Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Understanding and Scaffolding Family Literacy with
Voice-Based Technology in Rural Côte d'Ivoire

Michael A. Madaio

September 2020

Ph.D. Thesis


Keywords: NA

Despite an overall rise in global literacy rates, these gains have not been evenly distributed. Rural communities in low-resource contexts–as in cocoa-growing regions of Côte d'Ivoire–face complex challenges in fostering children's early literacy. Although families and the home environment are critical precursors for early literacy, in multilingual contexts with low adult literacy in the language of schooling, parents and other caregivers may face challenges in supporting children's literacy. Given the ubiquity of low-cost mobile devices in Sub-Saharan Africa, educational technologies may be able to complement the support that children are receiving for their literacy development at home. However, it is not clear how such technologies may be designed in ways that most effectively fit into families' existing literacy practices, nor how children and their families will use such technologies at home in multilingual agricultural contexts.

In this dissertation, I present insights from a multi-year, iterative design-based research program in which we designed and deployed a voice-based technology to support family literacy in rural communities in Côte d'Ivoire. I present insights from our qualitative research with Ivorian families, as well as findings from 3 deployments of our system, Allô Alphabet, withover 1,000 families in 8 villages over several years. Using a mixed-methods approach involving semi-structured interviews as well as quantitative analyses of surveys, assessments, and systemlog data, I investigate motivating and inhibiting factors and patterns of use for children and families' adoption of Allô Alphabet.

This thesis makes contributions at the intersection of the learning sciences, human-computerinteraction (HCI), and information-communication technology for development (ICTD) withimplications for family learning with technology beyond the Ivorian context. I discuss design implications for designing technologies to support family literacy, particularly voice-based systems in multilingual contexts, and conclude with a discussion of the role of power and politics in educational language technology research and design

138 pages

Thesis Committee:
Amy Ogan (Co-Chair)
Justine Cassell (Co-Chair) (LTI)
Kenneth Koedinger
Neha Kumar (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Jodi Forlizzi, Head, Human-Computer Interaction Institute
Martial Hebert, Dean, School of Computer Science

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