We set out at 8:30 to begin the first day implementing the reading program. We were excited to finally see how months of research, planning and testing would pay off!! We knew the program wouldn't run without a glitch, but we couldn't have possibly anticipated all of the hurdles we faced. What's that saying... Man plans, God laughs... By 9:30 it certainly felt that way. The computers they promised to charge for us were not charged and the wifi we needed wasn't working. Those components were vital to our project.
By 10:30, we had done damage control, and found 6 computers that worked. No audio, no problem- Aaron would be the reader. So we set off to the classroom to divide our grade 3 class in 2 groups. We learned that 9 students were absent because they hadn't paid their tuition and were "chased away". No worries, we decided to go back the following day to work with those students. We stood outside the Grade 3 room for 30 minutes waiting for the teacher to return from break. Tick tock. Tick tock. At nearly 11:30, 3 hours after arriving, we had solved all of our problems and were ready to begin the reading program.
The students arrived and excitedly ran to the classroom. We briefly discussed how we would introduce the new reading program and then got started!
Aaron split the 42 person class into two: the treatment group (those using our reading application) and the randomized controlled trial (students who read the same books in class using the same font for the same amount of time without the use of simultaneously listening to the text).
Of the 42 students, Aaron randomly selected 21 for the treatment group. He walked around the classroom and gently tapped students on the head. After receiving a tap, they stood up and moved towards the front where he stood. Next, Aaron and his cohort left for the library where they would be introduced to the reading application that TWSB has developed thanks to thehelp and support of Riafy.
After Aaron's group left, Michelle explained the reading program to the control group. She showed them the stories they brought and passed out folders containing sight word lists and sentences. This group will read text only (without audio) for 10 minutes every day. The students were thrilled to receive the reading materials. They had never seen a timer on an iPhone and were overall excited about what was being presented to them. Even the teacher asked if she could participate so her reading would improve! During their reading time, the room was silent. They understood that the reading program was going to help all of them read better. After the 10-minute timer went off, the students were sad to return their books. Michelle assured them they would be reading from them every day for 30 days and they would get them back the next day. Neither Michelle or the students wanted the moment to end. It was a hugely successful day and the program had begun. Michelle thanked all of the students for participating and for listening so well. They were so thankful; they all stood up and hugged Michelle with smiles and thank you's.
Meanwhile, in the library, The setting was surreal. Many of the computers that should have been charged for the study had been neglected and the Ugandan wifi took on a life of its own.
What many would have considered major problems worthy of disrupting our study proved to be remarkable opportunities. With only 6 of the 21 laptops charged, we decided to allocate 1 laptop for every 3 children. This was a temporary measure to showcase the app and ensure that the students understood the user interface. The cooperation was incredible to see.
The second issue we encountered should have broken the camels back. The last 3 months have been spent populating our app with audio recordings from around the world. We've had people in India, China, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Germany, and Switzerland record books using our app. We always explained that these recordings would be utilized by students in our study. You can imagine our frustration when the wifi refused to work!
This provided us with yet another wonderful opportunity as well as something to consider moving forward. Since the audio files on each page would not load, Aaron read each page out loud. He began " and to think I saw it on mulberry street by Dr. Seuss."
And had the student click next and interact with the app just as they normally would without the audio playback.
The experience and problems encountered also affirmed our need to build out this app with offline capabilities so that all recordings can be downloaded and shared with rural communities that experience the everyday realities of spotty wifi. Moreover, some user experience and user interface issues need to be addressed. Specifically, larger and more obvious buttons which people with less exposure to technology do not always find obvious.
Following our trial run, the group said their goodbyes, packed up and met the other TWSB team members outside.
We hopped in two vans and drove towards Sipi falls - the stunning waterfalls on Mt. Elgon. Our group, with a new addition, Dan, travelled for an hour until we arrived at a rustic lodge where we ordered the most western food on the menu: burgers. While we waited for the food, a guide took us on a hike to see the first and by far most glorious of the three waterfalls. We hiked past pink and purple flowers and banana trees.
After taking in the scenery and showering under the falls, we continued on our journey. While hiking to the final peak, some of the group members cliff jumped into the surprisingly refreshing river. The trail continued to a village high above the hills. We walked past coffee, banana and cocoa farms. It's funny how 'normal' walking amongst cows, goats and roosters has become.
When we arrived back at Sipi Falls lodge, steaming tea and coffee awaited us. We sat under the terrace marvelling at the view as storm clouds rolled in and lighting illuminated the sky. We laughed and talked and bonded as the rain came down and we took in all the beauty of the rain storm in Africa.
Written By: Aaron, Michelle and Eli