Let’s start with the moral of the story

This research introduced me to the world of community-led, participatory design. Cote D’Ivoire is a country (in a continent for that matter) with a history filled with colonization and prescriptive “solutions” to perceived problems. That made it incredibly refreshing and inspiring to see my mentors partner with a local university and work closely with members of the community to add real value with minimal risk of harm. Many community members went from believing that (or at least gossiping about how) we were vampires seeking to steal the blood of their children to talking about the hope and possibilities opened to them by literacy and education.

The IRB human research training was also eye opening to me. Many of the case studies of unethical research and the way it affected people's lives have stuck with me to this day.  Because we were working with children, it was absolutely imperative that we not only followed the bare-minimum, required precautions, but took a holistically ethical and cautious approach to research

Due to my experiences here, I live by the research principles of informed consent, the right to withdraw, minimizing risk of harm, and maximizing potential benefits. With research based in ethics, inclusivity/accessibility, and community-centric decision making, we can make tools that are more useful, desirable, and trustworthy to the real people that use our products. 




Project overview

Academic paper:

2019 best paper award at Compass: Madaio, M., Kamath, V., Yarzebinski, E., Zasacky, S., Tanoh, F., Hannon-Cropp, J., Cassell, J., Jasinska, K. & Ogan, A. (2019). "You Give a Little of Yourself": Family Support for Children’s Use of an IVR Literacy System. In the Proceedings of the 2019 ACM SIGCAS Conference on Computing and Sustainable Societies (ACM COMPASS).

My role:

When I joined this project, I had only distantly heard of HCI and UX. I was offered the position based on a recommendation from a French professor who knew me to be both capable of translation and deeply immersed in the creative side of technology and computer science. 

After completing the IRB human research certification, I was able to not only aid with translation but participate in in-depth analysis of qualitative research and even take on my own subtask of researching and designing a framework to increase learner motivation. 

Another key role of mine was to rapidly learn on the job and absorb information like a sponge. I wriggled my way into a few HCI classes and fell down a deep rabbit hole of foundational research papers and “YouTube university” with the help of the research project leader and his advisor. In a short amount of time, I went from not knowing much of anything to being a valuable, contributing researcher


Qualitative Research

In my opinion, the heart of any usable product is the research to determine what’s most valuable to the users

This project introduced me to a method called Grounded Theory that takes the often loose and complex process that is qualitative research and adds some scientific objectivity. 

With two other teammates, I went through hours and hours of on site video interviews and shadowing and created my own personal “codes” for certain behaviors or key phrases. We then grouped, compared, and analyzed the overlap between our data sets to triangulate a more accurate picture of what matters most to the local community

We were investigating the existing support structures that the literacy learners have in their families and communities. Our primary finding was that “families leverage complex support networks where family members support children’s use of the IVR in different ways, via a collective network of intermediaries”.


The primary ways adults supported child use of the IVR were:

  1. “structure and arrange the conditions for learning”
  2. “provide explicit instructions for using mobile phones”
  3. “model and guide children in using the IVR”
  4. “provide explicit literacy instructions” and
  5. “offer socio-motivational support”


Improving Parent Engagement

Adult or parent support of literacy learning is an essential piece of a complicated process. Although the majority of the parents and guardians in our study were not themselves literate, their support for their child in other ways was equally important.

A voice based literacy system like ours provides the perfect opportunity to directly involve parents in their child’s learning. 

Our research led to the generation of design guidelines and eventually a feature for parents to call in and receive updates on their child’s progress and details about where they may be stuck.



Concluding Remarks

This was the project that introduced me to and made me fall in love with the field that has become my career. Because of this project and my wonderful mentors, I have a solid foundation in conducting research in a way that is impactful, rigorous, and ethical. 

Since this project, I have completed the majority of my graduate degree and worked in a corporate setting for over a year. Were I to go back and do it over again, I am certain my improved process and knowledge would allow me to have a much greater impact.

Selected Works

Impact AnalysisDesign for Cybersecurity

Process EditorDesign for Cybersecurity

AlloalphabetAcademic Research Internship