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Case Study – Niharika Hariharan

September 22nd, 2010 by frederiklesage

Last week I presented Gillian Cowell‘s independent eBook projects and also started with a very simple early categorisation for how people design and use eBooks – publishing and capturing. This week’s case study also deals with the work of an independent researcher and self-described “story teller, explorer, wanderer” – Niharika Hariharan. I contacted Niharika on the 5th August in Bangalore where she is currently working for the Nokia Research Centre (you can find out more about her on her website). Niharika had previously worked as an intern with Proboscis in 2008 and subsequently collaborated with them as an associate on a number of other projects including Being in Common and Perception Peterborough.

In our interview, Niharika told me that she first used the eBooks on part of the Perception Peterborough project. She and Alice used the eBooks to document a cab ride around Peterborough using illustrations as a way to explore the different kinds of communities and systems that were embedded in the city. For Niharika, this early way of using the eBooks functioned more as a support for personal reflection. Although she would show the results to others, the eBooks she created felt more personal:

“It is shareable, but that is not the intent in which I created it. It was more like a personal log.”

Although she continues to be interested in this kind of approach, she has also used the eBooks as part of a more extensive project which I want to examine in greater detail:

Sample project: Articulating Futures

Proboscis commissioned Niharika in 2009 to design and deliver Articulating Futures. The project was a series of workshops held in New Delhi, India between the 17th and 21st November 2009. The work took place at the Chinmaya Mission Vidyalaya. Both she and members of Proboscis had been interested in exploring the pedagogical applications for eBooks and these workshops represented just such an opportunity.

The workshops involved pproximately 20 sixteen year-old students. As part of the workshops, students were given a “pack” with various materials including a number of pre-designed eBooks and StoryCubes. Niharika emphasised that she was working from within in a traditional Indian schooling system, a system that I was completely unfamiliar with. She explained to me that notebooks were used in a very different manner in this Indian school than in the manner that I was familiar with. Each notebook was apparently designated for particular subjects and students were given a standard format in which to record information in the classroom.  They could not personalise their notebooks in any way. They could not write down what their thoughts were. They could only copy material from the board or what their teacher teaches:

“the whole project was located in a very structured school institution, in a very structured classroom space where notebooks are a very sort of different medium. When you write down [something it] has to be right or wrong versus more creative. So notebooks are associated with a very different way of exchanging or recording information or knowledge”

Niharika saw the eBooks as a way to transgress this kind of approach. For her, the level of tactility in making the eBooks and their flexibility meant that students could express themselves more freely in the classroom context. The workshops included four different designs of the eBooks given to the students at four different times in the workshops. These included:

An eBook of Ideas- to note one’s personal thoughts and moments of inspiration

An eBook of search and research- to write down responses to specific questions discussed through the day

An eBook of storytelling- to help students think more creatively using methods and techniques of narrative and story telling

An eBook of Future- to use as a personal log to create the final future scenarios

In other words, the eBooks were used as a tool to enable students to develop their ability to be reflexive. As she states in her final report:

“Students were encouraged to reflect upon their daily activities by writing in their eBooks of ideas and research. They were also asked to write down a ‘thought of the day’ based on what they liked or disliked during the daily course of the workshop. Each days activities were explained to the students so that they could understand and comprehend why they were participating in it. Through discussions they were also linked to the proceedings of the following days as well to their academic curriculum. This enabled them to make sense of the workshop, meaningfully participate in it as well as make it relevant to their context.”

In the end, Niharika felt that the eBooks offered three specific advantages as workshop tools for this particular project:

Multiple languages – Probosics had recently introduced the ability to use multiple languages which meant that she could design the eBooks in Hindi or other languages.

Pedagogical context – The eBooks flexibility allowed students to develop critical and reflexive skills.

Engagement – The uniqueness of the eBooks ensured that students would be interested get involved in the workshop activities.

Once the workshops were completed, Niharika scanned all of the eBooks as part of an archive of the event. She then keeps the originals in a Paperchase box. You can find versions of Niharika’s eBook design here.

Challenges, recommendations and suggestions

Having extensively worked with the eBooks in the past, Niharika felt that she had not fully grasped the importance and significance of making the eBooks – that is folding and cutting them into the final version – until she worked with the students in India. Sadly she only came to this realisation after she had pre-folded and cut the eBooks for the students. She felt that, had the students made the eBooks themselves, it would have added “ another layer of ownership and I think it’s also far more engaging and makes it more personal”.

Niharika still uses the eBooks to make personal logs. She is also looking forward to potentially designing an eBook as her own artist’s portfolio which she could handout to people interested in her work.

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