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Featherweight Multimedia

Researcher, Prototyper

Featherweight multimedia poster

While I was at Microsoft Research India I worked with Sankara Eye Hospital to improve health information dissemination to patients, who are mostly poor, illiterate, elderly women.

I created a device that is similar to a museum audioguide. Patients pass around a brochure with printed drawings and numbers along with a smartphone. To hear more information about a picture, patients type in the number printed next to the picture into the smartphone. The smartphone then reads aloud the health information. I programmed the audioguide software for the smartphone in C# and created an authoring tool that allows organizations to easily record audio, associate the audio with numbers, and copy the audio onto the smartphone. I also created a talking poster that would speak when buttons embedded in the poster were pressed. Making the talking poster involved building electronic circuits and programming a microcontroller.

Creating a device that reads health information aloud was only half the challenge. I discovered after four rounds of iterative tests that peer learning was most effective in getting the most people to try, use, learn, and have fun using the device. The peer learning approach worked as follows. First, we (myself and a translator) taught a group of patients who were waiting for treatment while sitting on their beds how to use the device. We asked them to use it, then pass it on to other patients who were also sitting on their beds waiting. Patients felt more comfortable learning from their peers than from myself or a more educated Indian person. Forty-five minutes later, we got the device back from a 70 year old patient (who was previously unknown to us), who reported that he had finished teaching all the other 30 patients in the room!

The large number of people reached in such a short time, and the fact that electronics and phones are getting cheaper in developing countries makes the project practical. The resulting research paper and poster from this project won an honorable mention at the ICTD 2009 conference in Doha, Qatar.

Patients learning
Patients learning from peers

Brochure with drawings and numbers

Smartphone with touchscreen numeric keypad