HCII PhD Thesis Proposal: Vikram Kamath Cannanure, "DIA: Supporting Teacher Professional Development in Low Infrastructure Settings"

Vikram Kamath Cannanure

Wednesday, June 15, 2022 - 9:30am
GHC 6501

Thesis Committee:

Timothy Brown (Co-chair, EPP, ECE)

Amy Ogan (Co-chair, HCII)

Mayank Goel (HCII, ISR)

Chinmay Kulkarni (HCII)

Kentaro Toyama (University of Michigan)



Governments in developing countries aim to improve education through novel teaching approaches as taught in pedagogical programs. These pedagogical programs rely on government teacher training infrastructure. However, these programs face challenges in rural parts of Africa where there is a lack of experts and teachers are isolated. Therefore, pedagogical programs consider using technology to overcome some of these challenges.


Prior work has used a conversational agent to address the challenges of limited expert knowledge and providing personalized interactions. Still, it is unclear how this work can translate to rural African contexts, with low technology infrastructure. Additionally, teachers in these contexts are newly adopting technology and thus require additional support to accommodate technology adoption. Therefore, there is a need to discover appropriate conversational agent designs that support these teachers implementing pedagogical programs in such low infrastructure settings.


This design process needs to overcome several practical, technological design, and theoretical challenges to find appropriate designs in this context. Beyond being usable, the designs had to support an intervention aligned with the teachers' goals and the professional development program. Lastly, theoretical grounding for designing technology in low resource contexts is still emerging.


Therefore, I use an iterative design-based research (DBR) approach by working closely with teachers implementing a pedagogical program in rural Côte d’Ivoire to understand the problem context and technology designs and generate theory. My work iteratively identifies design directions and validates these directions through prototypes shared among the teacher community. In my proposed work, I intend to understand the impact of these features at scale.


This thesis proposal document describes prior work in this area (Chapter 2) before describing three studies that have been already conducted as part of the iterative design process (Study 1, 2a, 2b, and 3). My work has led to a conversational agent, which we dub "DIA". A key finding in these studies is that teachers valued community-based features. Therefore, I intend to learn: Will designs for community support have more impact than individual support towards teachers in low infrastructure settings?. To answer this question, I propose a large-scale and long-term study that seeks to understand the impact of community-based features at scale (Study 4).


This thesis intends to extend the literature on Human-Centered AI in low infrastructure settings through iterative design-based research. My work will also provide initial design recommendations for governments to utilize conversational agents to support teachers in implementing pedagogical programs.


On the theoretical front, my work expands designing for teacher "aspirations" or long-term desires to allow sustainable systems. My theoretical grounding in aspirations led me to uncover the critical role of the teacher's community in supporting them in their career. Therefore, I designed participatory content in a conversational agent to allow teachers to connect to community members and rely on their collective agency. As aspirations are relatively emerging in low resource contexts for technology, my work extends the theory to designing technology.


Draft document:



Queenie Kravitz