Thuy Duong and Amado Robancho Research ICTs in Ghana

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) undergraduate students Amado Robancho and Thuy Duong at the Ada salt mine in Ghana. Photo courtesy of Jessica Camacho

Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) undergraduate students Amado Robancho and Thuy Duong at the Ada salt mine in Ghana. Photo courtesy of Jessica Camacho

By Thuy Duong and Amado Robancho

Thuy Duong and Amado Robancho are undergraduate students in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) and the Information School who participated in an exploration seminar to Ghana during the summer of 2012. Exploration seminars are month-long study abroad experiences for University of Washington students that focus on an in-depth topic in the field. Duong and Robancho recently wrote about their experiences in Ghana.

The exploration seminar to Ghana caught our attention because we have always wanted to go to Africa, and we were particularly interested in the focus of the program: research of information communication technologies (ICTs) in low-resource environments. After finishing our degrees, we want to research and design technology for underserved populations or in resource-constrained communities. The exploration seminar gave us invaluable experience doing international fieldwork in communities with varying access to ICTs.

In Ghana, the two of us did fieldwork together to inform our research proposal that aims to compare ICT usage for academic collaboration among secondary and university students in Ghana's urban and rural areas. One of the challenges we faced was successfully obtaining natural responses from the secondary students we spoke with due to a power dynamic between the teachers and students being interviewed in the same classroom and between the students and us as foreign researchers. In future studies, we think it would be effective to interview students and teachers separately in less formal environments, outside of the school.

Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) student Amado Robancho learning a cultural dance in Ghana. Photo courtesy of Jessica Camacho

Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) student Amado Robancho learning a cultural dance in Ghana. Photo courtesy of Jessica Camacho.

Through our fieldwork, we discovered that online collaboration tools facilitate remote group work as a result of more accessibility to ICTs in the urban areas such as Accra, the capital city of Ghana. In rural areas, however, computers and Internet are less accessible. For example, one of the secondary schools we visited had just one computer for more than 100 students. If students want to access the Internet, they often travel to nearby cities to visit Internet cafes and use the computer together for group work. This is difficult for many students because of the cost of transportation and the cost of using the computer. While the lack of accessibility to ICTS in rural areas did not deter students from conducting group work, the lack of computers and need to travel made doing such work more difficult.

The exploration seminar was balanced in a way that allowed participating UW students to do fieldwork for the research proposal as well as engage in Ghanaian culture. All the Ghanaian people we met were friendly and welcoming, and they appreciated our attempts to learn and understand the culture. We learned a popular dance called the Azonto, and the Ghanaians we encountered joined us whenever we danced. We also learned to make basic conversation in two Ghanaian dialects, Twi and Ewe. The people we met really appreciated that we took the time to try and speak the local language.

For the first half of the trip, we stayed in Accra. There, we listened to guest speakers discuss the country’s ICT landscape and usage. We also toured the city. Some of our activities included browsing the densely crowded markets, visiting the memorial of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana’s first president), and attending a concert and play at the National Theatre.

Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) student Thuy Duong petting a crocodile. Photo courtesy of Amado Robancho

Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) student Thuy Duong petting a crocodile. Photo courtesy of Amado Robancho.

During the second half of the trip, we traveled to the Volta Region in southeastern Ghana to sightsee and immerse ourselves in Ghanaian culture. We were fascinated by the sight of huge salt mounds and to learn about the recent labor struggles at the Ada salt mine. All of the UW students participated in Kpedze Todze and Tanyigbe village ceremonies, cooked with the locals, and did construction work on a classroom at Abutia Tegbleve. We swam under the Wli waterfall, hiked up Mt. Gemi and petted a crocodile. When we were in the Ashanti Region, we had a tour of the Manhyia Palace where the Ashanti kings resided. We also visited a famous slave port, the Cape Coast Castle. During our last week, we relaxed at Anomabo beach resort. Overall, we learned so much and had an amazing time!

Thuy Duong would like to thank the Global Opportunities (GO!) Scholarship for funding her study in Ghana. Check out GO! on Facebook. Thuy Duong and Amado Robancho also want to give special thanks to Dr. Araba Sey and Chris Rothschild (directors of the exploration seminar) for their guidance, care, and support.