learn concepts about object-oriented programming in Java and create their first bigger Java application during three iterations one a month each.

Additionally, they will get to know the basics of HTML, CSS and JavaScript by applying them to practical assignments and courses from Khan Academy. In the fourth module, students gain an understanding of the basics of software architecture and how to use a SQL database to store and retrieve data in Java. During this module, they have to work together in a two to three person team and use git together with GitHub to share their code.

Conducting the course: Adapting to connectivity issues and various devices

In order to make the teaching material available and to enable students to enter submissions, we used the learning platform Moodle. Moodle is responsive and adapts to the screen size of the students’ devices. For the Java assignments students used the Android application Java N-IDE. For the HTML, CSS and JavaScript tasks they used the Android application Spck Code Editor. Since internet connectivity is also an obstacle, both applications work entirely without any active internet connection.

After completing the exercises, students submitted the Java files to Moodle. For the HTML, CSS and JavaScript assignments, they used the web application An alternative to was Spck Code Editor. Since Spck Code Editor did not require any active internet connection, students preferred Spck Code EditorZoom was used to conduct online classes and also for submission reviews with the students, which were about their submitted Java, HTML, CSS and Javascript code.

Sometimes technical issues like powercuts, bad or no internet connection at all, or other unrelated personal issues, prevented the students from attending online classes. Therefore the classes were recorded and uploaded to YouTube. Also most mobile internet data subscriptions of the students are limited to about 2GB per day, and they have to participate in online classes nearly all day long. Additional videos in which concepts of Java programming was explained were also recorded using OBS and uploaded to YouTube.

Currently: First experiences, challenges and festivities

I arrived at the Bengaluru International Airport in India on the 23rd of March 2022. The first experiences in India were a three hours long journey through the outskirts of Andhra Pradesh in the middle of the night to the place of the college and a really nice and heartly welcoming ceremony where I had the chance to meet and talk to the students for the first time, which I only met during remote sessions last year.

Candle lightning at the welcoming ceremony.
Candle lightning (this time with shoes) during the welcoming ceremony.

After a long time struggling to adjust to the new environment, especially wearing formal clothes during the hot Indian summer and being so far away from home for the first time, finally the classes started. Right now, I am teaching two classes of students, who are currently doing their BTech in Computer Science and Engineering at a college in rural Andhra Pradesh in their third and fourth year. During my first week teaching, Paul visited and helped me to prepare everything, to introduce me to everybody, and to kickstart the new semester.

Students of the third and fourth year.
Students of the 3rd and 4th year

Since there was a break for new students to join the software engineering course due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we planned to continue the course with students of the first year. During Pauls visit, we also conducted the entry assignment for the first year students of the college. Out of 66 students, we will start the first module of the software engineering course with 16 students.

Conducting the entry assignment for students of the first year
Conducting the entry assignment for students of the 1st year.

Besides that, currently classes for module 3 and module 4 are conducted once a week with three hours each. Due to the multicultural nature of India students often miss classes because they are involved in helping to organise and prepare various festivities that are currently going on. Sometimes students also have to leave to participate in interviews with companies for internships. Luckily for now there are no school closures and we can use the computer lab during the classes.

As mentioned above, another challenge is internet connectivity. Most of the time it is available, but sometimes there the connection is very, very, very… slow or there is no internet connection at all. Powercuts happen as well, but are very rare at the moment. The locals told me during the rainy season it will get worse, but I hope for the best. Another big hurdle for students without a personal laptop or desktop computer is that the internet in the computer lab is only available during the classes. When there are no classes, the internet for the computer lab is being turned off.

A possible solution could be to show students how to use USB tethering to access the internet on the computer, but then again they have to use data of their own mobile data subscription. Nevertheless, the classes are going on and I as well as the students are really motivated to continue teaching and learning with or without those challenges. I will keep you up to date in the next blog post in about a month.

Tags: , , ,
One month teaching in India
was published on 19.05.2022 by Raimund Rittnauer. It files under south asia
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
No Comments AddThis Feed Button

9th ICT4D Conference 2017 – From Innovation to Impact

ICT4D Conference Poster

A week ago, I had the pleasure to dive deep into the world of ICT4D at the 9th ICT4D Conference in Hyderabad, India. On short notice I got the confirmation for my ticket while being in Bangalore with one business card, no fancy shirts and an insufficient amount of underwear. So I booked a flight at the same day, the first hotel which popped up on the net (brick-wall-view as I found out later) and went cloth shopping at the airport. I also managed to shift some work load from my company and worked during coffee breaks on other things. I replaced business cards with a smile and pined my last one on my chest – so people simply took pictures. Busy and exhausting four days, but exiting as well. I would like to give here a short overview on what is going on in the world of ICT4D, summarize the talks I enjoyed and state my personal experiences.

