Sharing the Knowledge

I collaborated with Zhengxin (Ina) Xi on this project, which was selected to be part of the CHI 2011 Student Design Competition. Check out the portfolio page describing our experience presenting the project at the CHI Conference in Vancouver. The Sharing the Knowledge project website can also be found at

Sharing the Knowledge is a community literacy learning system for implementation in the isolated regions of a developing nation. The project is a set of designed interactions that enables a collaborative social effort in creating and understanding educational materials, as means of compensation for the general lack of access to formal education and trained educators. The user-generated media is used for mobile learning applications and for creating social gaming incentives.


This project is comprised of three components: 1.Tagging the Village 2.Community Learning and 3.Family Anecdotes.


Tagging the Village involves taking a picture with your phone, labeling it with an appropriate term, and then sharing it with your learning group.


Community Learning takes the educational materials accrued from 'tagged' pictures, and uses interaction and play at a communal level in order to collaboratively learn the material.


Family Anecdotes involves recording a story, and then having it transcribed while playing the recording to the community learning group. Other user's learning material is highlighted when there is an overlapping term, to reinforce the shared connections.

Tagging the Village from inaxi on Vimeo.

Tagging the Village

One of the key components to the system is that all the learning material is self-generated. Participants in a local community network have the ability to tag their own picture messages with labels describing them, and then the ability to share them with everybody else. The materials generated are seamlessly reflective of and finds relevance with their everyday lives, and constitutes recurrent prompting from friends and family as means of supportive encouragement.


Community Learning from inaxi on Vimeo.

Making a Game of Community Learning

The resources compiled through Tagging the Village are utilized effectively in the context of community-supported learning. The same tagged picture messages are compiled into a database and turned into a game that encourages participation among every member in the room. Authors of the original tagged image act as mentor to every other learner, and the opportunity is given for supportive participation to lift the confidence and abilities of everyone involved.

This prototype demonstrates the essential community function that the game provides. Everyone’s cell phone is sent a picture message of a letter, and it is up to the group to correctly spell out the label given to the image on the screen. A webcam directed at the mobile phone is able to recognize a correct or incorrect answer.


Family Anecdotes from inaxi on Vimeo.

Family Anecdotes as Teaching Material

Looking forward, the logical progression of Sharing the Knowledge is to go from spelling words to reading stories. Family Anecdotes is where the storyteller becomes the de facto teacher, in the same space as where our Community Learning game takes place. As the story is replayed aloud to the group the computer displays the words, and if the reader says a word that is also a tag—like ‘flower’ or ‘beet’—the computer automatically displays other group member’s photos with that tag. This is a good way to involve the listeners by integrating the audience’s own diverse content, and readily demonstrates how one can place words they know within a greater story, thereby empowering participants to fill in the words they don’t yet know. Participants could further look to a story as creative inspiration, and so endeavor to add tagged images that consciously illustrates the story further.


A real-life example of how a disadvantaged population can learn with scant educational resources is illustrated by the story of a young girl named Bharti Kumari. At the age of twelve, Bharti is the head teacher for her impoverished village located in the Bihar province of India, teaching Hindi, English, and math to some 50 children. She learned the subjects she teaches by also finding the time to attend a state school two miles away. The children she teaches would have no other access to education.

If viewing India as a use case on reducing illiteracy, the nation is home to 35% of the world’s total illiterate population ( When factoring in technology for possible solutions, the number of internet users in India is only 7% of the population (actually falling slightly from the year before) ( However, India is home to one of the fastest growing mobile markets, and is predicted to surpass the one billion user mark within five years ( The presence of inadequate literacy rates, and yet a continual rise of mobile phone ownership is common in many other developing countries worldwide. For instance, 2010 saw the total number of mobile phones eclipse the five billion mark ( Sharing the Knowledge views these conversant communities as a profound and expedient resource for improving aptitude.

Mobile Learning

This project shares a lot in common with the growing trend of mobile learning, or m-learning as it is called. Research revealed to us that mobile phone companies like Nokia provide a service called Life Tools that text messages trivia to subscribers for things like learning English. The Indian state-owned telecom company BSNL also has a similar program, among others. Many providers see the future of m-learning in developing interactive games, waiting for the day when the common access to that level of technology can allow widespread implementation. Our system leverages the power of community participation rather than the reliance upon dynamic interactive software to bring learning to the far corners in the near future.

Mobile Learning Pedagogies

Prior research in mobile learning has demonstrated proven active learning methodologies that our project seeks to capitalize upon as well. One such method is socio-cognitive learning, characterized by developing knowledge through personally or collaboratively forming and re-forming concepts. Researchers user-testing m-learning games for the MOBIlearn project observed that socio-cognitive tactics built confidence and expressiveness in learners, which in turn fed a desire to learn more. Likewise, Kumar et al demonstrated in their word recognition experiments that participants were able to retain significantly more new words if using productive training (prompting users to verbalize the correct answer) over receptive training (selecting from multiple choice).

Interview with Kristen Aguirre-Ford from Dustin York on Vimeo.

Researched Methods for Teaching Reading and Writing

The other side to the project research was in learning the correct methods in teaching literacy. For that, we interviewed an educator with over twenty years of experience in doing just that, Kristen Aguirre-Ford. Our discussion with her was very fruitful, revealing to us basic tenets of literacy education that informed and drove new directions for this project. We learned from her that at the very root of learning, having support from others is integral in driving an interest in literacy. She also told us that it is important that the student knows why they are learning what they are learning, and to recognize the importance of using methods of auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning in concert to help all students learn in the best manner for them. And one of the most important strategies she taught us was that the student should not be initially limited by the words they know, instead they should be inspired by the imaginations they possess. All of this went into how we formed our strategies in self-directed education.


We would like to thank Professor Philip van Allen and Kristen Aguirre-Ford for their expert advisement during the course of this project. We would also like to thank Julian Bleecker, Sean White, Hiroshi Horii, Shabnam Aggarwal, Steve Vosloo, and the UNICEF Innovation Team for sharing their knowledge.