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Python programming: Narrative from near the winning post.

In early Fall, Vision-Aid volunteer teachers began working with student volunteers from IIT Chennai, and visually impaired students from multiple locations across India to teach them an MIT computer programming course. These classes have exceeded our expectations. Students are making excellent progress and excitement is building up at Vision-Aid and IIT Chennai as we near the Shaastra summit hackathon for the visually impaired at IIT to be held on Jan 2nd, 2017.

It has been exciting and inspiring to watch the amazing progress on this initiative, and seeing our A team of teachers, students and volunteers at work.  Their dedication and commitment is nothing short of extraordinary.  There are many moving parts, and we just want to share a few highlights with you here:

  • The hackathon presentations will be split across a few different teams based on their geographical location and skills. The “Bangalore team” has 4 blind students working on a project, to develop a computer game called “Maze” – an interesting idea conceived by one of our IIT Chennai volunteers Aravinth. The students are working on different pieces of this project to develop an interactive and fun game, where players can use audio cues to navigate through a maze.
  •  During his trip to India last week and this week Sudhir Varna, one of the teachers, met with our Bangalore based students and via a mini-workshop, helped them begin the process of brainstorming the design and implementation approach for the hackathon project. He was joined by Advaith the student coordinator from IIT Chennai who is engaging actively and early in the project to ensure success at IITM on Jan 2nd. In his email to the team Sudhir described the blind students Bangalore as “This is a very sharp, excited group of students. They were coming with real nice suggestions & improvements. “. 
Sudhir Verma with python students
  • In the meantime, teachers Swaroop Vattam and Sri Lingamarla , volunteer teachers here in the  US, in addition to their weekly teaching, developed a clear requirements document for the game and also built and packaged a fully self contained working package showing how to implement the game,  that the students and TA’s and IIT Chennai,  can use as a reference
  • In a parallel effort to introduce younger children to the wonders of programming, Sulochana, working with our 2 teaches form Vizag and a student volunteer from IIT Chennai led a successful workshop at the Devnar school for the blind in Hyderabad to train 6 blind school children, 3 boys and 3 girls from grades 9th and 10th. After completing this workshop the 6 children continue to work with their teachers remotely preparing demos for the hackathon. Each student is developing and demonstrating a separate program of their own. 
Nineth and tenth graders learning to program
  • Volunteer teacher Sonal Patel has been guide, mentor and teacher-par-excellence for her student Bhargav, and also been the tireless cheerleader for all of us – injecting her enthusiasm every day into everything the team does. She has also been serving as an invaluable bridge between our team and the MIT/EDX teams – steering students who have successfully completed our course through the more advanced edX offering so they can get formal MIT certification from edX and simultaneously helping the accessibility teams at edX assess and improve their own site accessibility. This symbiotic relationship has been really fruitful for Vision-Aid and edX.
  • Giri Lingamarla, in addition to leading the whole effort in his pleasant, easy going, efficient management style, tying the complex logistics, has been working with a visually impaired student from IIT M guiding him to complete the MIT Python course. The student has already completed over 70% of the course and going to present a demo of his own

A big thanks to Giri, Sri,Sonal, Sulochana, Sudhir and Swaroop. It has been really inspiring to see their efforts taking shape so beautifully. Student volunteers from IIT Chennai have played a crucial role in assisting teachers in delivering classes and planning for the project. Above all, congratulations to our awesome students who have risen to this challenge and inspiring all of us with their abilities.

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