Two topics were ubiquitous this year, agriculture and IT support for NGOs. This focus was already underlined in the keynote when one of the main sponsors of the conference, Microsoft, spoke about their engagement with ICRISAT – International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Topics. They use their cloud computing power and Cortana to provide weather forecast for farmers to communicate when to seed out or harvest (and more) to increase crop yield for farmers. The IT support aspect for NGOs was visible due to the high amount of companies offering technologies (hardware, software, data) in order to make their life easier or to collect/organize data in the field, which is also inline with the this year’s conference focus:

This year we focus on using data to accelerate achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

I would like to split this blog post into two sections. Firstly, I will give you an overview of talks and discussions regarding ICT4D projects I discovered. This will be just a peak of what was going on, most of the time more than 10 talks were happening simultaneously. Secondly, I took one full day to visit all sponsors and exhibitors at their stands and discusses with them their products, projects and ideas.



Projects, Talks & Discussions

Leveraging Tradition and Science in Disaster Risk Reduction in Mongolia
Erkhes Batbold
is a project with a goal to reduce the risk of dzud (a Mongolian term for a severe winter in which large number of livestock die, primarily due to starvation due to being unable to graze, in other cases directly from the cold) to herder communities and rural economies in Mongolia through on-demand weather information and increased local planning and risk reduction capacity.
They implemented a national wide SMS based weather forecast system to provide access for everyone with a mobile phone. The speaker underlined the lack of smartphones in rural areas and the importance of a demand requested system to make it sustainable in the long run. They interviewed users on camera to describe their positive experience to spread the word, which worked best for them. The speaker, Erkhes Batbold from Mercy Corps listed some helpful technologies they used to build the system:, , and For me, this talk was one of the most interesting, since it is related to my research as well, and as they started to use a Android phone as a SMS gateway to forward the requests to a server and respond then with the weather forecast.

‘SMS Quicklearns’ enhances women’s parenting skills in Sri Lanka
Maria Berenguer & Divakar Ratnadurai
SOS Children’s Village Sri Lanka empowers women at grass-roots through mobile technology using “SMS Quicklearns” to enhance women’s parenting skills on the benefit of their children. The feasibility study showed high mobile penetration at the grass-root level and being mainly fishing communities needed cognizance on various social skills to assure a safe and caring home environment for the children. Text To Change Programme disseminates information on child-care, child rights & protection and managing family income with a view to change their behavior for the well-being of their children & families.
This project is as well SMS based and spread information via mobile phones. Users also had weekly meetings to discuss the received lessons which enabled access for mothers without a phone. They also had a trainer visiting the parents. These limitations made it only possible to work in closed groups, but the speaker stated, that they would love to open it to everyone – but as always, the budget is the limit…

e-Monitoring system: Strengthening government school monitoring system
Ruxana Parvin Hossain
e-Monitoring System specifically designed for the use by school monitors to improve the accountability and governance of public primary school system. To strengthen the government school monitoring system of Bangladesh, the Sponsorship program of Bangladesh Save the Children created an Android enabled school monitoring application based on the existing paper based school monitoring checklist and also developed a browser based school inspection data analysis dashboard with various analytical interactive reports. The data is public, the source code is close since it is very specialized.

Education & Livelihoods Track Panel: Learning-People, Processes or Platform
Chris Benner, Anindya Chattopadhyay, PS Gohil, Jodi Lis & Laura Moats
The panel discussed the process to bring education to people with the support of technology. Technology which can help you in your educational project highly depends on your user and your needs. It is crucial to put community and people first, the technology will just support you and is not the key to your success. The panel defined the following steps:
1. Identify and setup the platform/technology you will use.
2. Build up your content, use open resources or create it yourself
3. Implement the e-learning – this is the hardest part.
The discussion shifted then to MOOCs which can be helpful but very difficult to implement. Guidance and personal interactions are very important for beginners. The main problem with MOOCs is, that most of the time already educated users use the service and leave out the target group. They underlined that learning is a social process!
Furthermore, the panel stated that having test groups straight from the beginning is very important. The fact that it is almost impossible to get proper feedback from failed e-learning users. This is very challenging and they have no solution yet to reach out to these important group to simply find out why they failed. The last conclusion was to show the demand to the users. Create motivation by giving an insight what the learners will get from their education. Jobs and placement are most of the time the goal.

