Monthly Archives: March 2013

What the Tata Nano can tell us about ed-tech

In late 2008, Tata–one of India’s largest and most successful companies–unveiled what they hoped would be a revolutionary product: the Tata Nano. What was revolutionary about this vehicle was not so much the product itself, but its price tag of a mere Rs100,000, or US$1842. The compact car was marketed to middle class families as a cheap second vehicle. While the hype about this incredibly cheap car allowed the Nano to initially enjoy healthy sales, since then, sales have almost completely fallen off, forcing Tata to reformulate its marketing scheme completely and rethink the future of the line.

nano-in-flameWhat can be drawn from the failure of the Nano is that even in developing nations, where consumers are acutely sensitive to price, it isn’t everything. Though Indian consumers are always on the lookout for a good deal, they are not willing to sacrifice product quality. In addition to many accounts of the Nano catching on fire,  its cramped interior and lack of trunk space did not woo consumers away from the more expensive, but better quality and larger sedans produced by Suzuki and Hyundai. As the drop in sales has shown, a cheap, cramped car of questionable durability is not what Indian families want.

What does this have to do with education technology for low-income schools in India? In interviews that we conducted with affordable private school parents from our pilot study, we found a similar trend regarding price and durability of educational tablets. Most of the parents that purchased a tablet, considered it a long-term investment in their child’s future. The tablet was considered a product that would last through their child’s entire studies, and perhaps even their younger childrens’ studies, and pay for itself by saving the family from purchasing expensive textbooks every year.

Just like in the Indian automobile market, low-income ed-tech consumers are looking for products that have low-prices and that will stand the test of time. On the whole, this balance between price and durability represents one of the most important design challenges for anyone seeking to create ed-tech products in India. To succeed in this endeavor, several key aspects of the product must be considered.

Battery Life

Every technology consumer is familiar with the degradation of battery life. With continued use, a battery that once held 6 hours of charge eventually requires being plugged in at all times. For most technology consumers in the developed world, this means that it is either time to buy an expensive replacement battery or upgrade one’s device.

For low-income Indian consumers, however, this is not a viable option. In a household where every rupee counts, they expect the battery to either be long-lasting or cheaply replaceable. In addition, regular power outages mean that products with low-battery life will not be able to charge at all times of the day.

Shell Durability

As tablets for the APS market will be used primarily by children, it is almost inevitable that they will see some abuse. Unintentional dropping, water exposure, and all of the other possible methods of damage will likely occur. This is a common concern among school owners encouraging tablet purchases. The design of ed-tech products should withstand such elements while still keeping the product price low. Products should also be designed with the ability to be fixed by local repairmen or through at-home troubleshooting.

Virus Defense

Virus protection is one of the biggest challenges for any piece of technology. In the APS market, consumers are either unaware of the necessity to purchase and update anti-virus software, or are unable to do so due to cost or lack of Internet access. For this reason, an anti-virus software that requires minimal consumer cost and effort will be required on any device with access to a USB drive or Internet.

The above challenges, where price must be balanced with quality, are no doubt daunting. However, the cost of failing to meet them could have long-term impact on the receptivity of the APS market to new ed-tech products.

On the one hand, durable but expensive products will deter the initial uptake of ed-tech in low-income schools. Ed-tech will continue to be a novelty except among the most expensive Indian private schools. On the other, cheaper, less durable products will probably affect consumers’ long-term confidence not only in a specific brand, but also in the idea of ed-tech and its effectiveness in terms of cost. Such products will run the risk of sharing the Nano’s fate.

Human Centered Design: Pt2- The Create Phase

Create logo

This is part 2 of a three-part series on how we applied IDEO‘s Human Centered Design tools to our Ed-Tech report. You can check out part 1 about the Hear Phase here.

After all the interviews, conversations, and observations that were made in the Hear Phase of the study, we were charged with the task of making sense of what all of it meant. This brings us to the Create phase of the work. The Create phase is all about taking everything that researchers and designers have “Heard” from their users, and using that information to build solutions that will help solve the design problem. In terms of our paper, it helped us form the building blocks of the finished product.

Making sense of data doesn’t just occur at the very end of the Hear phase. Synthesis and analysis is something that happens in several ways throughout the hear stage and afterwards. After every field visit, the research team would verbally review the most compelling or interesting elements of our interactions with the stakeholders by using “storytelling with a purpose”. It was important to be able to use storytelling as a tool to describe how we understood what we saw because it helped inform how we collected data, and helped identify themes to look for in subsequent field visits.

