Strong TASCHA presence at the ICTD2009 conference in Doha


TASCHA had a strong presence and was well received at the 2009 International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD) in Doha, Qatar, that took place from April 17–19.  The following is a list of TASCHA highlights and affiliated papers, posters, workshops, panels and meetings.

Highlights

  • Bill Gates mentioned the Global Impact Study in his keynote address. The context of the mention was need for better metrics to understand the impact of information and communication technologies, identify high-performing projects, and weed out less-performing projects. He noted that researchers from different disciplines are required to undertake this sort of research.
  • ICTD Evaluation 20/20: Voices from around the World — Ricardo Gomez facilitated a panel discussion that involved an hour of intense and active discussion. Over 300 people attended.

Papers

Computer games in the developing world: The value of non-instrumental engagement with ICTs, or Taking Play Seriously

Beth Kolko argues that it is important to study non-instrumental uses of ICT, including computer games. Specifically, the article presents the results of qualitative and quantitative work spanning eight years in Central Asia that looks at computer gaming in public internet cafes as well as private spaces. The results presented demonstrate that people do indeed play games in resource constrained environments, that games can be considered a pathway to technology adoption, that gamers have more frequent interaction with technology than basic Internet users, and that women as well as men play games. The article makes the case that games can be a source of informal learning about  ICT, and as such games and gaming culture in the developing world merits study.

The contribution of user-based subsidies to the impact and sustainability of telecenters — the eCenter project in Kyrgyzstan

Dhanaraj Thakur, Michael Best, and Beth Kolko examined the extent to which user-based subsidies can promote the sustainability and development impact of telecenters, where sustainability is defined in financial and social terms. This is done by looking at a coupon scheme used by the USAID funded eCenter network in Kyrgyzstan. The network consisted of partnerships with existing commercial computer centers which provided fee-based ICT services to their communities. The eCenter program temporarily provided subsidized coupons for Internet access and computer training to users of these centers.

Posters

Building a transportation information system using only GPS and basic SMS infrastructure

Ruth Anderson, Caitlin Lustig, Anthony Poon, Beth Kolko, and Gaetano Boriello described a longitudinal ethnographic study in Kyrgyzstan that demonstrates the importance of transportation resources in the developing world and how to plan for an appropriate ICT solution, and presented the results of a proof-of-concept system engineered to create a bottom-up, transportation information infrastructure using GPS and SMS. Transportation is a shared resource — enabling efficient and effective use of such resources aids overall development goals. The system, *bus, involved creating a hardware device (a *box) containing a GSM modem and a GPS unit, that can be taken onto a vehicle to track its location. The *box communicates via SMS with a server connected to a simple GSM phone. The server runs route prediction algorithms and users can send SMS messages to the server to find when a bus will arrive at their location. The paper discusses the system and early testing, as well as the development implications for a range of urban and rural environments where transportation is scarce or inefficient, and where a central authority or institution is not in a position to provide robust information resources for users. The solution is also situated within technology usage patterns common to the developing world.

Rajnikant’s laptop: Computers and development in popular Indian cinema

Joyojeet Pal examined the cinematic portrayal of computers and computer-users since the late-1990s in popular Indian cinema. The themes explored — including the distinctions between North- and South-Indian cinematic potrayals of technology, thematic differences in portrayals with Western cinema, and the gendered role of occupations — comment on the aspirational environment around technology in India.

ICTD State of the Union: Where have we reached and where are we headed?

Rabin Patra, Joyojeet Pal, and Sergiu Nedevschi examined the trajectory of research in ICTD since the 1990s in various technology and application areas. Using interviews of 50 experts in the area, the paper also speculates about areas of potential development in ICTD.

Panels

ICTD Evaluation 20/20: Voices from around the world

Karen Fisher, Mike Crandall, Chris Coward, and Ricardo Gomez highlighted evaluation issues and sparked debate among experts representing practice, technology, academia, and funders. Participants were invited to contribute via wiki prior to and after the event.

Workshops

The challenges of teaching ICTD courses

Faculty around the world are offering ICTD courses. These have generally been independent efforts, with courses put together from scratch based on local expertise. Richard Anderson and Chris Coward led this workshop to bring together faculty who have taught ICTD courses so that they could share what works and discuss challenges. Choice of course content and background references was highlighted as a key issue:  What are the canonical papers for individual topics? (For example Jensen’s 2007 article on the impact of mobile phones on the price of fish at beach markets in Kerala.) The multidisciplinary nature of ICTD means that it’s important to gather materials from different areas and get students up to speed in areas where they have no background. How do different courses handle this? Other topics included strategies for integrating project-based learning.

Demonstrations

DISHA: DISease and Health Awareness for children on multiple input devices

Mohit Jain, Aakar Gupta, Navkar Samdaria, Praveen Shekhar, and Joyojeet Pal demonstrated DISHA — a collaborative platform to deliver public health information to children in low-income regions using multiple mice. DISHA uses a narrative-interactive loop format of story-telling followed by multiple choice questions and answers — enforcing collaboration, competition, and turn-taking as machine-induced interactive modules, following a game-based approach.

MultiMath: Numeric keypads for math learning on shared personal computers

Sunil Garg, Charlotte Robinson, Clint Tseng, Heather Underwood, Richard Anderson, and Joyojeet Pal demonstrated MultiMath — a system that uses inexpensive numeric keypads as multiple-input devices in shared computing. With split screens to optimize the resource usage, MultiMath shows the potential for collaborative mathematical learning for young children, optimized for regions where a single computer per child is economically infeasible.

RuralScope: An Information System for Tracking Rural Disbursements

Sai Gopal Thota, Rabin Patra, Murali Medisetty, Sivananda Reddy, Vivek Munagala, and Joyojeet Pal — RuralScope is a repository for storing and visualizing data related to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in India. Through a searchable database, RuralScope reduces the time taken in social audits by monitors and arranges information in a browsable, annotatable interface for easy re-use by researchers and practitioners.

Metamouse: Multiple mice for legacy applications

Kurtis Heimerl, Divya Ramachandran, Joyojeet Pal, Eric Brewer, and Tapan Parikh — Metamouse is a technology allowing for groups of children to interact with unmodified legacy applications using multiple mice and cursors. The demonstration explains the approach —  a metacursor at the average cursor location and click filtering — and shows how it is usable and encourages collaboration.

Meetings

Bridging ICTD & Libraries

ICTD research and practice make very little reference to libraries as a potential institution for extending ICT access and services in the developing world. From the other side, the library community takes scant notice of the ICTD movement. TASCHA convened ICTD and library scholars and practitioners to discuss the importance and relevance for libraries of the research presented at ICTD2009 and to chart a strategy for bridging these two communities.


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