There’s no app for that: Preparing for a tech implementation
Aleksa Krolls, Piyasree Mukherjee, Frank Nankivell, Alexie Seller
Ready to implement a new technology — trade in the paper for smartphones, start administering surveys via SMS, transition to a new CRM system? Worldwide, social impact organizations are seeking technology solutions to better manage data, measure performance, report to donors, & address inefficiencies in programs/operations. When it comes to implementing a new tech tool, how do we gauge whether an organization is “ready”? What happens when the technology implementation – inadvertently or advertently – leads to upheaval in the organization’s processes? How can we ensure that technology is a tool underpinning quality delivery, with the focus on impact rather than on the tool itself?
Vera Solutions discussed with three NGO partners on how they worked together to implement a certain technology to support their work. Pollinate Energy, FMCH – Foundation for Mother & Child Health and Liberty Asia all used IT support to streamline and analyse their processes, collect information on the field and/or get more paperless. All agreed on the profound advantages IT can have. “Why do we need a new Technology” is crucial to ask straight from the beginning to really get the solution which fits best. Start with the people, not the Technology.

Digital Village Harisal: Connectedness is the Key
Prashant Shukla
The Maharashtra government and Microsoft have collaborated to develop a strategic framework for smart village adoption and to identify an impact-driven, public-private partnership-enabled implementation model to transform Harisal into India’s first smart village. Connecting a village to the Internet is one of the key elements to make a village smarter. This can be quite challenging due to the GSM coverage in rural areas and land lines are still rare as well. This project uses TV band white spaces – unused VHF and UHF TV channels that can be used to deliver broadband access over wider areas than possible using today’s Wi-Fi spectrum. They connected villages with this technologies and enabled better access to communication, health and education tools.

SESAMA – Mobile application to turn trash into cash
Mita Julinartati Sirait
Waste in the big cities has always been a problem and needs serious handling. Jakarta City every day produces 7000 tons of waste and only about 5200 tons can be transported to the final disposal (TPA) Bantar Gebang by 720 garbage trucks. Of the total trash, 47% is industrial waste and 53% of household waste with a composition of 67% of organic waste; 32.8% inorganic and plastic waste; and 0.2% other debris. In order to support urban waste management, WVI has developed android applications called SESAMA to connect residents with nearby waste bank and help the waste bank managing its administrative works. This application allows residents ordering picking up, tracking their waste amount and checking their money deposit in real time. On the other hand, the waste bank will be able to monitor the waste deposit amount, money deposit, customer’s data and trends of their transaction timely and regularly.

Play.Connect.Learn: Learning to read by playing with apps
Meenakshi Khanna
Play.Connect.Learn, is a digital app that was developed by Sesame Workshop India (SWI) to determine whether exposure to innovative, interactive digital reading content on smart phones would improve the reading skills of children in Grades 1 and 2 who are reading below grade level. SWI leveraged its library of materials to develop 3 packages of reading materials for the app. The app, developed in Marathi, is being used in 4 districts in Maharashtra by low income families. The app includes packages of stories, rhymes and games that become increasingly more complex in content and skills.
They stated that nothing can replace a good pedagogy, but the application is a good tool. Even parents started to learn and like the fact that they use the Sesame Street Puppets in the application. They acknowledged that children lean it many different ways and tried to offer different learning approaches in the application.

Feeding the world with Raspberry Pi
John Anker
The last talk I joined at the conference was about the wonderful Raspberry Pi. John Anker from the Catholic Relief Services simple introduced the mini computer and showed its possibilities. I use the Raspberry Pi as well in my work to teach computer science and attended the talk out of curiosity. The highligt was the Raspberry Pi operated anti mosquito laser gun – pretty cool stuff. I would also like to underline here that the Raspberry Pi is a very good computer for development work. Cost effective and fully operable – surf the Internet, create textual documents (and more) and program for just $30!


Sponsors & Exhibitors

a small overview of companies, NGOs and NPOs at the ICT4D conference:

esri – GIS Resources for Humanitarian Assistance and Crisis Response
Esri’s Nonprofit Organization Program provides conservation and humanitarian nonprofit organizations around the world with an affordable means of acquiring ArcGIS software and services for organized volunteer effort.

Digital Globe – Space Imagery and Geospatial Content
analyses images and processes them for catastrophy management and are partners of Esri. They use the power of the crowed to provide necessary information. Ushahidi from the other side…

OMPT – Reducing Worldwide Poverty Through Video Education
provides projector sets with speakers to enable mobile video training. 2 hours of battery life are included, but you can charge the gear with a external battery or from your car to and teach anywhere.

Quest Alliance – We design learning experiences that inspire and empower educators and learners alike.
Quest Alliance is a not-for-profit trust that equips young people with 21st century skills by enabling self-learning.

Mango Logic and D-Tree
Mango Logic offers a sophisticated technology to solve complex decision making. Everyone can create a decision tree and a mobile application without programming a single line of code. That’s what D-Tree is doing, they use the technology to provide better Decisions which save lives. D-tree International is harnessing the potential of mobile technology to improve the quality of healthcare provision in the developing world. |

Social App Hub – India’s largest repository of mobile Apps
Most of the software a NGO needs is already out there and they created a collection of apps for a social cause. Social App Hub helps to find IT solutions for NGOs.

