tinalzeng: speculation Because power outages are common in…

November 26, 2013



Because power outages are common in Uganda, UNICEF is tackling the connectivity issue by preloading their devices with cached educational content for youth to access.

What if education and entertainment didn’t have to involve internet access?

This is a speculative design involving the MobiStation, a kit designed to become a “Digital School in a Box.” Prerecorded content by teachers are uploaded onto the solar-powered laptop and projected in other schools or health centers.

The MobiStation was designed to address the issue of children dropping out of primary school for financial reasons, teacher absenteeism, and quality of education in general (teachers in rural schools often cannot read or write English fluently).

What’s great about this kit is that it is so well equipped with a projector, speaker, and document camera. Projecting prerecorded content is great for viewership by a large audience.

But what happens when a child sees the same content over and over again? It can get very boring. Here lies the design challenge.

What can create a fun learning environment? What can we design so that passive audiences are active participants instead?  UNICEF is currently finding outlets to generate user-created content to sustain interest and provide a platform for creative expression.

What the MobiStation is missing is a DIY-VJ machine!

Drawing from the rich VJ culture known through the dissemination of dubbed pirated DVDs or from visiting video halls, kids can VJ a video of their choosing from Luganda to English and back again. The first prototype of the device was deployed at TLC Youth Center in Kamwokya and I couldn’t get kids off of the microphone.

Whether they were “correctly” translating the film that was showing didn’t so much matter as much as tapping into a culture that youth readily understand and want to participate in themselves.

The machine is a simple electronic device that uses three relays to switch one audio source off/on. This allows kids to mute given content and create their own over it. Because the nature of on the spot translating (or actually, performing) can be impromptu and ad-lib, each performance is singular. It’s an experience for both the performer and the audience– just like how live VJ shows are.

The MobiStation will be its second phase of piloting; 50 toolkits will be sent out to remote villages outside the city. Because video halls and VJ culture is popular among villages and slum areas, the concept of voicing over visual content doesn’t need much explaining.

For informational workshops, UNICEF will encourage community leaders and health workers to watch preloaded content beforehand, and then have them voice over and explain the content live, while having that explanation recorded and saved. The live dubbing is useful in that the speaker can adjust and tailor the message to be audience specific, thus providing a stronger sense of community because it is coming from a known speaker.


This speculative design allowed me to think about the video halls in a broader context. Right now, the video halls operate within the niche of entertainment, but its value is continuing to increase so it has great potential to spread and remix with other spheres. The speculation allowed me to imagine VJ culture mixed with the educational goals of UNICEF. It felt like I circled back to what I was initially interested about informal systems and how some slowly integrate themselves into formal systems.

MDP: Field