iSTEP Tanzania

The Braille Tutor’s Trip to Tanzania

Posted on: July 10, 2009

There’s only three weeks left in our internship program and I think everybody is feeling it. We’re heavily into the development stage right now and we’re working hard to get the projects up and running, as well as beginning the thought process of how we’re going to leave Tanzania at the end of the month.

The past few weeks we’ve been focused on development and this week was no exception. Hopefully, based on my and Hatem’s posts last week, you’ve gotten at least a slightly better understanding about the social workers and literacy tools project. I’m hoping here to summarize here a bit of our work in these past few weeks in adopting it for Tanzania.

The Automated Braille Writing Tutor is a TechBridgeWorld (TBW) project that has been developed over the past few years by various students, staff, and professors. You can visit TBW’s page about the braille tutor at http://techbridgeworld.org/brailletutor/. The Braille Tutors that Brad brought to Tanzania are of the version 2 design, pictures of which you can see on the website. This design involves a large six-button cell for beginning users, and two rows of smaller cells for more advanced users. The tutor detects input from the learner and can give feedback with a variety of different modules, including a game that plays an animal sound and asks the user to spell the accompanying word.

Thanks to the work of Imran Fanaswala at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar as well as other students, the Braille Tutor is growing to support a multitude of different libraries. When we received the tutor’s library, it already had support for Arabic and French Braille, and the modules were ready to be adapted for any modifications we made.

Therefore, we’ve been attempting to integrate Swahili into the tutor. We have translated much of the actual text for the games and learning modes (Did you know Simba is Swahili for lion? The protagonist in the Lion King is actually a lion named lion!) We’re also recording voices of native Swahili speakers to ensure that the audio playback as clear as possible.

Additionally, the growing functionality of the Braille Tutor has led to the development of a new but not entirely unwelcome problem. With six modes originally, the Braille Tutor that was taken to India last summer utilized the large buttons on the face of the tutor to switch modes. This was simple enough since the tutor had just six buttons and six modes. However, by the time the interns left Bangalore, they had designed two new modes. When support for utilizing multiple languages is introduced, one effectively multiplies the number of modes, which makes things even more confusing.

Brad has organized multiple meetings for the team as we brainstorm and try to conceive of the best way to make the tutor easy to use while continuing to increase its functionality. We have created two designs that he will be demonstrating in Tanzania soon, both of which have a scroll style menu design where a user steps through all of the different modes by pressing one button and then pressing a confirm button when reaching the desired mode. However, one of the designs will implement a hierarchy such that one can choose a language, a type of lesson, and then an individual lesson, so that the tutor is better prepared for the growing modules that continue to be added.

So by now you probably have a good idea of the three projects. Hopefully the people for whom we are developing this technology will have a good idea of this as well in a couple weeks.

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