Anudip – Empowering individuals through digital and workplace skills development
Anudip’s diverse training, mentorship, and employment support empowers marginalized individuals to change their lives by providing training for illiterate people to find a placement. The work directly with the people and use training centers equipped with computer and Internet connection.

Akvo – Capture, Understand and Share
Akvo is offering mobile applications to collect data in the field and analyse the outcome. They also have very nice tools of measure water quality with a Android phone.

Open – Security enabled Networks
provides networks in the field and ensure their security. The Swiss based company offers a portable server infrastructure to connect and control the data flow.

Nasscom – Empower NGOs with Technology
NASSCOM Foundation, by leveraging the capabilities of the IT- BPM sector, is meeting the technology needs of NGOs so that they can: scale up operations, be more efficient, increase reach, deliver effective results; and hence realize the goals they are meant to.

Diona – Mobility Solutions
transform mobile devices such as phones and tablets into tools for helping your NGO move closer to achieving its mission. Whether it’s greater efficiency, happier clients, more productive caseworkers, or tracking progress of your projects and clients for better outcomes, we work together to help make your mission happen.

Software Group – Finance
is a global technology company that is specialized in delivery channel and integration solutions for the financial sector, especially in the micro finance sector.

aWhere – Agronomic Data & Agricultural Data Management
Data Management harnesses agriculture analytics to create unprecedented visibility and insight from farm level to national policy. Their algorithms create 41000 weather stations out of 87  Indian weather stations and support local farmers with their technology.

Good Bye


Tags: , , , ,
9th ICT4D Conference 2017 – From Innovation to Impact
was published on 28.05.2017 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under global, south asia
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
2 Comments AddThis Feed Button

MSR Summer School on Computing for Socio-Economic Development

UPDATE: Most of the slides and readings are online on the summer schools website.

Review of the Summer School on Computing for Socio-Economic Development by Microsoft Research India in association with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) (Centre for Electronics Design and Technology (CEDT)). (June 13th – 27th, 2010 – Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bengaluru.)

First of all I want to thank Microsoft Research India, especially the Technology for Emerging Markets (TEM) Group for organizing and financing the great summer school, the IISc for hosting the summer school and providing the infrastructure and all the attendees and speakers for the interesting conversations. It was a fantastic experience. I have learned a lot about ICTD generally and especially how to do research and case studies in that interdisciplinary field. We had lots of very interesting lectures and discussions and furthermore we did some exciting field work in small groups on the streets of Bengaluru.

I’m sorry I was not able to write earlier, due to our schedule and limited access to the Internet I was not able to do this. However, here is my review. I will update it when I’m back in Vienna and provide you some additional information.

The speakers:

Ed Cutrell – Manager of TEM.

Kentaro Toyama – former manager of TEM, has left MSR to begin work on a book on global development. University of California, Berkeley.

Prof. HS Jamadagni – Chairman of the Centre for Electronics Design and Technology (CEDT),  Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Michael Best – Georgia Tech. He is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Information Technologies and International Development

Revi Sterling – University of Colorado at Boulder.

Isha Ray – University of California, Berkeley.

Tapan Parikh – University of California, Berkeley.

Ashok Desai –  consultant Editor of The Telegraph, the premier Calcutta daily, and a columnist in Businessworld.

Joyojeet Pal – Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

Jonathan Donner – Microsoft Research India.

Bill Thies – Microsoft Research India.

Aishwarya Ratan – Microsoft Research India.

Nimmi Rangaswamy – Microsoft Research India.

Indrani Medhi – Microsoft Research India.

Saurabh Panjwani – Microsoft Research India.

David Hutchful – Microsoft Research India.

Greeta Menon

Yaw Anokwa

Carl Hartung

Rikin Ghandi – chief executive officer of Digital Green. Microsoft Research India.

Solomon Jaya Prakash

Sean Blagsvedt

TEM MSR India:

The main goals of the TEM group are to understand existing and potential technology users, to design and evaluate systems and to collaborate with NGOs. Ed Cutrell is actually the manager of the group, he replaced Kentaro Toyama who went back to the U.S. to work on a book on global development.

Some TEM projects:

Text-Free User Interfaces

The goal of this research is to understand, devise and implement design principles such that a non-literate person can, at first contact with a PC or phone, immediately realize useful interaction with minimal or no assistance.

Tools for K-12 Teachers

Like collage – The tool enables teachers to display digital scans of textbook pages along with digital multimedia in an interactive fashion. For example, an English teacher teaching a chapter called “Banyan Tree” can show pages from the text and in between the pages s/he can present images and videos of a real banyan tree.

