First I started with a systems thinking ideation approach, where I wrote down the various problems, and then potential ideas to fix them.
I then proceeded to carry out a '100 Ideas' design thinking process, where I conceptualised and sketched up 100 different ideas around my key findings and insight.
After going through my ideas, I highlighted one that stood out for me, and decided to explore it further.
The idea was to create an audio device that would narrate books to children. Firstly, the device would become the students' personal teacher, allowing the children to focus and learn by themselves. Secondly the device would speed up the process of a child learning to read, as the repeated audio being played would cement a good foundation of reading and correct pronunciation, which would later help them with comprehension. Thus the device would create a learning environment that allowed a child to feel emotionally safe and comfortable while personalising the learning for the child.
When researching the effects of Audio learning, I came across a lady named Nina Kraus, who was a neuroscientist at Northwestern University in the United States. She had recently published a study in the Journal of Neuroscience about the effect sound, and more particularly music, had on the brain. Her study was involved with an after-school programme known as the Harmony Project. This programme was a non-profit iniative started to teach children in low-income areas how to play a musical instrument during the start of their schooling career. It was found that many of the children that participated in the programme had great success through the rest of their educational careers, despite the fact that other children in similar communities had large drop-out rates. Nina and her team went on to study the effects of the Harmony project and how playing music affected the children's learning capability, and what she found was remarkable.
Essentially, Nina found that kids who took music lessons for two years didn't just get better at playing a musical instrument but playing music also helped their brains to process language. This in turn improved children's literacy skills. More than this, there were many other studies and articles written about the power of audio learning such as this one.
Therefore, with the idea having some solid grounding, I proceeded to prototype it further.
The first stage of my prototyping process involved sketching out a rough idea of what the audio device would look like.
My initial thought was to create a little box that would act as a mini portable speaker. The idea was to use memory cards as a means of storing audio files for various childrens' books. The children would then be able to insert the memory card into the speaker and listen to an audio file that narrated the story to them whilst they looked the pictures and followed the words in the book.
Then I evolved the idea to incorporate "next", "previous" and "repeat" buttons that would allow the child to move forward and backward through the audio set for different pages as well as repeat audio for specific pages if needed. This would allow the child to read the book at their own pace and give them complete control of their learning.
This control will make children feel more comfortable with learning to read in class, as they will have no external pressure from an educator or their peers. Their ability to control their learning will also make them feel independent and valued. This then links back to my insight which is that children learn better when they are in an enviroment which makes them feel comfortable and valued.
The next step was to add a headphones jack so that children would be able to focus on their own book without hearing any other external noises, or audio from the other audio devices from their peers. This would allow a whole class of children to each focus on their own book and not worry about what is going on around them. I also added a page display to help children see which page they were listening to. This would subtly educate children on numbers and counting (math literacy) as well. Lastly, I added a charging port to allow teachers to charge the devices when they were not in use.
I then realised that this device was going to be used by children and therefore a boring block wouldn't excite them. So the next stage in my idea was to make the device more attractive to children by giving it the appearance of a toy. The idea would be to create a toy character that would be relevant to the children. It would have all the same functionality, but with a more appealing appearance.
I physically prototyped both a box audio device and a charater audio device to get a better feel for what they would look and feel like as tangible objects.
After prototyping the idea, I found that the toy was far more attractive than the box. This would be extremely important in attracting and sustaining the interest of young children in class. Therefore I decided to prototype the toy audio device characters even further by sketching out and conceptualising ideas for different characters that would appeal to the children.
This process then led me to my final solution.