Nokia.Expand was a project realized during the Product Development Project course held at the Aalto Design Factory from September 2008 to April 2009. The project was sponsored by Nokia and D-Switch, and realized by students of the Aalto University School of Art and Design, Media Lab Helsinki and the School of Engineering, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School, and the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. I participated in the course as part of my minor subject studies in International Design Business Management. The project built on the Nokia School Communicator project, which I was part of during an internship at the Nokia Research Center.

The project brief was to design a mobile device, similar to the One laptop per child, which would cater to universal learning needs of children living in precarious situations in Nairobi, Kenya and Chennai, India. The engagement with the Nairobi community, we worked with, was established in collaboration with the Nokia Research Center, Nairobi and Plan Finland. In Chennai, the community engagement was established through the Pudiyador Association for Community Empowerment.

Two girls crafting a learning tool in Chennai.

To understand the particular learning challenges, participatory design workshops, interviews and focus group discussions, were performed with children, parents and teachers in Chennai and Nairobi. Also schools in Chennai and Nairobi were visited to understand the formal learning conditions. I planned the participatory design interventions and lead the activities in Chennai (more below).

Results of the project were software concepts and prototypes, industrial design prototypes, and recommendations for future research.


Industrial design of Nokia.Expand

The industrial design build on the design opportunities that were identified together with the children, teachers and parents. They include: lightweight and small size to support transportation, textures and handles to support a sturdy grip, water repellent texture, accelerometer to support applications using movement interaction, quick connection / disconnection of devices for a shared workspace and visual customization.

The project was focused on the creation of a tangible prototype, hence, the software design resulted in conceptual and partially developed prototypes.

With theSweeping files’ application  learners can send files from one device to another by way of a sweeping motion using the bluetooth technology of the N810 device. The application addressed the recognized challenges of no available internet and low amount of collaborative learning activities in the visited governmental schools in Chennai and Nairobi. The design builds on the recognized practice of copying content from the text book or the blackboard to notebooks as well as the initiative of the Krishnamurthi Foundation India to introduce interest driven learning activities into governmental schools. The ‘Sweeping files’ application prototype represents part of a conceptual design of a learning platform for sharing and creating content based on the personal interests of the learners as well as building on the content collaboratively.

Paperprototype of the 'Count your environment' application

The ‘Count your environment’ application is aimed to support pre-school level learners to develop a relationship to numbers based on their personal living environment. Using the camera feature of the Nokia N810 device, the software application recognizes similar colored objects, counts them and lets learners group them by drawing on the screen. Demo video: ‘Count your environment

The participatory design activities with children aimed at understanding where and when the children enjoy learning, and how they would like to learn. The workshop was designed in collaboration with German and Finnish school teachers. It was tested and improved with a class of learners of the Aurinkolahti school in Helsinki before performing it in Chennai and Nairobi.  The workshop included 4 sessions:

  • Day 1: Getting to know the children and observing the school environment.
  • Day 2: Designing personal learning tools.
  • Day 3: Inquiry about what the tools can do as well as how, where and when the learners would like to use them.
  • Day 4: Combining the best ideas of several personal learning tools in groups.

Flickr photo sets of the workshops performed in Helsinki and Chennai:

The Nokia.Expand team collaborated and communication mostly through Second Life and asynchronous media channels. The team spent 2 weeks working together at the Aalto Design Factory, Helsinki and 1 week at the Nokia Research Center in Cambridge, MA and RSID.

The project was presented at the Product Design Gala at the Aalto Design Factory in April 2009. I presented a naive position paper that included findings of this project at the “Children and Embodied Interaction: Seeking Common Ground” workshop of the Interaction Design and Children Conference, 2009. The Nokia.Expand project sparked my passionate interest in exploring how technology can be designed and used by children living in precarious situations to support their personal interests. I continued working with Pudiyador and the children in Chennai during the research for my MA Thesis in New Media Art and Design.

Aalto School of Engineering: Nelli Lehtenmäki, Pekka Kuusula, Satu Alukoski
Aalto School of Art and Design: Anna Keune, Jari Suominen
IITK: Payal Chowdhury, Prantik Banerjee
MIT Sloan School: Jeremy Pits, Swaminathan Sekar
RSID: Sanis Kim, Sarah Kim

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