Simultanous Shared Access- Multipoint

They are working on a project where we provide each child with a mouse and cursor on screen, thus effectively multiplying the amount of interaction per student per PC, for the cost of a few extra mice.

Rural Microfinace and IT

They are conducting primary research on understanding the ways in which rural and urban low-income households access and use financial services from formal and informal providers.

DVDs for Education

A very interesting project! They are developing applications for interactive DVDs using the menu system from ordinary DVDs for content. So they put for example Schools Wikipedia on a DVD, so you can access Wikipedia with just a DVD player + TV.

Everyday mobile use in the developing world

Their project explores the diversity of mobile use in settings where the mobile is the primary ICT, while identifying generalizable patterns and trends.

ICTs in urban slums

This work explores the adoption of information & communication technologies in the context of urban slums in Mumbai. They are conducting ethnographic research amongst ICT-based business like mobile phone stores, cyber cafes, PC assembling units and computer training institutes to map the ecologies of mobile phones and PCs in these communities.

Digital Green

Digital Green is dedicated to improving the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of small farmer livelihoods. They aim to raise the livelihoods of smallholder farmers across the developing world through the targeted production and dissemination of agricultural information via participatory video and mediated instruction through grassroots-level partnerships.

Mobile-phone-enabled banking and payments

The project involves looking at a range of existing and proposed m-banking and m-payment solutions across countries, understanding the usability of m-banking systems by low-literate clients, as well as assessing the social and economic context and impact of the new channel on low-income households.

This are only a few examples of the projects of the TEM group.

Visit their website for more information!

Week 1

Sunday, June 13th – Welcome day.

On the welcome day Ed Cutrell gave us an introduction and presented the TEM Group and their Projects. We did small group discussions on the goals of development generally and why to use ICTs for development. We got a few papers to read.

Monday, June 14th – What is development.

We got a very interesting lecture by Revi Sterling about the history of development theory and practice. Afterwards we examined development practice through a paper/case study discussion with Aishwarya Ratan. We spoke about the Mozambican cashew industry (Welch, K. A., Rodrik, D. and K. Horn. (2002). Liberalization of the Mozambican Cashew Industry. Kennedy School of Government Case Study.) and how poor people in Bangladesh live with about 2$ a day (Chapter 2: The Daily Grind in Collins, D., Morduch, J., Rutherford, S. and O. Ruthven. (2009) Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day. Princeton University Press.). Being poor is a triple “whammy” for these people, it’s not just their low income, it’s as well the uncertain timing of cash flows (the irregularity and unpredictability of income) which makes every days life hard for these people. An other problem is, that financial instruments don’t address these people. Can ICTs help these people? I don’t know… However, if you are interested in cash management of very poor people, and accordingly how poor households manage their livings/money I would recommend you that book!

After the discussion we started our field activity. In groups of three we should do quantitative as well as qualitative interviews with low income workers in Bengaluru.

Optional readings:

Chapter 4: Poverty as Capability Deprivation. in Sen, A. K. (1999). Development as Freedom. New York: Random House, 87-110.

Banerjee, A. and E. Duflo. (2006). The Economic Lives of the Poor, Journal of Economic Perspectives. 21 (1): 141-167.

Tuesday, June 15th – ICTs and development.

Jonathan Donner gave us an lecture about understanding technology and society through mobile phone behaviors and afterwards Revi Sterling told us about informed consent in ICTD projects. After the talks we had to create a general policy on informed consent in research on ICTD in groups and then there was a panel on informed consent by some experienced researchers (Michael Best, Revi Sterling, Bill Thies, Jonathan Donner).

Afterwards Michael Best gave us a very interesting lecture with the title “Why (and wherefore) focus on ICTs for development”.

Recommended reading:

Miller, Daniel. (2006). The unpredictable mobile phone. BT Technology Journal, 24(3), 41-48.

Wednesday, June 16th – Projects in ICTD.

We had some conference talks:

Nimmi Rangaswamy was speaking about slum ecology.

Revi Sterlings talk was about advancement through interactive radio (community based radio).

Michael Best topic was “Rich digital media as a tool in post conflict trouth and reconciliation.

Jonathan Donner topic was “A review of the research on mobile use by micro and small enterprises”.

Furtehermore we had a leacture by Michael Best about Telecenters.

Thursday, June 17th – Qualitative Methods.

The 17th of June was all about social science and different qualitative methods. It’s essential to know qualitative methods for ICTD fieldwork. We first had lectures by Isha Ray and Nimmi Rangaswamy, and afterwards we did a exercise in groups of ten. We got a research question and we had to discuss which methods we would use for this research, why and how we would design the research overall.

Friday, June 18th – Design: Design: What to build, why and how?