For instance, in our earliest school visits while conducting classroom surveys, we observed very gendered responses to questions about Internet and computer access. This was actually a bit surprising to us since APS  in Tier 1 cities like Hyderabad generally exhibit very gender equal enrollment, attendance, and performance among students. However, after our storytelling regroup in those first few sessions, we decided to probe stakeholders in ways that captured more information along gendered experiences of technology.  We also incorporated more explicit questions about gendered access to technology in subsequent in-depth interviews and surveys.

There was also the process of identifying primary themes and extracting insights which came through the process of affinity mapping—or in layman’s terms, going postal with post-its.


We took the independent ideas expressed in each stakeholder’s interviews and fit them on a post-it. Then we grouped the ideas by themes that were similar, related, and interesting. This helped us identify themes across stakeholders that were not so obvious looking at each interview individually. It also helped us prioritize which elements of information were most important to each stakeholder’s perspective. The process of  organizing all these pieces of information was daunting, but it helped bring us closer to interesting and important insights to share with our readers.

Lastly, we made diagrams that represented some of the processes and relationships that were important to the APS and ed-tech community. We wanted to use simple diagrams that illustrated how different components work together and influence one another. These diagrams came in at a later stage once we knew what the paper’s main ideas would be. We wanted to choose images that reinforced some primary ideas well and helped communicate the point better.

Making sense of what happens in the field is what paves a pathway for the products and services that can bring new innovations to communities like APS. The act of building those solutions takes place in the Design phase. In our next blog we’ll share how we’d like to see insights from this paper inform other company and entrepreneurs’ design phase.

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Human Centered Design Series: Part 1 – The Hear Phase

This research paper employs a number of Human Centered Design methods in order to understand the APS community and its relationship to technology. IDEO describes Human Centered Design (HCD) as a process that:

helps people hear the needs of the people and communities they’re designing for, create innovative approaches to meet these needs, and deliver solutions that work in specific cultural and economic contexts.

This concept is made actionable with a comprehensive HCD Toolkit that brings researchers through the three stage HCD process. We used a variety of tools in each of the stages and each one brought a different kind of value to the process.

The Hear phase of HCD is about listening to the community. It’s about deciding who we want to talk to and gathering the raw input of conversations, interviews, and observations we make with each stakeholder.  This is where a bulk of our field work was done.

Some elements of this phase were similar to more conventional aspects of  research, like interviewing experts. In the earliest stages of our research, we had in-depth interviews with Madhav Chavan, founder of the  educational organization Pratham, and  Country Director of Gray Matters Capital Pradeep Sharma. Both offered useful perspectives on education, weaknesses in low-income schools, and where technology could fit.

We didn’t stop there. We conducted observations of various classes in order to see first-hand the dynamics that play out between teachers and students, and to observe various pedagogical approaches in all subjects. We conducted group interviews with students in order to understand the boundaries that authority figures set on what they could explore in technology and to discuss amongst each other what they understood the motivations to be. We also conducted group interviews with parents to hear their initial reactions to tablets, their fears about the device, and what they expected from their children.

We conducted one-on-one interviews with school leaders to hear in depth accounts of what motivated them to buy technology, what was lacking in the existing technology solutions in their school, and the broader vision they hold for their students and their school. We also conducted individual interviews with students who represented extremes in the profile of tech users in APS.

Through in-depth conversations with students who were exceptionally adept at technology, and students with little to no exposure, we began to understand the different people and conditions in their environment that affected the level of access to technology they had. One of the most interesting exercises we conducted in the  hear phase was the aspiration exercise.

We presented students with a series of 30 cards (created by IDEO for their HCD toolkit) with a variety of simple pictures on them. Some pictures represented careers, some were pictures of items, and others were more abstract representations of people. Students chose pictures that represented their greatest ambition and their greatest fears. They shared their interpretation of the image and why they chose it, then discussed how technology related to the feeling they articulated.

The responses through this exercise were interesting and dynamic, and lead the children to discuss abstract ideas and feelings more clearly than if they were just asked direct questions.

Check back to see how we used the Create and Design phase of the HCD process to learn more about the APS environment in Part 2 and Part 3.

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