Zeinab, a graduate student of ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, joined the SolarSPELL team this year and traveled with the team to Comoros. She shares her experience below:

I had the chance to take part in a field trip to Comoros with the SolarSPELL team in December 2019. For the first field visit, I had expectations as to what I was going to see. One of those expectations was to hear people speaking Arabic, knowing that Comoros is a member of the Arab League and that Arabic is a national language there. Having been born and raised in Lebanon, I thought that would be a commonality to bond over a mutual native language. That continued to be the expectation as I saw random street signs and billboards written in Arabic. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. I learned that Arabic is a language that is no longer spoken but is taught at school for religious purposes.

I mainly joined this trip as part of my applied project for ASU’s Global Technology in Development Master’s Degree Program, which is focused on researching SolarSPELL library user experience with the goal of improving the library’s user interface (UI). The impact factor of such a technology deployed in a community is an interesting aspect of this project. Coming from a computer engineering background, this was exciting to me in terms of the services an offline digital library can offer. I was able to get a sense of that impact through site visits that we made over the first three days where we got the chance to see SolarSPELL in action all over the island. 

It is worth mentioning, even though the infrastructure was minimal, students were still eager to show up and make the trip to learn. It was fascinating to witness the interaction of different users with the library: from students to PCVs and local teachers. The interactions gave me an idea of what people of different comfort levels with technology, expect from a user interface. Even within the same group of students, the comfort level varied. The aim remained to meet everyone’s desires. During those site visits, I administered a user experience survey where I got feedback from those who had utilized the current SolarSPELL version. 

On Thursday, we launched our two-day SolarSPELL training for new PCVs as well as for the principals of the schools where they serve.  The overall training basically introduced the participants to the SolarSPELL library, where they were able to actually connect to it, browse the library, and plan for future usage. It was very interesting to observe SolarSPELL being used for the first time by the participants, and that inspired further ideas and goals for my research. I was also able to resume my user experience survey and took the results as a base for future development of the UI.

The overall trip was a learning experience for me. I always wanted to have a closer look on how technology can be employed to improve education and being there actually allowed me to experience that. Other than having the pleasure to be hosted by this amazing community, I got the chance to learn more about a beautiful culture that I felt connected to. Being from a developing country like Lebanon, I shared most of that community’s ambition who are eager to transform their society as I am. And now, after this unforgettable experience, I am more excited to implement my ideas on a larger scale.