The Friday was about ICTD again, concrete the day was about Design for Development. Tapan Parikh, from Berkly gave us two very interesting lectures, he spoke about design for development generally and about design for low text literacy. He told us about his experiences in India and Guatemala, about the “Avaaj Otalo” project, data collection and In his second lecture he talked about working with NGOs and CBOs for designing rurual information systems.

Indrani Medhi spoke about design challenges in working with low-literate users.

Saturday, June 19th – Understanding poor communities.

Indrani Medhi talked about everyday life in rural village, and about her experiences on the field. Greeta Menon told us about the life in urban slums, to prepare us for our visit in a slum in the afternoon. In small groups we visited different slums and had the chance to speak with the people about their lives, their worries and the children had fun with us, or rather with our cameras.

Week 2

Monday, June 21th – Projects in ICTD.

Week two started with a lecture by Prof. HS Jamadagni, the Chairman of the Centre for Electronics Design and Technology (CEDT) of the IISc, where the summer school took place.

The title of his lecture was “you and your research” and it was based on the well known lecture by Richard Hamming with the same title.

Afterwards we had conference talks again:

Ed Cutrell talked about “Intermediate technology use in developing countries”. Typically ICTs are not designed for intermediary users but only for the beneficiary users, although these users often don’t use technology directly. This can have different reasons like, fear of technology, lack of literacy, costs, etc. So these people go to an intermediary users who operates the technology for them. In my opinion a very interesting point, designers should consider that.

Yaw Ankowa talked about the Open Data Kit. ODK is a suite of tools that enables users to collect their own rich data. ODK is designed to let users own, visualize, and share data without the difficulties of setting up and maintaining servers. This helps for example field workers to obtain the information they need and integrate it into a data collection system.

David Hutchful talked about Clozer. It’s a content authoring tool that helps teachers in developing region schools to create interactive learning activities for classroom teaching.

Bill Thies told us about “Interactive DVDs as a platform for education”. Lot’s of people have DVD players and TVs but no computers. The idea behind this project was, not to develop new hardware but use existing. They use the menu system from ordinary DVDs for content representation. So they could provide schools Wikipedia on a ordinary movie DVDs.

Afterwards we had to present the posters with the result of our field study. We had to describe the life of an low income worker in Bangalore. We did qualitative and quantitative interviews in small groups of three with people on the streets the week before. That followed the next exercise: We had to prepare a research proposal in groups of six. We worked on that the rest of the week and presented it on Saturday.

Tuesday, June 22th – Study methodologies, study design and evaluation

The Tuesday was about data analysis. Nimmi Rangaswamy told us about qualitative data analysis and Aishwarya Ratan about working with quantitative data, statistical methods like Hypothesis testing and also about impact evaluation.

Afterward there was a paper discussion on these papers:

Case Study: Get out the vote. Do phone calls to encourage voting work? Why randomize? (Source: JPAL Executive Training Program MIT OCW material, ‘Evaluating Social Programs’)

Jensen, R. (2007). The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance, and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(3), 879-924.

Wednesday, June 23th – Pessimism & optimism in ICTD

Kentaro Toyama talked about “Ten myths of ICT4D”:

Myth 1: Technology will save the world.

Myth 2: Poor people have no alternatives.

Myth 3: Needs are more pressing than desires.

Myth 4: Needs translates to business models.

Myth 5: If you build it, they will come.

Myth 6: ICT undoes “rich getting richer”.

Myth 7: Technology permits socio-economic leapfrogging.

Myth 8: Hardware and Software are one time costs.

Myth 9: Automated is cheaper and better.

Myth 10: Information is the bottleneck.

I recommend you to read Kentaro Toyamas blog.

Riking Ghandi told us about “The digital green story”. Afterwards we had an very interesting discussion with Kentaro Toyama about (good) ICTD research. The following paper were recommended to read,  if you are interested in ICTD research you should read them as well:

Heeks, Richard. (2008). ICT4D 2.0: The next phase of applying ICT for international development. Computer, 41(6), 26-33.

Burrell, Jenna, & Toyama, Kentaro. (2009). What Constitutes Good ICTD Research? Information Technologies and International Development, 5(3), 82-94.

Thursday, June 24th – From government policy to development outcomes

Ashok Desai talked about “Economic policy and implications for technology and development”.

Joyojeet Pal talked about “Disability in the Developing World”.

Solomon Jaya Prakash told us about “Building infrastructure to support low-income workers”. It was mainly about LabourNet, a social enterprise which aims at improving earning opportunities, working conditions, skills and security for workers in the unorganized sector, who constitute over 90% of India’s workforce.

That followed a panel on “Career opportunities on ICT4D (research)” with Ed Cutrell, Bill Thies, Kentaro Toyama, Solomon Jaya Prakash, Ashok Desai and Isha Ray. They told us about their experiences as ICTD researchers, the differences between academic and industrial research, fundings, how they got were they are and so on. Very interesting.

Friday, June 25th – Beyond reserach

Sean Blagsvedt talked about Babalife and Babajob. This is an social networking tool that connects job seekers from India’s large informal sector to middle- and upper-class Indians looking to hire maids, cooks, drivers, security guards, construction workers, and other wage laborers. It is employment-oriented networking with a social conscience and a practical function.

Rikin Ghandi told us more about the “The digital green story”.

Kentaro Toyama explained how to give a good presentation. If you are doing a presentation, don’t forget, boring is the enemy.

Some examples of good presentations. They are not really ICTD related, but anyway it’s worth watching them (TED talks):

Lawrence Lessig on law and creativity.

Robert Lang on mathematics of origami.

Ron Eglash on fractals in Africa.

Hans Rosling on world poverty.

Saturday, June 26th – Conference day

Presentation of the research proposals we had to prepare during the week.

Sunday, June 27th – Wrap up

On the last day we had a final feedback session and time to talk about development and the lessons we have learned.

If you have questions about a special topic, the school or anything else feel free to contact me (rorohrer AT gmx DOT at).

Tags: , , , ,
MSR Summer School on Computing for Socio-Economic Development
was published on 29.06.2010 by Roman Rohrer. It files under global, south asia
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
1 Comment AddThis Feed Button

MSR India Summer School 2010

From June 12th to 27th Microsoft Research India, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science, will be hosting a summer school on Computing for Socio-Economic Development in Bangalore. Several eminent researchers in the Information and Communication Technologies and Development research area and related fields will present lectures in their areas of specialization.

I will attend the summer school and cover it on the blog.

Confirmed speakers:

Tags: , , ,
MSR India Summer School 2010
was published on 06.06.2010 by Roman Rohrer. It files under global
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
No Comments AddThis Feed Button

Mobile storytelling and shared village displays

Last week our students had to present a conference paper as part of their HCI class activities. The slides below are based on the paper “Mobile Digital Storytelling in a Developmental Context” by David Frohlich et al., which was presented at CHI this year.

The paper describes a field study that was conducted in an Indian village, where people received mobile camera phones to record non-textual stories, which were also presented on a village display.

Study participants rated the stories they created regarding their motivation, which was distributed between relevance for the community and personal interest. They further stated that most of the stories were created to be viewed by friends and family. Many of the stories were shown on the village display and often large groups of 15-20 people gathered around the 17″ monitor to watch stories.

In their study, which was organised in collaboration with local NGOs they discovered two different types of content and uses for custom mobile storytelling. On the one hand it can be used to help local organisations in creating and sharing information more easily, involving local people in the process. On the other hand they suggest that mass mobile storytelling applications could be deployed on a larger scale to create local cultural libraries. These libraries could complement conventional books, being represented as spoken word and video, instead of written text. Their vision is that stories could be checked out from the distance and played on mobile or public displays.

What I found most interesting when reading the paper was the high use of the public village display. This really shows the potential of such displays for shared communication in developing contexts. I doubt that similar uses of public displays would be emerge in the western world.

The complete paper is available from the ACM library.

Tags: , , , , , ,
Mobile storytelling and shared village displays
was published on 21.05.2009 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under south asia
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
No Comments AddThis Feed Button

M-banking and economic development

Once more I would like to introduce some papers that I found interesting and insightful during writing my thesis.

Mobile banking and economic development: Linking adoption, impact, and use – by Jonathan Donner, Microsoft Research India and Camilo Andres Tellez, London School of Economics and Political Science. It was published this December in the Asian Journal of Communication.

In the following a short summary of the paper:

The paper is about research of the usage of m-banking and m-payment systems which are used by people without access to traditional banks. Specifically, small enterprises in urban India are observed.

Across the developing world, there are probably more people with mobile phones than with bank accounts. In countries like The Phillipines or Kenya services which provide banking services via mobile phone are very popular.

In the developing world, m-banking/m-payment applications are appreciated by the customers as well as the companies. Customers are happy that they get an affordable possibility to transfer money without handling cash, mobile phone companies see it as an easy service to offer and strengthen the bond to the customer, banks have identified it as a convenient method of “branchless banking”.

Most systems offer three services:

  • Store value in an account via a handset
  • Convert cash in and out of the stored value account
  • Transfer value between accounts

To date there is only few research on adoption and usage of m-banking/m-payment systems, especially the contextual factors have not been studied so far.

Three examples for important contextual factors:

  • Conceptualizing Electronic Money:
    interface to handle account services has to be easy and understandable
    “invisible money” has to be represented in an appropriate way
  • Existing Payment Mechanisms
    existing mechanisms and their functioning have to be kept in mind
  • The Social Embeddedness of Economic Transactions
    differences to whom the money is given
    woman empowerment through greater indepence?

When m-banking/m-payment is studied, there are doubtlessly many parallels to other ICTs. Considering it generally as an ICT4D, there are three cross-cutting themes which characterize the social structures underlying the usage of technology:

  • Bi-directionality of influence between communication technologies and the social structures in which they exist
  • Amplification and altering of existing social structures
  • Introduction of trust in the technology, in people, in own skills, …

Picture taken by Turkairo and uploaded on FlickR

Picture taken by Turkairo and uploaded on FlickR

Own study in urban India:

Despite the IT boom in India, most enterprises are still traditional, small and informal – without bank accounts. This study explores, how m-banking/m-payment systems might be used there. Business owners from Bangalore were interviewed for that purpose.

Three types of approaches were identified:

  • Relational businesses:
    no need for complex ICTs
    desire for mobile phone, but problems with affodability
  • Locational businesses:
    special relations to people in their business network
  • Formal enterprises:
    bigger companies
    active users of ICTs

Usage of ICTs has different motivations:

  • Getting new customers
  • Keeping better in contact with present customers
    issues with trust and user capabilities
    19 of 20 enterprises will for now stick to the face to face model for credits
  • Cost-savings are an important reason for using ICTs nowadys

More research concerning the conventions of using ICTs would be useful

  • This could explain the current usage of some services
  • the impact of providing the “unbanked” with a bank account have to be studies more closely


  • The emergence of m-banking/m-payment has implications for the whole social and economic sphere
    the borders between domestic/productive and social/transactional spheres are blurred
    both, social and economic spheres should be considered in further research
  • “the true measure of that importance [of m-banking/m-payment] will require multiple studies using multiple methodologies and multiple theoretical perspectives before our questions about adoption and impact will be answered [from the article]”

For the whole article I may refer here.

Tags: , , , , ,
M-banking and economic development
was published on 21.12.2008 by Florian Sturm. It files under south asia
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
3 Comments AddThis Feed Button

Mobile phone-based education and health care for LDCs

A recent article covered two Indian-based companies that provide innovative services through mobile phone text messages. EnableM offers e-learning courses in the form of preparatory guides, sample tests, puzzles, and other tools for MBA, CA, Medical, Law, or Engineering courses. The idea is to provide affordable education that is independent of class rooms. It is also far cheaper than computers, considering that more and more people own a mobile phone: the current number of mobile phone users in the country is nearly 300 million and it is growing almost 10 million per month.

The second company is ZMQ Software Systems, which will launch a program later this year that is particularly aimed at women: it allows them to receive prenatal advice via text messages. This new service includes “weekly tips on what to eat, what vaccines to get, and when to get check-ups” [Snippet taken from here].

Both services show directions how the mobile phone can be used to provide health care and foster eduction in lesser developed areas, for people (especially women), who do not have access to those resources. While this idea seems to be both simple and promising there are still many challenges that remain to be solved. For instance, women have less often access to mobile phones than men.

In May 2008 the Women of Uganda Network organized a workshop entitled “ICTs: Is your wealth a click away?“. They invited people to contribute to a set of questions. Answers posted on the website revealed important issues from users’ perspectives:

It’s still a theory because the common woman has no access to ICTs.
It’s a theory and only reliable for a few urban literates.
ICTs would be more helpful if more content was available in local languages. [Snippet taken from here]

It will be interesting to see how the service for pregnant women in India will perform once it is available and what can be learnt for similar services for LDCs.

[Thanks to Martin for pointing me to the article on]

Tags: , , , , ,
Mobile phone-based education and health care for LDCs
was published on 22.09.2008 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under global
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
1 Comment AddThis Feed Button

Solar powered GSM towers Remote / Rural Areas

Ethan Zuckerman posted about an interesting investment of the Indian telecom vendor VNL, which is related to a former idea of his and Russel Southwood’s – Chief Editor of Balancing act, a portal which :

…seeks to be the primary source for information on the telecoms, Internet and audio-visual media industries in Africa. [Snippet taken from here]

It is about solar powered GSM towers – the link:

an announcement by Indian telecoms vendor VNL that they’ve developed a solar-powered, battery back up low power GSM tower. [Snippet taken from here]

The towers are specifically designed to run solely on the power the sun provides. A comment from VNL themselves:

VNL said that, with solar power, WorldGSM both reduces the operating expenses for mobile operators and contributes to a much lower environmental impact. [Snippet taken from here]

This is, of course, a great solution for areas with no connection to the electricity network.

Tags: , , , , ,
Solar powered GSM towers Remote / Rural Areas
was published on 28.07.2008 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
3 Comments AddThis Feed Button